Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Adventures in Flying, Part Deux

Post-reception, and I'm traveling with a glass of wine and a glass of champagne in my belly, so already the return flight is off to a good start. Add to that the fact that I'm flying with some wedding companions; fellow writer, Kelly Manning, the "other" Kelly, and old high-school chum Daniel Llenas. We regale each other with tales of "when animals attack" and I top everyone with my barbary ape scenario. We're all feeling a little too lazy and tired to try and get seats next to each other on the plane. This is my first mistake.

I've got the aisle seat next to an older, wizened, Alaskan couple. Since it's the red-eye, everyone settles in immediately to sleep. I look back at a sea of snoozing faces. Jaws hanging slack, heads contorted at odd angles, a woman buried in a man's lap. I wonder briefly if they even know each other. I'm jealous, it doesn't matter how tired I am, insomina always sweeps over me once I'm buckled down into my cramped seat. I scrunch into a ball, and try to pretend I'm on a train. This attempt is thwarted by a screaming child seated directly behind us. The Alaskan man twists in his chair and admonishes the parents harshly-

AM: "Would you gain control over your child, and tell him to stop kicking my seat?"

The woman seated behind us is chagrined and starts cursing at her son under her breath. I have to bite my tongue to keep from cheering. Finally, someone who understands my opinions on child-rearing! The little buggers should be seen, but not heard. And preferably not seen either. I'm just happy that I didn't have to be the one to say something, for a change.

Halfway through the flight I realize that the plane is relatively empty, I just happen to be in a row stuffed with three people. Since I'm the single person, it makes sense for me to move to a row with one other person and give this couple their space. I look around, but all the single row people are completely stretched out across their row of seats, snoozing with mouths gaping open; lucky bastards. I can't exactly roll up on them and tell them to move. And I am sitting in my assigned seat already, and really, I just can't be asked to transport all my crap. I cast a guilty look at the couple, but they appear to be asleep, so maybe they don't mind. I sigh. I'm the only person wide awake on this whole damn flight, and as a result, beverage carts have become obsolete.

I'm getting to the point of near-hibernation when I catch a whiff of a scent so foul it's all I can do not to gag. It takes me a second to realize that someone is secretly farting, spewing out Silent But Deadlies right up my nostrils and into my brain. I glance wildly about trying to identify the culprit. I suppose it's human nature to want to know- "Who farted?" But as SBDs are indeed silent, there's no way of knowing. And what would I do if I found out anyway? Tap the person on the shoulder pleasantly and say-

Me: "It appears that you've been farting in your sleep. It's the nastiest odor I've ever smelt, and if you would kindly stop, I might be able to get some shut-eye tonight. Thank you!"

I'm glancing to and fro, imagining myself starring in my own Scooby Doo mystery of "whodunnit." I eye my neighbors across the aisle suspiciously, it smells like it's coming from that general direction. But then I'm accosted with another fart through the air ducts, and it's just so strong! It has to be the Alaskan couple next to me. There's no way around it.

If it was one or two farts, it would be mildly understandable. But this is an onslaught, a bomb raid of one farting attack after another, and I am standing directly in the cross-fire. I try everything to wriggle my way out of it. Burying my nose into the pleather seat, putting my arms around my head on the tray table. But there's no way out. I'm trapped on an airplane reeking of methane. Never in my life have I been in such a precarious situation.

When the plane lands, I sprint off of the smelly abomination as fast as my stubby little legs will carry me and jog down to baggage claim, gasping for fresh air. My second mistake of the evening is that I neglected to print out my flight itinerary, and even conveniently forgot to jot down my flight numbers.

I love traveling with myself. I'm so completely laid-back and unprepared. I just roll up to airports, pop my credit card into the e-ticket machine, and hope for the best. As a result, I suppose, I've had some of my greatest adventure stories when things don't work out as planned. But I'm hoping today isn't one of those days.

If I had the foresight to print out my itinerary, the ticket agent in Juneau would've been able to check my beastly bag all the way to D.C. But because I don't, I now have to fetch my bag from baggage claim, re-check it, go through security, find my gate, and get on my connecting flight, all in one hour.

I'm the first one at baggage claim (as if running did any good, this part always takes forever, anyway.) And sure enough, a kindly gentleman worker informs me-

KW: "Oh, we haven't even received the bags from your flight yet, it'll probably be on one of these three carousels."

He waves his hand, indicating three enormous carousels that are not even within walking distance of one another and shrugs non-committally. I groan, and spend the next 20 minutes pacing back and forth between carousels like an angry, savage, guard dog, ready to rip out someone's throat.

I grab my broken bag and fly to the American ticket counter. (Well, as fast as a little person with a busted knee, towing two huge backpacks and a laptop can fly.) Panting, I arrive in the nick of time, as they have a sign posted that states you must be checked-in 35 minutes prior to flight time. Damn, these airline bastards are picky these days. Breathing a sigh of relief, I heave my monster at the check-in lady and hustle to security.

The security line resembles a human diagram of the large intestine. It's an utter cluster fuck, with masses of lines weaving in and out of each other, and winding around and around in a riot of circles. I stroll to what I interpret as the end of the line, and hope for the best. With about 15 minutes to spare, our Lady of the Line announces they've opened another, less populated security lane down on the other end. Mass chaos breaks out and the people in front of me jostle each other for the chance to break out into a run and get first dibs on a spot in the new line.

Being the experienced travel I am, I know to hold fast and my line will magically surge ahead as everyone bounds away searching for greener pastures. Sure enough, I'm through in 5, and on the plane in 10.

I'm sitting by the window, utterly exhausted from the night's events. Fortune smiles on me, and I fall into a head-nodding daze. I must have been a sight, because at the end of the flight as I'm groggily collecting my belongings, my friendly seat-neighbor girl asks-

NG: "Did you have a nice sleep?" With a hint of a snicker, and a grin on her face.
Me: "I guess. I took the red-eye last night and didn't sleep at all. I'm flying from Alaska to D.C. and it's a rough haul. How long was this leg?"
NG: "Four hours."
Me: "Damn, I guess I slept through it all."
NG: "Yes, you did!" And she starts cracking up in a way that suggests my head was either buried in her shoulder, or I was snoring up a storm to entertain and annoy all of my neighbors. I cringe and grab my stuff, not wanting to hear any vivid details of my embarassing sleep gymnastics. Time for the next flight.

Dallas to D.C. passes in much the same manner. Only this time I force myself to sleep, or attempt to sleep, the entire time, with my eyes buttoned tightly shut, until we're ready for the final descent. The captain announces it, and the bright D.C. sunshine hits me square in the eyes and dazzles me momentarily. We draw closer and closer to our destination, and I watch as cars, monuments, and freeways grow and wiggle through the port-hole window. The strangling shadow of Alaskan melancholy finally lifts, and a new feeling surges through me, one I've been waiting to feel for the last five days. Homecoming. I'm returning home.

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