When the woman ahead of us to board an Alaska Airlines flight to Puerto Vallarta says to her friend, “Did you see who’s on our plane?” I am forced to eavesdrop.
My boyfriend Zane is talking to me, but I can't help myself.
“He’s in first class,” the woman says. “Everyone’s going to see him.”
“Those people were talking about someone famous being on our plane,” I whisper to Zane, though we don’t care about that sort of thing. “What were you saying?” He had been saying something to me. I don't remember what it was.
As we board, I scan each face in first class like the Terminator scanned for the T-1000. To my right, an adorable but non-famous baby is passed from one person to another. On my left, a non-famous guy looks at his phone. Other non-famous people avoid eye contact. Then I’m in coach.
“Did you see Russell Wilson?” Zane asks me. Fucking A; no I did not. But I only know Seahawks games are on when I hear my neighbor yelling obscenities, so there definitely should not be a feeling of deficiency welling inside me.
In my row, where the seats don’t recline and the rest of the people are speaking an unidentifiable European language, people who saw Russell Wilson turn to their fellow passengers to make their muted sounds of delight. Murmurs of his name come from all directions. Everyone on the plane but me has now either seen Russell Wilson, knows Russell Wilson, or is Russell Wilson. According to my calculations, his were probably the arms passing the baby.
The plane takes off, and before the seatbelt light dims, the woman next to me, later revealed to be Danish, gets up and walks straight into first class. We all watch, as if she’s our hero, the first one to think of it—"bumbling" into the first class bathroom, just to catch another glimpse or maybe a photo. At any moment, a stewardess might tackle her.
She makes it without incident, returning without so much as a glance in His direction, later also confirming that she had no idea there was any American football player on board. Before we can even think about copycatting that little stunt, the stewardess at the entrance to Russell Class unfurls a curtain that’s both too short to cover the opening and too transparent to keep me from staring.
I plot, foreseeing slim chances at a sighting. “My goal is to see Russell Wilson get up and go to the bathroom,” I say to Zane, totally as a joke.
If I look up from my book after every paragraph, I might see the back of the head of the guy who quarterbacked a Super Bowl-winning game. Because I’m not, like, one of those people, I look up only about every page. Did I see him? Of course I did! I could say.
But I don’t. Midway through the flight, though, the possibly Russell Wilson-associated baby comes toward us, carried by Not Russell Wilson. They stop at the fellow baby in the row right in front of us, practically our baby, to let the babies regard and reach for each other. We sit up and look and smile and are definitely part of this Russell Wilson-related situation. Then the man moves on, most likely to change a diaper. When the stewardess asks what I want to eat, I nearly blurt, “I’ll have what Russell’s having!”
For four hours, I do not see Russell Wilson. I know that upon landing, first class will get out ahead of us, leaving me only with the story that Russell Wilson was on my plane, but that I didn’t see him.
When we do land, they announce that it will be a few minutes until we can exit. “This is because of Russell Wilson,” I pout, even though I hear he’s nice, visiting kid cancer patients every week.
“We’re not even at the gate yet,” says Zane.
I exit the plane seeing only the empty seat where Russell Wilson once was. It doesn’t matter, of course, because what kind of an emotionally depraved shell of a grown woman would even care about a thing like that?
At customs, I join the rabble in the taped-off line. We hold our passports at the ready, flick at our phones, kick our luggage forward a foot when the line moves a foot. A wide, empty aisle is next to us; the sign over it says only “Mexicans.”
Then a miracle appears before us. The Russell Wilson Procession, including the Russell Wilson-associated baby, man, and woman (who I will realize hours later is Ciara), plus, of course, Him, to whom we will gladly give $87,600,000, because he throws a ball better than almost any other man throws a ball, and he throws that ball for us.
Russell Wilson is not a Mexican citizen. But as he is escorted unimpeded through the aisle labeled thusly, we do not protest. We behold. We absorb the feeling left in his wake, a wave of abstract but certain value that flows toward us. Proximity to celebrity is an American currency, and we are winning one of its lotteries. I take my share of the bounty with satisfaction: Finally! Something quasi-interesting to tell my friends later.
At the pesos exchange window, the guy next to us asks through the hole in the clear window, "Did you see Russell Wilson come through?"
The man replies in perfect English: "What?"
At least I have the dignity to restrain myself until I see friends. Oh who am I kidding? Twenty-four hours later, Zane and I are on a boat, passing mansions and yachts, and we keep calling to "Russell." He's yet to respond.
We thought we might see him around town, and then immediately we were like, Nah, we are not going where Russell Wilson is going.