I don't usually like airports. Even with "Pre Check" - a nifty invention allowing me to breeze through security without removing shoes or bagging 3 ounce liquids, the stale air, harried faces and overall hassle is usually a total turnoff as I get to and from Seattle, a less than ideal hub.

My recent 24 hour turn-around trip to DC started like most: the alarm rings way too early, "no, I really don't need makeup," the 40-minute drive to SEATAC and navigating the boarding pass/luggage/security boogie. So I was surprised to turn a corner and spot former colleague Martin Coles gathering his belongings. “Martin!” “Paula!” I’d not seen Martin since he’d left Starbucks and didn’t know but hoped he was well. Martin was fit, happy and now CEO of a small company. We talked for 5 minutes and I left him with joy as I contrasted this “new” Martin with the one I’d last known.

Meeting Martin was only the first of four serendipitous airport encounters over the next 24 hours. Upon landing in DC and pausing to check email I heard my name called – it’s a dear friend, Margaret McKeown, who’d just attended the US Supreme Court arguments in the DOMA/marriage equality case, heading back to San Diego where she lives and works as a federal judge. Through Margaret I got a second-hand front row seat to this historic argument and we also brought each other current on life and family.

The next day after conducting business in DC I’m at Reagan International Airport and pause before retrieving my boarding pass. I look up, focus, and mutter to myself – geez that guy looks like Rob Porcarelli…”Rob!?” And it is. Rob used to work for me, is a fellow Hopkins grad and veteran, and I just love being around him. I hadn’t seen Rob since leaving SBUX a year ago and in a word, it was a “treat” spending a few minutes with him before we headed back to Seattle on different airlines.

Seeing Martin, Margaret and Rob though could not prepare me for what happened next. I’m at O’Hare now and waiting my turn to board when a man next to me says, “did you speak at SBUX annual meeting last year?” When I say “yes,” Doug Lo introduces himself, tells me he loved my remarks, we know several folks in common and he shares his emotion in being a friend of Seattle leader Cheryl Chow – at the time living her final moments. I am moved beyond words, grateful for the encounter and reminded afresh how fragile life can be and how precious true friends are. Somehow, I’ll never think of airports quite the same.

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