You can learn so much just by watching and listening. Airports and airplanes are particularly good lookout points. The waiting area is always chock full of people on edge, nervous about missing their boarding announcement, concerned that someone might steal their black canvas briefcase holding valued possessions like their boarding pass, laptop, and hometown newspapers.
It’s intriguing to watch the antsy blonde toddlers who have taken over the lounge. Their parents have that droopy-eyed look of total exhaustion. The boys have already gone through the bag of toys, coloring books, and games meant to keep them quiet throughout the flight. One looks like a screamer, tired and cranky, the other is antsy with all of the characteristics of “a kicker.” The child will survive the upcoming flight by kick, kick, kicking the seat in front of him. Inevitably, that is going to be your chair. And he will continue in this pastime despite the glances you throw meaningfully over your shoulder throughout the flight. This little child will be enthralled with the tortuous success of his game and his drooping parents will be numbly oblivious as they read the new John Grisham novel or the latest article about Britany in People magazine.
Once the flight is called, the cattle drive begins. Wheelchairs, canes, strollers, and the seriously Type A surge to the boarding gate, intent on being first to ramp, first to the pillows and blankets first to fill up the overhead compartments with their overstuffed bags, first to slide into their plaid, undersized, scratchy polyester seats. They are the winners of the race, the hares.
The less-driven passengers straggle onto the plane, squeezing bulky rolling suitcases down the narrow aisle. Beware if you have an aisle seat because your foot, your knee, your elbow, your shoulder are fair-game—targets for the oblivious baggage and carry-ons carelessly slung down the aisle. Extra brownie points go to the passengers who actually help others heave their burdens to the upper compartments.
Demerits go to those with cell phones glued to their ears, “Yes, I am boarding the plane, right now. We will take off in ten minutes. Yes, I will call you as soon as we land. Yes, I brought the tuna fish sandwich.” Blah. Blah. Blah.
Much credit goes to the flight attendants; once stewardesses had more fun, now all are generic flight attendants. Amazingly they appear to be cheerful despite the fact that they say thousands of “Hellos” and “Ba Byes” over and over and over. Their smiles have turned synthetic, pasted onto their faces.
“Clip the seat belt like so.”
“Put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping the child next to you.”
“No smoking in the lavatories.”
“Headphones will cost you $3.”
Invariably there is an older attendant who remembers the good old days. Her experience emerges from beneath her expertly applied makeup. She is in charge of first class and jerks the curtain across the aisle as soon as possible to isolate herself and those in her care from the rabble of coach.
Typically there is a persnickety steward with starched hair, a pained smile, and a swish in his walk. His eyes reflect the monotony of repeatedly asking passengers to place their baggage under the seat in front of them or cleaning up after the over-tired, airsick children who befoul his plane.
In the back galley, the buddies congregate. These are the “stews” who are intent in getting the food and drink served and cleaned up as fast as possible so they can go back to discussing last night’s American Idol. Face it, you will not be getting that bottle of water you requested fifteen minutes ago.
Other passengers include:
- The woman who disappears into the lavatory for at least a half an hour. What could she possibly be doing in there for so long?
- The traveling salesman who has scored the seat next to the raspy-voiced blonde. They ring for another round of scotch and their conversation becomes louder and more flirtatious as the flight goes on.
- The primly dressed older couple who are off to play a week of golf. They remember the days when people dressed up to travel. Always coiffed, always crisp, never slouching, the image of poise.
- The teens on their way to spring break. What does that tattoo say? Does it hurt to have your belly button pierced? Do you really need to broadcast what happened to Dawn during her date with Steve to the entire plane?
I close my eyes, tired by the dry air and the drone of the engines. I nod off to the gentle tattoo of the obnoxious child kicking, kicking, kicking and the sound of the seat in front of me being lowered to its fully-reclined position.