When a Stranger Calls

Another episode from my Truth is Stranger than Fiction files.

Yesterday, I picked up a charter flight from Scottsdale to Grand Canyon and back. The client’s agent booked the flight at 11 AM and I was supposed to pick up the client in Scottsdale at 12:30 PM. This is far less advance notice than I want, but pre-Christmas business is always slow — other than gift certificates, of course — and I wasn’t about to turn it down. Instead, I hustled my butt off and, at 12:30 PM, was walking into Scottsdale Airport terminal while a Landmark Aviation fueler topped off my helicopter’s tanks.

My passengers were not around. I had a voicemail and it was from them. They were at the FBO at the other side of the airport. Scottsdale has a terminal building and two FBOs. For some reason, no matter how much I stress that I meet passengers at the terminal, they always wind up at one of the two FBOs. In the background of their second voicemail, I heard the FBO staff member explain how to get to the terminal.

I figured I had about 3 minutes to hit the ladies room. I was just finishing my business there when my phone rang. Expecting my passengers, I answered it.

“Flying M, Maria speaking.”

“Is this Maria?”

I don’t understand this. I answer the phone the same way all the time and 50% of the calls start out with “Is this Maria?” Does anyone listen when they make a phone call?

I replied (as I always do), “Yes, this is Maria.”

“My name is Jean. Steve Smith told me to call you.”

So far, this meant nothing to me. I didn’t know a Steve Smith. I didn’t reply, as I let my brain work on this information.

My caller hurried on. “Steve Smith worked with your husband Mike about two years ago.”

At first, nothing. Then a glimmer. “Steve? The guy who makes the ribs? From Texas or someplace?”

“Oklahoma,” she replied, sounding relieved.

Steve deserves his own entry in my Stranger than Fiction files. The poor guy moved from Oklahoma to Phoenix to take a job with my husband Mike’s company. The first night he’s in town, staying at a hotel, thieves steal his truck with all of his belongings in it. Mike, who didn’t know him before that, is one of a few people to help him out as he recovers from that and settles into his new apartment. He came to our house one weekend and made us the best smoked ribs I’ve ever had from our smoker. But he’d left his wife (and kids?) back in Oklahoma and he missed them. One Monday morning, he simply didn’t show up for work. When they checked where he had been living, it had been cleaned out. He basically disappeared and we never heard from him again.

Until yesterday.

Jean was talking again. “I just moved into the Phoenix area. Steve said I should give you a call. I’m looking for a job and I was wondering if you knew of anything.”


At this point, I was washing my hands, speaking to her from the inside of the ladies room at Scottsdale Airport’s main terminal through my Bluetooth earpiece. I was expecting my passengers to appear any minute. I had to brief them and hustle them out to the helicopter so they could catch a tour at the Grand Canyon in less than 90 minutes.

And this stranger, referred by a missing-in-action friend, was asking me if I could help her find a job?

“I don’t know of any jobs,” I said. “And I think it’s pretty strange that Steve gave you my number, considering he disappeared off the face of the earth two years ago and we never heard from him again.”

This seemed to surprise her. “Oh, well he always said such nice things about you.”

Like that mattered to me?

She was talking again, but I cut her off. “Listen, I’m waiting for some clients and I really can’t talk now. I can’t help you. Good luck with your job search. Goodbye.”

I heard her say goodbye as I pressed the disconnect button.

Thinking back on this, I’m amazed that it happened at all. This woman relocates into the 5th or 6th largest city in the country. A city with newspapers and Craig’s list and employment companies. But rather than tap into the wealth of all the job listings available to her, she cold calls a “friend” of a friend looking for help finding a job? Even if I was hiring, I wouldn’t hire her (unless I was hiring someone to make cold calls; she seems to have some skill at that). She’s obviously not interested in finding her own job and would prefer to have someone else find a job for her.

A stranger.

Maybe she thought I had a job to offer. Maybe that’s why she didn’t offer any details on the kind of job she was looking for. Hell, she didn’t even say what kind of work she did! Was she a secretary? A lawyer? A hair stylist? Who the hell knows? Maybe Steve told her I had a successful helicopter charter business and needed help. By being vague about the kind of job she was looking for, she thought she could wrangle an offer or interview out of me.

Not likely, for so many reasons.

I’m also left wondering if this was some kind of scam. (New Yorkers really can’t help wondering this when something strange happens. It’s in our blood.) Maybe she didn’t even know Steve. Maybe she found (or stole) his address book. Maybe she thought she would wriggle into some kind of friendly relationship with me. Maybe she thought I could help her find a place to live — or that she could move in with me. Or that she could get financial support from me with some kind of sob story.

If any of that is true, she really called the wrong person.

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