Certain things are familiar as I’m back in the saddle of international transit. The gentleman across the aisle got stuck with the chatty Cathy – the one who thinks a seven hour flight is just enough time to tell a whole life story. The industrial chemical smell – slightly sweet and sickening – but I’m glad to know the airline made an effort at cleanliness.
There are many things new or notable – the no smoking sign has been replaced with a warning about using electronic devices. I was asked to remove my headphones for takeoff – really? I promise, if we’re crashing and I can help, I’ll silence the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo… and no, they probably wouldn’t drown it out. And the flight attendants – gosh, I remember how classy that used to be – yes I know it was sexist, but they were so beautiful and exotic and unruffled. Now they remind me of diner waitresses – they have to push those carts so quickly – I assume they have time incentives like Wal-Mart cashiers. They expect the clients to be displeased – lots of apologizing and rule citing. I feel the airline squeeze when I give the woman a dollar tip for my paid drink and she is for a minute surprised, then conflicted – visibly, as to whether I misunderstood the price and then finally grateful as she hurries it into her apron pocket. The other woman does not know what she is serving for dinner – she greets me with an apology, thrusting it at me – ‘I’m sorry, this is all I have’, to which I respond, ‘that’s fine – does it contain fruit?’ she looks at it hopelessly – ‘I don’t know she says, I’m sorry – are you allergic?’ I say ‘yes, but it’s fine, thank you’. I smile warmly.
The seats are smaller, of course, and finally, finally the airlines have caught up and each seat has a screen. The irony is that it doesn’t matter now – I have two iPads and an iPhone – I have enough screens – I only wish for wifi. And this is the story of late innovation – but this is the story of the airline industry.
The things that are surprising – the flight attendant is fastidiously collecting pop tabs as she serves drinks – I soon realize she has an ornate bracelet of them. She beams when I notice and boasts she makes bracelets too. And then the signs that I am older – my widening bottom doesn’t fit the seat the way it used to and I’m pleased they have Glenlivet. And after the meticulous wrangling that involved leaving both sunscreen and body wash behind (in favor of bar soap), I fit my 3oz-ers in the baggie, only to realize the miniature whiskey bottle is made of glass. I’m tweezerless but could easily impale anyone on the plane with a homemade glass shank. The comic relief continues when I buy a duty-free cologne and they literally encase it in a huge bio hazard bag – red |do not tamper| foil so that I can get through security with it. It is clear that governmental policy is as fragmented as corporate life – and by the time it reaches the minutia of execution – it is senseless and penal.
But I’m happy to be here – the brilliance of airline flying is that it is a very present experience. There are distractions of entertainment but being confined to the seat so close to the people around and the presence of morality in the entire exercise forces presence. I feel naughty because my new book is boring, save one page, so I may tear that one out and toss the rest of it in the back of the overhead bin. I already know this will shock the mild-mannered new wife passenger next to me. She is fascinated and uncomfortable with me all at the same time – it makes me feel like I have arrived – this vision of being the jet setting troubadour with the big framed sunglasses. Here I am in this little girl fantasy. I am centered with the feeling that I am exactly where I belong in this moment.