Random Acts of Kindness: the day I turned fifty, by Steve Pafford

You know, it’s been a bit of as challenging year. People come into your life, people go out of your life.

Life is indeed a funny thing. A precious, precarious situation.

Just last month I had a heart attack at 49, but at 50 this week I’m alive to tell the tale.

I hadn’t flown with Alaska Airlines before, but the June 26 flight from the 49th state to join the USA (Alaska, natch) to the 50th (happy Hawaii) was certainly one to remember.

The kind, indigenous lady at the check-in at Anchorage Airport gave me a free upgrade to Premium when she saw it was my birthday, delivered with a beaming smile. It was almost as big as mine.

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Then, during the flight I was furnished with a complimentary bag of beef jerky (as were most passengers) and a can of tomato juice (spicy, naturally). A little while later I was asked if I wanted to eat, or what I wanted to eat. I don’t know for certain as I had headphones in watching Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns (enjoyable but she’s no Julie Andrews, thus, her attempt to do a posh accent too mannered, too forced).

“Oh, I wasn’t expecting food,” I said. I knew from the initial booking there was something about ‘food available for purchase’ and had decided in advance not to partake. Almost the tail end of my travels for this 50/50 mission and indeed, this year, I decided I needed to be a little budget conscious in my old age.

“Yes, we have food. These are the three mains…” and the strawberry blonde American girl recited the choices.

I chose the protein plate and was told that would be $25.

“Oh, you have to pay? Ah, sorry I’m OK then,” and handed it back to her. “It’s my birthday, so I think I’ll probably have something in Honololu tonight.”

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“It’s your birthday? Oh, happy birthday!” And with that she fiddled with her electronic gizmo that gives cabin crew information on each passenger.

“Steven? Oh, you’re fifty! You certainly don’t look it. Here, I’ll buy you the dinner. It’s on me.” And lo and behold, she gave me the plethora of protein back.

“Now, what are you having to drink?”

Again, I’d already planned that too. I knew that usually teetotal David Bowie had allowed himself a glass of champagne on the occasion of his 50th, and I figured that I’d probably like to do the same, even though I’d been successfully avoiding alcohol since being discharged from hospital.

“Oh, I don’t drink any more. But as it’s my big 5-0 I thought I might have one glass of bubbly tonight.

“Oh, we have bubbly. Here you are. On us.”

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And with that promptly furnished me with a lovely crisp mini bottle of Prosecco.

See, when you’re ruminating about all kinds of things, wondering what the this life thing and getting older is all about, complete strangers waft into your life, however brief, to demonstrate there are good people out there. It’s a cliche, but it’s sweet little moments like this that really do reaffirm one’s faith in human nature, even if there are plenty of others seemingly determine to wreck it.

I asked her name and she told me Emily. “Oh, just like her on the screen then.” Turns out she is celebrating her 40th soon so we had a good chat about how to celebrate.

As the flight inched nearer to Hawaii, I became aware that Emily must have mentioned my birthday to her colleagues, because I was showered at regular intervals with slabs of chocolate from various other crew. So, merci beaucoup to Holly, Margaret and Matt. Holly had just celebrated her 50th in February, so again, we bonded over that.

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Emily proffered a second bottle of bubbles and I decided that would be my limit and that I wouldn’t have anything once I’d landed. Two glasses was one more than The Dame anyhow, so it was sort of bemusing to outdo him.

Before we landed, Holly presented me with a card (and more choccy!) that they had all signed, along with a tiny toy dinosaur. I laughed and told her how clever that was, as it’s hard to be insulted by the dinosaur metaphor when it’s given by someone very slightly older than me.

Anyhow, I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank the flight crew of Alaska 828 for their first class hospitality and kindness. I did warn them I’d be writing this.

Steve Pafford

As a footnote, the beautiful flowers are from a local admirer here in Waikiki. The Pikake Lei (the famously pretty and delicate Arabian Jasmine you wear around your neck) was beautifully hidden in the large leafed arrangement. There are a couple of Brits I’d like to thank too, for helping me out of a sticky spot. They know who they are.

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