I suppose a truly superstitious person would go into some sort of anaphylaphobic shock spending what seems like 48 hours stuck in a perpetual Friday the 13th. It makes me wonder why the producers of that particular horror movie franchise didn’t think of that - have the plane leave Asia and fly eastward into a perpetual date and wrap the hacking and slashing abound in the parts of the plane where drinks aren’t free and seats aren’t big. In other words the place I just spent the last 11 hours.
Lately when I’ve failed to hit the business class lottery I’ve made sure I had a nice bulkhead seat at the front of the expanded economy cabin. The upside is no one jams there seat back in your face and your leg room is bounded by a wall and not a low hanging metal bar on the bottom of the seat in front of you. The downside is that I rarely can avail myself of one of the little known perks associated with my status – empty seats are generally laid out next to people with lots of miles in the bank. My traveling companion ended up alone amid three seats on this trip, I got to sit next to Yao Ming’s cousin.
Boarding first is nice because you are assured of having enough overhead storage space. It’s bad because you sit there for what seems like an hour assessing the people coming down the aisle and prayer that the odious ones are not going to sit next to you. I will say that by and large I’ve been lucky over all these miles having only a couple of real bad row mates – one or two guys suffering from garlic scent, the guy that broke my knee cap by jamming the tray table in the seat between us down into it and the young fellow who pulled up his hoodie and spent 13 hours violently fidgeting to some sort of Death Metal soundtrack on “repeat forever.” Today my luck held until the very last minute when a couple of 7 foot tall fellows came down the aisle and planted themselves in my row.
We ended up being an odd collection in Row 17 – me, Skyscraper 1, a little Indian guy, Skyscraper 2 and a little American. Apparently these two were part of some large Chinese sport contingent judging from what appeared to be coaches who kept wandering up from the back to disturb me and the 5 or 6 dozen more diminutive fellows in green-trimmed navy running suits who also came by to stare. Most annoying was the female coach who came by three or four times to collect their passports in order to fill out their customs forms, something they were either too important to or incapable of doing themselves. The last visit was the best by far, we were in some sort of stomach churning turbulence patch, the pilot was demanding seatbelts, the coachwoman was going through the paperwork and a flight attendant was yelling at her to do so later. She kept on lecturing the boys in Chinese and acted as though no one was talking to her at all.
When I bought these tickets I happened to notice that the “special food request” button was checked, something I neither did not wanted but being the adventurous guy I am, I let it go. The mystery deepened when the agent at check in confirmed that I was in fact a “south Asian vegetarian”, a blatant falsehood that I made no attempt to disabuse her of. And when dinner came I was served not only first but in being so I was able to form an instant bond with the other genuine south Asian sitting in my row. While the others waited, we chowed down on spicy vegetable curry. I will admit though that my six pieces of melon did not come close to being as satisfying as the little block of chocolate cake the other guys got. You win some and you lose some I guess.
Back in the US, the airport sights always seem to rise up and welcome me back. A nice stack of buttermilk pancakes, a fat girl in a black spaghetti strap tank top with – I kid you not – the Chevrolet Camaro insignia tattooed between her shoulder blades and a tiny tech-ette busily typing away on her Blackberry while standing in line to get into the lounge as though her time was too valuable to waste talking to the desk agent who was trying to solve some kind of problem for her. Yes, China may have its charms but so does my homeland, uniquely absurd in their own right and yet common in their ability to amaze. At least in this airport I’ve yet to see a woman spit on the floor in front of her chair and then delicately attempt to rub the result into the marble. Here, we have carpet.