Most, if not all, of the people boarding the AirTran flight from LGA to Atlanta last Monday afternoon were grumpy, sullen, annoyed at the prospect of another squashed together, no pillow, blanket or free drinks - flight. I was one of them. After I found my seat, I texted Jim (my husband) to tell him how annoyed I was that the guy next to me had usurped all the arm room and was spilling bits and pieces of his pastrami sandwich on the upholstery of my seat. We all sat there, silent and sullen. It was forty minutes past our departure time and we hadn't even budged from the gate.
And then, something extraordinary happened: The captain got on the loud speaker and almost shouted, "Hey, you guys! This is Captain Miller and I'm here to tell you that this is going to be a great flight. And don't worry, once we get in the air, we'll fly the paint off this thing all the way down to Atlanta. Ya hear me?" And then, out of the blue, we heard a harmonica being played over the loud speaker. It was pretty good, too. Not exactly Bob Dylan, but plenty good. It was Captain Miller. He played with abandon, obviously enjoying himself tremendously. The passengers looked at each other, totally bewildered. The pastrami guy even stopped chewing. And slowly little smiles (like the sun coming out) began to appear on our faces. After about three or four minutes of passionate playing, the captain ended with a great flourish.
For a moment, you could've heard a pin drop - and then spontaneously, we all broke into thunderous applause. "More! More!" someone shouted. The captain complied. This time he played "Georgia on My Mind" and the "audience" (many on their way home) went wild. I did my ear-piercing whistle (my best thing) and someone else did a few "whoops."
It wasn't long before we were airborne and then another extraordinary thing happened: Everybody started talking to each other. And laughing. The pastrami guy mopped off his face, apologized for the mess he'd made and actually asked if he could buy me a glass of wine.
When we pulled into the gate in Atlanta (miraculously on time) the captain got out his harmonica again for his closing serenade. This time he added lyrics: "We love you and you love we. Marry one of us and you can fly free!" (You can't make this stuff up.) I called Jim to tell him we'd landed and when he asked how the flight was, I said, "Actually, it was a ball...the most fun flight I ever had." Not surprisingly, I arrived at the evening reception (for the event I was to speak at the next day) "higher" than a kite - my energy and optimism (and sense of humor) totally restored - expecting that other out-of-the-blue, delightful things would happen - and that great people would show up.. So naturally, they did.
Here's the thing. These are incredibly challenging, sometimes exhausting, and frequently "un-fun" times - up in the air and down on the ground. But as that wise, willing-to-make-a-fool-of-himself Captain Miller knew, a little levity can go a long way towards changing the game. A bit of well-placed humor - even silliness - can turn a plane ride, a staff meeting, a media interview, a fundraising event, or a family dinner - into a high energy, "Are you kidding? We are good!" moment. And you know where those moments lead, don't you? To great people doing great things - andenjoying the process. Create those moments. And maybe pick up a harmonica.
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2012 All Rights Reserved