Sunday, August 04, 2013

MKE to LAS or: How I Came to Hate the Plane

Southwest Airlines herds people onto planes like cattle. Unless you’re rich(er) cattle. Then you get to pay to pick a seat that is slightly better, slightly earlier. Aisle and window seats fill up first, like an inverted Mohawk on each side of the plane the middle seats are left empty. Less-fortunate cattle must wander down the aisle, eyeing those middle seats and glancing towards the windows and aisles making snap judgments about those who will be their sandwich bread for the remainder of the flight. Any sign can be interpreted. Or misinterpreted. So when the middle-aged woman sitting by the aisle looked up at me as I eyed the seat beside her, she gestured as if it were mine for the taking. It was.

I sat down. I stored my bag under the seat in front of me. I buckled my seatbelt. I turned on the air. I grabbed my book and sat resting with my hands in my lap. I was ready for three hours and 48 minutes of flight time to Las Vegas on my way to Portland. I caught the tail-end of her phone call.

I feel sexy. Like really sexy.

Then it started.

So… where you from?

Here. Kind of. I go to the University here at least.

I was polite. But not overly polite. I was firm. But not overly firm. I was, well I was airplane-y. I didn’t even ask her where she was from. I didn’t care. I don’t care.

Then the onslaught began.

What city is this? Why are there no houses by the lake? Ooooh, that’s pretty. When I was little the clouds looked like they stretched forever up into the sky. But they don’t.

I buried myself in my book. It was a good book.

How old are you? Wait, let me guess. 28? 29?


Well-played middle aged woman, well played.

Me too. I’m 29.

I have a habit of raising my right eyebrow at ridiculousness. A slight shake of my head and you can be damned sure all I’m thinking is – no you’re not. No. Just no.

She sensed it. I’m not sneaky.

Ok. I’m in my 30s.

This time I let it slide. But no you’re not. No. Just no.

And then it happened. Her hand. It came out of nowhere. And slammed down on my book. Fanned out, covering the poor little paperback.

You can read when we get to Vegas.

I can read now, too.

Are you gay? Do you have a girlfriend?

No. Yes.

Did I insult you asking you if you were gay?

Nope. It takes a lot more than that to insult me.

Oh. My friend got mad when I asked him if he was gay.


I was going to hook you up with the flight attendant if you were gay. All my best friends are gay. I call them my girls. I can do that.

This was starting to sound like a preface to a homophobic joke. I’m not a racist, but… I’m not a sexist, but… Whatever you say. I looked at her. And back to my book. Only three hours and 28 minutes to go.

That woman next to you is a bitch. She won’t talk to me. She’s just talking to the people she came on the plane with. I just quit my job. I was a lawyer. It’s the first time I’ve ever quit a job. They lied to me. So I flipped my boss off and flew home two days early. I’m coming from Orlando. I live in California. I’m a single mom with a daughter. Tomorrow I have to fire my nanny. And my housekeeper. And my driver. I have a few months’ worth of savings though. Do you think I’ll be ok?

Yes. I’ve quit a few jobs already and I’m only 29. You’ll be fine.

But all I could think was: I work three jobs while also working on my PhD and make so little that, according to the helpful information on the city bus, I would actually qualify for food stamps. Lady, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re looking for sympathy from me. I didn’t say that though. Half the time I never even think it. Not until the moment has passed, but regardless, I never say it. Back to my book.

And there was the hand again. On my book.

What’s happening in the book?

A boy is being yelled at by a teacher.

You suck at explaining things. That’s boring.

That is literally what the last paragraph I read described.

I know. I hate the word literally too. I try to avoid it. But I said it. And it fit the moment. I didn’t want to engage by actually talking about the book. And I didn’t want to say, you asked a dumb question. Because the years of higher education have shown that old adage about there not being any stupid questions to be a stupid lie. There are plenty of stupid questions. As far as I'm concerned, at that very moment, she had asked one.

Snacks! To save me. The flight attendant came by. He who was to be my lover had my sexual orientation only been a bit more fluid. Alas.

Water and cranberry juice please.

Can I get a ginger ale? And vodka? And red wine?

Only one at a time, ma’am.

Ok, vodka and ginger ale please.

