I've only been studying the species for 38 years, so maybe I'm no expert. But I believe there are only two types of people. One takes a bad situation and makes it better, the other takes a bad situation and makes it worse. I try hard to be one of the former. It's not easy, but I honestly do try. So why is it that every time I have to take a long-haul, overnight flight I'm surrounded by members of the second category?
Let's face it, when you wake up on a gloomy October morning, knowing that you have to put in a full day at the office before flying to Germany, you might as well suck it up right then and there. Assume bad things are going to happen, and remind yourself that at some point you'll get where you're going.
As the day wore on and bone shaking thunder rolled through town I realized that my flight would inevitably be delayed. Around four o'clock lightning lit up the midtown sky to such an extent that everyone on my floor was plastered up against the windows wondering which sign of the apocalypse this was. No one knew the answer, since we are all godless New Yorkers. Add to that that we work for a major publishing house and it becomes obvious that the only thing we know about the apocalypse is that some guy writes scary books about it and sells hundreds of thousands of copies. No one is interested enough to read one of those books, of course, but we all wish that the next time someone comes up with a book that will so scare the bejesus out of people that it induces them to buy a copy—they sign with us.
Since I knew my 9 PM flight would be delayed, I decided to take it slow. Why rush only to have to wait around? I left my desk at seven and took the subway to JFK. That's another thing I don't understand. Why would you take a cab to the airport during rush hour when it's raining so hard you can't see the hand in front of your face? Amateur mistake. Take the train when it rains. It even rhymes! Anyway, I got to JFK around eight. Yes, that's very late for a 9 PM flight. But I knew I had time and was cool, calm, and collected when I waded through the pond of humanity gathered in front of two harried airline employees. Politely, I asked if they could check me in.
"For which flight?"
I pointed at the sign behind the man's head, but he said, "That sign's wrong. The system isn't working properly. The lightning caused some power outages.”
“I don't doubt it. The weather was wicked.”
“It still is. We're just now checking in passengers who have tickets for the 4:00 PM flight to Frankfurt."
Giving him an understanding smile, I tried to remove myself from the scrum. But a man who might well have been the king of the “Category Two” people, you know, the ones who make a bad situation worse? He pushed up against me, effectively trapping me between the counter and some very large, intractable men who weren't about to give up their places near the desk. I decided to cool my heels and get away when the king of the jerks was finished. But when he launched into his tirade, I wondered if I might not be there all night.
He wasn't a particularly large man, nor was he particularly small. He was just about average in every way. Dirt colored hair, pasty skin, a dark suit, rep tie, and a briefcase with a very sharp corners made him look like nearly everyone else. I knew the corners were sharp because of the dents they were making in my thigh. The only thing that set him apart was his ferocious anger and his awesome comb-over. Whenever I see a guy with a comb-over this bodacious I genuinely want to ask why he don't drop whatever he's doing and run--don't walk--to the nearest toupee-maker. Is the fear of a toupee greater than the fear of any form of wind? This guy's started at his right ear and draped his muddy-colored tendrils all the way to his left. I would say that he had, at most, 400 hairs glued down. It looked a little like rivulets running down a hill after a heavy rain. The cheapest, most inexpertly made toupee would have been a massive improvement. Actually, cutting the whole mess off and clipping the rest of it short would have been the ideal solution. Then he could not have to worry about a butterfly floating by and ruining his 'do.
I know I sound mean-spirited, cruel even, but if you could have heard the way he talked to the poor employees of my preferred airline partner you would've said worse. I know you would've. I can just tell.
After having their eardrums blistered for several minutes the airline personnel tried to retain a bit of their dignity by telling him there was nothing they could do, but they would call a supervisor. That didn't calm him down much, but he stopped pressing into me and I was able to make my getaway. I went as far as I could while still being able to hear any announcements. It just so happened that my tether landed me at an airport bar where I used part of my rather meager travel per diem to order a whiskey sour. I sat at a corner table, took out my laptop and continued to work. It was actually just like being at the office but with better snacks and much better drinks.
At 11 I went down to check and see how things were going in happy village. To my surprise, the Idiot King was still pacing around growling into some poorer unfortunate's ear via a headset he wore on his own. I sincerely hoped he didn't have a family, and was just bitching at someone who never had to actually meet him.
