Flight of Shame- by Beverly (My mother)

My daughter called me last week with a new writing challenge. Write about a time in your life when you don't come out shining like a princess; when was reflection is more 'Ogre' than 'Good Samaritan.'


'No, thank you to that,' I thought.


But darn it, throughout the workweek, it kept popping into my mind. It's because recently I had one. Let me set the stage for you:

My husband and I were at the airport waiting for our flight to take us home. We had just spent three days with the most picturesque landscapes; God's broad strokes of color were bountiful. The vacation had rejuvenated, relaxed, stated, and refreshed us. Now, we can all agree that ending your vacation at an airport can rub off some of the glow; but in these days of social distancing and masking, staying in our bubble of happiness is possible.


So with the flight on time, lobby seats available, we sat, and people watched. The airport personnel was pushing those airport wheelchairs that look as comfortable as an operating room table—the kind with a seat so small that a child would have overhang issues. In the wheelchair was a man at least 6 feet tall and 300 pounds. He had long stringy gray hair and an unkempt beard that was stained yellow. His masked of choice was a gator with an American Flag. He wore jeans that wore so thin that I feared any sudden movements on his part would reveal the assumed state of his underwear.


Following him was a woman and man. The woman was tiny. Not just slim little, more of life has beaten me down small, and I am tired. She had long gray hair that could have used a trim 6 inches ago. Her mask was so large on her face that she had a cross current of continuous air. The man was wearing a mask so small that he had to choose whether to cover his nose or chin. The elastic was pulled tight, causing his ear to fold in half. I wanted to sit beside them and ask if they realized they were wearing one another's mask?


They took seats away from the man in the wheelchair without a word. The poor man with the size zero mask was struggling to chat his breath. He heaved and heaved. I instantly diagnosed him with COPD. I went so far as to reach into my bag to offer him a surgical mask from my ready supply but hesitated so long that I talked myself out of this small act of kindness. Not once during the next 30 minutes did they exchange a word with the man in the wheelchair.


The attendant called pre-boarding for those with special needs, and the couple got up and joined the line. There was a bit of a delay as the attendant continuously called for transport of the man in the wheelchair. Eventually, she gave up and, with a huff, proceeded to push the man in the wheelchair down the ramp to the airport. The couple followed him wordlessly. As I watched this, I was thinking, 'Boy, I am glad they are sitting together because that dude is huge and he is going to require more space than allotted by our made-for-tiny-people seats.'


When it came to our turn to board, I was surprised to find that the couple was sitting in seats two rows down from him. The huge man with the excessive overhang was seated directly in front of me in the aisle seat. He struggled even to stand up to let the sweetest elderly lady into the middle seat.


Okay, that's the back story. The stage is ready and the lights dim, and the audience falls silent as the plane takes off.


Now, I fly often enough that I no longer listen to the safety announcements. I trust that the air masks will fall from the ceiling as stated. I have already determined that there is no way anyone can reach the floating devices secured safely under our seats, so why worry about that? I wear my seatbelt because it's the law. And as I quit smoking years ago, I do not have to worry about being met by police when we land. I do, however, have one minor insignificant issue. Very small. I need to know where the exits are. It's why I ALWAYS sit in an aisle seat. (I tell my family its because I want to freely get up to go to the bathroom without having to inform strangers about the state of my bladder) but the reality- is it's about those exits.


So, here is the thing; I am a decisive person. I can sum up a situation and instantly react. I say decisively; my family says controlling, but we are not here to quibble over that! We are discussing Exit Doors on airplanes. My favorite seats on any aircraft are in the Exit row, but as we all know, those seats are more pricey than first class. I wish I could afford them. However, they are constantly purchased by the 180-year-old men so hunched over by arthritis that they can only see their feet. These precious seats are purchased by discombobulated women who carry on six personal bags, wearing red hats so large that the brims rest on the seat in front of them. Are these flight attendants blind? There is no way that Mr. I-am-so-old-that-I shook-hands-with-Moses, or Mrs. Red Hat with three used handkerchief up her sleeves, can open the Exit Doors on impact.


That's where I come in. See, you want someone like me to be sitting there. It would be my face on Time Magazine sprouted as Hero, Savior?, no Hero, of Flight 180; Phoenix to Seattle. Trust me; I would open that damn Exit Door toot-sweet!


So, back to my story. Here I am, aisle seat, Exit Doors identified. 2 rows up. Damn, that means wheelchair man is in front of me. He is my hindrance to freedom. I read once that you should imagine how you would react to avoid panic and hesitation in any given situation. I apply this strategy on every flight I take. I locate the closest Exits and determine what obstacles lay in wait, and plot my course.

