In Flight Entertainment

I’m writing this lying down in row 52, seats A, B and C of EVA air flight BR11, my head right beneath the window. The shades are down of course, regulation for international flights (at least to Asia), but earlier I opened them a crack just like I did when I was a little girl and was stunned to see the stars so bright. Like that one Rihanna song. The stewardesses (if there is a male attendant on board I do the politically correct thing and say “Flight Attendants,” but as they are all slender, doe-eyed young women, I use the old school term), they run a tight ship, efficiently feeding you right after the plane takes off a small tray filled with carbohydrates generously flavored with industrial strength sodium and hope that you will forget the sun, the moon and time herself even though you are as close to them as you’ll ever be. 
This photo, if you can’t tell, was not taken over the Pacific but somewhere over the NV/CA border home from Vegas. 

They want you to either plug yourself into the inflight entertainment system or nod off like the fat snoring man behind me. On long flights like this I envy people like the fat snoring man, and their deep, slack-jawed slumber. However, I also envy the woman in front of me. She too, has her own row ( economy is only 50 percent full while elite and business seem to be completely booked – if that’s not a paradox if the times, I don’t know what is) and is now on her sixth or seventh movie, all of them trashy low-budget Asian films with no plot and slapstick humor, except for “Hotel Transylvania” which she watched first while dinner was being served. I imagine her brain to be a decaying static mush. I always try to do the movie thing, because the older I get the harder it is for me to sleep on flights, but I stopped after my third movie (“Taken,” “Taken 2″ and “Arbitrage,” if you’re wondering. Conclusions drawn: ex CIA agents make great fathers. Crooked hedgefund managers, not so much. Also, Richard Gere is still very damn good-looking). I turned the screen off and tried to read before my eyes begged me to close them, not from sleepiness but electronic abuse.

When I was young I slept better on planes – at least I think I did. But that was back in the day, when the seats were slightly wider and I was more than slightly…slighter, and my mother’s soft lap was just one seat over. There were only four movies that you either caught or missed, as they were played to the whole cabin from small, boxy high-hanging televisions, all of which had varying degrees of clarity and color. 
Back then I liked flying for the sake of flying. I looked forward to mealtimes when I’d swap bites of my sodium trays with my brother’s, and eat my sleeping mother’s dessert. My mother has the enviable talent of sleeping while sitting ramrod straight. It was not something she passed on to me, but I hold no grudges. I ogled the stewardesses, hoping the pretty ones would service my side of the plane, and delighted in the little pleasures of flying for to a young girl there were many: steaming cup of noodles, free packs of playing cards with which my brother and I played countless hands of Big Five and War, and of course, the nosebleeds. Just kidding. I was born with hardy nasal tissues, but I do remember some thinner membraned kids bleeding around me halfway into the flight, their blood made even more vibrant by the bright overhead spotlights, and this in itself was for some odd reason, a formative sight.

Back then I could disembark with slightly disheveled hair and wrinkled clothes, but eyes alert and spirits high – a young girl bounces back quickly from dry cabin air and sodium laden meals. Now I enter the arrivals hall looking like a victim of domestic violence. Or a crack addict coming back from rehab. I’ve seen photos of both types of victims and trust me when I say the resemblance is uncanny. In my late teens, this was okay – I could count on looking better the very next day. Now in my late twenties, it takes two days to “recover,” though the dark circles under my eyes never quite leave. I know I’ve many trips ahead of me and try not to think too hard about the physical aftermath of a thirteen hour flight on my older self. Creams. Green tea. Fish oil. Yes. 

Please don’t misunderstand! I like flying – or more accurately, the idea of flying – because it means I’m going somewhere. And no matter what a long flight beats a long car ride. I am, after all, that annoying passenger who needs to stand up and stretch my legs every hour or so. 

Now the little screen with a 3D airplane and “interactive map” tells me it’s 1AM in the US, 5PM in Taipei. Japan looms ahead. My aunt has another five and half hour before my plane lands and before she needs to leave the house for Taoyuan Airport. Here, in the cabin some forty-thousand feet above sea level, I’m entering the twilight (US time)zone. It can, if one is not careful or prepared, take on a dark and dangerous tint. Your mind wanders down memory lane and stumbles into the future. It always hits me when I’m enroute to Taiwan, which is where I usually go to be gainfully unemployed.

See the little hamlet? 

What have I done to bring me to this moment? What haven’t I done? Not good questions to be asking – and even in a sparsely populated airplane cabin there are reminders. Each empty seat represents someone who’s working or studying. The young woman in the next row is reading a textbook, Classics of public policy. How diligent. I She had a sour look on her face for the first two hours until she closed the book and went to sleep. Lucky her. Perhaps she’s visiting a sick grandmother. Not so lucky, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Her aura does not radiate “vacation.” The fat guy behind me snorts, then turns his heavy jowls to the left. Oddly, he has a bright pink neck pillow. Later, when the plane lands he will tell his seat mate that he’s visiting Taiwan for the first time and he plans to do nothing but eat and party for three days straight. Also not surprising.

And then there’s me, the twenty-six year old in row 52, typing furiously on her iphone though from far away it may seem like I’m playing a video game. I might as well be. I have two magazines, bars of dark chocolate and an iPod full of Kesha in my backpack, as though I carry vacation on my back. But the time passes, eventually, and on screen, my plane inches slowly towards my destination. My destination. Where I am is where I’m going. Where I’m going is where I am. This is the sort of thing I end up writing when lying down 40,000 feet in the air. 

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