Call me old-fashioned or just plain old, but one of the things I like about airline travel is being required to shut off cell phones -- no talking, texting, emailing, Facebooking or whatevering for the duration of the flight.
The reason I like it is simple. People who aren't glued to cell phones are somewhat more likely to turn to the stranger who is wedged in beside them and engage in what was once known as polite conversation.
This, of course, can be good or bad, based on the social skills, mental health and personal hygiene of the stranger.
Sometimes it's not a give-and-take conversation, but a mind-numbing monologue that makes you want to get in the overhead bin and refuse to come down. I can only imagine what the FAA would have to say about that.
But usually, in my experience, getting to know someone I've never met and will most likely never meet again is a pleasant way to pass a flight. It also helps me to forget the sobering fact that I'm hurtling through the air 35,000 feet above the earth.
Once in a while, if I'm lucky, I strike gold and get to sit next to someone like Sasha -- young, 17 or so, gracious, well-mannered and brimming over with life.
I wish you could've seen her.
We started with the question we were both dying to ask: The killer eyelashes on the flight attendant. Real or fake?
"When you get a chance," I whispered, "ask her."
Sasha grinned. "I will."
Then we played a fun game that my kids used to call, "Mom Asks Too Many Questions."
Sasha told me that she was born in Serbia, but had lived in California with her mother since the age of 6.
"I go back every summer to see my family. I love Serbia! It's such a jewel of a country!"
She was on her way to Las Vegas to spend her spring break with the family of a friend.
"Where do you go to school?"
"Monterey High," she said.
I laughed. "Do you know Randall Gym?"
"Yes, sure," she said. "That's where I play volleyball."
"It's named for my late husband," I said. "He taught and coached at Monterey High for years. Our three children all went to school there, too."
With that, Sasha pulled out her yearbook and we spent several minutes comparing notes on how some things have changed while other things have stayed the same. Isn't that always the way life goes?
She told me she's not quite sure yet what she wants to do, but she might like to be a writer.
I nodded and smiled. "I bet you're a wonderful writer."
She said she loves to write and I said I like it, too, though what I really like is having written.
Just then the flight attendant came down the aisle and Sasha asked politely in a whisper, "Your lashes. Are they real?"
The attendant smiled, batted her eyes and shook her head no.
After she left, Sasha said, "I might try lashes for the prom."
Heck, I thought, I might try them tomorrow. At my age, you don't want to wait for a prom.
For a moment, I recalled the tall skinny girl I was at Sasha's age, when my life lay before me, a blank page waiting to be filled.
Suddenly we were landing and it was time to go. I gave Sasha my business card and said if she'd ever like to talk about writing or whatever, I'd be glad to hear from her. Then I wished her the best and said goodbye.
In the cab on my way home I found myself wondering: What will Sasha do with her life?
What will I do with mine?
What will you do with yours?
Every morning, at any age, we wake to find our lives shining before us, another fresh blank page waiting to be filled.
It's a small and wonderful world, with or without killer lashes. Especially if we can shut off the distractions once in a while, and take a little time to turn strangers into friends.
Sharon Randall is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).