Up, up and away
September 9, 2001. That was the last time I was on an airplane.
Of course, I was suppose to be on another plane on September 14 but, well, let's just say that I had a pleasant 2,492.6 mile drive from Los Angeles to Cleveland.
Over the past five and half months, I haven't exactly had the need or the desire to be on another plane.
I mean, it's not like I'm suddenly afraid to get on an airplane.
Christ, that doesn't bother me.
The part that bothers me isn't the getting-on-the-airplane part. It's that once I do get on, they're actually planning on shutting the door and flying the thing.
That, I find a wee bit troubling.
Yep, September 9, 2001 was the last time I was on an airplane.
Until last week.
Naturally, as soon as I found out I had to fly to Florida for two days, a million things went running through my mind:
*What if something goes horribly wrong?
*Could I ever truly feel safe?
*Will any of my stewardesses be hot?
I've heard so many stories about airport security now. I wondered if they were true.
I wondered if things were really better. I wondered how things would be different.
As I kissed my wife and children goodbye, I wondered a lot of things as I left my house early last Sunday morning.
But mostly, I wondered if they had any good porn on pay-per-view at the hotel.
Everybody said it to me:
"You've got to get to the airport two hours before your flight."
People who've flown have said it. People who know people who've flown have said it.
My wife said it.
Although I have reason to believe my wife saying it had nothing to do with flying and everything to do with getting me out of the house.
Well, guess what? My flight was at 10:40 and I was already standing in line to get my boarding pass.
Thank God I got here so early, too. Because it's entirely possible that the one guy in line in front of me could have a stroke or something and then there'd be all sorts of emergency activity at the counter and then, who knows? I just might miss my flight.
Did I mention there was one guy in line in front of me?
At the counter, I got all the usual questions:
"Sir, have your bags been with you at all times?"
"Sir, have any strangers approached you?"
"Sir, do your ears slow you down in the wind?"
Nothing unusual happened at the counter, so I made my way to the gate.
Here, I clearly saw a change.
First, you had to show a picture ID and your boarding pass before you even got to the baggage scanner machine. Then beyond the baggage scanners were security people with metal-detecting wands, a table set up for other airport personnel to check bags, and beyond that, two armed soldiers carrying rifles.
Hi Mister Man with the big shiny gun. Nice man, nice man.
It certainly was an intimidating feeling. Suddenly, everything that you've been watching on TV and reading about was happening right in front of you.
I have to admit, I started to feel a little nervous. But I immediately felt a sense of calm when it was my turn in line.
"Boarding pass and picture ID," said the strapping 5-2, 117-pound security guard, dripping with intimidation.
"Driver's license OK?" I asked.
"Whatever," he said.
There was just something about the way he said "Whatever" that filled me with confidence and pride, knowing that we have the very best on our side.
Then I stood in line waiting to pass my bag through the baggage scanner.
I watched the gentleman in front of me pass his bags through as the security guard watched him.
I can describe this security guard in four words:
A. Geeky. Barney. Fife.
As the guy's bag went through, another guard by the metal detector shouted to him, "Hey, aren't you gonna make him take off his jean jacket?"
Rambo paused and then said, "Oh yeah. Right. Um, hey, take off your jacket."
There was just something about the way he said "Oh yeah. Right." that filled me with confidence and pride, knowing that we have the very best on our side.
Then it was my turn. I slid my bag through, I watched the inspector freeze the picture, point to something on the screen and then call a female guard over.
"I'm going to have to check your bag sir," she said. "Please step over here."
Apparently, I'm such a good terrorist, I don't even know I'm a terrorist.
I watched as they took my bag and brushed across the zipper with a piece of cloth. Then they placed the cloth on a special machine.
I asked what they were looking for.
Hazardous material, she told me.
Jesus, I thought. I didn't wash my hands very well after I pooped. I hope that doesn't show up.
I heard the guard say my bag was OK. The female guard walked over with my bag and asked if it was OK if she examined the contents.
I was pretty sure that I was going to answer that question "yes," only because I have reason to believe that if I told them that I didn't want them to examine the contents of my bag, they were really going to examine the contents of my bag.
Sure, I said. Take a look.
Although I was praying to God they didn't find my garters in there.
I mean, my wife's garters.
And so, she took everything out. The clothes. The shoes. The tighty-whities.
