Miss the tarmac

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airplaneseat.jpgMy shoulder is already aching, and the trip’s hardly begun. But everything must come with me. No checking baggage — why deal with the hassle?

It’s hot and stuffy as I step on board. This flight will be crowded, as evidenced by all the people left back on standby.

I am lugging my suit bag and my messenger bag awkwardly, trapped between passengers on the death march from the jetbridge to rows 1 through 15.

All I want is enough room in the overhead compartment to stuff this green monster in tight. All I want is to sit and resume my book.

All I want is a smooth takeoff.

I heave my puffy suitcase into the first narrow gap in the overhead bins, temporarily halting traffic. The passenger in row 3 glares at me, having been knocked on the head by the corner of my bag. I mutter an apology and scoot along to my seat.

Stuck between two people again.

I awkwardly step around the first gentleman to reach the middle seat, plopping down with messenger bag in my lap. I retrieve my book and tuck away my boarding pass. Under the seat goes my bag, as far down as possible to avoid the stewardess’ admonishment.

More travelers are stuffing themselves into the shrinking cabin. It’s all I can do to concentrate on my chapter.

Why is it so stuffy? I reach up to turn on the air, which doesn’t refresh as much as it blows. I turn on the light, too, though it’s almost unnecessary with the daylight and the cabin lights.

The seat pocket ahead still has trash from the previous leg of the flight. Yuck.

I fish my phone out of my pocket and turn it off. No one’s calling anyway. I snap the seat belt shut and pull it tight.

It seems like we’re ready to go, but it sounds like the door is staying open. Someone’s running behind.

The seat, as usual, is too close. My knees knock against the seat ahead, already cramping from the forced position.

My book is my shield against small talk. As long as the book is open, I do not have to hear about why you’re going all the way or part of the way to the same destination, or what you do for a living, or any questions you may have about me.

The last of the luggage is being loaded just below the window. Or more like being thrown with great force onto the conveyor belt. Ain’t no way I’m checking my bag.

The last stray is making his way down the aisle to his seat, and the stewardesses begin the announcements. I half pay attention, not wanting to miss any critical nuances between these safety instructions and the ones I’ve heard in the dozens of previous flights.

The plane pulls back from the gate and turns toward open runway.

Oh God. This is the part I hate.

I focus on my book to no avail. I grip the pages a little tighter. The familiar refrain plays in my head: Most airplane mishaps occur during takeoffs and landings.

Most airplane mishaps occur during takeoffs and landings.

I don’t want to look out the window. I don’t want to look at anything. I don’t want to shut my eyes.

The plane taxis across to another runway, waiting for clearance.

This is taking forever.

The stewardesses have strapped themselves in and chat about nothing important. The woman by the window is staring blankly, lost in thought.

I am a wee bit terrified. It never fails.

I am not afraid of death, except when launching myself into the sky in a metal box. What a horrible way to go.

The plane pulls into position, then pauses. Panic.

It’s go time. The engines rev up and the invisible rubber band is released.

We churn down the runway, gradually picking up speed. The book blurs before my eyes.

The rumbling takes over the floor, the sides, the seats. The whole damn place is shaking apart.

We tilt skyward. My head feels heavier, as it is pushed backwards into the musty polyfiber blended upholstery.

We are no longer on the ground. Moving ever higher, tilting more and more.

The cabin is frozen. No one seems to move. I can’t move. All I hear are the gears straining against gravity, against turbulence. Against nature.

My ears pop. I swallow and swallow. Pop pop. Pop pop pop. The pressure in my head makes my temples throb.

A glance out the window confirms my fear: The comforting touch of ground is falling away quickly.

Only a few minutes have passed. The takeoff is over.

I sigh in relief. Disaster averted. Again.

I look for my place in my book, distracting myself while waiting for the beverage cart. Ten ice cubes and three ounces of diet cola will hit the spot.

And only 109 minutes until we land. I sincerely hope.

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