It’s almost 8pm on a cross-country flight to my hometown of Seattle, where the forecast is rain, rain and more rain. I’m thrilled to be done with exams and especially excited that I’ve left behind that looming procrastination station that is self-scheduled, personal-discipline-required SY exams. I haven’t been home to Seattle since I started Darden – my family is in for a grand surprise when I arrive exhausted and ready to sleep for 12-14 hours. I told them all I want to do is snooze, read fluffy fiction and do laundry without having to scrounge for quarters, but I don’t think they took me seriously.  And, I’ll assure them, it was WORSE at this time last year during FY.

Delightfully, I was upgraded to first class on this flight, a welcome vestige of my last job when I flew enough miles bouncing back and forth across the U.S. to rank the occasional upgrade. As the plane boarded, the seat next to me stayed open forever and piqued me with its inherent mystery – who would claim it? Would the man of my dreams plop beside me (no, the man of my dreams does not do such a thing as un-suavely “plop” anywhere, but reality’s different than dreams – or so I hear), travel-weary but bright-eyed when he noticed a charming and pleasantly -scented seatmate? Or would it be a lady, a successful executive/CMO-type perhaps who had pearls of career wisdom to cast and secretly wished for a mini-me protégé? Truly, this is why I love travel – the possibilities are intriguing, especially when your imagination is predisposed to fantastical whimsy…as depressing as “Up In The Air” was, I totally get the feeling of possibility and freedom that airports provide. I could be anyone! Going anywhere! Etc.

But it was neither man-of-dreams nor future career-catapulting mentor. (For the record, before business school I never fantasized about career-catapulting mentors as airplane companions.)

Instead, my seatmate for the next 6 hours was a freshly certified Army drill sergeant, going from Ft. Jackson, South Carolina to his home in Seattle. Despite the full camouflage ensemble (which I now know is called ACU, or Army Combat Uniform), I was sure he was a secret military/parks department operative because of his distinct Montana ranger-style hat. I struck up a conversation after he ordered a Bud Light, only half afraid that he’d yell at me with his new drill sergeant skills. Really, I convinced him, Budweiser is a far better choice. I tell you, I’m a shameless one-woman Budweiser advocate any and everywhere I go.  Turns out he’s NOT a park ranger, rather an Army weapons specialist who doesn’t really like to read, but if he did read (and I’m not sure if this was a line) he would read love stories. We chatted, and he was quite willing to open my tiny airplane bottles of vodka when my laughably weak hand strength couldn’t seem to crack them. (Princess Problem – free bottles of vodka that I can’t open. Ironically, I am qualified and eligible to sit in an exit row). And I read a book that had nothing to do with school, a delicious dose of fiction mystery from Stieg Larsson and winged westward towards the rain. Winter break = already wonderful!

This is not a park ranger hat.