When I express this sentiment, I’m often met with sympathetic looks and either, “Oh I’m a terribly flyer too,” or “Yeah my sister’s really bad. She FREAKS out if there’s ANY turbulence…”
I don’t have plane-o-phobia. I have germ-o-phobia. And while we’re at it: People-o-phobia. I would like to remark that my people-o-phobia is NOT synonymous with agoraphobia: I’m not afraid to be exposed to people, I’m afraid for people to be exposed to ME.
Because when you’re crammed into close quarters on these tiny Southwest planes, there’s nowhere for me to hide my neuroses. These people are going to witness and up-close and personal dramedy of what it takes to maintain *gestures to face* THIS.
Sidenote: “tiny Southwest planes” is an understatement for these new planes that Southwest SOMEHOW engineered to fit about 30 more people – and due to the obvious signs of budget cuts (they only offer vanilla Oreos – you know that means they've gotta be cheaper than chocolate Oreos) it would appear that Southwest spent all their money on top-of-the-line engineers to figure out the exact distance that the average American could recline their seat without ACTUALLY moving it, while still be deluded into thinking they were in a La Z Boy recliner. For the moment, my blame and resentment reside on: John-Michael Galbraith, Sam Moss, Will Nelson and Hunter Kopald.
…I’m just kidding. You guys are all great. I just know that you four have uttered the word “engineer” to me at least ONCE in my life…
And I’m not REALLY even a germ-a-phobe when I’m outside a five mile radius of a plane or an airport: I’ll share straws, I’ll even use my clean hand to open the door to the women’s’ restroom, if there are no paper towels.
…But once I set foot inside an airport, I set foot into a snugly incubated petri dish, and am suddenly in the fight of my life, to survive being eaten alive by the malicious contagion that is being bred in this petri dish we call an airport.
I’m saying that if I were a robot (hey, I saw Bicentennial Man, it could happen) I’d be sure to bolt in my Wet Wipe arms, before getting out of the car at the Southwest terminal. You know, the robot hands that are just a continuous supply of Wet Wipes?
…No? That Robot Thing is only in my mind?
Before I discuss my obsessive traveling tendencies, allow me to offer a disclaimer: I’m not talking about Pretty Girl tendencies.
Yes, you read that correctly: Pretty Girls. You know, the ones that “got the memo.” And when they return to their seat that just so happened to be assigned next to a gorgeous eligible bachelor, (oh yes – “assigned” – Pretty Girls don’t fly Southwest) they giggle as they take out their hand sanitizer and toss their hair and “whine” about “germ habits," before offering some to Mr. Eligible and then getting engaged.
Just so we’re clear: my “habits” eat the “habits” of Pretty girls for Second Breakfast.
Fortunately, I've never (to my knowledge) had to sit next to anyone on a flight that’s seen me go through security. Because that’s where people have to witness me throwing on a ratty (but recently laundered) pair of socks (Nashville is the only airport to offer the mesh foot covers, but even they cannot always be relied upon: IF the little old lady is even sitting at her perch dispensing them, you have to basically offer her biscuits and chat her up – I’M ON THE EDGE AND MY SANITY IS AT A GERM SECURITY LEVEL 9, CODE RED: I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR SMALL TALK, LADY, AND NO, I DON’T KNOW WHY A “CUTE YOUNG THING” LIKE ME DOESN'T HAVE A BOYFRIEND – LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Whew. That’s a lot to yell. But they always play the “cute young thing” card.)
So I cut my losses with Aunt Bee and draw from the Desolate Sock Bin, to make it through security without touching the ground.
(Ok I don’t actually have a bin with that label, but I have a bag of socks that are so run down that the only option is to pitch ‘em, and I wear a pair over my normal socks and throw them away after I've put my laptop back in my bag and convinced the TSA officer that traveling with my frozen biscuit dough is totally allowed.)
So I see a coveted window seat next to a couple in row 14 (which is gold, because I boarded at B 30) and the wife is in the aisle seat, feigning sleep. I almost felt sympathetic: she doesn't look like a particularly warm or inviting individual, so obviously I feel an immediate kinship. Her fake sleep was calculated – they obviously had a system to keep the third seat vacant – oh, Grace has mad respect for you two.
That being said, I now have two options:
1) “Hey, I totally get it, that you want the row to yourselves – the fake sleep is a tactical move. The good news is: I know the Chatty Kathy type you’re trying to avoid and I’m not her. I don’t want to know where you’re from and I’ll limit myself to asking only four times to make friendship bracelets with you, but I’m legally allowed to sit there; please don’t hate me?”
