Sunday, May 19, 2013

In Flight

I've been away for the past week, and right now, I'm trying to adjust to going from sunny skies with temps in the 80s and mandatory daily applications of sunscreen, to rainy, foggy, and chilly, with temps in the 50's.

I miss what I had.

That said, I'm looking forward to the summer. I have a major research project planned that I can't wait to get started on, and really, how often do you hear someone say a thing like that? This is what I'm saying: it's THAT good. And I have also accumulated a wonderfully large stack of books.

Bring it.

I spent most of today getting from Point A to Point B, and along the way, I noticed a few things. And learned a few things.

My discovery of the week is that vinegar added to laundry will brighten whites, act as a fabric softener, and remove lint. I was skeptical, but I tried it myself when I arrived home with a batch of laundry to do, and it's true. It does whiten dingy whites.

I already use homemade laundry detergent, which costs far less than any of those floral, fruity, chemical baths that are rapidly polluting our waterways, so this is an added bonus.

And no, my clothes don't smell like vinegar. I've said it before and I'll say it again: we're being suckered by corporate America. So many things we don't even need, and yet we've come to believe we have to spend money on them in order to be happy--or even just moderately presentable.

It just isn't so.

Because I've been traveling, I've been at the airport a fair amount over the past week, and nowhere is this sensibility more apparent. All of the "upgrades" the airlines offer: what are they, really? $90 to move my seat three rows up? The chance to line up in the cordoned-off line right next to the cordoned-off line for the "general" public?

I might as well carry a placard that says, "I support Conspicuous Consumption."

When I was flying home from Portugal several years ago, I had a truly amusing experience involving this more or less arbitrary distinction between "first-class boarding" and "general boarding." The airline I was flying apparently didn't give a crap about such distinctions, or maybe we just had a couple of Portuguese airline employees who had had it with everything, because they just began boarding all of us.

An American in the crowd pitched a wicked fit. She began insisting that they were getting everyone "all mixed together." She repeatedly yelled, "Look at this! What are you doing? Everyone's all mixed together. We're in First Class. What's the point of First Class? We're all mixed together. I spent money, and now we're all just MIXED TOGETHER. It doesn't mean ANYTHING."


It sucked that she paid a fortune to end up standing next to little old (smiling) me. Because my ticket was free, actually. I cashed in a voucher that I got when I was stuck on a overbooked flight from Paris.

I sooooooooo wanted to tell her that, but I didn't. Can you imagine? I would just turn to her and say, "I used a coupon." It would be priceless.

The Portuguese airline employees handled it quite simply. They pretended they didn't speak English. (For the record, from my experience, in Portugal, they'll actually pretend they don't speak Portuguese if they don't feel like dealing with you.)

I did so love that first-class moment, and I think of it whenever I see the people boarding 5 minutes ahead of me. But for the grace of God and an airline worker, you might be "mixed in" with me.

Airlines in general are funny things. And so is airport security. I've decided that really, it's a crapshoot, so you might as well just roll the dice and see what happens. If you get someone who's angry at the world, you're going to be given a hard time.

Case in point: I accidentally walked up to a podium instead of staying behind a yellow line. I was firmly told to "stay behind the yellow line until called," so I took a full step backward and apparently pacified an angry soul in pain.

I mean, really. Like we're going to swarm the checkpoint. To what end?

Meanwhile, there are the nice ones. Like the checkpoint guy who asked me how I was doing and seemed like he really wanted me to be doing okay (which I was). And he asked in a way that was not at all sleazy, which made it just that much nicer. He's the same one who told me that I should take the opportunity to put my driver's license back in my wallet so I wouldn't lose it, since I wouldn't need it after that point.

I thought that was really nice, actually. Because these security people, they make you take out A Very Important Form of Identification that has a terrible, terrible photo of you on it, and maybe you need it, maybe you don't, but you're just left carrying it, from point to point, hoping against hope that you don't drop it or misplace it or lose it.

Because if you lose it, you're screwed, not just because it's A Very Important Form of Identification but because the picture of you that's on it is startlingly bad and doesn't really look like you at all and you really don't want anyone to ever get their hands on it. EVER.

No one can ever say I don't appreciate the little things.

A mixed experience on my trip came in the form of the security guy who confiscated my two bottles of homemade lotion. (It was a gift for a friend.) He asked if I had a bottle in my bag, and so I said, "Yes," and took it out to show him: I had one in my bag, one in my toiletry bag.

