1996, Summer - An airplane is a bus with wings

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Summer, 1996
An airplane is a bus with wings

Greetings to all TMBG info club members! Today I write you from my cubicle high above the earth. "An airplane is a bus with wings," goes the grumpy old saw, and though Smokin' Bo Orloff, with his cybernetic vision, once described planes as "extremely slow matter transporters" (you get into position, vibrate for a few hours, and, voila! you've changed locations). I support the winged bus view. Just a few hours ago I found my place by the window in row 47 and felt a pathetic sense of relief at having at last finished the long exam of check-in, handed in my boarding pass, and bumped my way to the seat, and I at last allowed the coiled spring of my nerves to go limp. The first, maybe even the fifth time I ever flew I was so charged by the idea of blasting across the sky and seeing your state turn into a green carpet draped in dry ice wisps that I gave no thought to my own comfort. I always loved flying and never wondered how two people could share the same armrest. Lamentably, those days are behind me, somewhere at the far end of the jet trail. Something about flying has brought out a side of my personality that I don't really like, but that I'm unable to repress; the ugly sense of entitlement. Gradually recovering from the chore of embarkation, I became aware of the unusual fact that, though the plane was almost full, the two seats to my left were still empty.

At first refusing to accept my unbelievable luck at having a row to stretch across for the whole flight, I warily eyed the remaining unseated passengers as they sought and filled other rows. Surely that creep who just arrived, late, would crash into the seat next to mine, spilling my coffee on me. But he didn't. Neither did the too-friendly couple who would've wanted to engage me in wearying, ultra nicey conversation until we all knew every pointless detail of each other's lives. Dreary music underscored the tension.

Finally, the cabin door closed, the bird pushed back, and the row was mine. Or was it? I knew that as soon as we were in the air and the electronic ding signaled freedom from seatbelts, clever passengers would lurch up and begin foraging for a better location. I would have to act quickly to fully lay claim to my row, feigning sleep across all three seats or just lying there, staring up in defiance of any who would challenge my sovereignty. In air travel, as in life, you haven't arrived but your next journey begins, and now it was time to wait in line behind about 200 other planes for take off. We waited. Everyone was in their seats now. I owned three.

We continued to wait.

And then the impossible happened. In flagrant violation of FAA regulations, a free, unseatbelted man appeared at the end of my row, smiled impishly, and sat down. `Whence this interloper?' I silently screamed to myself. He had moved from his assigned seat, which was the only seat he deserved, and made a surprise land grab while the plane was sluggishly taxiing. It was only to avoid seeming obviously greedy that I hadn't already moved to the middle seat and arranged my stuff on the other two. Anyway the situation had seemed under control. Now, helplessly, wishfully, I placed my trust in human nature. He will surely see his mistake. My seats! He'll realize what he's done and withdraw. Without letting him catch my eye, I studied him. How to gently remind him that he was wrecking the continuity of my perfect air couch. I knew, deep down, that my proprietary feelings would be scoffed at by the other passengers, by the flight crew, that my title to the three chairs would be unrecognized by any judicial body. But I also knew that they were mine.

Once we were in the air, the situation got even worse. When the ding came, I tried what seemed like a reasonable gambit. I lifted the armrest next to me and swung my legs onto the adjacent seat. Pushing my feet to the exact border of his seat I pretended I was going to sleep. If it were me in his position, one of two things would have happened. Either I would have uncomfortably compressed myself against the aisle armrest to avoid contact with a stranger's feet, or, better yet for that stranger, I would have recognized that my new seat was in no way an improvement over my assigned seat and beat a retreat. At very least, then, I was hoping to cut my losses.

But the stratagem backfired.

Seeing by my example that there were other possibilities available to him besides sitting up and facing forward, he swung his armrest up as well, and twisted himself into a position which exactly occupied all of the remaining space in our row, including the space under my seat where my feet had been. We were now arranged in radial symmetry. Seen from above, we must have looked like a human playing card, except that aisle Jack wore a happy expression, whereas window Jack was scowling and gnashing his teeth. My opponent was victorious. He had taken advantage of my one achilles heel: I have a neurotically large sense of personal space. I can't stand touching people I don't know. I will withdraw from any military buffer zone if the enemy starts to close in. Let them have the Golan Heights.

Defeated, I swung my legs back down and he rearranged himself to more fully occupy the two seats he had won.