SIX ENCOUNTERS:

He looks like somebody’s grandfather but he’s definitely not exuding a kindly manner at the moment: a whiny toddler has been stationed nearby and is engaged in the act of kicking his seat. He shifts restlessly and issues forth a series of irritated sighs, and with each consecutive squeal and shriek coming from the child in the row behind him he gropes for his music player and adjusts the volume. Later, after we have descended and the plane is taxiing along the runway, he seems giddy with the relief of the flight drawing to an end and we strike up a brief conversation. I learn he is flying to Arizona to compete in a national senior’s softball tournament, and I can picture the devastatingly handsome young man he must have been back in his day: he is lean, athletic, his eyes are a startling shade of blue. I start to ask what position he plays and suddenly I can’t think of the right term—what, uh, you know, what do you do? In your games? What guy are you? Uh? He is patient, though. Outfield, he says.

:::

I ask him if he lives in San Francisco and he says he does, he was traveling to Seattle for business but now he’s on his way home. I ask what sorts of sights he’d recommend seeing in the area and something in his face says he loves answering that sort of question, he dismisses the touristy destinations with a pinched look of disgust and starts speaking to me out of the corner of his mouth, like spies might be listening. As a result I can barely hear him over the noise of the plane and his murmured, secretive instructions are largely lost on me: something about the other side of the bridge, a park? Rent a car? I nod gratefully and he sits back, satisfied, then sits back up in a rush in order to give me one last piece of advice—don’t bother with Fisherman’s Wharf. Sea lions, he says, and rolls his eyes.

:::

He’s talking on his cell phone and even though I’m sitting a few rows of seats away from him I can hear every word, his voice isn’t as loud as it is carrying, he’s got a specific sort of pitch to his tone that seems designed to physically push the words into nearby ears. He’s craggy and large-eared and wearing a rumpled dress shirt and slacks, he reminds me a bit of the actor who plays Monk. I hear him say, “Why are you saying HELLO? I’m RIGHT HERE,” and I feel sorry for whatever business associate is on the other line. He talks on for a while, then announces that he’s got to go, the flight is boarding soon. “Talk to you later, Mom,” he says, and I can’t help it: I grin at nothing. Surprise.

:::

She sits next to me in a rustle of bags and long hair and I am immediately assaulted by a thick floral perfume which is competing with the garlicky aroma wafting up from a plate of stir-fry she balances on her lap. She squeaks open the top of a tiny bottle of wine, takes a healthy swig, and now there’s a trifecta of scents battling for top position: cheap zinfandel, teriyaki, something she’s spritzed body-wide. Her fingernails are long and fuschia with tiny white flowers carefully painted on the tips, I glance down and see she’s got a matching pedicure. She pulls out a clunky Dell laptop and asks me about finding a network connection, when I’m unable to help she clicks around randomly for a while on her cached AOL home page then closes it again. Eventually she gathers her things and moves off, balanced on teetering heels, her gait as unsteady as a newborn fawn’s.

:::

The empty seats on either side of me are occupied with a sudden influx of noise and shifting body parts: two pre-teen brothers have descended. Their mother stands nearby and nags them gently about not digging into the carryon bag yet and don’t eat those they’re for the flight and listen kids I want you to listen to me. The younger one starts whining about how it sucks that Jason gets the laptop and his mother tells him he can sit next to him and watch a movie on it too and so he whines that yeah but then I have to watch whatever Jason watches and Jason sits on my other side smugly clutching a white iBook and their mother sighs and says, jeez, with you the glass is always half full, isn’t it? And Jason says, you mean half empty, Mom, and she says whatever and the two brothers snicker together.

:::

He’s taking over the armrest and I try not to be resentful about this but why is it always me that concedes the armrest, why? The plane has concluded its business of beetling around the tarmac getting ready for liftoff and now we’re poised at the end of a runway, engines roaring to life. It’s the part of a flight that still makes me nervous and I glance over to the window to make sure nothing is bursting into flames or oscillating wildly and I notice that he’s pulling out some kind of small grey bag and hunching over it. Oh god, I think, he’s going to barf, but instead he starts breathing in rhythmic little puffs into the baglike thing and the plane gathers itself like a cat and starts rolling forward, faster and faster, the air fills with noise and everyone seems to stop talking in order to show respect for the supernatural concept of such an enormous container of metal and humans just magically lifting into the air and next to me he’s puffing away, hiss hiss hiss hiss, and I’m wondering what the hell is going on, is he controlling a panic attack or inhaling medication or what, and like that the ground drops away, I feel the sensation of invisible weight pulling me into the seat, and the man next to me gives one last hiss of air into what I now see is an inflatable pillow. He settles it behind his head, closes his eyes, and we hurtle forward through air and sunshine and clouds, all the way home.

