T.R. Diamond - 30,000 Feet in the Air
The pilot tells us we have reached our cruising altitude, though the plane’s constant shaking suggests climbing either higher or lower would be to our collective benefit as passengers. The pilot seems to disagree and we skitter and bump over cloud cover.
Maybe it’s counterintuitive that I am a world traveler who hates to fly, but it is nonetheless true. I know the statistics about air travel and so am not afraid that I am in peril, but the discomfort of the all-around experience does convince me that I will probably die in some departures lounge. But en route to my niece’s fourth wedding (I waffled on coming, but as she reminded me “you only get your fourth husband once”), I began to get into the spirit of adventure. Yes, seats were narrower and frills were disappearing, but flight is our modern miracle! How lucky we are to live in the time that we do!
Buoyed by my new attitude, I pull out the duty free I’ve included in my carry-on. This triple-distilled premium vodka was meant to be a gift for Miracle (that’s my niece), but what the hell? She’ll get married again, surely. As the flight attendant makes her way down the aisle, her once slender frame now clocking everyone in the shoulders as she passes by, I smile brightly.
“Just a glass of ice, please,” I say.
“Five dollars,” she returns, evenly.
I blanch. “You misheard me,” I assure her. “I don’t want a golden chalice brimming with rubies. A glass of ice cubes will be just fine.”
“Five dollars,” she yawns.
I hand over a five dollar bill that she regards as if it’s covered in sewage. “Sir,” she intones sharply. “We are a cashless cabin. Credit card only.”
Too flabbergasted to argue, I reach discreetly into my Flight Underwear and pull out the credit card I typically only use in an emergency. She holds it gingerly between two fingers before swiping it through the machine.
“Sorry,” she says, unapologetically. “Our machine is down.”
I gape at her. “But you can only take credit card!” I protest.
“Correct. We are a cashless cabin,” she repeats robotically.
“But you can’t process any payments!” I nearly bark at her.
“Our machine is down,” she explains, as if to a five year old. Then she makes her way down the aisle.
I crack the vodka and swig deeply. Instead of ice cubes satisfyingly cracking in my molars, room temperature vodka tastes almost antiseptic with nothing to cool or dilute it. But by the third or fourth hearty gulp, I barely notice.
I am fortunate to have a row of seats to myself, and the woman in front of me is absorbed in her tablet, playing it so loud that the sound bleeds through her headphones. She is watching some program wherein an insufferable couple want a house that’s close to the country but in the heart of the city, has something called a “man cave” for him, an “open concept” for her, five bedrooms, four baths, and well within their budget of $25,000. An intrepid realtor manages to find a place with a massive walk-in closet, and the wife jokes to her husband, “Where are you going to put your clothes, honey?” Then she laughs. And the realtor laughs. And my seatmate laughs. I do not.
The turbulence ceases and the seat belt sign finally goes off. I practically leap from my seat and bound for the tiny bathroom. Inexplicably, tiny as they are, airplane lavatories give me some sense of autonomy. I am, for a moment, completely alone and in my own space. I sit on the tiny throne and breathe deeply, perhaps for the first time in hours. The plane hits another bump. I hear the ding of the seatbelt sign being turned on again. Across from me, sign reading, “Return to Seat” lights up. I stay put.
A few minutes later, I hear the flight attendant from earlier on the other side of the door. “Sir? Get back in your seat. Sir, the captain has turned the seatbelt sign on. Sir? Sir!”
I sit, grimly, and do nothing. She begins to knock.
“Return to your seat, sir!” she shouts, shrill enough to be heard over the droning engines. The plane continues to bump and wobble. Her knocks persist, and as they turn from taps to bangs, I open the door.
“You know, someday we’ll have loops in the sky that fire us hither and yon,” I begin, staring down the frazzled employee. “Or we’ll have transporters wherein you enter one chamber, dissolve, and emerge wholly in another chamber, perhaps across the world, in just seconds. Airplanes will no longer be the most efficient mode of world travel.”
Heads turn in interest, as I take my place at the rear of the plane.
“In fact,” I warm to my subject, “airplanes will be like cruise ships. So desperate for passengers that the journey itself will become a luxury! Comfortable, decadent accommodations! Floating sky palaces! Cups of ice for free!”
“Sir, you need to return to-"
“One day, the passenger will be well-treated! One day, the skies will be friendly! One day, air travel will belong to the traveler again!
The passengers erupt into spontaneous applause. When I take a bow, I notice my legs are bare and my pants are around my ankles. I must have partially disrobed when I got to the lavatory. Luckily, I am still clad in my….
“Is that Flight Underwear?” the suddenly calmed stewardess purrs, sliding a hand up and down the soft, bamboo fabric covering my thigh. It is then I notice how truly attractive she is.
I wink at her. “These are Flights I’m comfortable in,” I say, taking her hand. Slowly, I lead us both back to my seat. If the rest of the trip is turbulent, I don’t even notice.