originally written 10/2010
I have a quirk when choosing my seat assignments on planes. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “What?!? She has a quirk? GASP!” Well, it’s true. I like to have the same seat there and back. Now, I’m not totally freaky about it, but if I choose seat 16C on the first flight, I immediately look for 16C on the second flight and if it’s available, that’s it, no thinking about it.
Which is why I was in seat 27D from Springfield to Clearwater this afternoon. Which is how I got to spend 2 hours with the Drunk Man in 27E.
The flight attendant announced early on that it was a full flight, so I was a little surprised that both seats next to me were still vacant when it seemed that all the boarding had completed. I was beginning to fantasize about putting my laptop bag next to me in the cushion of emptiness during the flight instead of the inevitable wrangling from its take off position of COMPLETELY under the seat in front of me.
There was only a little disappointment when I saw more people coming through the door. 4 people, but I knew instantly which one was sitting next to me. I was immediately taken with the Tony Stewart / Home Depot winter coat. Not that I’m not a fan, or that my husband wouldn’t be giddy over a Tony Stewart coat, mind you. I’m no Nascar snob. It’s just that, well, the weather in Springfield is pretty warm, and we’re flying to F-L-O-R-I-D-A. A winter coat? Really?
They’re the last on the plane, and the flight attendant offers to help stow their carry on duffle bags. 27E politely says no, that he will keep his under the seat because he “don’t want no one stealin’ his stuff”. Why do I not have popcorn for these events? I rearrange the aforementioned laptop bag so he can get the duffle in sideways. No worries, I won’t be working on this flight…not with live entertainment of this caliber!
During the baggage storage, I am made keenly aware that the guy smells like a brewery….and not a snazzy microbrewery. An old, downtown, broken-glass-in-the-parking lot brewery. Think Falstaff.
We get the duffle satisfactorily secured. The flight attendant is trying to assess what she’s in for when 27E says “Ma’am? Do you have more of these airsick bags? I’ve never flown before and I think I’m going to throw up a lot.” Wouldn’t be the excess beer, would it, buddy? The look on the flight attendant’s face would have been enough to make me smile, but then, in my head, I hear my niece say (as only she can), “Seriously? That is hilarious!” and I giggle. Audibly.
The flight attendant brings more air sick bags. While he never uses them, he has one clenched in his hand through the entire flight. She asks if he needs some water. He declines, but engages in some concerned questioning.
“Ma’am, how old is this plane?”
“How old is it?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Is it an old plane?”
“Well, no, I wouldn’t call it old.”
“It’s not a new plane, though, huh?”
His wife (who is 27F, btw) tells him the plane is fine, and one of the other late arrivals explains that the planes are checked for safety after every flight and there is nothing to worry about.
As it turns out, the other couple is the wife’s parents, and they’re all going on vacation together. The wife’s parents are….not like him. At all. The father-in-law (actually, the step-father-in-law, I found out) looks like a casually cultured Ernest Hemingway type, and the mother-in-law seems to be somewhat of a trophy wife. Forgive the cliche, it’s not a judgment, just the easiest way to give an accurate picture. She’s too blonde, 20 years younger than Mr. Hemingway, manicured, bejeweled, and well dressed. Not a hint of Tony Stewart anywhere near her. They were last on the plane because 27E was so freaked out that he almost refused to board at the last minute. I’m starting to feel sorry for the guy.
He asks his wife to please close the shade so he can’t see when we get up in the air. He puts 4 pieces of chewing gum in his mouth for take off to help his ears pop. He clenches the armrests during takeoff and chews that gum like it’s a contest. He seems a bit surprised that he’s still alive.
After the announcement that it’s safe to use electronic devices, he digs into the duffle and retrieves a half empty bottle of Coke. Then he proceeds to pull a plastic flask from the front of his pants. I am incredulous. I don’t want to stare, but…c’mon! He interprets my gaze as wonder, and proudly explains that he used a plastic one so the metal detector wouldn’t catch it. He empties the flask into the Coke bottle before he puts it into the duffle. I’m glad he didn’t put it back down the front of his pants.
It’s not long before it looks like he’s dozing, which is much better than vomiting. I reach up to turn my air nozzle off, and apparently startle him. I get a swift elbow to the right side of my chest, which would normally be protected by my right arm if I weren’t twisting the little air nozzle. He apologizes profusely, and explains that he “spooks easy” and always “wakes up swingin'”. Good info. Very good info.
I am going to have a bruise.
The captain announces that we’re going to land about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. 27E asks 27F if the pilot will get in trouble for that.
“What do you mean?”
“If they get in early, it means they were speedin’, and I think they have a speed limit so Air Traffic Control can make sure they don’t run into each other.”
“I don’t know, I don’t think so.”
“They’ve got to have a speed limit. I think that’s why Jimmy’s plane circled that time. Remember? When we went to get him and he was on time but said they had to circle cuz they couldn’t land? I don’t think they’re supposed to be early.”
He asks 27F to open the window, and actually gasps when he sees the bay. He’s giddy. He says he’s never seen the ocean before. He can’t believe he’s going to be on a beach on the ocean. He’s smiling, not even thinking about the fact that we’re now in the dangerous part of air travel, the landing. He says, to himself I think more than to anyone else “I can’t believe that I’m gonna see the ocean, be on a beach, and ride in a airplane all in the same day. First time for all of ’em.”
He’s drunk, and he smells….but I’m pretty impressed. He faced his fears….with a little liquor, but he faced them all the same. His wife seems relieved that it’s over. I can tell that she was prepared for much worse.
As the agonizing wait for de-planing begins, 27E becomes as animated as a child waiting in line for the amusement park. “Are we gonna go right to the ocean, or are we gonna eat first? I wanna get to the ocean before it gets dark. There aren’t any gators in the ocean though, where are we gonna see gators? We won’t need any sunscreen if we go to the ocean right now because the sun’ll be down soon. Maybe we should just get some burgers from a drive through and take them to the beach. I’m gettin’ hungry, but I don’t want to get there after dark. I probably won’t swim tonight, I want to swim when it’s real sunny so I can see what’s in the water.”
Thank you, Drunk Man in 27E. For the entertainment, for not vomiting, and for reminding me that staring down your demons is a pretty cool thing to do. I hope you enjoy the beach.