(cont) This last flight leg is a small prop plane. We are delayed an hour and by the time almost everyone has boarded, a family straggles on. They are Pakistani from what I can tell. They are exhausted, two kids in tow, one an infant and the other about three. I silently close my eyes and recite the airplane mantra. “Please don’t let them sit near me, please don’t let them…..” Lo and behold they are seated somewhere else. I relax. But no. A skirmish ensues. Two people have the same seat and now the flight attendant bustles by me with a withering glare. They go back and forth in high anxious voices. The family claims they bought four seats, one for the car seat and infant. The flight attendant says no, you didn’t. You can feel the tension on the airplane rise. It’s humid outside and the air conditioning isn’t working while the plane is grounded. “No one is moving”, the flight attendant announces, “until somebody comes clean!” She glares over at the Pakistani family and at the slight man with the gelled hair and wire rims who has been claiming the seat is his. Someone who was on the waiting list has gotten on board, which is completely possible given the chaos of boarding all these regional flights from the same gate just minutes apart. Finally, a student-type with a pony tail and back pack slinks off the plane, and the Pakistani family settles in. The father is way up front separated from the other three, who are now, naturally, seated in the row directly behind me. The three year old immediately begins kicking. The mother has the baby on her lap and the car seat, gets its own entire seat. Separated from his father by a half a plane and from his mother by an aisle, the three year old begins crying, and then screaming. The mother, inexplicably begins to reason with her three year old. “You must stay in your seat,” she says in stilted English and then switches to her native tongue. “Stay there. We are taking off….. this is the law--- you must obey….big boys obey the law.” These are some of the phrases I hear and I cringe, knowing they wouldn’t work on my teenagers, let alone a sobbing three year old. The father, about ten rows ahead, seemingly oblivious to the rest of us on the plane, begins yelling at the top of his lungs back at the child with what appears to be his name…….”Dooda, Doo Da”, he screams. And then he barks something unintelligible in his native language. The rest of us are stunned into silence, blinking, as we flinch at the sound of the yelling and stare straight ahead during the runway taxi. All of a sudden the man begins to rise and head back toward his son. “Sit down” screams the flight attendant. She has the simmering “pleasure in pain” look of the Ukranian lady at my nail place, just before she rips off the hot wax. That kind. The father is now torn, follow the law or get up to console the screaming Dooda across the aisle from his wife and ten rows back. His wife continues to numbly repeat airline regulations to her son, who is now kicking the back of my chair as he screams so that the back of my head comes off the seat and flops back down Where are the happy meals, the teething rings, the bag of Skittles? This doesn’t look like a Skittle kind of family but when you are packing for a flight with multiple young children you bring freaking syringes filled with morphine if that will help. I don’t care if you are vegan, you bring a giant box of Pop Tarts and chewy bars and a Costco sized bag of goldfish or lollypops. When you are on a plane with a child you bring any forbidden food that will shut them the hell up. You break every rule because this is a COURTESY thing. This is an issue of YOUR sanity and the people around you in a confined space. Now the little boy is crying so hard he is choking on his own snot, making disturbing, gulping sounds as the mother keeps trying to reason with him. She still doesn’t seem to have produced one toy, one book, or one distraction. She is sticking with the airline regulations bit, hoping logic might still work. All I had wanted was a 15 minute nap and as my head continues to rocket forward with each kick of the kid’s sneakers I can feel my blood pressure rise. I try to channel my own days, my own mortifying moments when an entire plane looked at me with the “why can’t you control your own child” glare. Now the mother is yelling at the father to come back, the father is yelling back to her, as if none of the rest of us exist. It’s time for an intervention. I can’t believe I am about to do this but all of the other passengers on the plane seem to have been turned into zombies. There is an undercurrent of ill will for this family amongst the other travelers that borders on insurgency. If this was a reality show, this family would be voted off the island first. “Let me have him,” I blurt out as I swivel around and face the miserable mother. She hands me the infant on her lap so that she can console the boy behind me, across her in the aisle. “He misses his father,” she