Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Monkey in the Middle
Whenever I fly, I select a window seat. You get to see beautiful skylines, breathtaking sunsets and have first glance if the engine suddenly starts shooting flames. Whenever I fly alone, I still select a window seat but preferably one that neighbors an empty middle seat. As personal space at 30,000 feet dwindles, I’m all about having some elbow room or at least having some access to the armrest wedging me in place.
Last Friday late afternoon found me standing in the security line at Terminal C of the Philadelphia International Airport. I’d done the nouveau chic online check-in before dashing to curbside and as of 3pm, it was rather certain I’d have no neighbor for my Atlanta bound flight. The security line was quick, I found a seat at the gate, boarded early enough to stow my carry-on in the overhead compartment and smiled the whole way through.
Toward the final stretch of boarding, I noticed a crabby wench, her mute of a mother and her oversized ogre of a husband. They were well past the front of the plane and heading right in my direction. “Please, God. Don’t let me be seated next to the wench,” I silently prayed. And God delivered. The ogre flopped down next to me instead.
For the next two hours, I was stuck next to a line backer type of guy. The wench was in the aisle seat and her mother was in the middle seat of the row just in front of us. I wanted to stand up and scream at her for selfishly hogging an aisle seat when her 6’5” behemoth of a husband failed to remain within the invisible parameters of a middle seat. She was maybe 5’4”. Yes, she had hips like an elephant but his legs were so long that his knees were rammed up against the seatback in front of him.
I tried to be nice as he looked for the seatbelt. I even made a comment. He spoke back to me but I didn't have a single clue of what it was he said. It was like having a conversation with my 2 year old nephew. Only every third word was identifiably English and pieced together, there wasn’t a single sentence to be found. I don’t think my neighbor was foreign. I mean, the wife had no problem berating him in English a few moments earlier when he couldn’t find overhead compartment space for the beyond regulation suitcase he trudged up and down the aisle. When she yelled at him to make the bag fit into a square inch worth of space, he obliged. This meant only one thing. I was officially sitting next to the human equivalent of a Golden Retriever. He didn’t understand his own size and he was dumb as a doorknob.
Over the course of the flight, I found myself leaning closer and closer toward the window. This guy was so big, his shoulders didn’t even fit within the space his ticket allotted him. Unable to withstand further cramping in my hip, I finally shifted back to the center of my seat. A mere inch a half away was the guy’s head. He had fallen asleep and started leaning. It took all of the strength in me to not awake him with a rant about how if I was going to spend $282 for a roundtrip ticket to Atlanta, I expect to have the fucking seat to myself, jackass! In my meditative deep breathing phase to stave off an explosion of words, the ogre awoke and resettled himself in another direction. Touch down and disembarking the plane couldn’t come soon enough.
My trip to Atlanta was a quick one. I spent my time hanging with my sister, watching Thomas the Train with Anders and trying to make Olivia giggle. As Sunday drew to a close, I found myself back in the car and en route to the airport for my return flight.
I checked in at the kiosk this time around and adjusted my reservation to the only window seat left that had an empty middle seat as a neighbor. “Please God, spare me an ogre or even better, leave the seat empty,” I said as I confirmed my new seat assignment.
I settled into 15F, my bag safely tucked above me. After getting through 10 pages of my new book, I glanced up to watch the rest of the people board. In the distance, I saw the ogre, the wench and the mute heading my way. Had I changed my seat only to be stuck yet again next to an oversized freak? Worse yet, am I possibly going to be stuck next to the wenchy wife? Yet again, they were focused on finding overhead bin space so I couldn’t tell where their asses would ultimately land. Finally, an impatient flight attendant informed them that their effort to fit a square peg into a round hole was holding up the flight’s departure. She said it nicer than that but you get my drift. The bag was gate checked and they took their seats far away from me.
As we taxied the runway, I turned around to see if my original seat was anywhere near the ogre. I couldn’t get enough of a look without appearing suspicious to the sea of faces I was glancing over. Maybe this time I saved myself. Or maybe God repaid me for surviving the trip down without having a meltdown. Either way, I was happy as a clam when I lowered the tray table of the empty middle seat next to me and used it as a coaster for my tomato juice, hold the ice.