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Undomestic Diva
14 years ago

At least that hiss wasn’t – ya know – gas.

Briana
14 years ago

I love these descriptions! People watching is the best. Too bad you didn’t take secret photos with your phone/camera/motherboard thingy.

Naomi in Oz
14 years ago

Ahhhh, airports. Stay long enough and the whole world will pass you by. There is something about airports that paints people in at the worst or best. It’s all about extremes.

All Adither
14 years ago

Nice character descriptions. You should be doing fiction. Are you?

Sabine
14 years ago

Even though I am a homebody and somewhat hermetic in nature, a part of me does enjoy travel for exactly this these types of encounters. Thank you for reminding me of how that feels. :)

Pete
Pete
14 years ago

I hate flying. I live in Southern California and anything west of Denver and I drive. The arm rest is like a four way stop, the bold always win.

Mrs. Elle
14 years ago

I so enjoyed this! Your writing reminded me of on of my favorite authors – Raymond Carver.

Mrs. Elle
14 years ago

I so enjoyed this! Your writing reminded me of one of my favorite authors – Raymond Carver.

Danell
Danell
14 years ago

I think I would have laughed out loud when I figured out that was an inflatable pillow!

Amy
Amy
14 years ago

Truly fantastic writing…I’ll be the first in line to read your book, should you write one. Are you gonna? Please?

Ashley
14 years ago

LOVE LOVE LOVE the way you see the world, LOVE!

Tessa
Tessa
14 years ago

Beetling. So fantastic. You rock!

Caitlin
14 years ago

Linda! I love everything about this. LOVE it. Love it.

I write my own version of this in my head every time I fly. It’s amazing to bump into all these little microcosms of humanity, when all you can do is take them at face value, and absorb next to nothing of their backstory.

…but I always wonder if someone out there might be writing about the tall girl with the giant nest of curly hair, blocking their view of the inflight movie. And rustling in her bag first for her water, now for her book, then her laptop, then a snack. And damn, but she sure does have a lot of bags. Her purse is kind of cute though.

Cari
14 years ago

These descriptions are fantastic: you have such a beautiful way with words. Thanks for sharing.

Leslie
Leslie
14 years ago

Lovely character studies. You actually talk to people; I make up backgrounds for them. Your way is obviously superior because I’d never have come up with senior baseball.

(I’ve been stuck on that same line of Dr. Horrible for days. Do you do the little shoulder wiggle when it’s time to dance?)

tash
14 years ago

You have an amazing way with words – and me, all I can come up with is “amazing”??? Brilliant writing.

Amy
Amy
14 years ago

Oh, that was just brilliant! What fun, thank you.

Anais
14 years ago

This was a great read. I can’t wait for you to write a book!

Jennifer
Jennifer
14 years ago

Loved this entry! I went back and read them a couple times. Say – do you envision that someday you might be that mom refereeing two preteen boys who’re fighting over “who gets the laptop and who chooses the movie?” So funny that the brothers found common ground at mom’s expense!

Jenn Perryman
Jenn Perryman
14 years ago

I could totally hear your pre-teen boys snippet narrated in my head by the PEMCO Insurance voiceover guy.
Great visuals. I, too am waiting for your book.

Kristi
14 years ago

“an enormous container of metal and humans” is the best line I’ve read in quite a while. Thanks for this post.

Amy
Amy
14 years ago

Humanity. Beautiful and crazy all at once. Loved this!

oregoncoastgirl
oregoncoastgirl
14 years ago

Thank you, for the truth, that I’ve not had the opportunity to witness, but can envision with your help.

Victoria
14 years ago

Lady, you’re a kick ass writer.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
14 years ago

Wow, I felt like I was actually there!

beach
beach
14 years ago

loved your post…I love people watching, airports and the beach are the best places to do this.

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

Linda,

Your writing is really amazing.

Glad you had a good experience at Blogher.

On another note, you inspired me to do the unthinkable last night. When I got my first ever bootcamp kickboxing DVD, before I put it in and began the amazing workout, I took a photo of myself, determined that it will be my “before” picture….it’s not pretty, not pretty at all….but when these last 20 pounds are gone, I’ll take another…thanks for the inspiration.

k

Amblus
14 years ago

“and the plane gathers itself like a cat”

I love this description so much – it is *exactly* right. Beautifully written!

