The news of the Southwest Airlines plane's rough landing at LaGuardia scared all the passengers on board and terrified me.
I've always been a little afraid to fly.
In the early days, when they were selling insurance in vending machines at the airport, I wouldn't get onto a plane unless I bought a couple of million bucks worth of flight insurance. My theory was that the plane wouldn't crash because I never win anything. What a scam that was. In essence, you were betting $20 that you wouldn't survive the flight.
I used to get the insurance and mail the forms to everyone I knew, naming them as beneficiaries, the idea being that if you spend a dollar on a card and send it to someone, all you get is a "Nice card" the next time they talk to you. But for $5 you could get $1 million worth of insurance, and when the person you named as a beneficiary — should the plane fall out of the sky— received the form, they were incredibly grateful. Sometimes I could swear I could hear the sound of disappointment on the phone when I called and announced that my plane had safely landed.
They stopped selling insurance in airports, and that's when I went through my sexy, just-short-of-porn book era.
I had this notion that reading a book like "Hot Neglected Executives' Wives" or "The Sex Secrets of the Unruly Upstairs Maid" would provide enough energy and, you should pardon the expression, "lift" to keep a 747 up in the air.
At the time I traveled to a lot of business meetings with a wonderful woman named Louise McNamee, who was the President of my ad agency, and who would constantly be reading "Jane Eyre." I'm convinced that she read "Jane Eyre" because if the plane crashed, she wanted her obituary to read "When the plane crashed, Ms. McNamee was reading 'Jane Eyre,' while her disgusting traveling companion, Jerry Della Femina, was reading a filthy book called 'The Steamy Sluts of Singapore.'"
I was always careful to rip the front cover off of my book, which always seemed to have a blonde opening the fourth and last button of her blouse. I also loved to look at Ms. McNamee primly reading "Jane Eyre" and whisper to her "Have you gotten to the 'hot' parts yet?"
The world has changed. Now getting to a plane is even more tiring and stressful than flying. I find myself looking at every one of my fellow passengers over the age of nine as potential terrorists.
A number of years ago a new terror filled me as I boarded a plane.
I had spent three days in Las Vegas at a business meeting. I was tired, missed my family and decided to get home as fast as possible. This meant booking a red-eye flight. A wise man once told me that you lose a month of your life every time you take a red-eye flight. At this stage of my life, that didn't sound all that bad.
The flight was scheduled to leave Las Vegas at 11:50 PM and land at Kennedy Airport at 6:35 AM.
I arrived at the airport early and went through security without a hitch. I bought a newspaper and started reading about SARS, which was the "Disease of the Month" at the time. (I read the other day that SARS may be coming back this year, but not by popular demand.)
At the time everyone I spoke to in Las Vegas was talking about SARS. The word was that the deadly disease came from China and Hong Kong, and the last thing you wanted to come into contact with was someone who is traveling from Asia.
I took seat 20A. I was in luck. Seats 20B and 20C were empty. I just might be able to stretch out and go to sleep, I said to myself.
One minute before the plane's doors were closed, three people were hustled onto the plane.
They were three of the loudest, most boorish people I have encountered in a long time. Three guys over 50, two of them with combovers, and the third who looked like he just stepped out of the 1950s. One of the combovers said, "I tell you, Sidney, that broad was all over you."
"Yeah," said the other combover. "You should have stayed, Sidney."†
Sidney, who had an open shirt with more hair on his chest than I have had on my head in the sum total years I have been alive, said nothing. He just belched so loudly I could swear the plane shook. "I shouldn't have had that pizza. I feel like I'm going to throw up," he finally offered.
"Youse guys and your pepperoni. I could still taste it," he said, and unbelievably belched even louder than the first time.
Suddenly, the whole plane took on the odor of pepperoni, and I started to feel that perhaps I was going to be sick even before Sidney.
"Hey," said one of the terrible trio. "Dis guy is in our seat."
I was the guy. Naturally, I was the guy sitting in 21A instead of 20A.
As I got up to change my seat, the very nice courteous JetBlue attendant said to the people in front of me, "One of you has to get up now. This man has 20A." The attendant was greeted with a torrent of angry Chinese words.
A Chinese woman got up, and after a loud conversation in Chinese with her seat partners, changed her seat and moved to Row 19, which had a number of Chinese kids sitting in it.
I slid past the biggest Chinese man I have ever encountered, and his son who was 19 or 20. The man looked daggers at me and mumbled under his breath in Chinese.
"I can take another seat," I said to the attendant. "No you can't; we're totally full," he answered.
I sat in the seat and the Chinese man just glowered at me.
"I'm going to die," I thought to myself.
I took an Ambien to sleep. I had two vodkas. I closed my eyes, fell into a fitful sleep and then felt this tremendous weight covering my body.
I opened my eyes. The giant (and, I might add, sweating) Chinese man had fallen asleep on top of me. I don't mean his head was resting on my shoulder. I mean his whole upper body was on top of me. Was it sleep? Was he being aggressive because I took his wife's seat? Was it love?
It didn't matter. I was wedged under this guy, and all I could think of was SARS . . . SARS. Behind me Sidney was belching, and it felt like turbulence.
As many of my friends know I'm a complete hypochondriac.
SARS, I'm going to get SARS! I pushed as hard as I could to get him off of me. I said, "Excuse me, excuse me," in his ear. He didn't stir.
I had an idea. If he's from China, he must be just as afraid of SARS as I am, so I started to cough as loudly as I could. He woke up, gave me a dirty look, and straightened up in his seat. I closed my eyes, and five minutes later, he was crushing me again. I coughed as loudly as I could. He never stirred.
Behind me I heard Sidney muttering to his friends. "Listen to that cough."
"Da should never let sick guys with that kind of cough on planes. He's going to give the people on this plane that new disease SCUDS. We shudda stayed in Vegas."
From under the 300-pound Chinese man I whispered, "Amen."
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