Babies on a Plane

I love people watching. There are few places that offer a better chance to observe human nature than an airport. It’s been a while since I shared an air travel story, so put your tray tables up, your seat in the upright position, and buckle up for a story from 10,000 ft.

My flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles requires a quick layover in Dallas, by far one of my least favorite airports. Mostly, I find that the whole “Everything’s bigger in Texas” thing also applies to the people sitting next to you on your flight. As I get to my seat, I’m elated to see I will not have to rub shoulders with my neighbor, but little did I know that my flight would be less than comfortable.

Just as the final passengers are trickling onto the plane, I notice an odd sound coming from the row in front of me—the sound of four distinct breathing patterns. I freeze. The plane is full, there’s nowhere to hide. I close my eyes and say a prayer for peace on Earth and peace within the heart of the baby placed on her Mother’s lap. My prayers go unanswered.

Within minutes, before we’ve even pulled away from the gate, the stale air of the cabin fills with a piercing screech that would shame

even the shrillest of banshees. It’s a sign of the times that the bouncing bundle lacking joy wants to play with an iPad. But wait—there’s another child flying with them, a girl between the ages of three and five. Like a broken record accompanying the baby’s squeals, the older sister begins repeating ad nauseam, “Mommy, you’re closing your eyes.” As if that was news to her mother. At that volume and with that much repetition, it’s news to no one on the plane.

And then, something happens that I could never have predicted, and yet should have expected. The baby’s shrieks have excited another baby a few rows back. They embark on what can only be described as an all out scream off. For each round, the blessed babes elevate their screeches just one pitch higher and louder than the other.

If I’ve ever been thankful for being childless, now is the moment.

I admit I was already pretty peeved this morning. I woke up at 5am after only a couple hours of restless sleep, hindered by a long-standing fear of oversleeping and missing a flight. My exhaustion was tested when the cashier at Dunkin Donuts poured me a coffee with cream even though I explicitly ordered a black coffee. I was too far down the terminal to turn back by the time I’d taken my first sip and realized her mistake. My coffee-addicted, lactose-intolerant body has not been handling the surprise well.

As the babies test their lung capacity (and their respective mothers’ will power), the captain announces that we’d be a bit delayed because the ground crew needs to defrost the plane. Something tells me this won’t be a problem when I’m leaving LA to come back.

Just as the diva infants begin to bring their war of wails to an end, a third baby chimes in. Rather than join his peers in eardrum shattering cries, our latest entrant opts for an onslaught of coos. It’s like baby acapella of the worst possible sort. I try to find a melody in the trio’s vocal eruptions. Alas, no baby Mozart’s in this group. To my dismay, it’s simply a continuous mix of dissonant tones. Maybe it’s a post-melody, post-harmony arrangement—seems perfectly plausible.

I remember one of the first flights I look as a child. At least I think I do, though I shouldn’t be held the accuracy of my recollection. My brother and I flew with my parents to Hawaii. We were on one of those big planes with the long center rows. Our parents seated us on the inside of the row—even then I felt suffocated. The flight felt endless, but we entertained ourselves with our shiny new Power Ranger toys. I can only imagine that there was some caffeine-deprived passenger wishing my own mother had decided against taking us along.

justin_babyairplane

Baby 1’s name is Dar. I pick up this information midway through the flight when her older sister rats her out for spilling popcorn. Her mother, like a pro, continues to chat to her neighbor as though oblivious to the clear and utter chaos around her. Older Sister alerts her mother that Dar is now eating popcorn off the floor. Mother continues to chat with her neighbor (how exactly the baby managed to reach the popcorn on the floor is beyond me).

The floor-popcorn distracts Dar enough to halt the screaming. A moment of silence, but I know this glorious break won’t last long. It’s just an intermission in a show I never asked to attend. I close my eyes, welcoming the possibility for rest. Just as I’m about to drift off, Baby 2 begins to sob, surely missing his or her new companions. I’ve never been so happy to hear that the plane has begun its descent into the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

Almost home!

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Flights of Fancy

tail-of-an--airplane

Usually I would think that a blog about a flight goes under that “too mundane to be bothered with” category. However, this flight was truly…special. I will warn you. This is NOT an exaggeration. I know what you are thinking, “I know Liane. She exaggerates, even when she says she isn’t–she probably is.” But no, this was so far out there, exaggeration is COMPLETELY unnecessary.