  • Undo my seatbelt

  • Lean over undo Mike's seat belt, simultaneously grabbing his arm, pulling him with me

  • Stand up

  • Push Mr. 6 foot tall/300-pound man to the floor

  • Step on, Mr. I-have-just-been-tackled-to-the-ground-by-a-crazy-woman; use his ample buttocks to springboard Mike and me to the Exit door.

  • Wrestle Mrs. Red Hat onto the lap of Mr. Hey-I-can-see-the-floatation-device-under-my-seat, and open the Exit door.


Having completed my personal safety demonstration, I sit back to enjoy Reece's peanut butter candy bar and book. All is well. That is until I begin to notice that Mr. I-should-have-taken-a-shower-before-boarding-a-flight-with-my-fellow-Americans, is doing the seat shuffle. You know what I mean, the shuffle that indicates that you are not comfortable. You hitch and twitch, twist and turn, but nothing works. You are just not comfortable. The next thing I know is that my water bottle empties itself into my lap, my books spin their way into the air, and the screws on the bottom of the tray table dig into my thigh. He has lowered his seat! The nemesis of every flight is the ability to lower one's seat. The whole flight should avoid this chain reaction at all costs. Just think of that poor sod in the very last row. The one person who has nowhere to go must sit for the next 6 hours with the pressure of 30 rows of humanity sitting on his chest.


I immediately lean forward and hiss, "Would you please put up your seat?" One can argue that my hiss can frighten hell's demons. Still, I prefer to believe that it's my mom's voice that encourages obedience. He immediately raised his seat. Crisis averted. I dry off my pants with Mike's coat, mourn the lost last bite of my candy bar, retrieve my book and resume airplane mode.


That is until he does it again. He lowers his seat. I lean forward and similarly hiss, "Raise your seat." He murmurs something back at me, which #1 I cannot hear, and #2 wouldn't care to listen anyways. I sit back in my seat. The tray table in front of me is now effectively pinning me to my seat. I attempt to wiggle, assess my mobility. I can move my toes and left arm. My knees are locked in their bent position, and my right arm is inconveniently stuck between my body and the armrest. My physical discomfort does not matter. I can tolerate that. Well, I think I can. It's not the issue. No, the thing that is causing me to sweat is that he has messed with my exit plan. I have to abort my plan to successfully save the lives of the other 150 people and myself. Now it is too late. You cannot come up with a Plan B mid-flight. Murphy's rule states that pre-planning is only adequate and allowed if the plane has not yet left the ground. One cannot develop alternative rules of engagement once we have reached our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. We all know that once the chaos is initiated, no one can apply reason.


Enemy Number One in the seat in front of me will be leading all of us to our death. Whether we drown in the ocean or fall to our deaths, strapped in our seats, it will be all his fault. Heartless man, I think. He should never have gotten on this flight. He should know that he is a danger to all of us. He should have been flagged in security, told that he could not board this plane. Why didn't he just rent a car and drive his way across the country? Surely, peeing in a used McDonald's coke cup, listening to 48-hour murder podcasts would be way more comfortable than enduring a 3-hour flight in a seat made for a munchkin?


This is how I ended up at my, 'I wish I could go back in time and reconsider my action' moment. Because you see, I pitched a mini fit. I leaned forward, raised my tray table, and shook his seat for a good 5 seconds. Yep. "Wait, you what?" Yep, I shook his seat. I let him know that I was dissatisfied with his decision to lower his seat even after telling him not to.


Mike sat there in horrified silence, for a second anyways. Then with unspoken words, he indicated his displeasure. It didn't matter because already I had condemned myself to purgatory. For the rest of the flight, I tried and excuse myself over and over. I refused to make eye contact with the little girl sitting behind me, who naturally saw the entire show—shame on me for teaching her how not to behave on a crowded airplane. The minute the plane touched down, I kept my head turned away. I could feel the eyes of the masses are they filed past me, their mouths turned down in disapproval—that mean woman picking on that poor man in a wheelchair.


It has taken me a week to come to terms with my actions. I admit that I might have a minor control issue. I looked, but there are no support groups in my county for folks misbehaving on an airplane. Hello, my name is Beverly, and I am an Exit Door Ogre. Knowing my luck, I would find one, and when I arrived in the basement of the church where it is held, the only other person in attendance would be the man in the aisle seat in front of me.


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