Friday, November 23, 2007

Yeah, twelve.

So here I am, writing about air travel.

It's one of the oldest gags in the book. Pick any working comedian and I guarantee he'll have an airplane bit. That and a donut bit. Planes and donuts, the litmus test of humor.

And why those two things? I guess when you spend more than an hour in a small seat with a bunch of people you don't know, trying to read a book over the sound of enormous jet engines and waiting for a light to go off so you can get up and use the bathroom, your mind tends to wander. Engineers sit there and analyze the design of the airplane, accountants guess how much the people around them make, and comedians exaggerate the absurdities of this shared daily experience.

But donuts? That I don't have an answer for.

First of all, I need to admit that flying seriously creeps me out. Airports are the only place in the world where George Orwell's dark vision of the future has come absolutely true. Everything is white and sanitary, there are security check points and all the food comes in little rationed packs. And the whole thing is exactly like a "1984" government, just a big system to sort people and control what they do. When you arrive you check in so they can assign you a number on a piece of paper, and you've got to carry that paper around, get the guard to look at it and mark it with his pen, and you'd better not lose that piece of paper with your number on it or you're screwed. You, and only you, can carry that paper from the place where the guard is to the gate you've been assigned. Now sit down and don't let anyone else handle your bag. The icing on the paranoid socialist cake is the "HAL 9000" voice constantly reminding you of the current threat level, and how you'd better not have more than the allowed ounces of fluid in your bag.*

On my flight out, I was seated next to a child. There was also a child on the other side of me, across the aisle. There was also a child in the seat behind me.

I'm not joking. Sweet Lord I wish I were joking. I was annoyed, angry, and trapped in a cliché.

"Oh please, please just take off so I can turn my mp3 player on." And at that moment I looked down at the device, and understood why the fine people at Creative called their product line "Zen."

But this brings up an interesting point. Parents are allowed to hold a child on their laps during airplane flights. So, conceivably, an adult's arms are strong enough to hold a small child securely in place if there's turbulence or a fiery crash. And if that's the case, shouldn't we be able to do away with seat belts in favor of the "hold on real tight" method?

No? Well then I guess the seat belts aren't really about safety, they exist just to make people sit down and stay out of the way. Like the little piece of paper, it's just another form of control.

"Your stewardesses will be by shortly with your soda and pretzel rations. The in-flight movie today will be the 'two-minutes hate."

*Is this a legit security concern, airline? Or are you just trying to sell more sodas at the gates? Come on, fess up.

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