says simply. I fight the urge to take out my own keys to find an old piece of gum, anything to show her the technique of distraction with a small child. I have nothing. The seatbelt sign comes off and the father now bolts for the back. He has the sudden erratic movements that in a post- Sept 11th world remind all air travelers of a hi-jacker. You can see the other passengers startle in their seats as he races past them all and dives for his son’s seat. The son quiets. The baby on my lap, whose diaper is so wet my fingers leave indentations under his clothes, begins to realize that I am not his mother. He scrunches up his face preparing to cry and emits a blast of gas that sounds somewhat like a muffled gun shot. After I hand the child back, I silently thank Jesus that I made it out of that part of my mothering life alive. As the plane begins to prepare for its descent, I can see the many twinkling lights of the New York metropolitan where I live. I’ve made it. Made it on the plane ride, on the book tour, made it almost home. And when the taxi finally pulls into the driveway, there is that moment after I get out, before my nostrils fill with the familiar scent of my house, before the kids and the dogs and my husband see me and come running to greet me, that I will fight the urge to fall upon my knees, like along-ago arrival to Ellis Island, and kiss the asphalt. END
Flying to San Francisco from LA, the security guard takes a little too much extra time examining the X-ray picture of my bag and asks to see my liquids. As the man prods my bag I can feel my butt cheeks clench together, my muscles tighten and I hold my breath as if that extra oomph might help the bag pass inspection. Please don’t unzip my tightly packed bag and dig, I whisper. I have begun to feel a little like a shoplifter trying to get past the sensor machines in a department store. “Inspection!” the bored guard shouts. “Whose bag is this? I am standing right in front of him with the doleful eyes. Wearily I raise my hand. The airport security guard who lumbers over is young. As he unzips my bag he begins to examine each tube of lipstick like something out of CSI, I see his hands troll into the corner of my bag. Involuntarily I reach to grab it, to spare him. “Don’t touch the bag…” he says in broken English. “I know, but… I just…” “Don’t touch..,” He authoritatively picks up the single blue tinted sanitary napkin encased in its own weird plastic sheath that had been stuck in a magazine as a promotion. His female counterpart was moving toward him now, in slow motion, maybe even enjoying this. Clearly this was the new guy. “Feminine hygiene,” Lisa called out loudly with no inflection. Lisa was bored. This was the 110th sanitary napkin she had seen that day and she was amused. Fareed, as his badge said, was still holding the pad as she sidled up. Something in me snapped. I was sick of these airport shakedowns. We all had places to go. My promotional insert light days pad was not a security breach. “It’s a light days PAD,” I screamed. His mouth sprung open and I continued. “It’s for when women are MENSTRUATING, you know?” He dropped the pad as if it were in flames. In Seattle, I am stricken with every public speaker’s nightmare. Up to this point I’ve remained fairly relaxed talking to all sizes of crowds. But suddenly, out of nowhere, Dreaded Dry Mouth. At the podium for a book store reading I can still taste the highly spiced Indian food I have enjoyed an hour earlier with a friend. All of a sudden, as I am reading a passage, a mini curry burp erupts and a sense of impending doom grows as I realize there is nothing with which to wash it down. I have broken my second cardinal rule of book tours (after go to the bathroom frequently). I have nothing to drink, not one sip of water at the podium. This panic creates an almost immediate mini-desert effect in my mouth. All moisture evaporates. I can hear little clicks in the microphone that my tongue makes as it searches desperately for hydration. The painful sound of lips sticking around teeth is magnified by the microphone. The audience leans in sympathetically and I lose my train of thought. Desperately, I resort to an old trick and picture the entire front row before me completely nude, mentally throwing some banana hammock bathing suits on some of the older, paunchier men. I being to relax and miraculously, my mouth begins to produce its own saliva again. The curry incident has passed like a hot flash. By the end of week three I am almost finished. It’s the very last flight and I steel myself against delays or bad weather. Everywhere I go, violent spring storms seem to be swirling. I can no longer stand the sight of an airport. I’m perversely hoping that the security folks say “whose bag is this” one last time because I’ve decided that I will just walk away. I mentally calculate a hair brush I care about, a pair of earrings, the rest is all dirty navy-themed clothes and some toiletries. All replaceable.