With a friendly grin, I approached a woman who didn't look too battle-scarred. “I was supposed to be on the nine o'clock to Frankfurt. Any word?"
"Ooo, I'm sorry I have bad news.”
You never want to have your doctor or the agent at the gate tell you that. In both situations, it's best to get it over with quickly. “I can take it.”
She took the boarding pass from my hand and typed furiously for a minute. “The bad news is that your flight's been cancelled. The good news is that I think we'll be able to squeeze you onto the 4 o'clock flight. There's supposed to be a break in the weather, so we're just about to call for the first people to board."
"I'm guessing I should kiss my first class seat goodbye?"
She gave me a sad face. "First class for both flights was filled. We're sorting that out now, but it doesn't look good. What's going on in Frankfurt anyway?”
“Big trade show. There's probably 2,000 New Yorkers going to it.”
She continued to look at her monitor, frowning all the while. “I've never seen so many preferred platinum elite members in one day. There's no chance of first class for you.” She made a face like a child who'd lost an ice cream cone. If she was trying for empathy, she failed. “If you're not in a hurry I'm sure we could get you into first class on tomorrow's 4 PM flight."
I desperately wanted to go home and fly out tomorrow. But I can't swing it. Since I'm in the IT department, with my job consisting mostly of getting things set up properly, being there on time is essential. I smiled wanly. "No, I have to get to Frankfurt, even if it means putting me into a pet carrier and stowing me with the luggage.”
“Look at the bright side. You get your 25,000 miles back.”
Just what I needed. I already had enough miles to go on 4 round trip flights to anywhere. Now all I needed was the desire to fly anywhere I wasn't required to go. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't averse to flying somewhere cool. But I usually just take a few vacation days and tack them onto a business trip. That way I get to decompress and actually see the city I'd just been in for business. The 25,000 miles I'd used for a first class seat would go back into my account, waiting to be used for the next time I needed them. If the super-duper elite ultra stupendous class didn't bump me again. Bastards.
An hour later I enviously watched a bunch of lucky stiffs stream onto the plane and their cushy first class seats. At least being nice got me an aisle seat in the emergency exit row, giving me a few more precious inches of legroom.
I boarded with the other grumbling passengers, and saw, to my utter dismay, the King of the Idiots sitting in the middle seat of my row. He didn't recognize me as the person he'd tried to crush, but that was probably because he was busy berating the flight attendant.
“Did you have any idea who I am?” he thundered.
I believe that if you have to ask that question you're not important enough for anyone to shake in their boots over. Besides, what power do you have over a flight attendant? This is their turf, and only bad things can happen to you by being a jerk. But the Idiot King didn't know that. He continued to bitch and moan until the flight attendant made an excuse and dashed away.
“I paid for a first class seat!” he called after her. “I'm contacting the FAA!”
I would have told him that I and at least a few other people were in the same boat. But I wasn't going to waste my time on him. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd feel better to know he wasn't the only one in his situation, anyway.
We were almost fully loaded when a woman about my age walked down the aisle looking for her seat. It was clear she was coming to my row, since the window seat was the only one still empty. I got up and stood in the aisle so she didn't have to climb over me. Does anyone want to guess what my seat mate did? He not only didn't stand, he didn't move at all, making the woman climb over him and practically rub her butt into his face. From my perspective, it was a nice butt, but he didn't care for it one bit and actually raised his forearm and pushed her against the seat in front of him. Even though I try to be a nice person, I would have cold-cocked him for that. Without question. Luckily, she was a gentle soul and she apologized before sitting down. Remarkable! 66 2/3 percent of the people in our row were not assholes!
As soon as we were all settled, the king pulled that trick that I've seen a lot of men do. Like a reptile who fears predators, he tried to make himself appear bigger than he really was. He stretched his elbows out so he could claim both armrests, then he moved his legs so that his knees touched both mine and Window Seat's. I'm pretty average sized. 5'7, and between 130 and 140, depending on how much stress I'm under. Window Seat was about the same. Okay, fine. She was easily 10 pounds lighter. Maybe she doesn't have as much stress as I do. Or maybe she's not addicted to chocolate fudge ice cream. Nonetheless, neither of us took up an enormous amount of space. He had to slump down to make his knees cover that much territory, and I privately hoped his back started to ache. I could have gotten into a pissing contest with him, and tried to reclaim my personal space, but he wasn't worth the effort. I still had a lot of work to get done, and I wouldn't be able to concentrate if I started behaving like a child.
