The Time I Met John Kerry

TL;DR: My name is John Edwards (no relation). Six years ago, I was bumped up to first class on a flight from California to Boston, and sat behind Senator John Kerry. He watched two Kate Hudson movies, didn’t pee for four hours, and forgot to lock the bathroom door when he finally did. I introduced myself at the end of the flight, and he said something funny.

Full Version:

Six years ago, I spent the holiday season in California. On the day of my return flight to Boston, weather was an issue. Having flexible travel plans, I hoped to spend an extra day or two on the west coast, so I notified the desk agent that I would be happy to be bumped and wouldn’t need a hotel. He told me it was a possibility, thanked me for my cooperation, and wrote my name down on the list.

The next customer in line, an older gentleman with thinning white hair and a tweed jacket, approached the desk and said something to the desk agent. Then, he walked around behind the desk and started speaking in a low voice. “That’s odd. He must think he’s someone special,” I thought before jamming my earbuds back in my ears.

Half an hour later, I hadn’t heard my name called, so I approached the desk again. The desk agent told me there was no news, but that they might need to bump somebody, so I should keep asking him.

Around 5 minutes before boarding, a largely Boston crowd (you could tell by the baseball caps and jackets) had gathered at the gate. A taller man approached the First Class boarding line, pushing a bespectacled older woman in a wheelchair. Slowly, the crowd came to realize that it was Senator John Kerry. A 30-second lull of astonishment fell on the crowd; what was the Senator, known for a 1%er’s lifestyle of yachts and islands and private jets, doing on a United flight?

One forty-ish father happened to be standing near the First Class line. Senator Kerry smiled at him and said “I like that jacket,” pointing at the man’s Red Sox apparel. Senator Kerry shook the bewildered man’s hand, who could barely eek out a word. Mr. Kerry then shook the hand of the man’s son, saying “How are you, young man?” The family looked incredulous.

The gate agent took Mr. Kerry’s tickets, and he wheeled his wife towards the gangway. The world seemed to pause for a brief moment.

The lull ended with a fury of people clicking away at their mobile devices. “I think John Kerry is on my flight,” I texted to just about anybody and everybody that had recently messaged me.

Despite seeing Mr. Kerry board, I was still intent upon getting bumped. So, after most others had boarded, I approached the gate agent again asking if he needed to bump anyone. He replied that he didn’t, but thanked me for being ready, willing, and able. Then he said, “let me see your ticket.” He took it, tore it up, and with a few clicks, handed me a first-class upgrade. Within seconds, I was seated one row behind and across the aisle from John Kerry.

“Say hello to old Horsey-face for me,” my friend Lucas texted. “Tell him his neighbor Luke says Happy New Year.” It was the last thing I read before switching off my phone. As the flight attendant closed the cabin door behind me, I watched as the elderly gentleman from before stood up from his seat in the first row of first class, knocked on the cockpit door, and was allowed in, not to emerge until after takeoff. Secret Service? Probably.

Mr. Kerry isn’t a young gentleman. With two grown daughters older than I, he could have been my father. Generally speaking, older men have to urinate more frequently than younger men. Whereas I peed two times before the midpoint of the flight, Senator Kerry sat rock solid like a champion through not one but TWO Kate Hudson movies that United had prepared as a double-header. The Junior Senator, as Kennedy was alive at the time, plugged in his headphones and dialed into “How to lose a guy in 10 days.” I was surprised he didn’t have to pee for 4 hours. Maybe that’s what it takes to be a Senator.

When it came time to finally relieve himself, Senator Kerry chose the front bathroom. All of first class watched as a Senator entered the toilet. We waited in anticipation for the “occupied” light to blink on. Anticipation turned to stifled laughter when we realized, after a few seconds, that the Senator neglected to lock the door. Obviously, we knew he was in there, so nobody tried to open the door. When the Senator emerged, he seemed to realize his mistake as he exited the restroom. He smiled sheepishly at the other First Class passengers. On his way back to his seat, he shook one hand and pointed at a young woman’s book saying, “I love that book.” He then sat back down, and went nose deep in a Yachting magazine for the duration of the flight.

I hoped all this time for the opportunity to shake hands with the Senator, especially for the opportunity to tell him that my name was John Edwards, the same as his former running mate.

As we prepared for landing, I tried to gather my courage. After arriving at the terminal, a gate attendant came aboard to help Mrs. Heinz-Kerry, who appeared to have a broken foot, into a wheelchair. Senator Kerry followed her, and I seized the opportunity by sticking my hand out and proclaiming,

“Senator Kerry, John Edwards, nice to meet you.”

Hindsight being twenty-twenty, I realize that this was not the best way I could have introduced myself. “My name is John Edwards and I’m pleased to meet you” would have been better.

Confused, the Senator shook my hand but said nothing. Realizing my error, I continued,

“Sorry, that’s my name, sir, John Edwards.”

He grimaced and said, “Oh, another one,” and continued toward the exit. But, just before disembarking, he turned back, looked me in the eye, and said,

“And I hope better behaved.”