It's a small world, and it's getting smaller. This means that I shouldn't be surprised when I randomly run into people I know it airports. It has happened to me dozens of times, most recently just last week. Most of the time the experiences aren't worth mentioning, but there were at least three that were sort of interesting:
3. The Guy I Made Rich - "WM!" The sandy hair guy looked vaguely familiar as he came and started pumping my hand. I went through my usual mental check: High school? No. College? No. Co-worker? No. But I knew it was work related.
"It's me, Peter! From CloneTech!".
"Of course, Peter, how you doing?" The memory was still a little vague, then it started coming back why he would remember me so well.
Peter was part of a two-man start-up who approached me when I was a product manager at TI. He wanted to create clones of our development tools. Knowing that our tools were expensive and seeing a way to seed the mass market, I drove through a deal to give him the intellectual property and permission he needed to make his products, with a small royalty back to TI. My goal wasn't to make money, just to get our products distributed more widely into the market.
It turns out his tools were not only less expensive, they had a better user interface and were better supported. His volume soared, his head count exploded, and in a few years TI decided to just buy his company to fold the products and trained engineers back into the mother ship.
The deal I gave him basically ended up putting several million dollars in his pocket, so it wasn't surprising he remembered me, even if I only vaguely remembered him. He offered to buy me a drink (the least he could do), but I had to catch a plane, so we exchanged pleasantries and said goodbye.
2. The Former Camper - "WM!" The kid was probably 17 years old and nearly a foot taller than me. He reached down, smiling broadly, shaking my hand. I had no clue who he was. "It's me, Duncan! Your former camper!"
The last time I saw him he was a decade younger and over two feet shorter. There was no way I would have recognized him, and I think he realized it. But he was happy to see me and we talked a few minutes about our shared experiences. It sort of hits you in times like this that you really don't realize what sort of impact you're making on a kid's life. To me he was just one of a dozen kids in my cabin, but I realized then that I was really something of a role model to him.
3. The Ex - "WM." The voice was low, nearly a whisper, right in my ear. I turned around and was looking face-to-face at the girl who in college I thought I was going to marry. In fact, if one sentence in one very long conversation/fight had gone differently, she very well might have ended up as my wife. This run-in was only a couple of years later, during which time she had married someone else. Not enough time had passed, so it was an effort to keep my face in some sort of composure. Through my tightening vocal cords I asked her how she doing, what she was doing, and other small talk, but all the time thinking "Of all the airports in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."