Week 23. My landscape this week is San Rafael CA, where I am attending a small gathering of business leaders in an intensive two-day brainstorming and support session. It’s led by leadership coach Robert MacPhee, who will be our guest at Journalverse’s LIVE! with Kay next week.
I arrived early enough to have brunch at the Panama Hotel and a walk with my good friend Mary Reynolds Thompson, who lives just up the road in Novato. As we headed for the loo at the Panama, we crossed paths with an attractive woman.
Once again walking, Mary said, “You know that woman who left the rest room just before us? That was Isabel Allende. She’s a local.”
Are you, like me, completely geeked out by glimpses of famous authors? I immediately went into squealing fan-girl mode, and Mary told me a story about a local bookstore signing for the launch of her first book, Embrace Your Inner Wild, that was so jam-packed that Isabel Allende was kept waiting for her later event. “Bruce (Mary’s husband) had to tell her that we were sorry to hold her up, but as she could see, people were still in line for signings, and we hoped she’d understand. She was very gracious about it.”
I reciprocated with a story about how once at a conference in Chicago, Gloria Steinhem, who was keynoting, came to my workshop, and how immediately after I had raced to my room and called my mother, my sisters, my women’s group members, my best friend, and told them all. I felt that I had “arrived.”
The next day, I boarded a wide-bodied plane home to Denver in the midst of a raging electrical storm. This is when Oprah’s show was still running and based in Chicago. Because we were grounded until the storm let up, the airline ran a television feed through the overhead screens, and Oprah was on. Every fifteen or twenty minutes she was interrupted by a news bulletin to announce the dramatically increasing number of lightning strikes in the Chicago area. By the time her program was over, there were something like 700 reported lightning strikes, with dozens of reports of decimated trees and smoking rooftops.
In the midst of this, I was chatting with my seatmate — she in the window seat, I in the aisle of a two-seater row over the wing. We became fast friends, as one sometimes does with the stranger in the next seat.
Finally, after some hours, we were cleared for take-off. The plane was still in the ascent climb, and my new friend and I were both looking out the window, when out of nowhere a gigantic lightning bolt–which looked exactly as it does in cartoons, a white/yellow zigzag– slammed into the wing, just feet from our faces. Immediately and simultaneously three things happened: The lights went out in the cabin, there was a collective gasp from the passengers, and I felt an electrical surge from the soles of my feet speeding up my body and out my head. My hair felt like it was standing on end.
My first thought was to pray. My fast-on-its-heels second thought was, “If I’m going down in a plane crash, at least everybody knows that Gloria Steinhem came to my workshop.” As two flight attendants bolted past our row toward the cabin, my seatmate leaned over and said, very conversationally, “If this plane were crashing, do you think they’d tell us? Or just let us figure it out for ourselves?” Then the lights came on again and after a second or two I realized that we were still climbing, not plummeting, so probably the plane wasn’t crashing.
Just as we finished our famous-women stories, we arrived at our destination, Copperfield Books. And this is what greeted us in the window:
Close encounters with
Isabel and Gloria
At Copperfield Books, San Rafael, Jan 10, 2016