In the throes of air travel
Air travel is a key component of my job description.
Literally. The description reads, “Expected to travel between 30% and 50% of time.”
Given how much experience I’ve had, you think I would be better at it.
It’s a production to get me on an airplane, all of the extensive accommodations of Alaska Airlines aside. My appearance becomes the physical manifestation of my discomfort. I don my airplane pajamas (aka clothes that are at least three sizes too big). On go my eyeglasses, away goes the flat iron, in goes my night guard. And make-up? Don’t make me laugh.
I then adopt my Very Special Air Travel Expression.
It’s the sort of expression a corpse would have, if the person who once formed that corpse had died in an eternal state of exasperation. The light leaves my eyes, my jaw goes slack. I only alter this deadpan look to glare at all of my neighbors over the top of my glasses.
Once at the airport, I typically throw my weight around. Not that I have the necessary money, power, or status to intimidate people. Rather, I literally swing my shoulder bags from side to side, yanking my suitcases through the air. Any aggressive movement will do. I want strangers to approach on penalty of death.
All of this contributes to a distinctly nasty persona. When people see me hurtling through airports, they figure they know why I’m alone.
If life were a movie plot, travelers would not be like me. Rather, attractive bubbly strangers would be seated next to each other on airplanes with alarming frequency. They would both be single and looking for love. They would bond instantaneously over shared heartbreaks/divorces/widowhoods/insert romantic tragedy here.
In all my years of air travel, I have never seen this happen. Instead, men and women get drunk at airport bars and throw themselves at unwilling strangers.
Take my recent late-night Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle. I was across the aisle from a young woman, who, like me, was wearing her airplane best. Dressed in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, her purple hair was in a topknot on her head. She was wearing scarlet-rimmed eyeglasses, and her acne was showing.
Nevertheless, she was being pursued by a young sloper she’d just met in the bar. With the aid of some liquid courage, he adopted all the confidence of Thor, Son of Odon, and was shouting about how he wanted to sit next to her on our mutual flight.
This plan did not excite her.
She walked on to the plane, sat down, threw up into her airsick bag, and flagged down a predictably gracious Alaska Airlines flight attendant.
“Um, there’s this guy. Like, he …”
She trailed off as she tried to bring the flight attendant into focus.
“I, like, met him in the bar. And now he’s, like, trying to sit next to me?”
The flight attendant looked at her pityingly.
“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Okay, ‘cause, like, I don’t want to sit next to him. He’s, like. Back. There.”
She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing to the offending sloper, now sitting in his assigned seat.
The flight attendant followed her thumb.
“You know what? He’s asleep. I think you’re okay.”
The three of us turned around and, sure enough, the man was down for the count, his face mashed up against the window.
It’s not just men pursuing uninterested women on airplanes. Women also proactively live out their Hollywood “meet cute” fantasies. On a flight from Anchorage to Chicago, I spied on a middle-age woman sitting next to a similarly unprepossessing middle-aged man. Before my eyes, the woman became hopelessly infatuated with him, for no reason I could portend. She tried every feminine wile at her disposal to attract his attention. She giggled at him, whispered to him, and petted his arm continuously for the first thirty-five minutes of the flight.
That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, told the flight attendant he was moving to another section, and forbade the woman from following him.
If I were the woman, I would have taken the hint. However, I will never be she; I’m too busy throwing my luggage around.
Rather than accept they would not share a future together beyond the constraints of this six-hour flight, the woman grabbed her bags, and made after him. The flight attendant body blocked her like every great bouncer would, and the woman was forcibly returned to her seat, waving madly at the man to come back.
That’s why I don’t bother primping before flights; I’ve seen too many failed attempts by travelers to meet The One.
But then came the day I found myself sitting next to an acceptably cute blonde bearded guy on a flight to Los Angeles.
Alarm signals went off in my brain: “Don’t be weird! Don’t be weird!”
Naturally, the minute I brought my own weirdness to my attention, I immediately began acting bizarre; I tucked my plastic water cup into the hook holding up my tray table.
The cute guy next to me looked over at my water cup, now dangling helplessly from the seat in front of me, and frowned.
“I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”
I considered explaining that I wanted to place my cup out of my way, such that I could continue typing on my laptop. I couldn’t waste a moment’s time, after all, in plotting my takedown of the ultimate universe. And gosh, by the way, didn’t he want to accompany me on said takedown as my sidekick?
Instead, I coughed and grunted back, “Whatever works.”
My seatmate shrugged, and went back to texting other, better, girls on his phone.
Alaska Airlines should really cast me in a commercial. I am, clearly, the young upwardly mobile model of 21st century womanhood to whom they desperately wish to appeal.
Sarah Brown is a road warrior and connoisseur of the Alaska Airlines Economy class free snacks. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.