On Being Home (Part 3 of 3): The Friendly Skies

(Every eight months or so, pending good behavior, my mom and dad earn a visit from their youngest son. This time, I'm taking notes.)

By Jarrett Bellini

I was aboard a flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City on my way back to Atlanta when I made a real rookie mistake. I tried to talk to the passenger sitting next to me. It seemed harmless at the time - a little friendly dialogue with a guy reading Golf magazine.

“So, get a few rounds in while you were in Phoenix?”

I didn’t really care. I didn’t even really want to talk to him. I don’t know. I just felt like I had to say something. Never mind the possibility that he lived in Phoenix and has probably playedmultiple rounds of golf while he’s been there.

He replied, “Um, yeah. I played some golf.”

There was nothing upbeat about his voice and he seemed annoyed that I was trying to engage in pointless conversation. I suppose it was a combination of being a nervous flyer and also just wanting to see what it felt like to speak as a fellow golf enthusiast, even though, on this week-long trip home, I played like a lobotomized mental patient on 36 holes of pitch n’ putt.

“I managed to work in a little golf, too. A couple rounds… you know. Hit the ball okay.”

Why was I still talking? I couldn’t stop. “Yeeeeeeah, nice weather for golf this past week, I tell you.”

He must’ve hated me by this point, and simply said, “Yeah. Nice weather.”

I stopped talking when my brain finally caught up to the fact that this guy didn’t want to talk, Ididn’t want to talk, and it’s hard to be cool when, deep down, you know that you stole your putter from an amusement park. I let the man be.

With awkward human interaction firmly out of the way, I was able to fully concentrate on my fear of flying. This disdain for being in the air is a very real thing. I’m not sure when it started, but I reckon it first emerged from a flight I took as a kid where, after storming down the runway for takeoff… we didn’t take off. The captain came on the intercom to explain, “Well, we didn’t quite make it up that time, so we’re gonna taxi back over and try that again.

The details are hazy, and I attribute my faded memories to all the alcohol I’ve been forced to consume before flying in the years since. It was innocence lost. Now, as an adult, I’m well aware of the fact that airline crashes are very few, but also very fatal.

So, I’m a white-knuckle flyer. Usually I stay up all night before the day of a flight and throw back a couple 20 oz. Diet Cokes spiked with mini bottles of whiskey before getting on board. History has taught me that this doesn’t actually calm my nerves so much as it tweaks my bladder. I do it anyway.

On this day, however, I flew both well rested and completely sober. Perhaps this is why I was more in-tune with every sound coming from this plane… and there were many. With each gear’sclank and every hydraulic hiss, I was more and more convinced that this was the one. Some people are fearless. They think, “If this is my time, then this is my time.”

Phooey to that! This isn’t my time. Airline death isn’t going to be fast and painless, it’s going to be fiery and excruciating.

Once we hit our cruising altitude, the beverage service began. I declined a drink because I didn’t want to totally saturate the front of my trousers during the next bout of turbulence, but I didenjoy a granola bar. The Delta snack selection is quite agreeable, actually, considering that this is an unnecessary perk offered by a bankrupt company that probably couldn’t secure a loan on a new bev-cart.

The rest of my flight, muted by some Todd Snider on my iPod, went by rather smoothly. The landing was terrifying as usual, especially in light of the recent Southwest jet that skid off the runway in Chicago. We were arriving in snowy Salt Lake City, not Cancun. “Passengers, as we make our final approach, please prepare your shorts for soiling.”

My connecting flight to Atlanta was a larger jet, and I had already secured my emergency exit seat at the desk in Phoenix. So, I watched a little football on an airport TV, and then queued for boarding. Fortunately, this plane had very few passengers. Once the doors closed I quickly moved to an empty center row of three seats - all for me. Of course, this great claim was preceded by an awkward explanation to the guy sitting next to me.

“Well, looks like we’ll be able to spread out a bit!” (Oh, God, he thinks I’m repulsed by him.) “It’s nothing personal… just more room for me. And you, too!” (Great, he thinks I just called him fat.) “So, uh, I’ll just move over here across the isle.” (Why don’t you just tell him he smells like B.O. and bacon.) “Alright, here I go!” (I’m such a jerk.)

So, I had an entire row, my belongings neatly displayed as though I had checked into The Four Seasons. Life seemed pretty good. Oh, but this provided me with a whole new dilemma. I wasn’t tired and I’d liked to have worked in some reading, but I couldn’t let the rare three-seater go to waste. Law requires that a passenger with this kind of good fortune lay down and sleep. But I didn’t want to sleep. Arrrrggghhh!

I ended up laying down, anyway, watching a Richard Farnsworth movie on my laptop. It was quite nice. When the beverages came around, I ordered some Bloody Mary mix so I could at least pretend like I was having a cocktail. It didn’t help.

After landing safely in Atlanta, and fighting through the half-brained idiots standing on the left side of the escalators, I finally made my way onto the MARTA underground train. In less than half an hour I’d be back at my office, in my car, and on my way home. All I had to do was sit back and relax, and try not to say anything stupid to the guy next to me with a Guns & Ammomagazine.

“So… kill anything lately?”

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