My flight is domestic and short. They journey from Phoenix, Ariz. to Park City, Utah takes two hours and makes me question whether or not I like flying.
My plane is not large or spacious or comfortable. Plastic-walled with blue vinyl seats, it is packed tight with passengers. I wonder if they share my sense of docile irritation. We sit like sardines packaged in bottled air ready to be shot into space. I consider my seatbelt. How will it help me in the event of a crash? The fasten seat belt sign blinks and I obey, strapping myself to the plane.
My anxiety has been catalyzed by the girl beside me. Before we left the gate, the woman confided in me her terror of flying. She is afraid we might crash. I tell her it would be worse of we ran out of air or sucked a bird through one of the plane’s whirring turbines, known to explode upon ingesting errant pelicans. A seat belt provides little protection when engines erupt in smoke, sending the plane flaming through the night sky.
I was overjoyed when she sat beside me. Whenever I fly, I develop a paranoid phobia of the obese. While waiting for my seatmate, through my mind flash images of gummi bears forgotten in back pockets and grapes crushed beneath the weight of dancing feet. Squish, squish, squish. To my relief and delight, the girl with whom I share my leatherette bench is not only skinny, but cute. She is a 30-year-old who dresses young and looks 22 in designer skinny jeans, trendy jewelry, a tight-fitting sweater top and black fuck me pumps. Her black hair bleached platinum blonde, I want desperately for her to like me.
I try to engage my pulchritudinous travel companion in conversation. I learn immediately that she is married, a mother of three. I try desperately to make civil small talk, but every phrase I utter is overly friendly or somehow flirtatious. I find I can control myself by pretending she is a man, but the effort is far more taxing than the talk is interesting. There is a long lull in conversation during which she produces a tablet to read a book. When she tells me that she is reading Twilight and doesn’t know who Fitzgerald is, I don headphones in surrender, A Tribe Called Quest barely audible over the plane’s low roar.
Despite the innovation involved in designing and manufacturing passenger airplanes, the fact remains that we humans do not belong at 30,000 feet. At that altitude, oxygen levels plummet. We can stay conscious for between one to two minutes before fainting. The temperature drops to negative 70 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to freeze surface tissues of the eyes and skin.
I have seen airline ads from the 50s. What a time that must have been—when pilots were getting laid for doing their jobs and flight attendants quit to become models. The girl beside me is the prettiest on the little plane. Our attendants, withered by travel, offer my eyes no distraction or delight.
In lieu of a meal, we are served a snack of red-packaged cookies. They are oval-shaped, stamped with an airline logo and reminiscent of dog biscuits in shape and flavor.
The curtain separating first class from me and my fellow bourgeois is wide open. No one in first class seems to be enjoying themselves, but are served no less than three snacks of delicious variety. They drink wine and soda from glass cups. My plastic vessel of soda looks like something in which I might be asked to spit or deposit a urine sample. At least my ginger ale isn’t warm.
Unlike gigantic 747s, the small plane upon which I travel calls attention to the fact that I am flying through the air in a pressurized tube at 500 miles per hour. An hour into the flight, we run into heavy turbulence. The toy plane dips, rocking violently from side to side. Thoughts of falling and crinkling steel cross my mind as I begin to lose my cool. I cling to my armrests and attempt in vain to steady the plane with my abdominals. Sabrina the teenage 30-year-old beside me is white with panic, quietly shitting herself, eyes wide with fear.
The plane rocks and shivers the rest of the way. The girl is now pale and shaking. Overcome with Schadenfreude, I forget my nervousness as the plane makes a sharp dive toward Utah mountains in preparation for landing. It would take them days to find our wrecked little plane. We’d probably freeze to death in the coming storm if we managed to survive our plummet into the tops of snowy mountains. Kid Cudi quells my anxiety and we land without disaster. Upon boarding planes from this day forward, I will remember that shaking trip beside that gorgeous married 30-year-old and feel in my stomach a twinge of fear, panic, and disappointment.