She unzipped my toiletry bag and took out my shaving cream, my razor, my lipstick.
I mean, my wife's lipstick.
Then, she pulled it out.
"What's this?" she said.
I thought about lying. I thought about telling an exaggerated story about it being some sort of life-saving medical device.
But instead, I decided to tell the truth.
"That," I said, "that's what I use to clip my nose hairs."
She stared at my silver life-saving machine.
"We need to check it," she said.
They took my nose hair trimmer and brushed across it with a piece of cloth. Then they placed the piece of cloth on the hazardous materials machine again.
I heard the guard say it was OK.
"It's OK," she said to me.
It better be lady, because if there was hazardous waste on my nose hair trimmer, guess what? I wouldn't be standing here waiting for you to repack my bag.
I'd be bolting through the concourse looking for the nearest Hazardous Waste In Your Nose Removal Clinic.
Two hours and two minutes until my flight.
I'm sitting at my gate, waiting.
Two hours and two minutes until my flight. Plenty of time to sit here and think.
Did I say "think"? I meant, "be paranoid."
The thing is, I know I'm no safety concern. It's all these other bastards I don't trust.
What the hell is up with that little old lady over there? Is that really a Danielle Steele book, bitch? Or litmus paper laced with poison?
Hey, you in the wheelchair. You can't fool me buddy. Like I don't see those gun turrets in your armrests.
Look kid, hand over that sippy cup full of cyanide and everything'll be just fine.
You're not fooling me, missy. I'm positive those are grenades in your bra. But just to be sure, I'd better keep an eye on them.
I mean, you.
I've been staring at my ticket for two hours now.
Finally, my row is called.
"Rows 25-35 can now board. Boarding only for rows 25-35."
As I walked on the plane, I realized that one thing will never change about flying.
Do you think they let these people get on the plane first just so they can be sitting there and not look at you as you walk by?
"Nah nah nana nah. Because I'm not making eye contact with you, it's kinda like me sticking my tongue out and rubbing it in, y'know?"
"FYI, this champagne is really good. And I don't even like champagne."
As I made the way down the aisle and got to my seat, I got some great news.
Hurrah! I was one of only two people on the plane with seat 28D! And the other guy with the ticket that said 28D was already sitting there.
Of course, I had to be the pain in the ass to ask the stewardess to figure out the problem. It turned out that his ticket was incorrectly marked, thank you very much.
I hope this doesn't come out wrong, but kindly get your ass out of my seat, sir.
And is that really just a pair of glasses? Or a miniature bow and poison arrow kit?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Finally, I sat down.
Of course, the first thing I did was buckle my seat belt. Because if this baby's going down, I know that my seatbelt is going to keep my safe.
I looked out my window. And I got ready for my first flight in nearly five months.
For the first time all day, I actually felt calm. Sedate. Relaxed.
Then the old fat pig slob with the huge belt buckle, the jeans with the crease in them, the striped shirt and fake leather white shoes with velcro sat down next to me, jabbed his elbow into my side, spread his legs wide enough to allow the fat between his thighs to breathe, then snapped his fingers at the stewardess so he could order some Jack.
"Make that a double," he cackled.
Y'know, that kind of laugh old guy's have that sounds like they're about 14 seconds away from spitting out a lung?
"How ya doin?" he said to me.
Fine sir. How's your fat?
The stewardess got on the intercom and told us we need to keep our seats in the locked and upright position and please be aware of the nearest emergency exit door and your seats can be used for a floatation device and in case of an emergency an oxygen mask will drop and if you snap the band the plane will automatically land.
Or something like that.
I was happy to see that no one was paying any attention to her. It felt just like the old days.
Moments later, we took off. It was perfectly smooth. Not a glitch.
Maybe things are going to be OK, I thought.
Maybe things really were getting back to normal.
Maybe I could catch a quick nap.
"So where y'all from?" asked my next-door neighbor.
He didn't really want the answer, though. He was one of those guys that just wanted to talk.
Which was OK, I guess.
Maybe talking was his way of combating fear. Maybe talking was the way he released stress.
Which I understood perfectly. I can only hope he'd feel the same way if I started jerking off.
But then again, I wasn't going to sit and listen to this guy babble for two hours and stare at those big honkin' gray nose hairs.
"Hey, y'know," I said, "I've got something for that."