Let’s start off with something that we can all agree on; air travel sucks. Any event that involves me taking off my shoes and standing in line, with the exception of doing the “plunge of death” at a water park of course, doesn’t hold much of an appeal for me. As intriguing as the potential for a “pat down” by a 300 pound TSA agent may be, I would prefer not, as Bartleby the scrivener once said. I am also usually blessed by sitting in the middle seat in coach between two large men and jockeying for control of the arm rests for most of the flight as they both enter into a Zanex induced coma, snoring wildly while I work on my laptop, which is being jammed into my midsection by the reclining seat in front of me.
So you get the picture, and it ain’t pretty.
However, there is always an exception, and I experienced that on my last trip to Los Angeles. As I was waiting at the gate with my totally valid and confirmed boarding pass, I heard an announcement over the intercom asking me to come to the boarding desk. “Great,” I thought. “I’m getting bumped off this frickin’ flight.” When I got up to the counter a very strange, non-travel-related question was posed to me by the woman behind the desk. “Do you like dogs?” she asked, much to my surprise. I immediately thought that perhaps I was sitting next to Sarah McLaughlin. What else could it be? After all, I was flying to LA. So I told her the truth. “I love dogs!”
She then went on to explain to me that I would be sitting next to a young man who is blind, and his guide dog was with him. Oh, and he was a musician. Not the dog, the guy. I said, “So am I.” I kind of felt like I hit the jackpot, and I was told that the young man’s name was Justin and his dog’s name was Candy. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, the mundane task of flying from coast to coast was just injected with an element of excitement and intrigue.
I got to my seat, first seat at the bulkhead behind first class, and found Justin and Candy. Justin must have heard me wrestling with my bags and he turned toward me. “You must be Justin,” I said, and he smiled and extended his hand. It was going to be a good trip. “And this must be Candy.” I’m sure Justin was impressed by that keen observation on my part. First I asked Justin’s permission to say hi to Candy. I got the ‘go ahead’ so I bent down and Candy greeted me with a couple of licks on the face, which is the way I usually greet people, so we were cool.
We were on that plane for almost six hours, but it seemed like minutes. Justin told me about himself, and he is amazing. He was very humble, so I had to look him up online to really understand just how amazing he is. He was heading to LA to attend a screening of a documentary (about himself and jazz trumpet legend Clark Terry), and also hang out with his friend Quincy Jones. Wait, what?
It turns out that this guy is a prodigy, blessed with a gift. His sight was taken from him when he was just eleven years old. He is twenty eight now. I hope that everyone has an opportunity in their lifetime to meet someone like Justin. It is inspiring, while at the same time being incredibly humbling. He isn’t letting his disability break him down, he is using his inner strength to lift himself up. When I see what he has been able to accomplish in his young life, I can only hope that there are many more Justins out there.
So, throughout the flight I had an amazing guy sitting next to me and an amazing dog sleeping on my feet, willfully accepting my ear scratches and belly rubs. The dog, not the guy. Who doesn’t like that?
The best part is that I have a great memory of a flight with an exceptional individual who has now become my friend. My wife and I are going to see him and Candy when Justin comes to play a concert in our region. If you want to learn more about him, look up Justin Kauflin on YouTube and listen to his music and check out his story. This is one of my favorites from the Montreux Jazz Festival with Quincy Jones:
You can also find more information at his website www.justinkauflin.com
Thanks Justin and Candy!