Strangers on a Plane

I’m not usually big on conversing with strangers, especially when flying – but it has been known to happen on occasion despite my best efforts to the contrary. Last week, I was so happy it did. During my flight back home from Chicago with my fellow Daltonites, I ended up having a fascinating conversation with a gentleman by the name of David Bright – a 20+ year Navy veteran who is now working out of Charlotte as a software engineer for ADP.

Since serving as the youngest member of the Central Texas Civil War Roundable in his youth, David’s always had an interest in the Civil War. However, that interest took a turn toward the logistics of warfare after serving aboard an oiler off Vietnam as a new Navy ensign. In the late 90’s, he stumbled across a book titled “The Railroads of the Confederacy” by Robert C. Black that spread some light on the history of the Confederate railroads. After finishing the book, David began to wonder what impact different logistics decisions would have made for the Confederacy.

Not much had been written about the Confederate railroads since Black’s book, so David decided to delve into the subject to determine the answer to questions like, “the Confederacy was short on locomotives. How many did they have? How many did they capture and manufacture. How many did they need?” It was the search for the answers to those types of questions that led to the creation of David’s website, Confederate Railroads, which serves as the culmination of David’s work on those questions to-date.

With twelve years of his free time dedicated to the task and a good bit of traveling required by his current position, he’s been able to catalogue 14,000 pages on his website (including maps, original documents, translations and essays) and nearly 80% of the railroads and stations traveled to, I’d say David’s well on his way to unearthing some of those answers.

My conversation with David reminded me of an old adage I heard while growing up:

“The only thing that changes in a person’s life from year-to-year are the book they read and the people they meet.”

It’s pretty safe to say that I’ve got the whole “books they read” part of that adage covered, but I might be skimping a little on the meeting new people. Sure, I do the whole “networking” thing (both online and IRL) when I have time, but it frightens me a little to think of all the great stories I’ve missed by shying away from the randoms life throws at me. Here’s to a new way of looking at things in 2012.




  1. Aliera,
    I was so intrigued by your topic that I had to read your blog. I have often thought about writing a book of short stories based loosely on the stories I have heard on planes….I even have a name for the book, “Plane Tales.” I have been having conversations with people on planes since the 7th grade and have, for the most part, enjoyed them. The first conversation was a with a girl my age at the time, 12. They seated us together because we were both minors traveling alone, she was crying because she had to leave her mom and go live with her dad due to a divorce.You can’t really ignore someone who is crying sitting next to you! We ended up talking and exchanging addresses and I wished her well as we parted. Even the young drunk guy that started telling me his short life story prior to the plane taking off left a lasting impression, for better or worst. The lesson there was don’t start talking until you are at least half way to your destination!

    • Thanks so much for taking a moment to check out my blog, Debbie. It’s obviously still a work in progress, but it’s been a lot of fun thus far. I love the idea of a collection of short stories based on the conversations you’ve had while traveling. If you do end up pursuing it, I would LOVE to know about it, so I can check it out!

      I’ve had some other interesting conversations while traveling – a Navy wife was stopped over in Miami and ended up sitting next to me as I grabbed a hurried bite to eat, and she ended up pouring out her life story of the challenges (and thrills) of being married to the military. It’s amazing how many stories out there are just waiting to be told. Hope to see you around again soon! 🙂

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