PLACE: An airplane
[Placing my bag in the overhead compartment]
ME: I’m just gonna put my stuff up here. Try to cram my suitcase between these two bags. Easy enough.
SOME GUY: [Looking straight ahead]
ME: It’s funny — after all this time, you’d think they could figure out how to store all of our belongings on a plane without having to make special deals with passengers right before you board. You know?
GUY: [Looks up at me; nods]
ME: Like, “Hey everybody! We’ll give you two vouchers for a free trip if you promise not to bring any luggage onboard.” I’m like, “Weren’t you expecting some people to be carrying bags, you guys?” Like, “Was this really a big surprise?”
GUY: [Stares at his seat-back]
ME: What if — and I know we’ve just met, so you can tell me if this is nuts — but what if we got rid of, say, two rows of seats and just devoted them entirely to luggage? OK? What if we made flying just a bit more comfortable for everybody involved? I think you know what I’m saying.
GUY: Um hmm. [Takes out a book]
ME: [Still trying to close the overhead door] It doesn’t shut. You wanna give me a hand? Up here? Thanks. Maybe just push down while I rattle the handle. This actually reminds me of an episode of Friends. Do you remember the one where they go to Barbados? …
[On the tarmac]
ME: How long have we been sitting here?
ME: Sir? Do you happen to know how long we’ve been sitting here?
GUY: [Checks his watch] Um… about twenty minutes, I guess.
ME: Not too bad. That’s not terrible. One time — and I swear this is true — one time, I sat on a plane, waiting to take off, for almost three hours. This was a few years ago. I’m being serious.
GUY: Um hmm.
ME: And the pilot would just be like, [adopting pilot voice] “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be holding here for another twenty or thirty minutes.” And he would just keep saying that, every twenty or thirty minutes, right? He did that for three hours. I’m not joking.
GUY: [Nods while exhaling]
ME: So I just start thinking about how we were completely trapped and there’s no way to get off the plane and back into the airport, right? And they’re telling us to stay seated the entire time. You know? And they’re not even serving water or snacks or anything. So I feel this tingling in my chest and hands and, eventually, face. Sort of like a panic attack that’s creeping through my body. And it starts to intensify. It’s definitely spreading. Once it starts, it goes fast. Do you have any anxiety issues?
GUY: [Stares at his lap]
ME: Yeah, I get it. Say no more. We all do. A byproduct of living in this day and age. So anyway, I call the flight attendant over and I tell her that I’m having issues and ask if she can give me some water. And you know what she says?
ME: I’ll tell you what she says! She says, “Sir, unfortunately we aren’t permitted to serve any beverages while we’re preparing for takeoff.” Insane, right? So I do some deep-breathing exercises and some visualization stuff and and eventually calm down a bit. But that’s all completely true. And that’s why I always get an aisle seat. More freedom. I’m all about freedom.
ME: Why do you like the middle seat, by the way? Did you choose it, or was it randomly assigned to you?
GUY: Randomly assigned.
ME: It’s funny — you could be sitting right over there and we’d never have met!
ME: [After flying for twenty minutes] I bet it’s almost snack time! Like we’re back in preschool or something. Can you imagine? “Mama, Da-Da, feed me.” Or whatever.
ME: Do you like the snacks that they pass out? I actually really do, if I’m being honest. In fact, this is pretty much the only time I eat sweets — when I’m flying. I always say it doesn’t count. Like somehow calories don’t register at 30,000 feet. Yeah. That’ll be the day. But I used to eat cookies and cake and candy all the time. These days, I don’t. At least, not as often.
ME: Cooookiiiiieees! Me Cookie Monster!
ME: I just started exercising, recently. I didn’t like what I was seeing when I looked in the mirror. It was like a big, bloated, puffy fish. My face, that is. So I finally got a gym membership. And I know what you’re thinking — that I’ll probably never go. But listen to this, you doubter: I went four times in the last month, once per week. I haven’t noticed any changes, yet, body-wise, but I’m just going to keep going until I feel better about myself.
ME: And it’s not like my self-worth is completely wrapped up in how I look. But you get it. [Pause] Do you like exercising? Some people really do. Like my cousin. He can’t get enough of it. I’m like, “What are you gonna do with all those abs?”
ME: [Holding up the in-flight magazine] See this?
GUY: [Exhales] Yeah.
ME: This is a beach in Carmel, California. Carmel-by-the-Sea. Actual name. I’ve been there a bunch. I used to live in Santa Cruz, which is pretty close by. Right up the road.
ME: Clint Eastwood’s from Carmel, too. He was the mayor at one point.
ME: You know Clint Eastwood, yeah? [Quoting him] “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man.”
GUY: Yes. I know Clint Eastwood.
ME: Personally?! Just kidding. Ha. Anyway. See this beach? I’ve sat, like, right here. Next to this tree. I’m not kidding. It was amazing. The sand is really that white. I can attest to that because of the fact that I showed up one day having forgotten my sunglasses. I was practically blind by the time I left. I was like, “Where am I?”
ME: Probably my biggest fear is going blind. What’s your biggest fear, if you had to list just one? And don’t use mine.
ME: I bet we’re getting close. It seems like we’re flying lower, doesn’t it? And I’m hearing different noises. Sounds. It’s hard to tell with that shutter closed, though. [Leaning over GUY to address LADY sitting at the window seat] Hey… Miss?… hello? Hi. Sorry to wake you up. I was just wondering if you could open your window so we might have a look outside. It’s honestly my favorite part of the flight. I love when you’re flying low and you can see all the houses and the swimming pools and you start to imagine what it’s like to live down there. You have this whole other life playing out in your head, like… what if I had made just a few different decisions and ended up in this town down here. Right? But you wouldn’t know you were living an alternate reality. So you’d just be down there and somebody else would be flying low like this, staring down at your house, considering your life, wondering the same thing. Does that make sense?
ME: See those moving dots right there? Those are cars. Where do you think they’re going? We all get to guess one destination. I’ll start: The high school football game.
[Waiting to get off the plane]
ME: We’re in row 10. You’d think we’re back in row 35, or something. How long have we been standing here?
GUY: [Looks at me]
ME: Someday — and I’m being serious here — I’d genuinely like to teach a class on how to get off an airplane. You know? Like, “Ladies and gentlemen, instead of taking this opportunity to meet each other and have a conversation and make funny faces at babies, let’s focus on getting our bags out of the overhead compartment and moving our bodies off the plane in an expedient manner.” I think that could actually be a really excellent class.
ME: I swear, they spend so much time focusing on the behavior of the passengers at the beginning of the trip… but by the end, you’re completely on your own. It’s utter freakin’ chaos in here. Anarchy. Like… what’s that guy doing? Right there. He’s still reading his novel. That’s what he’s doing. And look at that lady, two rows up. Is she putting on her socks? This is nutty.
GUY: I’d like to get off this flight right now, too.
ME: Tell me about it.
ME: By the way, I never even got your name. Should we exchange contact information? In fact, what are you doing for dinner tonight?