My Chilean Desert Adventure with Montel Williams

I felt a small twinge of recognition, but was immediately distracted by the multitude of zippered pockets on this man's stonewashed jeans.

On a small LAN Chile flight from Santiago to Arica, for someone slightly nervous about flying, really the only two things on one's mind are: Where would be the worst place in this incredibly dry desert to crash an airplane? And: Would it be worse to crash or to bear the incredible panic attack I will most likely have when the turbulence begins? As I boarded the plane that hot October day during my junior year in college, these were the things on my mind.

My fellow study-abroad classmates excitedly practiced their Spanish with one another, much to the dismay of the bored-looking businessmen likely on errands for work. I was convinced that seat location was absolutely essential to my survival of the flight, and as a result I made sure to be the first in my group to climb the steps into the plane. "Bienvenidos," robotted the flight attendant from behind what looked to be a refitted American-themed couch cover with matching bright red lipstick. I was almost too frantic to notice as my eyes darted from seat to seat, while I wondered which would be my ticket to aerial salvation.

As I scanned the interior of the plane, though, something caught me eye. There was a healthy African-American man seated in first class. Of course, in my hometown of Chicago, this would not cause a second glance. But in Chile, certain demographics seem to be more rare. I felt a small twinge of recognition, but was immediately distracted by the multitude of zippered pockets on this man's stonewashed jeans. This was 2004. "What would someone _do_ with so many pockets?" I wondered. They crisscrossed like scars or 100 failed railroad projects across an adulterated denim desert.

As I walked deeper into my soon-to-be flying death trap, I continued to contemplate the pockets. I placed an imagined object in each one. He surely carries a locket with a photo of his grandmother in one, a kazoo in another, a harmonica in case me meets a friend, one pocket empty from the knife he had to store in his checked bag, extra cash in a pocket somewhere snug—the list went on. Eventually I tired of thoughts of the pants and began to once again return to the feeling that I knew the man.

As the rest of my classmates filtered into the plane, a crowd surrounded one particularly excited student. Having forgotten my pre-flight apprehension, I approached the group to hear the young woman recounting her encounter with none other than Montel Williams. She had tapped him on the shoulder as he fiddled with something below. He looked up while closing one of his infinite zippers and said, "Do I know you?" The student was beaming joyfully: "He was a complete asshole! And the pants! Oh, the pants!" We all nodded in approval, ready to fly.

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