Once, while using StumbleUpon (Dear Old People and Technologically Inept, I marvel at the miracle you made it to my blog. StumbleUpon is a website that sends you to random websites it thinks you might like based upon a survey you take about things you like) I read a travel advice blog that suggested always talking to the people you sit next to on a plane. It advocated, smiling and getting to know your neighbor because all people are wonderful and interesting. Because its going to be an awkward flight otherwise, right? It then used a smiley face.

Never trust a blog that uses smiley faces.

Meeting and interacting with strangers goes against my basic instincts. Strangers may have candy. If they do have candy, they are certainly not to be trusted. Thanks Mom.

Last summer on the way back from Europe, I was tired. It was the final stretch of my epic plane, train and automobile ride home. I was inflight from Philadelphia to LA, and I let my guard down. In my exhaustion, that ridiculous blog burrowed its way through my common sense. I engaged the nice woman next to me in conversation.

Turns out, she was insane. I mean laughing-to-crying-in-15 seconds-flat-batshit-crazy. I don’t remember the particulars of our conversation. I do remember she was under some delusion she was going to be a popstar. I’ve never seen a 50-something year old popstar with a red weave that had grown out halfway down her head. Lady, I can see your scalp. In case you were wondering, yes, she DID sing me one of her songs on the plane. How did she sound?

Let’s put it this way, I’d rather hear Kim Zolciak (from Real Housewives of Atlanta) sing Tardy for the Party–live, no lip syncing, without Autotune.

For those who don’t know what that means:

“I’d rather hear someone who sings really bad sing a really bad song without the computer program that makes them sound like they are actually on key.”

Here is a link to a video of said Kim Zolciak performing live on Ellen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnp4FkqQx84
I have no idea why she is singing over the track like its karaoke, oh wait, yes I do…it is because she is terrible and they are hoping to drown out her real voice. They fail.

Back to the story, so this woman is clearly crazy and recovering from some kind of hardcore drug- meth, crack, I dunno, but something is wrong with her. I try to turn back the clock. I pull out my magazine. Surely, she knows this means that the conversation is over. No, she leans over the center seat (which was empty) and reads the magazine over my shoulder.

Crazy: Oh damn girl, those shoes are hot.
Me: Yeah, they are really cute.
Crazy: I used to have a pair of shoes like those. But they were black, and booties, and they had these big roses on the side. Oh damn, I’d wear them all the time. To the clubs, to church, to the movies, to…(she continues on and on and on, like Bubba in Forrest Gump naming all the different ways to cook shrimp)

The flight ends and although I smile and nod and gracious thank her for the lovely conversation, the fates are not so merciful. She wants me to walk her to the baggage claim because she *mumble mumble mumble*. Well of course I had to, what’s the worst that could happen? By the time we reached baggage claim she attempted to get me to go to her church and she’d asked me for my number to give to her ex-convict son. Promising. I politely declined.

So, I now employ a new strategy when traveling anywhere alone. It’s called the “I’m-a-bitch-leave-me-alone” method of avoiding interaction. I designed it myself. I took a class in Interpersonal Communication at UCLA, so what I did was reverse all the means of effective communication strategies. To use this strategy, employ any/all of the following:

  • Avoid eye contact. If they can’t see your eyes they are less likely to initiate conversation.
  • Put in headphones. If you can’t hear them, they are less likely to talk to you.
  • Read something. This helps to avoid eye contact, but is more effective with the headphones.
  • Sleep. This combines the “I can’t see you, I can’t hear you” without requiring props of any sort. Very appropriate for those traveling light.

It is important to note that you don’t actually have to do any of these things, sometimes you can get away with just pretending. Who are they to judge you if you take 45 minutes to read Skymall? At least you don’t have to feign interest in their dog’s UTI.

If you do have to interact with those around you (i.e. if nature calls):

  • Smile Politely. Dealing with strangers can be tricky, and if that stranger is actually a crazy, you don’t want to set them off.
  • Speak really quitely. It makes them exert too much effort to hear you and they are less likely to want to continue talking to you.
  • Give one word answers to all questions. They ask, “Is that a good book?” You answer “Yes or No”. It is appropriate to use more than one word if it is noncommital and vague, further exhibiting your lack of desire to discuss. I.e. “Dunno yet.”
  • Do not ask open ended question. Stick to things like “May I pass you to use the bathroom?” (Though “Excuse me” is preferred).

Yes, I know how this sounds. But remember, you aren’t really a bitch, you are just acting like one.

When I boarded the plane to DC, I started off great. I sat in my aisle seat, and when a nice, professional-looking red-headed lady came to sit at the window seat I smiled politely and let her through. She sat, turned to me and said “Let’s hope that’s it for the row, right?” Another polite smile, no eye contact, “I know, right?” I replied.

Silence. Perfect.

