This piece is brought to you by the hellscape that is air travel. Enjoy.
It took some decoding, but I was able to conclude that the update was that there was no update. Airplane pilots, I was pretty sure, needed to complete a basic level of higher education that would have, in the least, including some type of public speaking class. Some moment in a degree where they would have to debate or at least speak, with their open mouth, to a professor or another classmate or any other human being, about a topic, in a voice that could communicate some message, and yet, here he was again, coming over the intercom:
“Laaaaaaaavies er genhelmens. (long wet breath) We’ve just received words from the er fliz derckkkkkkk. Looks like we’ll be taxing er on this shlaberpavement er (stroke). Thank you for flying American Airlines.”
The passengers exchanged confused glances and eye rolls with each other. We had been inside of the airplane for near two hours. The apps on our phones were still telling us that the flight was on time. The situation was rapidly deteriorating. Someone was farting, had potentially been releasing one long noxious fart for the entire 2 hours. The three babies on the flight had banned together to ensure that there would be a continuous howl, and the flight attendants caked with foundation and blush, thick stockings and definitively 80’s pumps in navy blue (where did one acquire shoes like this?) nodded in agreement with the captain, further proving that the airport and all who dwell within its meandering boundaries is a lawless land. A Sci-Fi universe where rules are fluid and no one fully understands them, but God (if there is a God in this place) help you if you break them.
Take, for example, the middle seat. The middle seat gets both of the armrests. Everyone knows this. It is basic manners like saying Bless You when someone sneezes or wearing a bra to a business meeting, but the two men straddling me didn’t get that memo. They were fully stretched out. On the right, Dad Cargo Short Mustache had his swollen pink hands, fingers laced, resting up on his bloated belly, elbows pointing across the armrest. On the other side, Super Bro Beats Headphones had his legs spread out as far as humanly possible, letting us all know that his massive junk couldn’t possibly be contained, and if need be, its power could rocket us off the ground, into the air.
The best people to sit next to on planes are women. We try so hard to make ourselves small and take up as little room as possible. We try to control our gassiness, we don’t take our shoes off, we’ll pee our pants before we wake you up to get to the bathroom, and we keep our music in our headphones at a reasonable volume, knowing that not everyone on the plane needs to listen to Taylor Swift. We’re considerate and think about our fellow passengers. Women are the best to sit next to. Unless they have a baby. Then forget everything I just said. Even the most courteous of us morph into Disney villains in the airport. An airport is a savage place. I’ve been known to vocally huff my disapproval of elderly people taking too long to place their carry-ons in the overhead bins.
My jeans were digging into my stomach and I wanted desperately to unbutton the top button. Actually, I wanted desperately to take my pants off. I was angry at myself for not wearing yoga pants, or better, sweatpants. I always saw these stunning, carefully casual women with slouchy bags and their messy buns perfectly bouncing on their heads leggily strutting through the airport. Simple jeans and white tee shirts. A latte in their hands, reading something smart. This is the outfit of the professional female flyer. This is the outfit to emulate. There are a group of women at the airport who wear heels and form filling dresses or worse, pencil skirts, but those women are psychopaths and are clearly flying somewhere to collect someone’s fingernails or something. Those are the people that should be getting extra pat downs in the security lines.
My jeans were too tight and my white tee shirt was stained. My flight had been delayed and after napping on the floor of the terminal, gracefully, of course, I decided to get a ten piece chicken nugget with extra sweet and sour sauce at 10:30 AM. After the second delay, I got a beer at 11:30, then I wandered to Newport News and got some chocolate covered pretzels and a Runner’s World Magazine. It’s called balance.
The airport is like church. No one seems to understand the rules, but there are serious penalties for breaking them. There is certainly a hidden entity that is watching to ensure that everyone is behaving. There is a ritual of sitting and kneeling and standing. Cross yourself like this. Line up like this for communion. Repeat now. Shake hands now. Now you sing, now you are silent. These rituals exist at the airport too. Fasten seat belts when there is no reason to do so. Drink your small cup of ginger ale and no you can’t have the full can. Take your shoes off, unless you paid for pre-check. There is no point in questioning these rituals. The best we can hope for is to follow them and one day fly with the angels on our way to Minnesota or Jamaica or Florida or Heaven.
The airport is like one of those post-apocalyptic movies where the hero has to make it through miles of dangerous, deranged gang territory to get to safety. If you can survive the flesh-eating experience of finding and paying for parking at the airport and checking in, then you can test your strength of body and mind at the security check. Earlier today at the security check, a tall TSA guard, amorphous in shapes, his body sliding around in his too tight uniform like a slug, leaned against the machine that was ex-raying our carry-ons. I noticed that he was wearing those sneakers that promise to tone you up. He stuck his fat tush out, provocatively and while I waited in line, shoes off, chugging my water, I half expected him to start singing Celine Dione or Cher. Instead, he wailed to the people in line, prodded them like cattle with his demands,
“People! Do you want your items to make it to your final destination? Then push them through to the belt. Come on people.”
We mooed through, smelling the fear and panic of the other cows in front of us. Step up. Not there! Not now. Now. No, you don’t have to take your watch off. Yes, you do have to take your belt off. Into the churning wind tunnel. Ok, step forward. Here. Ma’am. Wait here. Here. Arms up. I’m going to open your carefully stuffed bag and dig around. Oh never mind, it’s just your vibrator. Ok, hurry up, get your shoes, your belt, your wallet, Jesus don’t forget your wallet, the one earing that you took off in a panic, the two pennies and six dimes and receipt that you frantically flung out of your pockets into the plastic rubber maid container. Get it all. Balance it all carefully while putting your shoes back on. Quickly!
Back on the plane, the flight attendants are now monitoring the passengers, making sure no one has dared stand up while the fasten seat belts sign is illuminated. One waits with a blow dart at the front of the plane, while the other hands out thimbles of water to the surviving passengers. I take my thimble, apologizing as I reach across Dad Cargo Short Mustache.
“Excuse me miss, I’m sorry, but do you know how long it might be before we’re in the air or back in the terminal?”
“Ma’am, the Captain has told us in the crystal clear voice of an aviation angel, that we may never leave this plane. You better get used to that button burrowing a hole into your fat gut and just accept that Super Bro Beats Headphones over there, with his impressive package, is the last man you’ll ever lay eyes on. Now take your greedy portion of water and stay in your goddammned seat.”
I blink my eyes. I must have started hallucinating from the lack of fresh oxygen.
“Ma’am? I said we will be in the air as soon as we possibly can.”
She passed water and a napkin to my seat companion, pursed her lips and forced a smile in my direction before taking a quarter step down the aisle, daring the passengers behind me to ask her any questions.
To my right, Dad Cargo Short Mustache blows his nose, wet and loud, into a moist handkerchief. He turns to me with snot smashed into his copper mustache, and stretches his arms above his head then down along the armrest so his chubby fingers dangle against my knees, “Some people are so rude, huh?”
I take my thimble of water like a shot and unbutton my pants.