"We have reached 10,000 feet, so the use of personal computers and portable electronics is now permitted" came the welcome announcement.
There I was on a flight to Orlando, sandwiched between a woman who was marinated in Nordstrom’s entire fragrance department and a four-year-old boy whose goal in life was to complete all 50 levels of a soldier quest on his Game Boy. While 90 percent of the passengers were headed to Disney World, I was off to meet my parents who were there for a business conference. The fact that I had an English paper due when I returned only added to my bitterness.
I withdrew my laptop from its leather confines, pressed a button and the computer came back to life. Opening the Word program, I began to type.
In The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, the protagonist ...
"What are you writing?" The four-year-old had torn his eyes from the beeping game.
"I’m writing a paper for English," I replied benevolently.
"What’s it about?"
"You wouldn’t have heard of it."
"What’s the book about?"
There was a short pause because I didn’t want to answer. Having no tolerance for silence, the boy began bouncing in his seat.
"I read a book by Dr. Seuss yesterday in school. It was about fish and how there can be one fish, two fish, red fish, or blue. "
I politely ignored the rhyming reiteration, turning back to my document. My disposition lifted as I fabricated one marvelous sentence after another. I was on the verge of a compelling paragraph when the woman next to me said, "Excuse me, honey, may I get out?"
She was looming over me. Did I really have a choice? Not five minutes later, the woman returned.
"The line for the restroom is ridiculous! I’ll try again later," she exclaimed. I resumed typing. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her popping her head over the back of her chair in seven-second intervals, eyeing the line for the restroom. As distracting as this was, I continued. I had a steady stream of thoughts on Chicago meat factory ethics when the boy began making strange noises that began as a garbled menagerie of gun sounds, but grew into pronounced battle cries. Slightly peeved, but feeling non-confrontational, I surveyed the plane for someone I could make a quieting sign to, preferably his parents. I had almost grabbed the attention of a blond woman who resembled the youngster when I was tapped on the shoulder.
"I think the line’s gone down. Do you mind?"
Before I could be flippant, I again pulled my laptop off the table and allowed passage.
Thankfully, the boy’s war whoops had subsided. In the midst of all the pandemonium, the girl behind me started kicking my chair. I had every intention of turning around and saying something, but I noticed my neighbor was returning from the restroom.
This time, I had the tray table up and my laptop on my armrest when she returned. Tripping over her own feet, she used my shoulder for leverage to sit down. Appalled that she had failed to apologize for nearly knocking my head off, I glared at her. Subsequently, the girl behind me began singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Rubbing my temples, I tuned her out the best I could. Noticing the cabin was a bit chilly, I pressed the call button.
A prim woman appeared at my side, folded her hands, and in a jovial tone, asked if there was something I needed.
"May I please ..."
"WHOSE BROAD STRIPES AND BRIGHT STARS ..." the girl behind me blared.
"... have a blanket?"
"What? Could you say that again?"
"I asked if I could please ...
"WERE SO GALLANTLY STREAMING-"
"... have a blanket."
"OH SAY DOES THAT STAR-SPANGLED ..."
"Sure. I’ll be back in a moment."
I craned my neck to see if the girl’s parents were doing anything to squelch the singing. They were hiding behind headphones. Complaints reverberated throughout the cabin and I decided action had to be taken. I leaned over my chair.
"O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE ... Who are you?"
"I’m the girl who sits in front of you," I said. I wasn’t going to tell an eight-year-old stranger my name. "I was just wondering if you could please sing to yourself instead of out loud. There are people trying to sleep and it’s not very nice to wake them up."
"Why not?" I asked, desperately.
"Because you won’t tell me your name."
"Well, I don’t tell people I don’t know my name."
Afraid of where this conversation was headed, I was grateful when the flight attendant returned with my blanket. I muttered a gracious thank-you.
Suddenly, a girl began to cry. I closed my eyes and prayed it wasn’t who I thought. Sure enough, Miss National Anthem had clenched a pillow in her hands and was bawling. Her mother wasn’t succeeding in quieting her. "Shh, shh. Honey, what’s wrong? Shh, don’t cry. What’s the matter?" I could almost see the girl pointing.
"Sh-she won’t tell me her-her name."
My cheeks burned.
"Honey, she’s a stranger. Of course she’s not going to tell you her name."
"But, I want to know!" The howling grew louder and soon other passengers began to stare angrily at me.
"Lisa, okay? My name is Lisa!" I fumed. The sighs of relief were deafening as the sobbing ended.
I cursed under my breath and continued my paper, which was becoming more of a chore by the minute. I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders, but before I could type even a word, the woman next to me began to shift.
This is not happening.
"Sorry, cupcake, but can I get out?" There was a strong temptation to say no. "Sure," I said, feigning a smile. My stomach rumbled and I checked my watch. The food cart should be making its way around by now, I thought.
I peered over the tops of seats and sure enough, a stack of sandwiches and soda cans could be seen. A satisfying feeling began to settle in my stomach; I would be fed shortly.
After the woman returned, I cleared my tray table in anticipation of food. The cart came to the end of my row and the attendant turned to the boy beside me.
"Would you like a ham or turkey sandwich?"
"Ham," he said. Then she turned to me. Before she could say anything, I declared, "I’ll have ham, please." She smiled apologetically and explained that the sandwich she had just given the boy was her last one and that someone would have to go retrieve more. I was floored. I’m starving, and what happens? The little kid gets the last sandwich, which he was ignoring as he smeared brownie icing all over his face.
The attendant ambled back. "Ah, here we are. Ma’am, I’m sorry to say that we’re completely out of ham. Would you care for turkey?"
I scowled at the child next to me. He was laughing and waving his apple around. Why couldn’t he have chosen turkey? I sighed and almost cried - not only did I have to settle for a turkey sandwich, but they had also run out of brownies. Great.
I opened the tray table and put my computer back on it. The box of food lay on my lap, and I nibbled miserably as I wrote. I was at the most difficult part of my paper when I was shaken by the sound of an unoiled armrest. Someone behind me was moving it up and down and the creak made me cringe. Several others griped and the creaking magically ceased.
As if on cue, the man in the seat in front of me reclined his chair so that the tray table dug into my ribs. With my elbows forced against my sides, I found it difficult to type. I was angry, but had to finish this paper. Soon he was snoring, but I said nothing. The boy next to me, however, telepathically received my sentiments.
"Mommy! That man is snoring too loud! Can I ask him to be quiet?" he whispered to his mother.
"Shh! No, Blake, you can’t. That’s very rude."
These exasperating events continued during the next hour. Travelers sneezed and hacked without covering their mouths, ostentatiously dressed women flirted relentlessly with the male flight attendants, and people turned up their CD players to full volume so every passenger could hear.
I was getting a headache and my attitude was souring, so I gave up writing. When the plane finally landed in Orlando, I was only three-quarters finished. Determined to make the most of my weekend in the Sunshine State, I told myself I would finish it on the flight home, providing there were no distractions.
Emerging from the gate, I found passengers waiting to board the return flight. The number of oversized Eeyores and Goofys was incomprehensible. Every child was accompanied by a Disney shopping bag. To my left, a boy had dropped his gargantuan lollipop and was pleading with his mother to buy him another. To my right, a couple was dealing with a lost luggage crisis while their daughter threw a temper tantrum.
Oh sure, I’ll get that paper done on the way home. Piece of cake.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the December 2004 Teen Ink Travel Contest.