Politics & Policy


Give me a hot meal, a beer, and an aisle or window seat.

I am in the belly of a cargo plane loaded down with jackasses. The “gentleman” next to me is asleep right now, but he may wake up any moment and so I will have to change the topic rapidly. I am grateful for his slumber, as he seems to have a Luddite aversion to this technological marvel commonly referred to as “the Kleenex.” When he is asleep, he is not sniffling every 2 or 3 seconds. Perhaps it is not the technology, but some other attribute of the nose rag that he fears. Or he could simply be following some strange custom of his homeland that does not permit him to do anything but sniffle incessantly. Regardless, for the first forty-five minutes of this flight from Minneapolis to New York City he has been sniffling more than Rick James after a royalty check cleared.

He’s just woken up — I just hit the “Return” button seventy-five times in an effort to conceal the above — and, besides, there’s only so much one can write about such topics, so I’d better move on and tell you about the rest of my flight. When I arrived in Minneapolis, from Salt Lake City, I wanted to switch final destinations from New York to Washington, D.C. The flight attendant, a.k.a. waitress in the sky, informed me that I should ask the person at the desk at the gate when I exited the plane. Cool. So I did that. I waited on line. They said go to check-in at the main terminal. I said, “Okay.” I asked the official “answer woman” in the terminal, and she told me to wait on the wrong line. Which I did, because after all, the revelation about its wrongness wouldn’t be any fun if I received it before I waited on said line for a good twenty minutes or so. Upon learning that the correct line was a nice walk down the terminal, I went there.

They told me I could not switch destinations and they informed me that Northwest does not offer standby tickets. This was interesting and disappointing up until the moment I learned that it was a lie, at which point it became angry-making. For at my gate, 8 zillion people were waiting on standby. Sure, “Zillion” is an exaggeration. It was probably barely half that many people.

Anyway, the plane was, of course, delayed at the hangar. When it finally rolled up to the gate, my row got called for boarding. I headed for the mob they call a line. I marveled at the fact that the couple in front of me was loaded with about fifteen pieces of carry-on luggage between them, including a guitar case. This is not much to marvel at, but my expectations were low and the waitress-in-the-sky in training had said that the plane was full and therefore only one piece of carry-on was permitted. So I found it interesting that they could count all those pieces of luggage, tally them up, and conclude they carried a total of one bag each. The female of the couple was carrying a copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which in any screenplay I write will be the equivalent of the curly-cue mustache as an obvious symbol of villainy.

While I was reading the words “Over 500,000 copies in print” on the cover of her book, I felt the tell-tale shove of a college freshman who thinks bong-water is a beverage and that flying home from a free-food vacation qualifies as “business travel.” He blazed by me, only to have the words coming from the loudspeaker: “Rows 31 through 40 only, please” pierce the shroud of his hemp haze. “Whoa, dude. That’s not me” he said to himself as he obliviously jostled past me.

I pause here for a moment to let you know that the maitre ‘d in the sky has just announced: “If you wish to join us for dinner, please lower your tray.” “Join us?” I just said mirthfully to the sniffler next to me, who smiled and sniffled three times in the moment it took me to say those two words. “Join us for dinner” is an interesting choice of words. Will we be dining with the staff? Do you normally considering hucking a “half a turkey hoagie” the sort of repast that requires such formality?

Anyway, let’s fast-forward past the effete outrage of the Zinn-o-philes (“this sucks!” declared the populist as she was required to check her belongings). Let’s set aside my own particular rage at the hemp-soaked Horatio Alger whose epistemological incisiveness will never transcend “Whoa, dude. That’s not me,” even as he spends the next thirty-seven semesters staring at a lava-lamp. I need to get to why I am so cranky.

I get aboard the plane. As is always the case, the airline chooses to seat the first-class passengers first and the people with the very worst tickets second. Nobody is fooling anybody. The prosperous passengers look up at me from the rims of their plastic champagnes and mimosas, and I look down at them, but our attitudes toward each other go in the opposite directions.

Anyway, as I said, I get aboard the plane. It seems like a normal plane. There are no signs that appear out of the ordinary, no warnings of any kind. Indeed, the aisle is empty for more than a dozen rows, so I am delighted that I can get past the first classers as quickly as possible. So, I start walking at a sprightly clip, only to feel the sort of sudden, piercing pain that can only accompany a sudden, piercing blow to the head or upon the sight of Bill Clinton eating hot wings. I am six feet, three inches tall. Though with my belly and my posture I often appear five feet, six inches fat. Nevertheless, even if I were standing bolt upright, I don’t think I should be able to bang my head on the first-class TV monitor/doorway to coach hell.

But that’s exactly what happened. I smacked it hard and loud and it hurt. It hurt a lot. But what hurt more was the look on the faces of the winter-tanned ski-yuppies as they gawked up at the sound of my head smackage: “poor bastard.” But what truly enraged me — and what might explain the level of contempt I now have for Northworst Airlines — is the complete disregard paid to me by the flight non-attendant not five feet in front of me. Not even after I put my hand to my scalp and pulled back fingertips glistening with blood, did I hear words even remotely familiar to “Sir, are you all right?” I did hear her ask the guy in first class if he needed help stowing his coat, but that doesn’t sound very much like, “sir, do you need some ice on that?”

I’ve never cared much for the faux mothering of flight attendants. Give me a hot meal, a beer, and an aisle or window seat and leave me alone until we’re at the gate, and I’m fine. I’m even willing to take my share of the blame for hitting my head, I do it all the time, because I am stupid that way. But when I receive blunt-force trauma because the cabin of their plane was designed for people of George Stephanopoulos’s stature, and when you think of all the times these people wake you up to give you a blanket or a take a cup, you’d think the least she could do is offer me a cocktail napkin to stanch the blood flow.

Of course, nobody likes a whiner and few of you actually care about how my travel goes — indeed this column is something of a betrayal of our unwritten contract. So I will stop here. I won’t even mention the angry Russian who almost got kicked off the plane, or his mother — or very robust girlfriend I can’t be sure — who came within a hair’s breadth of being the first person ever extinguished with one of those tiny airplane pillows. I won’t even recount for you the tale of the Lady Who Was Served a Turkey Hoagie Who Believed It Was a Chicken Hoagie — or why such a tale should be told.

But I will tell you this, as surely as the man next to me is incapable of stanching the beat of his nasal tell-tale heart, I will not fly this airline again. That is if I ever get a chance to fly it again, since we’ve just entered some really, really nasty turbulence….


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