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Surprise on an empty plane

Between the Lines


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Almost every day, we hear more bits of negative information about Colorado Springs, how our leaders just can't get along and don't listen to constituents, how we're not adding enough good jobs, how the local economy should be stronger than it is.

The volume of nastiness has grown to new heights during recent debates over City for Champions, stormwater, the Urban Renewal Authority ... the list never stops. So with that in mind, after a recent experience returning from a quick trip to visit family in Arkansas, I offer the following story:

My afternoon flight from Little Rock to Dallas arrived a little ahead of schedule, so I raced to jump on an earlier flight to Colorado Springs. I made it to the gate about eight minutes before departure, then watched as a woman in front of me with the same idea was told we were "too late" — though the plane was still sitting there. Instead, we'd have to wait for our scheduled flight.

Two hours later, 27 passengers (plus an infant) boarded American Airlines Flight 1163, meaning there were about five empty seats for each passenger on the regular-size plane. That sometimes happens on a Saturday, as seasoned travelers know, but it's disconcerting to see any almost-empty flight to or from Colorado Springs, given the local economic climate.

Soon, everyone on that plane would forget about their troubles, and anyone else's. One of the attendants began making the rounds. I saw her having a longer visit with one person, then realized it was the woman who had been ahead of me trying to get on the earlier flight. Then that same woman stood up, grinned at everyone, reached into an overhead bin and retrieved a long, narrow case. She opened it and, voila, pulled out a very old, obviously very extraordinary, violin.

For the next 30 minutes or so, wearing flannel shirt and jeans, she walked up and down the aisle, playing classical masterpieces with an expertise that obviously was world-class. Flight attendants were crying, and they weren't the only ones. Our violinist spent extra time serenading two Army soldiers and their wives (plus the infant), who had been moved up to first-class because nobody else was there.

After our incredible private concert ended, I had to find out who she was. Little did I realize that conversation would bring back memories.

Longtime locals, especially followers of the former Colorado Springs Symphony, would remember Michaela Paetsch. Her parents and several siblings played in the Symphony, and as a young prodigy, so did she — starting in 1971 as a precocious 10-year-old. (Her sister Phebe still plays viola in the Philharm.) Michaela now lives in Switzerland with her husband, also a violinist, yet she never has lost touch with Colorado Springs, and was coming back to visit her mother Priscilla Paetsch, who still lives in Upper Skyway.

Michaela talked about how much she loves this city and its arts scene. She played an event here just last year at the Fine Arts Center. In fact, despite having traveled all the way from Switzerland, she was going straight to a concert that night of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic to see her good friend, music director Josep Caballé-Domenech. This weekend, she's performing at 7 p.m. Friday at Christ's Episcopal Church in Castle Rock, along with noted pianist Peter Biro. It would be worth the drive.

Look up Michaela Paetsch online and you quickly find her global credentials. Yet she's from here and is proud of it — enough that perhaps our Downtown Partnership should have her record some footage for future purposes. We need ambassadors like that, so vibrant and gifted.

As the flight ended, I mentioned the earlier flight we had missed. That would have changed everything, she said, adding: "I probably wouldn't have been able to play."

That would've been a huge loss. Instead, about 30 of us (counting flight attendants) had a story to tell. In my case, I've been flying 50-plus years and never have seen anything like it.

After a gate agent came on to say, "Welcome to Colorado Springs," every single person walked off that plane with a smile. We didn't care how much the fare was. We had a memory to last forever.


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