When the geek met the (maybe) gangster

When a white, geeky guy sits next to a tattooed gangster-lookalike on a plane, he listens.

The flight from Auckland to New Plymouth is 40 minutes, just long enough for one emergency briefing, one take off, one glass of water, one lolly - well perhaps two lollies - and, all going well, one landing. It's also just long enough to meet Peter.

When Peter appeared at my seat wanting to get past me to his, two words came to mind: "mongrel" and "mob". He looked like the type of guy you see on the news giving the camera the finger. I've never wanted to share a flight with that guy.

I immediately noticed that Peter had biceps and on his muscles closest to me were lots of tattoos. He had a rat's tail; I hadn't seen a rat's tail since form 2 at Longford Intermediate in Gore. Anyone sporting a rat's tail at Longford was from East Gore and could "do me over" at a moment's notice.

Peter wanted the window seat and I let him have it, along with the entire arm rest.

I thought my best chance to avoid him was to dive into my book and turn on my iPod but Peter wanted to talk, so I was listening.

It started with "you look familiar, bro . . .". And, as it was obvious I wasn't a distant relative or a classmate at antenatal evenings, we did a bit of question and answer. I explained that I was on the tele two minutes a week and we quickly concluded he hadn't been a One News Good Sort. Peter thought this was funny and I laughed a little too loud to ensure he knew I thought he had an excellent sense of humour.

Then we discussed his recent holiday in Brisbane and before I knew it my headphone jack was being thrust into his iPod. Peter is a massive fan of guitarist Joe Bonamassa. He's in the fan club, has the tour T-shirt before the tour's even begun, and he left his wife and kids at home to see the concert. Even though I'm not sure I'm a Bonamassa fan, I jerked my head rhythmically while listening to let him know I really liked his taste in music.

Actually with every sentence we swapped I became a little less afraid of Peter. He was a lot like me: a father of two (19 and 4), a husband, and a man who likes his life in the provinces. I wanted to ask him about his tattoos, why the big gap between his kids and if he had ever killed a man with his bare hands, but I was too afraid.

What I did learn was Peter isn't a gang member, but a decorator. While in Brisbane he got his kids toys and clothes and his wife not much. I sympathised with him; it's tough shopping for your wife when all she wants is shoes.

At the baggage carousel I met Peter's wife, whose name escapes me now. She seemed lovely and I was delighted to tell her how many shoes he had purchased just for her in Brisbane. He gave me a look like he was going to kill me. I now know this look is just a joke - 40 minutes earlier I would have been running for the door.

I guess the moral of this very short story is even though we're taught not to judge a book by a cover, we always do.

I wonder if Peter went home and told his friends he met this white, geeky guy on the plane, who looked like a nerd but actually liked Joe Bonamassa.

Hadyn Jones is a journalist and a first impressionist. He writes a fortnightly column.

The Dominion Post