The second we attained cruising altitude the king pushed the flight attendant call button. A man approached and leaned over to ask what he wanted. "Give me the e-mail address of the CEO of this shit-bag airline."
Gosh, not even a please? The attendant blinked a few times, but briskly walked away, ostensibly to get the address. He came back a few minutes later with the address written on a piece of paper. As he handed it to the king he was met with another polite request. "You're giving me free Internet access. You're not going to jerk me around like this and then stop me from contacting every moron who runs this glorified bus company."
The flight attendant had obviously been trained in conflict resolution, since he just nodded amiably and walked away. The king was obviously not used to typing because he pulled out a small voice recorder and started dictating his impassioned, profane letter. I wasn't sure who was going to transcribe his dictation, but it sure wasn't going to be me. I searched through my bag and found my emergency travel supplies. When I pulled out a pair of earplugs I glanced to my right to see Window Seat eying them enviously. I reached back inside my little pouch and handed her a second pair, which she accepted with obvious relief. “Thank you,” she mouthed around the idiot's back.
I gave her the most pleasant smile I had in reserve and she returned a high wattage grin that made me catch my breath. How did I not notice how adorable she was when she first sat down? She was just my type. She looked bright, and alert and professional. Her hair was dark, but she had that coloring that probably made it look auburn in the sun. Faint freckles showed more on her arms than her face, but I bet she was an adorable freckle-faced kid. She looked like the kind of person who didn't get too involved in other people's business. I like that in a woman. If I'd had to guess, I would have bet that she was in the same situation the king and I were--but you didn't hear her bitching about it.
I was still puzzled and annoyed with myself for having let her slip by me without taking a good look. I'm not fixated on looking at women, but on a long flight you've got to have all of the diversions you can get. I suppose I was too involved in the idiot's drama. That's one more good reason why you shouldn't let inconsequential things distract you. They can easily obscure very pleasant experiences that you would otherwise miss. And smiling goofily at the lovely woman in the window seat was a very, very pleasant experience. While the king droned on, I kept sneaking looks at her. She had her laptop out now, and was typing away, ignoring every distraction. Her concentration allowed me to spy on her more than I normally would have dared.
I guessed she was around my age, maybe a little younger. I say that only because she had such a youthful appearance. She was one of those girl next door/cheerleader types, the kind of woman who often looks several years younger than she really is. But the more I looked, the more I decided I had been wrong. She was at least my age, maybe even a few years older. The laugh lines around her eyes gave her away. But in my view, laugh lines were an asset. Anyone who laughed enough to leave marks on her face had to be fun to be around.
Even though I was trying hard, I hadn't been able to block the king's dictating out completely. He was so loud that passengers in the row in front of us and in front of them popped their heads up and stared at him, but he either didn't notice or didn't care. Probably both.
When he finished dictating he pressed the flight attendant button again. This time he glared at the woman who showed up and said, "I want a complementary Glen Grove Scotch on the rocks."
"Complementary?" she asked, puzzled.
"I'm a platinum class member.”
From somewhere behind me I heard a man grumble, “We're all platinum, pal.”
The king's head whirled around and he craned his neck to see who'd said that. But he quickly got back to upbraiding the flight attendant. “Do you know how many miles I fly on this crappy airline?"
She didn't reply, she just stared at him levelly.
"I paid for first class, and my drinks would have been complementary. For having to sit back here in steerage the least you can do is comp my drinks."
"I'll see what I can do." As she walked away, the woman in the window seat stuck her tongue out at the back of the Idiot King's head. There was something so youthful and unexpected about that action that I would've believed it if she'd told me she was 16. Who doesn't like a woman who isn't afraid to look silly?
When the attendant came back with the Scotch she said, "I don't have the authority to give you free drinks. That will be five dollars."
Flustered, he reached into his jacket pocket, hitting me with his elbow in the process, took out his wallet and removed five dollars which he crumpled up and threw in her direction. "I hope you got a lot of satisfaction out of that, because it's gonna cost you your job."
She looked like she was going to strangle him, but she bent over as well as she could in the confined space and picked up the bill. I unbuckled my seatbelt and followed her down the aisle to the galley. "I'm sitting next to the jerk who just threw money at you," I said. "I wanted to complement you on your poise. You had every right to punch him."
