Now the question arises – what had we wrought? Referring of course to the joys of modern air travel. I won’t bother with detailing the aggravations, they’re well known to everyone, but just consider — our seats, which the airlines manage to get smaller and smaller every year until sitting in them becomes about as bad as being water boarded, were in the middle. I steeled myself to spend the next six hours and 28 minutes hemmed in between two adult males as big as I am.
Recently, I had had some rehearsal for this experience by being in hospital undergoing a procedure for atrial fibrillation, involving a catheter being run through my groin to my heart to shock it into regular rhythm. They told me on awakening that I had to lie flat on my back for three hours until the incision in my groin coagulated. I did so dutifully while Barbara stood by and hit me on the head with a club every time I raised it up.
Eventually, the time being up, I started to sit and put on my robe. As I did so, I felt a warm liquid running down my leg. Thinking I might have gotten the robe wet somehow, I looked down to see that the liquid was a deep red. Immediately, Barbara was out the door of my room hollering, “He’s bleeding!” Just as quickly a trio of young nurses were in the room diving at me while one of them clamped her fist down on my groin. There I was lying naked while a cute 20-something girl grabbed at my crotch and all I could think of was, why did she have to press so hard? She kept asking me if I was in any pain, and I said, “Yes! From you!”
When the hospital team eventually got me rebandaged, I then had to lie flat another three hours until I finally stopped bleeding.
Sitting in the middle seat of this airplane, I took solace from that experience, figuring I had been in this kind of discomfort before and I could do it again. If you think I’m using this anecdote about lying stationary in a hospital bed potentially bleeding to death as comparable to sitting in the middle seat of an airliner, that’s completely intentional. Like the guy in those long ago commercials, I’d say they’re about even.
Interestingly, on this flight I happened to sit between two sports figures. On the aisle was a 30ish guy with a career in the financial sector who was currently traveling on his part time job as a European scout for American soccer teams. He was returning from Kansas City, home of the Spartans, for whom he was recruiting European players.
In the window seat was a member of an American surfing team on route to a competition in the Azores. I didn’t quite get all the details but apparently, organized surfing seems something like the golf circuit, with amateur and semiprofessional divisions at varying levels of competency. The team he was with were some kind of advanced amateur players on the international circuit.
Later, in the Lisbon airport I happened to see him with the rest of his team. They all looked alike, 18 or 20 years old, small, lean and tanned, all with long hair tinted an identical shade of blond. There were six of them, four boys, one girl and an older coach. The girl looked exactly like the boys but with thinner shoulders and she walked ahead while the boys followed behind in a pack. They were all beautiful, enough to have been the playthings of some debauched Roman emperor.
My seatmate explained all this about how the league was organized, and we found some common ground in the fact that he was from the South Carolina coast where I had spent considerable time in my 20’s and 30’s. He mentioned living in Myrtle Beach and I recounted my years on Edisto and Pawleys Islands, near Charleston.
Then he turned and went to sleep, remaining so for the entire flight. Occasionally, he would shift in his seat; at one point he laid his head on my shoulder. As moved as I was by this gesture of affection, if he started groping me or murmuring anything about “Mama,” I was outa there no matter what the flight crew might say. I carefully removed my shoulder from under his head, half expecting him to collapse onto the arm of his seat; but he simply hovered in midair for a moment and then turned the other way to lean against the bulkhead. The kid had the flexibility of a soft pretzel.
If our flight wasn’t already going to take long enough, we had a “security issue” just before taking off. At least, this was how the pilot described it. To assuage the passengers, he called it a “minor security issue.”??? What does that mean? Someone was carrying a bomb but a very small one? There was a spy onboard who had only stolen the shoe sizes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Somebody had forgotten the code to open the supplies closet? How is it minor if it’s important enough to be a security issue?
In any case, we came back to the gate and sat for an hour. Eventually, the pilot declared that we were on our way again after a passenger had to be deplaned. He never said why, which really isn’t fair. If an hour out of our lives had to be lost, at least we should have been told why. Did they think we were too anxious to leave to care very much about why? Well, to tell the truth, they may have been right on that score.
My sitting between two millennial agers had to be some kind of anomaly. Most of the passengers were the kind of people more likely to have the time and money to fly to Europe on vacation – i.e., old. No sooner had we taken off and the pilot extinguished the “fasten seat belt” sign, than a parade of white haired, potbellied passengers, many limping or with canes, filled the aisle heading for the restrooms. They would continue this procession for the rest of the flight, going back to their seats when finished only to return to the line an hour or so later. I noticed a few, a couple each males and females, who led the pack jumping into the relief line five or six times.
Shame on the airlines, loading the flight up with 240 passengers, the majority seniors, and only providing four tiny bathrooms. What the airline industry needs is special over-60 planes for just such flights – they know which ones — upped to at least six or maybe even eight watering holes each.
I myself am proud to say I managed to keep my visits down to three through sheer force of will. The soccer recruiter on the aisle went once at the beginning of the flight and again at the end. The surfer dude, on the other hand, accomplished a feat I didn’t think humanly possible. He not only slept through the entire flight, he didn’t come around even once to anoint the facility.
Six hours later, while I was drinking my morning coffee, he turned to me and asked politely, “Sir, when you get a chance, could you let me out to pee? You don’t have to do it right now, go ahead and finish your coffee. After that.”
After that!? Finish your coffee!!? He says this to me, with a prostate the size of a cantaloupe, who’s up and down every night visiting the pissorama? What right does this kid have to sleep the entire night in an airline seat without taking a whiz and then act like it’s something that can be put off like cutting his toenails?
Had I been an ancient emperor, I’d have condemned him to be the plaything of an entire Roman legion. Barring that possibility, I was contemplating some suitable punishment like finding a chainsaw and cutting his surfboard into little pieces. Before I could settle on anything though, mercifully (for him), the plane hit the ground and we had landed in Lisbon.