Ramblin’ Man

There’s something inherently insane about being fastened inside a 40,000 pound tube as it flings itself ground-ward towards a strip of asphalt no wider than a panel truck and surrounded by ice-covered patches of grass. It’s otherwordly, actually, a strange sensation of being inside of a movie, which is made even stranger by the fact that I’ve been reading an essay by David Foster Wallace on the fact that my generation sees the world through the prism of the televisual media. But such is life when you’re on a plane bound for somewhere you need to be, or so said the lovely lady next to me, a retired flight attendant (“I did it so long, we were stewardesses when I started”). You sort of hold your breath and let the ride take you wherever.

I would say I’m not a great traveler, if based on no other evidence than the fact that I’ve just turned 35 and this is my first solo plane trip anywhere. Ever. But what I lack in experience I make up for in sheer nervousness when confronted with the unknown and the possibility of confrontation with government authority. I was so nervous about the flight, my stomach wouldn’t stop making noises; it doesn’t help that I’m always worried I will somehow fit some bad-guy’s profile and get tackled while in line for the security screening. I feel like the TSA screeners are always looking at me funny, waiting for me to make a mistake or a sudden movement, and – BOOM – I’ll end up face first on the little roller belt that transports your shoes into the x-ray machine.

This paranoia is why the new full-body scan doesn’t bother me. I’ve always assumed that the screeners can see right through me anyway, so what’s the big deal now that they actually can? I’m certainly not going to feel anymore self-conscious than I already do, so let’s hop into the big round tube and zap away!

An interesting aside: I knew things were going to get weird when the couple in front of me started talking. He was about three beers into the case and she was a tad too flirty. Suddenly, he reaches into his pocket and drops the F-bomb: when he pulls his hand out, he’s holding a curved folding knife that’s four inches long, folded (that means it’s over eight inches long when open, a legal NO-NO in Georgia). Homeslice hops out of line, marches over to a security official and SHOWS HER THE KNIFE. He then asks, literally, “Do you mind holding this until I come back tomorrow?” The security guard, God bless her, smiles, says, “No, sir,” and politely grabs the gentleman by the arm and escorts him away. Where, exactly, I don’t know. Probably Guantanamo. Regardless they never came back.

Now, remember, he was with a woman who has now watched him get dragged off for some waterboard fun. She proceeds to dump everything into the little bins and steps into the ring of x-ray. She emerges and I step in. When I step out, this is the exchange.

TSA Screener: (pointing at the woman) Ma’am, you’ll have to stay right here. (Speaking into his microphone) I need a Security Supervisor to my position, stat.

Woman: (tapping her foot in annoyance) Listen, what’s the big deal? (She holds up a small cell phone, produced from who knows where) It’s only a phone, dude.

TSA Screener: Yes ma’am, a phone that you felt the need to hide inside your bra.

Woman: I don’t have pockets. Where else was I going to put it?

TSA Screener: Into the bins like the signs say. (Speaking into his microphone) Security Supervisor, on me, stat!

Woman: (slides opens phone) What? It’s not like this will detonate a bomb…

TSA Screener: (grabs woman by arm) With me, ma’am, right now.

(They disappear. A new Screener steps over to me.)

New Screener: You don’t have a bomb on you, do you?

Me: No.

New Screener: Then you can go on.

Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty evenly matched couple. I hope they enjoy the couple’s deprivation at Gitmo.

The rest of my day went well. Got on the plane and had the obligatory “I’m too good to sit in Coach!” person pitch their little fit, which I think is one of the FAA’s worst new rules. This lady was seated behind me, in literally the last row of the plane.

“I can’t believe this! I fly too often to get stuck back here like someone who doesn’t matter!”

So now I understand my seat assignment better – I don’t matter, so I move the back. Like the bus in high school.

Anyway, Ms. Too-Good continues to pitch one until a member of the flight crew comes back and asks her what the problem seems to be.

“I want an upgrade!”

The flight attendant caves and promises to arrange something. (I later learn that particular flight attendant was a trainee on her very first training flight; she looked like she knew the plane was going to explode in mid-air and wanted off really badly.) Ms. Too-Good folds her arms as if she’s been granted rulership of the plane. The fligth attendant comes back and says she has a seat upgrade – a window seat on an otherwise unoccupied row. Ms. Too-Good nods, and the flight attendant moves her six aisles up. I kid you not. Ms. Too-Good begins to swear at this point, so another flight attendant comes over and asks the problem.

“I want a first class seat! This is ridiculous! Don’t you people know that I’m one of your best customers?”

(An aside: I work with people who are some of this particular airline’s best customers. Even they don’t get a first class upgrade all the time – and these are people with over 3,000,ooo SkyMiles! I somehow doubt this particular lady could even begin to sniff that kind of mileage.)

The flight attendant looks at her and says: “This is all that is available. There are no first class seats. The plane is sold out, with the exception of these two seats, which we are allowing you to have at no extra charge. If this isn’t good enough ma’am, you will be escorted from the plane and will have to catch another flight.”

Ms. Too-Good sits down and doesn’t say another word. We take off and, despite the look on the new flight attendant’s face, we don’t explode. We land in the ‘Burgh and the cold rushes in, and that’s where you came in.

So here I am, in the city of Three Rivers,  Steeltown, and the local 11 have kicked the ever living crap out of the New York Jets, a feat that is much appreciated by the slightly doughy people seated at the bar across from me. They cheered non-stop throughout the first half and are still cheering, I’m sure, and while I can certainly understand how Pro Football is king here in the land of the snow, it still doesn’t hold a candle to college football in the SEC.

I was  singled out for my accent (“Are you from England?”) and for my politeness (my waitress said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘Thank you’ this many times in a month”) so I would say I blend in well.

Seriously, though: I couldn’t stand out more if I wore a Jets jersey and randomly kicked people in the butt. But the people are nice, if loud, and the airport, though unbelievably cold, is nice enough to hang out in as you wait for a ride, which has arrived and I am now on my way to Ohio for the next few days. Pittsburgh, albeit brief, was a nice place to visit.

I miss my home and family, and hope that my trip  goes well. For now, I’m contented to hum the Allman Brothers and count the hours until I’m back someplace where I don’t sound weird and the cold is only on the surface, instead of straight to the bone. I’m a Ramblin’ Man, but not born that way; hopefully, I won’t have to ramble anymore for a while.


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