2) Or I can just play dumb to the fact that she’s giving the HEAVY social cue for “don’t bother me” and they've clearly positioned themselves so someone WILL feel bad when they ask to sit there. (To interrupt her “sleep” AND ask them to file out of the row: double insurance they’ll be left alone.)
To no one’s surprise, I went for option #2, because I couldn't turn down an opportunity to beat them at their own game, cause who DIDN'T feel bad, asking them to move? THIS GIRL.
Thank goodness I’d had a chance to rearrange my backpack and carry on suitcase, cause when I don’t get a chance to do that, there’s a whole lotta Grace contorting her body to access the depths of her backpack to fish out the headphones, worried that the person next to me is going to think I’m resting my head on their thigh, when I’m really just trying to maneuver about in this TINY PLANE. Fortunately it took very little maneuvering to get my Wet Wipes and wipe my hands after I fastened my seat belt And wiped the seat belt And the tray table… IT’S NOT MY FAULT: SARS AND ANTHRAX ARE REAL AND COULD STRIKE ANY TIME, OK?!
So then I got my pillow out, which is a tiny little neck pillow, while what I really need is one of these:
Oh that is directly from the SkyMall magazine, and if you’re as indignant as I, to see that it is in fact a “Top Seller,” rest assured that its mass selling doesn't mean this country is raging with losers – it’s actually inflatable (or deflatable, rather - meaning: you don’t have to haul it around in its full-sized glory)
And for the flurry of complicated activity that goes on, in a tiny plane row FIT FOR ANTS, in order to get my pillow situated, I should probably invest in one of those inflatable Loser Pillows, because making someone endure me taking it out of my backpack and blowing it up would be better than the five act play that was about to start: Grace Gets a Pillow.
So the neck pillow was packed in my backpack, as were two pillow cases. One pillow case was inside the other, so it wouldn't touch all the gritty surfaces of my backpack, along the way. (And while this move is slightly nuts, I have had this backpack since SEVENTH GRADE. It’s been everywhere and carried everything at some point: what’s a precautionary pillow case gonna hurt?)
I just mourn for the people next to me, that they had to watch me take out the pillow, then the pillow case, then another pillow case, because at the second pillow case, they’re probably wondering if they’re sitting next to Weird Girl. (Spoiler Alert: Weird Girl does not get to be friends with Pretty Girl.) And if the second pillow case didn’t tip them off, the shifting of the pillow cases and obsessive adjustment with the overhead lamp certainly did. This is the single, glaring reason why the window seat is a bad choice: the overhead lamp is over the RIGHT shoulder… You know this is a problem for me. So to avoid the carsickness-inducing shadow being cast over my hand, I have to:
a) Adjust the overhead lamp CONSTANTLY while I
b) Perch the paper on which I’m writing on top of the neck pillow, that’s on top of the FIRST pillow case (because HELLO: I’m not going to let the CLEAN pillow case touch the forever-contaminated tray table)
c) I don’t even know if they've noticed that the paper I’m writing on is the only blank paper I could find in my backpack (while worrying that the husband of the duo would suspect that I was using his thigh as a headrest when I was rifling through my backpack) and it’s the back of pages that I took out of a Nutrifit notebook. Yes, Nutrifit: the program of my nutritionist, from when I was in seventh grade. (Props to Lou on this one: educating Grace on how to eat well. And clearly she wasn't one of those psycho Moms who wanted her daughter to be skinny, because the whole experience was a) great enough that I saved the notebook and b) am now referring to what kind of (gross) food I was taught to eat, to promote health and wellness…)
And the problem with sitting next to Weird Girl on a five hour flight is the tension that one feels about her lack of awareness of her social awkwardness. Weird Girl doesn't know she’s weird. And if there is anything resembling a cardiovascular organ within your rib cage, it can be painful to witness a pathetic, packs-two-pillow-cases-in-her-carryon Weird Girl, who thinks it’s ok to rest her head on your thigh while she’s rummaging through her backpack for the second Pop Tart that she didn't eat earlier, because she was anything but subtle when she turned her nose up at the Vanilla Oreos.
Guess it’s a good thing I know I’m weird and can permanently take myself out of the running for Weird Girl.
That wasn't supposed to be my life, anyway.