Saturday, February 21, 2009

Insane in the Plane

As a little girl, I loved to fly. Hell, I even liked airports: the anticipation of going on vacation, the people-watching (and I'm from Jersey so you know there was plenty of opportunity there), and of course, the glorious fast-food stands that were your only chance at escaping United Airlines mystery meat of the night (they once served us chicken so small I started crying because I thought they'd killed Tweety Bird).

But actually boarding a plane was a magical experience for me. The beautiful people who would come and give me any kind of soda I asked for, the never-ending flow of peanuts, the thrill of takeoff, leaving all earthly frustrations 30,000 feet below for a suspended moment of time. Of course, that's all in the past now, the good old days when I believed in magic. Now the only thing I believe in when I fly is that there's not enough alcohol aboard to stop me from flipping out a la Twilight Zone man when we hit a little turbulence.

I'm not sure when the exact moment was that I began to fear flying, all I know is that it came about soon after I graduated from college, and that it came with a vengeance.

Unfortunately for my nerves, I love my family a great deal. Otherwise, I wouldn't do half the flying that I do today. It's almost as if my parents are testing my loyalty down there in Virginia, the ultimate measurement of love.

Of course I always get a ton of suggestions on how best to curb this fear from friends and random nosey strangers who feel more than educated on the subject, even as we fight for possession of the armrest of life, which everyone knows if squeezed really tightly while chanting, "Fuck, fuck, fuck," will prevent a plane from nose diving into the Atlantic Ocean. I've also averted almost certain crash landings by wearing my lucky opal earrings and counting backwards from 30 right after takeoff. And me, being the truly altruistic person that I am, I need no recognition for my heroism from others. Knowing I've saved hundreds, possibly thousands of lives is thanks enough for me.

The first suggestion I get to assuage my fear is to always to make full use of the cocktail cart, no matter if it's coming from my all-knowing Mom or the fat, balding lady who's taking up more than her fair share of the armrest. I did try this on a couple of occasions, but both turned out to be utter failures:

The first was on my way from Boston to Washington, D.C. to visit my family. I filled an empty Nantucket Nectars bottle with Absolut and added a splash of OJ to make it look authentic, seeing as my flight was at 8 in the morning and all.

My friend, Mel, had dropped me off at Logan, and, seeing how nervous I was getting out of the car, thought she would calm my fear by kindly informing me she was under no circumstances going to tell me what the airline I was flying used to be called. I should've just left it at that, but I figured if I was going to be sent off to certain death, I at least wanted to know who the executor was going to be. So as I'm closing the door and turning towards the airport of doom, I hear my wonderful, wonderful best of friends shout, "You're flying on the old Value Jet! Have a safe trip!" and I swear to you I heard the word "sucker" come out of that car before she zoomed off to the safety of I-93 during rush hour traffic.

I hadn't even hit the security check-point before I took out that bottle and downed it like I was actually drinking a bottle of Nantucket Nectars and not 7 ounces of vodka with a splash of juice for camouflage.

Afterwards, when I reached the security check-point, I had a little trouble understanding and communicating with the security guard who was trying to smoothly get me to take off my flip-flops before stepping through the metal-detector, because, as you well know, it is so very easy to smuggle a make-shift bomb in between the little piggy who went to market and the little piggy who stayed home.

"Miss, it would be very nice if you could take off your sandals."

I looked at the guard blankly, smiled, and proceeded on my way through the metal detector before I was stopped by the guard in a gruffer voice, "Miss, it would be REALLY nice of you if you would take off your shoes."

My flip-flops had quickly moved up the security-risk ranks of mere sandals to full-fledged shoes. This was serious. It suddenly occurred to me, even in my Nantucket Nectars induced state, that these were no polite requests to remove my flip-flops/sandals/shoes/heat-packing metal-toed military boots, but hidden threats to make it seem as if I had a choice in the matter. I may have been wearing flip-flops in Newark airport, but I was no beach bum fool.

I slowly took off one sandal, then the other, and rationally explained to the guard, "I am very thorry offither, I'm a little drunk tho I didn't underthtand you at first. I'll be on my way now." I then waltzed through the metal screener, retrieved my flip-flops, and proceeded to walk to my gate to the sounds of, "Was that English?" and "She must be a foreigner," floating behind me.