Warily, she said, "You're not together, are you?"
"If we were related, I'd change my name. If we worked together, I'd quit. He's been throwing fits since I got to the airport about six hours ago."
The flight attendant who had given him the CEO's e-mail address overheard us and said, "There's one on every flight."
"Really? Every flight?"
"It sure seems like it," he said, wearily.
"If it helps, I'll pay for his drinks. You guys shouldn't have to take that kind of crap."
"Thanks, hon," the flight attendant said. "But don't worry about it. We're used to it."
I went back to my seat, wondering what kind of miserable life one had to have to need to take all of your frustrations out on blameless parties. Then I decided I didn't really want to know. No matter how crappy you life was you didn't have the right to torture other people.
Things were calm for the next hour, but when they came through with our dinner service the peace was shattered. Since I was on the aisle I was the first to get my dinner choice. “Beef chicken or salmon?” the flight attendant asked.
I wasn't very hungry, and it was really too late to eat, but I decided I'd better get some protein even if I saved it until breakfast. "I'll have beef."
The king echoed my choice.
"I'm sorry sir, but we're out of beef."
He viciously jabbed a finger in my direction. "She just ordered it."
"I know that. That was our last beef entrée."
I could have, and would have offered my entrée to just about anyone else in the world. But this jerk would have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I heard a snicker, and caught Window Seat laughing at the scene.
"I want beef," he demanded, his voice rising in anger.
The flight attendant looked happy to refuse him. "I'm sorry. We don't have any more. Would you like chicken or salmon?"
He just glared at her, so she ignored him and asked the woman in the window seat. "Chicken or salmon?"
The flight attendant was just about to walk away when the idiot growled, "Give me the damn salmon."
"I'm sorry sir, that was our last salmon entrée. We just had a few that first class didn't claim." Both middle and aisle seats erupted, one in outraged anger, one in a happy burst of laughter. I had to hand it to her, not many people would have had the nerve to laugh aloud at a guy losing his shit.
He turned and snapped at her. "What's so damn funny?"
My stomach flipped. I wasn't the strongest woman in town, but if he lost it I'd do whatever I had to do to stop him. Luckily, Window Seat gave him a charming grin that seemed to drain the some of the anger from him. "I was just thinking of a really funny joke," she said, looking guileless, "It's a scream."
The flight attendant had been snickering, and before she left she said, "I'll bring you the chicken." I was hoping that at the very least she would drop it on the floor and grind it into the carpet for a while before she served it.
I was pleased to find a small steak on my plate. The perfect thing for breakfast. I didn't bother cutting it into pieces, figuring I would do that later. So I ate my salad and rice, leaving the steak unmolested on my plate. When the flight attendant came to remove our trays the woman looked at my plate and said, "Are you finished?"
"Yes, I am. I guess I wasn't in the mood for steak." I somehow managed to keep a straight face. I could feel the idiot's eyes burning into me, but I didn't look at him. Instead, I took a paper napkin and wrapped up my breakfast before the flight attendant removed my tray.
As always happened, just like dogs, everyone had to use the bathroom 15 minutes after dinner. I didn't really have to go, but when the idiot started trying to get up without excusing himself I decided I needed to go right then. He wasn't happy to be behind me in line, but at least he didn't try to throw me to the ground and walk over me to get in front. The line for the other bathroom was moving much faster than ours, and everyone from the back of our line moved to the other one. By the time it was my turn only the two of us were waiting. I locked myself in the tiny room and took my sweet time, hoping that my fellow traveler wet his pants.
I made a quick stop on my way back, and when I sat down Window Seat was grinning at me. “What took you so long?”
"If I'd had any polish, I would have done my nails while it was in there."
"Did you really not want your steak? Or were you just trying to drive him crazy? He was staring at that meat like a hungry dog."
"I've got a big day tomorrow, or I guess I mean in a few hours. I thought I'd save it for breakfast. Of course, I didn't mind driving him nuts."
"He doesn't have far to go." She extended her hand. "Jodi Michaels."
"Trish Hanson. Good to meet you."
"Here comes the troll under the bridge," Jodi said quietly.
I handed her a pillow and a blanket, which I'd snagged on my way back. I knew from experience that they ran out of them quickly, and I didn't want to be left wanting. The idiot wedged his way past me and flopped down heavily into his chair. It was very late, three in the morning New York time. He pressed the flight attendant button and waited a long time for someone to show up. When someone finally did, he said, "Give me a pillow and blanket."