I have misread the schedule in Detroit. There is no down time before events and I have not arrived in my “media outfit.” I have not even showered as I had thought we were going to the hotel. The girlfriend-like media escort appears excited to see me. The book business in Detroit has slowed with the economy and the automotive downturn. We stop for coffee at a gas station and I make my ghetto latte, lots of micro-waved milk and then coffee. Looking at me piteously, she offers to take me to her house to shower. I accept. At the local ABC affiliate, WXYZ-TV , I am greeted warmly. But this is shaping up to be a cataclysmic, newsworthy day for the automotive industry, not the best time to promote a book of essays. This is the day that Obama’s deadline is up for Chrysler. They have to fill or kill in the corporate world. As I sit in the TV station’s green room, my chances for getting on the air are moving rapidly into “snowballs chance in hell” territory. Obama is heading out to the rose garden to go live. It’s only a 30 minute news show at noon and they also have to cover sports, weather and commercials. I figure the viewing audience at this time of day is made up of mostly housebound elderly Detroiters and nursing home residents. These viewers are not book buyers. They drink percolator coffee and clip coupons and worry about the rising cost of medications. A hardback book is not on their list of “must have” items. The media escort looks grim. “Pigs and cars,” she mumbles. “What?” I say. I tear myself away from my blackberry and the messages about play dates and baby gifts for the third grade teacher and texts from my older children asking me to pick them up from school, as if they haven’t noticed I have been gone for three days. “Pigs and cars,” she says again. “Your book tour is going to be brought down by pigs and cars.” I look at her blankly for a moment . “You know, the swine flu and the meltdown of the whole damned automotive industry.” I see her point. As a frequent traveler, I have become familiar with all the places a hotel can stash an iron and ironing board. This is because my single carry on is packed tighter than the organs inside of a body; socks balled like spleens, shoes pushed into corners like kidneys and pants rolled like long intestines. Someone has told me once that rolling rather than folding clothes prevents them from creasing. They lied. It’s high time I just give in and go to Chicos and purchase entire ensembles made from 100% polyester that can drip dry over a hotel shower rod. Instead, the first week of the book tour I make the mistake of bringing things that need constant pressing; linen and cotton. By the end of each day I look like someone who has been held hostage in a bank for 12 hours. For the next two weeks on the road I will not get home over the weekend and so I choose my next set of outfits very carefully. I seem to have picked each piece as a variation on a navy theme. The jacket is too big, remniscent of Linda Evans shoulder pads in Dynasty—but I’ve managed to create four different looks. Once I actually wear these ensembles, I end up at book readings looking like I’m headed to an IBM interview. When I get home two weeks later, the way I feel about everything in my suitcase is a lot like I felt about my hand-me down maternity clothes after the second pregnancy. I wanted to take them out in the back yard, throw gasoline all over them and toss in a match. I don’t do this of course, because I am way too practical and way too cheap. But I contemplate it. Instead, I will throw them in the dry cleaning bag, which is the next best thing to making them disappear. Let someone else deal with them and when they come back, obscured by plastic, they will stay that way in my closet for months until I view them in a new light. One of the positives of a book tour, if you aren’t out boozing it up each night, is the time alone in a hotel room. For me it’s a great chance to check out the things that everyone else seems to watch on TV. I’m not a reality show watcher, so I’m pretty ignorant about some of the new programs like “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and “Deadliest Warrior” where people practice stabbing at giant sides of beef meat with oversized ginzu knives. I flip through stations with relay-team competitions, obese people on obstacle courses, rolling off suspended logs into the water or those iron Chef shows where fast-chopping, overwrought apprentices are reduced to tears over a failed sauce or salad dressing. Eating is always an issue on a book tour. I set out expecting to eat healthy, and maybe even lose a pound or two. You tell yourself you can make smart choices because there will be so many healthy options on the road, as opposed to the limited selection in the home fridge. The reality is that because you are so often at airports for meals, you find yourself eating pizza, popcorn, fries and bagels as part of a square meal. You wake up too early in the morning to work out and by night time there is no energy to contemplate the hotel “Fitness Room.” In the hotel room, anticipating a jam-packed day ahead I approach room service breakfast with the attitude of someone from the ill-fated Donnor party. “You never know where the next meal is going to come from so I might as well eat hearty,” I tell myself. I order an egg white omelet with veggies, an English muffin, fruit plate and then I wreck it. I throw in some bacon for good measure, some “stick to your ribs” food as my mother would say. By the end of the three weeks it has stuck to my ribs all right. And to my hips and then it goes on to build a set of customized saddlebags. My penchant for eating bacon on the road is a little like drinking a Tab and then ordering an ice cream sundae. The navy blue form fitting skirt I have chosen is now straining a bit at the waistband.