During our early teenage years, my best friend and I fantasized about hanging out at our local airport as soon as we got our driver’s licenses. Our plans included making appearances at the soft pretzel stand, joyriding up and down the moving walkways, and supervising the taxiing planes from our window perches.
Since then, I’ve done time in a lot of airports and on a lot of aircrafts and have stopped taking this whole industry too seriously. My dad has told me about the heyday of commercial air travel, back when “flying used to be a pleasure.” Even I can remember what it was like to jet-set in the mid-‘90s through the mid-2000s and not have to pay for checked-in luggage or tote around my own bag of nuts to stave off in-flight hunger pangs. If I ever fall into money, my second or third large-scale luxury purchase will have to be a very private jet that can accommodate backyard pickups.
I couldn’t afford a non-stop flight to Seattle last week, which meant another borderline ordealish round-trip cross-country journey. At an overpriced lunch at O’Hare during a 4-hour layover, a chilly Chili’s waitress judgmentally carded me for a midday margarita. A series of gruff flight attendants (whose airline can’t be bothered to gate-check larger carry-on items) busted up my once-beautiful TJ Maxx rolling suitcase by re-jamming it into the overhead bins in ways that would “make it work.” Right before one connecting flight’s take-off, a medium-grade passenger riot erupted immediately behind me, due to the outrage surrounding the aging swinger in 15B’s use of an entire overhead compartment to daintily lay out his tuxedo. There was a special pre-landing announcement: “If we need to make an emergency evacuation, please don’t bring your carry-ons with you.” That had to have been directed at Monsieur 15B – we all knew he would hold up any harrowing emergency exiting procedures by bumbling around for and maniacally safeguarding his trifling tux during a potentially fatal water landing.
Every single connecting flight was packed to full capacity with the dazed and disgruntled, and I can’t tell if the seats in coach are getting smaller or if I’m getting bigger. On one connecting flight, my seatmate spent the better part of our 4-hour union unsubtly craning his neck to read the pages of my opened book. The words at the very top of the last page he scanned were: “MOTHERFUCKER! MOTHERFUCKER! I can yell. MOTHERFUCKERMOTHERFUCK! It’s a kidney stone. I wake up and am drugged.”
After returning to Laguardia, there was an unstable-sounding woman sitting behind me on the city bus that goes into Upper Manhattan. A Rihanna song blasted from her headphones, and she unselfconsciously sang along to most of it, all off-key. I looked up when she later passed by - it was one of the flight attendants from my final connecting flight.
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