Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Sound and Fury of Row 29

I felt almost angry that I was so close to the solution yet the solution is not available to me. It made me feel like Chinese manufacturers who made the Nike sneakers but could not find them at home market. I felt like a target of a practical joke. I grow nudging on my seat and I was observing the length of line like a NASA controller and was trying to predict the next low point so that I can jump up and join. I had to optimize my behavior to achieve minimum humiliation as someone sitting right outside the place.

Not long ago I enjoyed tremendously a posting from a co-worker’s website. It is a written complaint from an airline customer. The poor guy sat on 29 D, the last row of the plane and located right beside the lavatory. His fax of written complaint and drawings depicted his pain so vividly that we the readers have drawn great joy and laugh out of it.

Not long after that, on a recent trip to west coast, I was having a very similar if not exactly the same fate.

Same airline is in question. I was on board of the continental flight originated from Newark. It was an early morning flight. The taxi ride from Midtown Manhattan down through Holland tunnel was very pleasant as I witnessed the west village in its very unusual quietness and calm. My heart was also filled with excitement and anticipation of a good time ahead.

But soon as I arrived at the once familiar Jersey side airport, my heart sank. The airport was a mass. Check in counter was flooded with passengers who do not look like sophisticated New Yorkers. I am not sure about the route of this airline but it may want to expand or change some routes just to get the mix right.

I had a huge bag to check in. After waiting forever, I was finally in front of a counter. The expressionless woman after the counter informed me: this is a full flight. We have only 3 mid seats left. I wanted an Ariel or window seat. But then I just want to be there as soon as possible. I was given a seat 29E. The number did not ring a bell at all. I was happy that bag was checked and ticket was confirmed.

Getting through the security turned out to be another hack since lines were zigzagging for miles and I believe everyone is on a later flight than I was so I should panic. After some anxiety and waiting in lines. Another security point opened up and I happened to be the first one to be diverted. I was in. After walking what seems to be an endless walk, I finally arrived and found my gate. I remembered what I was told that people in that city I was going to visit are neither good looking nor smart. I looked around and by then the hypothesis to me was proven statistically significant.

Waiting and waiting and then boarding started. There was no necessary order, people just got in. So although I should have boarded first among the Coachers had I known, I was after so many other riders that when I finally realize that row 29 is the last row of all seats, I was standing right in the space between the lavatory door and 29D. I chuckled to myself.

Luckily I was on 29E. There was a human shield between me and the other place. I settled in. I thought of the mother and daughters who could not get on the plane since it was over booked, I thought of people in Iraq and Tsunami victims in Asia, I don't feel I have a case to complain. Plus I was going to have a fun weekend.

It indeed was a full flight. Both seats besides me were taken. The older guy sitting on 29D was standing in front of me during check-in, so he must have taken the last Ariel seat that was left. Life is about choices. Good life is about right choices. I did not get much of a choice from the beginning in this case. So my conscience was clear.

It was a pretty pleasant take off. Spaces were tight. I missed a little of my trans-pacific flight especially when I fly in Business class. But I was not focusing on that. I was thinking of the trip a head. I was anxious. I also began to read the Side Away. It put me in a mood of quiet smile and self reflections.

Then beverages service began. Since we were the last row, before we even got our drink, we realized our little corner of low profile living was disturbed maybe for ever. Lavatory’s existence and critical roles can not be denied any longer. There were constant door opening and closing and flushing. Suddenly there was a line forming that went as far back as row 15. People in line were all facing us and while they did not stared at the sign on the door that said occupied, they stared at the three of us. I would not feel as bad if I can stare back at some cute guys with blue eyes or deep set dark eyes and dark skin. There were mostly over weighted human being with pale skin and hair of a color the English word of which just eluded me. So they were not dark, blonde or chestnut. The three colors I can identify.

Plus for people who were eager to release themselves, they have an expression on their faces. You know that they will not be hearing music of Chopin in their head or reciting Keats silently or seeking meaning of life. They won't even worry about their loan or job security. You can see that urgent blankness. It makes you share the sense of urgency and also make you weary of their dull existence. And for those who were really on the verge, they have an expression of plea and seeking empathy. They looked at you like caged animals heading to the slaughter house. I would have to look away and feel sorry that I can out help in any way although I sat so close to the place they want to be. I am not the angel guarding the door of heaven, although I felt I am being handed that role and being judged for not doing my work.

And whenever I raised my eyes, I would look right into these faces and feel that I should give them look of support and empathy. I buried myself deeper into the Side Away. But talk about wine made me thirsty.