The poor flight attendant. His eyes drooped, he could barely look at her, his voice was flat, bored, done. Just done.

The vodka and ginger ale was served.

My daughter is 12. She’s a diver. She’s training with the US National Team. I did too, when I was her age. My daughter shaves all of her body hair. All of it. We didn’t do that when I was younger. Do you trim yours? What color is your pubic hair?

I looked at her. I answered. I didn’t know what to do. No one has ever asked me that before. But every hair on my head gives the answer away. All I could think was: no. No. Just no. Only two hours and 28 minutes to go.

Cool. This ginger ale is gross. Especially with vodka. What else goes well with vodka?

I don’t know? Tonic water? Orange juice?

The vodka and ginger ale disappeared. Apparently, it wasn’t that gross.

Excuse me; can I get that red wine now?

Of course.

Turns out vodka, ginger ale, and red wine will go through a middle-aged woman’s system in no time. And the woman to my right and I staggered out of our seats to allow her to head to the bathroom.

I just looked at the woman in front of me. My eyes wide. Shell-shocked. Tired. Pleading. At least, that’s what I told my eyes to convey. It worked.

I’m so sorry. You’re handling it so well. I’m really impressed. She started talking to me when I got on the plane. I just shut her down when she started touching me. And then she got into it with the flight attendant. Got smart with him. She wouldn’t let people sit here.

Dear god. That means I was chosen. She chose me to sit here.

She’s back. She tried making friends with the woman on the aisle.

Can I borrow your magazine? Us Weekly?

Sure. For a little bit.

Isn’t that crazy? This woman is just a year older than me. She looks good.

She does.

I don’t know if she was on a fishing expedition looking for compliments, but I was having none of it. Instead, I peered down at the caption. 42 year old Kelly Ripa blah blah blah. Ah ha! The woman to my left was 41. Not 29. Not in her 30s. At least that made sense.

Can I buy you something?

No. No. Just no.

But I still have my corporate card. I bought everyone a drink at the bar in Orlando. I’d never done that before. I’ll buy you something from SkyMall on my corporate card.

No. No. Just no.

What about this Big Foot statue? Or this Spanx compression undershirt? How about this? It’s supposed to help regrow hair for balding men. Or this one? It does the same.


You look hot. Are you hot?


Your ear is really red.

Yeah, that happens when I get hot.

Turn the fan on.

It’s on.

And suddenly, a tug. On my ear lobe. And then another. This one harder. She was pulling my ear towards her. I’m pretty sure that’s not helping the redness of my earlobe.

No. No. Just no.

And I turned my head away. Back to my book.

Something about your face makes me want to punch you in the nose.


I’m too nice. Or too scared. Or polite. Or Swedish. Self-loathing was setting in. But only about one hour and 28 minutes left. Not that I was counting.

The flight attendant walked by. Or tried to.

Excuse me? Sir? He hates it when I call him sir.


Can I have another drink?


Are you cutting me off?

No. We’re landing soon.

My eyebrow shot up. We had well over an hour left. But that’s fine by me. The flight attendant walked away.

Will you buy me a drink?

No. No. Just no.

I’ll pay for it.

No. No. Just no.

Am I annoying? Am I obnoxious?


Silence. Sweet, sweet silence. Finally. I finished my book even. Great book.

Thank you.

For what?

For letting me talk. And for telling me I was being annoying.

You’re welcome.

Damn you! Why must you play on my desire to be nice? All those mean thoughts? They feel so petty now. But we were landing. Or preparing to land.

How much time do you have in Vegas?

An hour.

That was a lie. I had over two, but I wasn’t interested in having to slither my way out of continuing this very one-sided conversation outside the friendly confines of a Boeing 737.

We landed. The woman to my right stood up. So did I. She stayed sitting by the window. I grabbed my bag. I did not look back. I used my long legs and strode off the plane. I went to the left. I saw the departure board. I didn’t look. I didn’t care. The left offered me an escape. I turned left. I turned right. I turned right again. I was free. I had found a secluded gate. I waited. I peed. Not at the gate. There was a bathroom nearby. I looked around. Nothing. To the departure board! As expected, my flight was delayed, but the gate was right there. And empty. And I was free. Free. Just free.

I hate flying. So much.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And pure, unadulterated hatred. For flying.