When I was ten years old I flew out to New Mexico from New York to go to sleep away camp. It was my first time out of state alone, and facing a month away from my family, I was scared and nervous.
My coach ticket had me seated next to a heavy-set black man dripping in turquoise jewelry. He wore a fancy bolo tie, a silver belt buckle the size of a '45 and chunky, turquoise rings on every one of his fingers. He crowned it with a big, beige cowboy hat with a turquoise band.
I sat down next to him with my copy of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," but reading on the plane made me airsick. So I struck up a conversation with this gentleman, who was really friendly. He told me he was a musician, headed to New Mexico where he lived when he wasn't out on the road. We talked the whole way. He seemed genuinely interested in me. I told him about my school, my friends, my cats and my Wacky Pack collection back home.
He told me he had played music with guys named Chubby Checker, Fats Domino and someone named Muddy Waters, all names I had never heard of and which made me laugh, they sounded so silly. He showed me his guitar case stashed in the overhead compartment and said he would never send it through baggage. He said it was a really special guitar.
The time literally flew by. By the time we landed in Albuquerque I felt I had really made a friend. We said goodbye in the airport and I went to find a pay phone to call my mom and tell her I had made it there in one piece.
"How was the flight?" she asked.
"Oh, great," I told her, ripping into a Three Musketeers bar I had picked up at a newsstand. I was starting to feel like maybe the world away from home wasn't so bad after all. "I made friends with a man on the plane and we talked the whole way."
"Oh? Who was the man?"
"A musician named Bo Diddley. He was really, really nice."
My mother laughed and laughed, though I didn't get what was so funny. I do now.
R.I.P Mr. Diddley. Thanks for the music and the memories.