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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Suddenly Seeking Silence: A Philippic for Plane Passengers

Here's the thing I like about Southwest. You can strategically pick your seat. If you are in the A or B boarding zones, you can usually avoid sitting next to screaming babies, malodorous adults, and other beings offensive to one's senses (while at the same time keeping an eye out for hunky men with washboards abs). And so, upon boarding my 5 and a half hour flight to LAX, I, as B5, was somewhat free to choose a relatively delightful seat. I spied an aisle seat at 14 C. The window seat was taken by a woman whom I assumed was traveling alone (but you know what they say about assuming), as the middle seat was empty. I made a comment to her about our strategic seat selection, and she concurred, happy that no loud babies were nearby. As I settled in, I noticed her wave. Apparently, she wasn't traveling alone, but her companion had been in the C section. I experienced a pregnant pause, pondering the possibility of moving back to Seat 15 D (an aisle next to a mother and her teen-age son, seemingly umbilically attached to an iPod). But, I decided to carry my initial decision to term. Oh, baby.

I soon learned that while both woman were quite the Chatty Cathies, Window Seat had the added bonus of a foul mouth. It was F**King this, and S**TTY that. Apparently, I was cursed.
The conversation never ceased. In retrospect, seeing that the reading material of Window Seat consisted of the Clinton wedding issue of People, and that of Middle Seat was some awful piece of chick lit, I should have realized that they were unlikely to stop talking to, say, read for a spell.

But I tried to, I also attempted other tried and true techniques for hinting to neighbors that I was looking to acquire a piece of momentary peace and quiet. I started typing madly on my Netbook. I feigned sleep. I endeavored to focus on my reading material. Bupkes.

Next, I attempted the deep sigh; the muttering under my breath; and the turn of the head, followed by the evil eye. Finally, I went for the finger. No, not that F**King finger. Rather, I leaned forward on my tray table and put my index finger in my right ear, demonstrating an attempt to create a noise dike between the two woman and me.

The only time I would notice the slightest break in the gabfest was when I started putting pen to paper (my computer having run out of battery hours ago) to vent my thoughts (replicated here) about the sad situation in which I found myself. Maybe, in some way, my written thoughts were seeping through (it certainly couldn't have been a glance at said writing, entitled in large letters NON-STOP CHATTER, largely because my penmanship is illegible to nearly all). Anyway, I did notice this phenomenon several times. I would write; they would shut up. Ah, the power of the written word.

But alas, it was not to be. Minutes after putting down my pen, they were yakking it up...again. After four hours, the conversation started repeating itself. And toward the end of the flight, when a baby five rows away did start screaming, they felt the need to babble on about the noise. Oh, how I wanted to turn to them, my middle finger now in my ear, and say, "Really? What I just went through the last five hours was far worse than any crying baby." But I figured said comment would merely provoke Window Seat to tell me to "F**K off."

My next thought was to tell them I was working on, in the wake of the infamous JetBlue not-so-straight chuter, a piece for the New York Times about obnoxious passengers. Instead, as soon as the signal dinged that we were free to stand and roam about the cabin, I jumped out of my seat and ran as many aisles away from the clamor as possible.

Dear reader, if you would like to contribute a moral to this story, please chime in. But quietly...

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