I could see the existential dilemma play out across his face. I had put him in a serious philosophical quandry. A dyed-in-the-wool terrorist would never openly tell him, "Yes, actually, I have TWO bottles of lotion. See? You missed one."

Did he genuinely believe in the principles he was sworn to uphold? This is what I decided to test, and he passed with flying colors.

They were the wrong size, he sadly told me. They were too big. He couldn't let me take them on the plane.

My friend suggested that I should have begun rubbing the lotion on myself to show him how wonderful it really was. I confess, I did open the bottle, but to no avail. He simply said, "It's like a gel. And it's the wrong size."

At that point, I decided that there was no need for me to let him off the hook. I told him the bottles of lotion were a gift for someone else (which was true), and then kindly said, "But if you have to take them, you have to take them. It's your job. I know. I understand."

He looked like he might very well cry. He apologized profusely and said, "It's just that they're more than 3 ounces..."

I know, my friend, I know. We faced a sad irony in that moment. No two bottles of lotion were more innocent than they were and yet we had to treat them like they might very well be small torpedos filled with plastique.

He then told me I could go back out through security and pay $20 to check my bag, if the bottles were "worth it to me." Once again, I refused to let him off the hook. I repeated that he had to do his job, and there was nothing I could do: we simply had to accept the situation in front of us.

I didn't tell him that there was no way in hell I would ever go back out through security because 1) security is a pain in the ass, and 2) I have never in my life cared that much about a bottle of anything.

As far as I was concerned, he could very well shake my carry-on luggage out over a garbage can and fling an empty Samsonite carcass at me and I'd still be okay. Even if the bag actually HIT me.

I'm tough like that. Little does he know, I don't even use shampoo. And besides, all of the various bottles in my toiletry bag wouldn't add up to $20, so it would be foolish to check it.

Unless, of course, I had purchased a 3-oz travel size of everything. Then my toiletry bag would have been the most expensive component of my luggage, totaling well over $50.

Meanwhile, they let me on the plane with an Epipen. If you've never seen one, it's like a very, very large, very fat, click-pen, except that this click-pen is actually a hypodermic needle with a shot of epinephrine in it.

I've had to use it on myself, and let me tell you, it hurts: it's a pretty large needle. I once administered it to myself in the early stages of a bout of anaphylactic shock and I yelled "SHIT" while I did so. (Just so you know.)

It left a sizeable pin-prick (that actually bled) surrounded by a reasonably large bruise and it hurt for days.

So really, if you bother me in flight, I do have options. Of course, I would first have to decide whether to inject myself or someone else. I have to admit that I really wouldn't know what to say to the other passengers if they found out that I had just given a highjacker a short-term dose of adrenaline.

Security also let me on the plane with knitting needles (wooden) and non-regulation-size bottles of facial cleanser.

Actually, I have often wondered whether they always let me on the plane with the Epipen because when they look at it on the scanner, they assume that I'm carrying a dildo in my purse and they don't want to embarrass me in front of the other passengers.

Because if all you're looking at is the X-ray outline of an Epipen's case on a computer monitor, you may well think that's what it is.

I have spent quite a bit of time blushing at the thought that anonymous airport security personnel may think that I'm the kind of woman who carries a dildo in her purse. (I'm not.)

I confess, I've often secretly wished they would search my purse and confiscate my Epipen, just so that I could triumphantly announce, "It's an EPIPEN. I have severe food allergies, and that's ALL."

So far, it hasn't happened.

On the flight home, we had a slightly cranky flight attendant. She was a bit defensive. When they came through to make sure you have your seat back up and your tray table in the upright position, she encountered a passenger who did not. She told him he had to put his seat back up and then said rather aggressively, "This is so we can get out of the plane in case of an emergency."

Based on the comments that the man muttered about her after she passed by, I suspect that a statement that was meant to be merely explanatory came across as defensive and arbitrarily authoriarian.

Meanwhile, the person sitting next to me was quite upset that it was foggy and rainy. He said, "Great. Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun to drive around in. Just GREAT." And he sighed heavily.

Really, it was only drizzling, and we did have 2-mile visibility. So this made me wonder where he had to "drive around," and whether he was perhaps not a confident driver. Or maybe he knew he was going to be on the Turnpike or the Parkway or some other high-stakes roadway where drizzle really means something in terms of your overall driving experience.

And speaking of things that mean something, I must simply say here that I had a wonderful, wonderful week. At the end of the day and the end of this blog post, my only wish is that I could somehow simultaneously be both back there and right here.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."