The older guy sitting on 29D began to look sideways toward the window. I tried to focus on my book. The guy who sat at the window had a air of superiority since he was the luckiest among the three. He was reading a thick book and seemed totally into it. Was he pretending? I am sure he was neither deaf nor blind or has no sense of smell. The air around row 29 grew silent and heavy and filthier as time dragged on.

But the sound from both places kept on attacking us. Flushing never stopped. Doors were opened and closed constantly right besides your ears. I felt lucky that I did not hear anybody moaning or giving out other sounds(like that unlucky guy did). But maybe it was because I did not try hard enough or it was thanks to the human shield I had.

We were cheered up a bit when our first round of drinks finally arrived. It was not easy since the cart had to be strategically pulled so that the lavatory goers can reach their destiny on time.

Our drinks soon put us in the same position of those liners. But I realized I was faced with a new problem. I was sitting at the beginning of the line. But obviously I could not just get up and walk in. If I had to stand in line, I need to pardon myself all the way through to the end and stand there and moving toward my own seat, which I think is the silliest thing to do on earth. Hesitant to take either option, I decided to wait and I was holding myself up really hard.

I felt almost angry that I was so close to the solution yet the solution is not available to me. It made me feel like Chinese manufacturers who made the Nike sneakers but could not find them at home market. I felt like a target of a practical joke. I grow nudging on my seat and I was observing the length of line like a NASA controller and was trying to predict the next low point so that I can jump up and join. I had to optimize my behavior to achieve minimum humiliation as someone sitting right outside the place.

The older guy right next to me read my mind. When the line was reduced to 2 people and the next round of drinks were yet to be served. He stood up and said: I will shield for you. He stood 2 meters away and make sure no one will pass through him to make sure I was the next one to the throne. I felt moved and touched by such comradeship. I felt we were comrades in the trenches together and I could not possibly let him down. I smiled at him and jumped up and wasted no time in grabbing the next spot when a fat guy with glasses finally emerged from one of the doors. Yes, there were two of them near where we sat and they took up most of the load of this airbus aircraft during the 6 hour flight time.

After my problem was resolved, older guy and I were standing up near our seats and stretching and chatting with the air of a newly established intimacy. He was working for a golf shirt maker in New Jersey.

People begun to walk up again but they decided to use us more strategically seeing that we were standing right there. Instead of walking up to the door of lavatory where the air quality could be much worse, they stopped couple of meters short and threw inquiries at us: Is that one occupied? How about that one? The older man replied wryly to a mid-aged lady in pink: No. it has your name on it. The lady did not get the sarcastic but just enthusiastically got in. She did not even thank him. Older guy and I exchanged glances. We decided to sit back so that no such exchange of words will happen again.

We had our lunch with the background of all the moving body parts and sounds and noise. I was surprised that our appetites were not destroyed. We read our book and talked about independent movies. The guy on the window seat broke his silence and we begun to talk about Side Away and the Elections. He said he wrote fantasy novels and gave me his website. If the guy who complained about his seat 29D experience protested by setting up a curtain using blanket (the result of which is a bigger failure than the Waterloo), we tried to set up our shield by creating a heated discussion of art and movie and life in New York city. Sitting in row 29 enables us to get little stronger in face with problems and mistreatment in life.

After 4 hours, I was getting so thirsty so I walked into the back and asked for some water. One of the attendant guys was joking with me: No you can not get some water. I said: “Please! I sit on row 29. I think I can get anything I what”. He laughed so hard: “oh, Alright then. Here you go”. Yes, we were the sympathized bunch on the plane.

Toward the end of the flight, the air around us was so filthy and smelly that the older guy besides me begun to talk about getting refund.

Amid all the sound and furies and fuss, we finally arrived. We sit in the filthy air while flying across the great continent of North America. I bet it was not as bad as the third-class rooms of trans-Atlantic ship at the beginning of the century when immigrants flooded Elis island. But it all depends on who you compared this with. Everything is relative in life.

We can not wait to get off the plane, but luck was so that we have to wait and wait while all the passengers in front of us were packing, not being able to reach their cases or just walked slowly with their numbed limbs after a 6-hour flight.

That is the other curse about Row 29. You will be the first one to board under normal situation, the last one to get off. You spend most time on this enclosed space with the difficulty to concentrate on what you are doing because of the relentless attack to all of your senses.

After we finally got off, the three of us waved goodbye to each other. We all hoped that our luck will get better from there. Mine did for some time, but then it took a sudden turn. But that is a story for another time.

And I didn’t regret for going despite my experience in the Row 29 and what followed.
I am masochistic as I was told.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Don't you detest the airlines? They are providing the worst service, and they cannot earn a profit, but the government continues to subsidize them.

6:38 AM  

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