Carrie
14 years ago

This is an awesome post.

diane
diane
14 years ago

“Wow” is always the first word I think of when reading you. Your words bring everything to life, in such a beautiful, natural way.

Kelli
14 years ago

Excellent post, excellent writing.

Andrea
14 years ago

I love the way you write.

It’s a good thing it was just a pillow and not an inflatable doll. Ew.

Jen
Jen
14 years ago

I like this – very cool! Thank you, Linda. xoxoxo

Julie
14 years ago

I love this. People watching is good therapy!

Sam
Sam
14 years ago

Linda, Please let me know when you write your first book so that I can rush right out to purchase the first copy. I don’t care the price because it’s going to be awesome!!

Laura
14 years ago

Excellent post and it actually made me feel very calm. You see, I am deathly afraid of flying (picture John Lithgow in The Twilight Zone Movie, only hopefully without wing gremlins) and I have to fly in Sept. AND Oct. Every day I pee myself a little bit more about that fact and I actually got a little hyperventilate-y at the beginning of your post but somehow the end kind of chilled me out.

I think I’m still going to cry during takeoff like I normally do. Why break the streak?

Laura
14 years ago

Excellent post and it actually made me feel very calm. You see, I am deathly afraid of flying (picture John Lithgow in The Twilight Zone Movie, only hopefully without wing gremlins) and I have to fly in Sept. AND Oct. Every day I pee myself a little bit more about that fact and I actually got a little hyperventilate-y at the beginning of your post but somehow the end kind of chilled me out.

I think I’m still going to cry during takeoff like I normally do. Why break the streak?

Laura
14 years ago

Sorry for the double post. Apparently I am all worked up. Or a douche. Whichever.

Cara
14 years ago

I feel like I met them myself. Beautifully done.

Janet
Janet
14 years ago

I’m with Laura, I absolutely hate flying and almost always cry at some point in the flight. Turbulence turns me into a sad parody of Lucille Ball and even the mention of wind shear or bad weather makes me pee my pants. But, I still do it when work requires it or there is no other way for me to get from point A to point B.

Your discription of the plane taking off was just brilliant.

Josh
14 years ago

Dude, I love flying, I just hate people. I hate wand wavers and bag fucker-upers and cavity searching security guards. I hate children and the elderly. I hate rich people in first class and poor people who stink. I hate shrill, dorky asians, and smelly ass terrorist looking middle easterners, and never-shutting-the-fuck-up black folks, and idiot dork honky shit stains, and jesus christ quit with the mullets you Mexicans. I hate stewardesses, and ticket takers with their snotty fucking attitudes. I hate fat people and their extra space taking up selves. I hate spoiled little bitches of both genders who obviously have never had to ride public transportation before. I hate businessmen and their business like shenanigans with their cellphones and their faggy luggage. I hate the cabbies and their annoying taxis. I hate the shitty ass drivers who clearly have never driven through a parking lot before. I hate the shop keepers and the bull shit they sell. I hate babies. I hate cops. I hate pretty much everyone. If they could shoot me up with something to make me ignore all the damn people involved with flying I would absolutely love it, but until then it makes me the angriest, most homicidal, genocidal bastard ever seen on planet earth. Why can’t we all just get shot through a tube or something? That would be fun and I could be alone the whole time.

Nice post, I hope your trip was fun. :)

Michael
14 years ago

Nicely done. You really conjured up a relaxing atmosphere of people-watching and sensory perception. If there hadn’t been airport/airplane references, I might have thought you were sitting outside an Italian café. Please go to BlogHer more often! :-)

christen
christen
14 years ago

Linda – wanted to comment on your Gather site but am not a member and am too lazy to register.

I HIGHLY recommend PodFitness (www.podfitness.com). You choose your own music and it makes you voice-over personal training sessions for the exercise of your choice. Check it out. I love it.

ZestyJenny
14 years ago

I love you.

Lola
14 years ago

As the wife of an airlne pilot, frequent traveler, AND cat lover, your line; “and the plane gathers itself like a cat” is both eloquent and darned sensuous, rather like flying itself. I love your observations about the people on the plane. Awesome writing.

Claudia
14 years ago

Nice, nice, nice. I love the way you write.

Maria
14 years ago

I have to hop back over here to LOL about Twilight. I tore through the three that are out a few weeks ago, feeling ashamed with each turn of the page. Evidently, my brain is twelve.

OhhaiEdward.

bikerchick
14 years ago

Hi,
Here from FiveStarFriday and will definitely be back! “Beetling!” I love it!