Monday, August 21, 2006

Stuck in the middle with you

Perhaps I’ve taken this whole “bright side” idea too far. Then again, perhaps the notion only reveals itself most when I’m traveling. Either way, I’ve another story to share.

I don’t mind sitting in the middle of two strangers while on an airplane. I think that’s because it hasn’t happened all that much in my experience as a passenger. As it begins to occur with some frequency, however, I feel I may change my tune rather quick. And so the stage is properly set for my hour and thirtysomething minutes flight from Detroit to Atlanta. The fact we made it to our flight with just minutes to spare is a miracle in and of itself – one accompanied by turning a 45-minute drive to the airport into a blurred 20 – but, for the sake of this story, you simply need to know that I, once again, was plopped in the middle.

I’ve never been able to understand how two complete strangers can meet on a plane and launch into a discussion better than some lifelong friends are able to manage. In my mind, it’s time for overdosing on music reviews, writing poetry about clouds outside the window and, very rarely, a touch of shut-eye. And, yet, I found myself unable to do any of the three, as a couple of friendlies had found one another on opposite sides of me.

They were able to carry on like I was never there, talking loudly about Detroit’s politics, its panhandlers and crazy increase of traffic. Nothing I did proved to be a barrier, either – when I bobbed, they weaved. If I leaned forward to read my magazine, they maneuvered to talking behind my head. If I leaned back, they carried on – literally – right in front of my face. I wanted to not listen, but that choice wasn't one I could make.

For a while, I’ll admit to its being amusing. And then, at the 45-minute mark, it was revealed to me that it wasn’t going to stop. Not ever. Because I couldn’t focus on reading with all the chitter chatter, I thought I’d try sleep on for a while. As far as my foggy head can properly recall, I believe I found some.

There’s a certain cadence that is born out of two Southern-born African American men speaking. Having never lived around a population that was very dominated by the black community (Missouri? Canada?), I enjoyed listening to the way they spoke so comfortably with one another. I’ll never be able to deliver the line “You can bet on anything in Vegas; you could bet on the outcome between a brother a sister” quite like the man on my left did.

Listening with a half-interest eventually led to my canceling out their conversation like I so ably did with the wind outside the plane. I was out cold, at least intermittently, for the rest of the plane ride. I use the word “intermittently” because the gentleman on my right took to using me as a spitguard. It’s more than possible he didn’t know he was doing it, however, trying to sleep had me inadvertently focusing on the occasional spit drop as it landed on my arm and face. If he’d have been sitting next to his new best friend, that guy'd have probably got it right in the eye, but that wasn’t the case. I got it in sheets. Just so you know, I’ll profess a truth here and now: There really is no silver lining to being spit on.

Because I could not take it upon myself to dab at my body in the right places with a napkin and because “Say it don’t spray it” doesn’t appear to roll of my tongue very casually, I used my last available option. I pretended I was having a nightmare and I head butted him, smack-dab in the overly-wet lips. Okay, no: I moved ever-so-subtly closer to the guy on my left. The eyes stayed closed and the spittle eventually went away.

Across the aisle, someone noticed just how loud this guy was being. When she said so, I cheered behind my eyelids. As far as I was concerned, his voice was booming across the entire plane, so I had to agree with her. And, far as I could tell, she was attempting to sleep, too. She was embarrassed for Right Side on my snoozing behalf. He pointed at me. At least, I think he did.

Well, you don’t see him complaining, do you? If you’s trying to sleep, maybe we could get him to sit next to you, how about that?

No response. But it shut him up for all of 20 seconds. I know because I counted them. He then proceeded to talk about the Klan and how he never spent more than a summer in the South with his daddy based on a body they found the remains of a dead body in a ditch, one that’d been decomposing there for the past eight years. He was scared. He talked about the audacity of having to use an outhouse at his gramma's, that it smelled like hell and that he never had to deal with something like that growing up in the asphalt jungle. He talked about having to use bleach even. Marion Barry also had a chance to shine as Left Side had plenty to share on him. Then, with 10 minutes until we were to touch down, I decided to stop pretending. Five minutes after that, he asked if they had bothered me with how loud they were talking. Instead of answering with words, I used body language: I stuck my tongue out and sent some spittle back in his direction. I figured that he'd understand that loud 'n clear.

No, I didn’t. But I did lie to him. I was so sleepy, there was no way I heard a word of their conversation! I was just too danged sleepy to listen to anything they had to say. That’s exactly what he thought, too – didn’t seem to him that I was having too much trouble. By the time we landed, he was moved to share this tidbit with the woman across the way, the same one who had chided him before. She still maintained that, not only was he rude by being so loud and not taking a chance to shut up the entire ride over, she went on to predict the future: She said I was just being nice and was going to talk bad about him later. But he’d paid for his seat and he could do as he pleased. If that meant talking up a storm at the top of his lungs, so be it. The man was a minister, after all, which I believe is why he was so quick with his comebacks. I was waiting for him to work scripture into his words (which, incidentally, had only proceeded to get louder). She wasn’t backing down.

And, just like that, I started a back and forth, even-keeled kind of argument between a passenger and what turned out to be a sleep-deprived flight attendant. I did it by holding my tongue and playing nice. See, he’d been keeping her up as well and that just didn’t fly with her (bad pun not intended). For a second or two, I felt a little better about my predicament. After all, I was no longer the man in the middle. It was one of three. What’s more, I was far enough away to remain dry. And that’s the only good that I could wring out of my experience. I left the two to get further acquainted and fled the scene.

I’ll yet to discover the advantage of sitting next to someone for three-and-a-half hours while their body odor is blown directly into my face by the plane's ventilation system (as happened all the way from Atlanta to Salt Lake), but I aim to share it as soon as I can figure it out.


aisy said...

just when i wish i could travel more... i read your blog. you should have said to the man "would you lik to switch seats?"

Dainon said...

You know, that occurred to me. Much to late, mind you, but it did cross the mind.

plainoldsarah said...

i'd say when the lady got involved you could have have offered to switch seats. it probably would have made her feel better, too, if you'd been truthful. either way, i understand the desire to disappear in a situation like that. i can't imagine a worse one.

Cindy said...

"Say it, don't spray it" is one of my favorite sayings. It's so mean and funny at the same time. I love listening to obnoxious people on an airplane. They should make a movie like that, "Obnoxious People On A Plane".