When I found my gate, I crashed down hard on an empty seat and slept off most of my morning pick-me-up. About an hour later, I woke up to the sound of a screeching mike and an over-the-top friendly Air Tran worker chirping, "Ladies and gentlemen, do we have a present for you! Your airplane has just rolled in, hot off the assembly line, and woo-hoo! I can still see the tags on the tires! Your plane is just a few days old, how about that? We will now be boarding all first-class passengers and people with disabilities."

If the nap hadn't sobered me up, then the announcement that we were all about to become involuntary guinea pigs for Air Tran Airlines certainly did the trick. When it was my time to board the plane, the ticket collector looked up at my panicked face and mumbled, "Good luck," while tearing my ticket and sending me off to almost certain death.

Before I even fully sat down, I pulled out a ten dollar bill from my wallet and gripped it in anticipation of yet another early morning cocktail, "Maybe a Bloody Mary," I thought, "That seems almost breakfast-y."

After take-off, the pilot made his usual announcements, and informed us we could now use our electronic devices. I pulled out my disc man and stared, horrified, as I watched the already-powered instrument of death spin around and around, mocking my increasing panic. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed we were all about to fly tragically off-course, crashing into another plane as a result of a tiny blue Panasonic portable disc man and my little morning cocktail. Death by disc man. What a way to go.

I barely had time to absorb the immensity of the situation before the plane swung violently down, then up again. Holy crap! Damn my obsession with Dave Matthews and his catchy tunes!

I looked behind me and saw the flight attendants pulling out the drink cart, and breathed a sigh of relief. At least if we were going down, we were going down drunk. But just as a flight attendant made his way to our row, the pilot clicked on again, "I'm sorry folks, but because of severe turbulence on our route, I'm going to have to ask passengers and crew to remain seated for THE DURATION OF THE FLIGHT." I turned around to look at the flight attendant, ready to make my plea for just one drink, but they were all gone. They had packed up and shipped out before the pilot even finished talking. Damn bastards took the booze and ran. Looking back on it, I can plainly see that I should've shoved a couple of nips in my pocket for emergency use, but I was drunk so I hadn't thought of it.

Panicked, I reached for the sick bag in the seat in front of me. I figured I could put it over my head thereby decreasing my oxygen intake and creating a nice alcohol-free buzz. I also figured that by doing this, I risked looking like a complete jack-ass. I then made the kind of quick-second, life or death decision that only people in similar urgent situations can make: I decided to look like a jack-ass. I had just fit the bag nicely over my head, when I felt a sharp jab in my side. "Hey! What do you think you're doing? Get that bag off your head—you'll suffocate!"

I peeked my head out of the bag. It was the fat, balding woman who had shoveled a good dozen or so Oreo cookies in her mouth before takeoff. I wished I'd had some at that moment to shut her mouth, "Hey, mind your business. It's either this bag on my head or this head in your lap, puking up the scrambled eggs, bacon, and banana- strawberry smoothie I had for breakfast at 4 a.m. this morning. Now what's it gonna be?" I bluffed. I never had the smoothie.

The fat, balding woman made a "harumph" sound (if she had been from Jersey it would've sounded more like "fuck off"), opened a bag of Chips Ahoy and went back to eating. There were probably some really pissed off Jersians that day in Newark Airport, angrily buying beef jerky and Nutri-Grain bars due to the fat lady cleaning out the cookies.

I was just about to continue with my self-abuse when the seat belt sign flashed on and the pilots informed us that we were making our descent. I did a little dance in my seat, and guessed at our increased chances of surviving a crash as we cruised lower and lower to the ground. This also makes a great game to play with the kids for some family fun in the air.

When we finally landed, I jumped up, hit my head on the over-head and crashed back down into my seat. I then got up slowly, watching my head, and before exiting the plane, thanked the pilots for saving my life and bear-hugged the flight attendants until they told me I had to clear the aisle for the other passengers. They looked surprised but I could tell they were secretly happy I hadn't used the barf bag.