A girl my age approaches. I hear my mom’s voice (she may or may not be my conscience), “Make a friend. Maybe she’s going to school out there. Stop being so shy.” This isn’t shyness, this is caution and self-preservation. I smile politely, and let her through. She offers me gum-what did I say about strangers with candy? Obviously this girl was not to be trusted.

What happened next was the most absurd conversation I may have ever heard.

Within the first 5 minutes, these two had revealed the following about themselves:

  • The older (though not old) of the two-let’s call her Red-was 56. She was traveling to DC to meet up with a group of women (her girlfriends) she grew up with in NY. One of them had breast cancer, this one was the second of the group of 5 to have breast cancer. The other was named Kathy. She joyfully said “Kathy kicked cancer.” Then as if a thought crossed her mind, she decided to add “At least for now.” Really uplifting stuff. She works for Hilton and her husband worked in theater but got a studio job in LA, so he works there now.
  • The younger-let’s call her DJ- was actually, a DJ. However, she was currently working as a massage therapist. She hated flying and brought a coloring book to take her mind off the flying. She also had two margaritas at the airport bar. She was going to DC to see her girlfriend.*(see below)
  • Red comments that she also hates flying, but she doesn’t really drink often. She prefers smoking marijuana.
  • DJ also enjoys smoking marijuana, but is curious whether Red prefers a body high or a head high.
  • They both decide that body highs are unsettling, and they don’t like when they hit you too late and then suddenly you realize you’ve had too much. (I should note there were children in the row across from us. They learned valuable lessons that day.)
  • DJ reveals that she is half-black, half-Japanese and that she was a military baby, born in Japan but moved to the States when she was 4.
  • Red thinks this is very romantic.
  • DJ parents are no longer together. She has a tattoo of her mom’s name on her head above her ear.
  • Red wants to know what they think of her in Japan.
  • DJ says they think she is dark. (Rocket scientist, here)
  • Red is curious if she has anything in common with Japanese men.
  • DJ replies that she has only one thing in common with Japanese men, liking women.
  • Red says that she is a loud mouth, but it is because she is from New York and is Jewish.
  • DJ says black people are blunt loud mouths too. She repeats that she is going to DC to visit her girlfriend, who is a Scorpio.
  • Red wants to know what a good souvenir is to bring back to her office workers.
  • DJ thinks, then replies “a statue dildo”.

Clearly, when I think of DC, I think of statue dildos. And what better way to show your office manager you were thinking of him/her than by bringing that back! The conversation continued in such a manner–this was just the first 5 minutes.

I don’t understand why people need to share their life stories with strangers That’s why you have friends, family and therapy. As I was writing that I realized that it was maybe the most hypocritical thing ever written on a public blog. I’m going to own it.

But not only were they on their life stories, but having a full out discussion of their vices-drug use, sexual history, health problems, etc… Give me a break and hand me my headphones.

About 15 minutes before we landed, I did decide to take off the bitch mask for a while. I recommended some restaurants to Red and told her which areas were best for live music and some DC culture. I answered DJ when she asked me what my sign was, “Scorpio, I’m a pain in the ass.” She laughed. She repeated that her girlfriend was a Scorpio, and asked if there was anything I thought she would like for her birthday.

Sure, she told me she wanted a statue dildo at our last Scorpio meeting. No, I bit my tongue, smiled politely and said “I’m sure that she’d probably like something that she said she wanted when she didn’t think you were listening.” Red smiled.

We descended into DC in a thunder/lightning storm. There was no rain as we were landing, but the tarmac was damn from a light drizzle earlier in the evening. The turbulence was bad-not the worst I’ve ever experienced, but bad. Poor DJ ordered a shot of tequila from the flight attendant, put her coloring book away and closed her eyes. When we hit the tarmac, we bounced. The carts in the back of the airplane shook and trays flew down the aisle as the back of the plane swerved side-to-side. It was the worst landing I’ve ever sat through.

But I made it here safe. Took a taxi to GW, hauled my bags up to my room and started settling in.

(see here)*This brings me to a very important point that I’ve wanted to make for a while. When a person of my parents/grandparents generation says they are going to see their girlfriend they mean female friend. When a female of my generation uses the word girlfriend, they mean they are a lesbian. The exception is that a person may say they are going out with their “girlfriends” meaning group of female friends. And this isn’t so strange. Sure, it’s a result of the feminist movement, but let’s explore this a little further:

If I’m met up with Ashley Shirk my grandma might say, “Did you have fun with your girlfriend?” No big deal, right?

If Ralf met up with one of his guy friends my grandma would never say, “Did you have fun with your boyfriend?”