"Yes, sir," the man said with false friendliness. He went to the front of the aircraft where they stored supplies and spent a few minutes looking in every nook and cranny. "Gosh, I'm sorry, but it looks like we're out," he said upon his return, looking pleased as punch.
"You idiotic flying waitresses don't have to do anything except pass out shitty food and hand out blankets not big enough to cover a baby. And you can't even get that right."
"Anything else?" the man asked, not having risen to the bait.
"I'd like something," I said.
Using the information I'd gleaned on my reconnaissance mission I said, "I'll have the Glen Grove. A triple."
"Give me a double," the idiot snarled.
A few minutes later the flight attendant returned with 3 bottles of Glen Grove. For me. "I'm sorry sir, but we're out of Glen Grove. Is there another Scotch you'd like?"
"I want the God damned Glen Grove."
"I can bring you John James."
"That's not Scotch, that's whisky."
"True, but we have a lot of it."
The flight attendant looked at me and asked, "Would you like that on the rocks?"
"No, I don't care for Scotch. I just like the little bottles." Once again Jodi burst into laughter, even louder this time. That did it, because the idiot pushed his way up and forced his way out muttering, "Bitches. I'll find another seat."
As he left, the flight attendant said, "Oh, no you won't. We are full up."
The idiot must have stopped in the bathroom again because it took him quite a few minutes to return, and I doubt that anyone in the galley would have wasted time talking to him. Jodi and I had spent the time gossiping about what makes a person so insufferable. He forced his way back into the row, and neither of us said a word to him. Then he put his seat back as far as he could and tried to go to sleep. Jodi did the same, wadding her pillow up into a ball and pressing it against the window for support.
Strangely, the jerk fell asleep fairly quickly. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a snorer! Guys like him aren't happy to make you miserable only when they're awake. Oh, no! The fun's just begun when they go to sleep. The first gagging snorts that came out of him woke Jodi from her dozing. She looked at him with wide eyed alarm. "Is there a doctor on board?"
"I don't think they can do anything for that. Except shoot him."
"Well, I'd rather have him snoring than talking."
"I think this entire section of the plane agrees with you. Where are you headed in Frankfurt?"
"The book fair. You?"
"The same." I smiled. "Who are you with?"
"Tivoli. How about you?"
"Bruckner. I'm in IT. I have to get there as soon as I can to make sure our systems get connected properly or I would have waited until tomorrow and I wouldn't be sitting by prince charming here."
"Ditto. This is the first time I've ever paid for first class and gotten bumped.”
“Me too. Do you travel a lot?'
“Yeah. I'm in promotions. I've got to get there to get all of our marketing materials set up at our booths or I would have waited too."
"Are you staying until Sunday?"
"Yeah, but just to waste time. I'll be finished by Thursday, but I have to go to Edinburgh next so it's easier to just hang out.”
"Hey, that's the same for me." I gave her my most charming smile. "Maybe we could explore Frankfurt a little bit." I've been gay forever and I can't explain how I know another woman is a lesbian. But I know. And Jodi was, without doubt, a member of my clan.
"I'd love to. This is my first year in this job, and I've never been to the fair before. Actually, I've never been to Germany."
"This is my fourth year, so I can show you the ropes."
"I'd like that very much. I hope this doesn't sound too forward but...are you single?"
"Totally." I grinned again. "Traveling as much as I do makes it tough to be in a relationship."
"Maybe you need to look for someone who travels the same circuit." She waggled her eyebrows, the effect comically inept.
"Maybe I do. I wonder if our friend here is going to the book fair. If so, I hope he falls into a crate of books and gets shipped to China."
She reached into her brief case and pulled out a pencil emblazoned with the Tivoli logo. “I know this is ridiculously childish, but I've been wanting to do this since he started bitching at the flight attendant. She took the pencil and held it over the Idiot King's ear, then carefully slid it under the edge of his comb-over. The plane lurched a little, and she almost lost it, but Jodi got it back in place and peeled the entire, wet-looking mess from his pate and tossed it into the air where it fell onto his shoulder like a skinned rat. She clapped her hands together gleefully, and I found myself watching her with a deep pleasure I hadn't felt in a long time. Making the best of a bad situation had paid off-big time.