How this giant, metal tube even makes it airborne is a mystery in the first place, but equally mysterious is how fellow passengers can for hours of motion and constant white noise be content to keep window shades down, eyes glued to phones, and be silent except for the momentary few mumbled syllables deemed necessary when trying not to step on each other while edging bodies into these narrow aisles and hard cushioned excuses for seats.
How can the people around me on both sides of the aisle be content with taking off and hurtling through the atmosphere without glimpsing the world outside? A mystery. But also, an irritation for the powerless one in the middle. No control. Penned in. Victim of turbulence, exercising blind faith that we are really flying and not in a fake simulator, part of some grand experiment—or hoax.
To top it off, having to wear a mask accentuates the feeling of claustrophobia—trapped side to side, front to back by non-communicative people, also hidden behind their masks. Does no one like clouds at 33,000 feet anymore? Does no one like to check now and again to make sure the engines are still attached to the wing? With no view to the big, wide world, how am I supposed to know what part of the USA I am going to crash into should this turbulence continue to shake the metal bolts apart that hold this tube together? How will I know the correct time to start a rousing verse of “Abide with Me” if I have no visual cues as to our elevation?
But here I sit in the middle, the squishing, you-don’t-deserve-an-armrest middle, nose running, face hot, eyes staring straight ahead at the pixelated screen with a black and white cartoon jet making ever so slow progress on the line from Dallas / Fort Worth to LAX. I accepted the sugary soda and the dry, round pretzels from the anonymous attendant not because the meagre offerings would assuage my hunger, but just for an excuse to take off my mask and breathe the recycled air more freely.
Interesting that: The miracle of covid is such that if you eat the junk food offerings without a mask, you are afforded an uncanny measure of protection from all things viral. It’s like a pretzel force field descends while you munch, or why else would our all-knowing handlers allow it? Of course, none of it makes any sense.
Once finished, the mask has to go on again, or you will be firmly reminded that the force field has been lifted, making everyone once again vulnerable. It apparently has a short shelf life. Again, I slip into the cone of silence, those on either side still staring at their phones, all windows closed tight in the steely, grey cabin light.
On the long flight home, once again I ended up in the middle. The person by the window slept and snored on taxiing, slept and snored on take off and ascent. He was so out of it, I decided to risk lifting the window shade by him. He never stirred except for his vigorous exhalation, so I enjoyed my cloudy view over his inert body for many aerial miles. Some time later with the rising of the sun, he woke up briefly to notice his shade was up. He slammed it down with vigor and went back to snoring. Of course, I looked straight ahead and said not a word; though I was formulating a lie in my head about the naughty attendant who had possibly desecrated his space.
Next time I need to take a long trip, I am going by car where I can always be guaranteed a window seat and plenty of leg room.