Because the more you drink, the better you think my writing is, I propose a toast, “To strange people in strange lands.”

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
~Leonardo Da Vinci

The Journey

the-hobbit_2422493bI’m going to begin by thanking all the people who helped me get to the airport this morning. To my mom, for giving me life and teaching me how to live it ever since. To my dad, for making my morning totally stress-free despite our natural inclinations for stressfests. To my grandma, for making me a whole pot of coffee even though I could only manage to drink one and a half cups (albeit large ones). To my grandpa, for driving me through LA rush hour and making me a PB&J so I have a little bit of home on the road. There are a million things I could thank them for, but there’s a few.

This morning was a blur. I slept fairly well considering my—well, considering my personality. By “sleeping well”, I mean two solid hours of sleep. Then I woke up and BLURRR and suddenly…here I am at the airport, an idle 4 hour wait before my plane begins to board.

As of this moment this has been the most hassled travel experience I’ve ever encountered. Although I typically maneuver two suitcases like a pro, today I feel the handicap of a lack of sleep and my cumbersome backpack, purse and pillow. I’m falling all over the place. The line for security was a nightmare (second only to the flight out of Dublin, which was hell on Earth). I’d decided, against my better judgement and prior travel knowledge, to wear my boots to the airport. Usually I go no-hassle and wear flip flops, but today I was that girl.

I’d already been suffering from an uncomfortable sweat for the last 24 hours which only seems to be getting worse and worse. So I get up to the scanner and I’m struggling to get my sweaty, semi-swollen feet out of my boots. My mother’s voice echoes in my head from earlier that morning, “Don’t you want to put socks on?” I could slap myself. In case there was any question about this over the last 22-23 years of my life, my mother is ALWAYS right about this kind of stuff (even if we ALWAYS tell her she’s wrong). As I’m writhing on the floor in an all out battle against my Calvin Kleins, I can hear a collective sigh out of the seasoned travelers.

I wanted to ease their minds and assure them, “I know what it looks like, but I know better—I swear. I’m one of you, truly. All I wanted to do was save a little weight in my luggage.” Was it worth it?? No, nope, not a bit. I motioned for the man behind me to move ahead of me, but he politely declined, “We aren’t going anywhere fast, anyhow.” Secretly, I think he was just enjoying watching me struggle with the suede beasts unrelenting in their attachment to my feet.

There was a moment where I thought I’d be stuck in Los Angeles, unable to pass through security and falling victim to my own vanity. It would have served me right. But, it worked out, as things tend to do. After hobbling down the line, pushing my four trays, I cursed myself, sat down on the floor and with a firm yank I finally pried my foot free of its fashionable prison.

Finally able to look at the security line ahead of me, I discover that instead of the usual metal detector, LAX has finally begun using the dreaded and highly contoversial body scanner. The women in front of me opted for a pat down, and were awaiting a female attendent. “It’ll be a few minutes,” the security agent alerts them.

I’ve been a little skeptical about the scanner, on one hand believing in the paramount importance of national security, on the other holding a strong libertarian belief in personal liberties. I know what David Morse is going to say about this, and so let me defend what I was about to do.

#1- In order to preserve national security, sometimes a minor “violation” of personal freedoms is necessary. There is a line, of course, a line between the reasonable and unreasonable restriction of freedoms. I believe in the power of the people to act as a check to determine for themselves which liberties they are willing to sacrifice. Blahdittyblahblahblah. It is obviously a very complicated issue which I’ve been weighing in my mind and I’m willing to admit that you (David) may be right, in fact, you probably are–but that brings me to…

#2- After the epic battle royale with my shoes, I was not waiting around in security anymore. The judgement of the 200 people waiting in line behind me (no exaggeration) was burning into the back of my skull. If that means that some lucky TSA agent gets a glance at my lady bits, so be it!

It’s amazing how quickly personal values get thrown out the window for something as simple as public humiliation.

#3- Last year, I had a particularly invasive pat down in Frankfurt, Germany by a very aggressive and masculine young woman. I’m talking under the bra and partial gynecological exam… I’m still trying to decide which is a larger violation.

 Update: As I was writing this David told me to opt out.
A) You are SO predictable
B) I fail.

Judge away public-at-large, I am at your mercy.

And so, as has become the custom, I leave you with a toast. After looking around the airport, I know who has truly earned this drink.

Here’s to you, TSA Agent who looks at the body scans, may the sight of naked travelers not force you to poke your own eyes out.

“If God really had intended men to fly, he’d make it easier o get to the airport.”
~George Winters