Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The Week I Started Blogging Again …
On Tuesday, my grandmother died.
On Wednesday evening I flew to the East Coast to bond with one of my dearest friends and tele-shmooze with my family – over the death, but frankly – well, really, a lot of other things.
On Friday evening, around 7 p.m., I landed in Norfolk, Virginia in advance of a black-tie event where I was set to receive an award at the Physicians for Peace Gala recognizing "a person outside of the medical field" who worked tirelessly to help those less fortunate.
It's Sunday – and depending on what time zone you're in – I am somewhere over Chicago flying back to LA. Let's just say I'll land around 4 p.m., PT.
This blog is a four-part series. But I am going to begin at the end – and then take you back through the last four days with photos and my impressions.
Let's start in Dulles. My flight is set to leave at 11:31 a.m. EST. I board the plane – its layout is a 3-3. What that means is that there are three seats to the left, three seats to the right and one, narrow, Medieval-esque aisle, in between.
It is over-booked and the passengers are breeding and bleeding. I look down at my boarding pass – 26-B. I stumble and bump and angle and slither and beg and request and the list goes on and on. Somehow I make it to 26-B. I look up at my two mates for the flight – 26-A and 26-C – and it's almost as if I've been slapped right down in the middle of an early Monty Python movie.
I am bookended by two passengers that by all accounts are morbidly obese. The guy in 26-A weighed-in somewhere over the 400 pound ballpark and his wife, 26-C, weighed north of 300 pounds. (How do I know this? I later asked the flight attendants when they were scrambling around to find me an alternate seat – they didn't.)
I was one of the last passengers to board, which is somewhat typica;. But what was atypical was the fear I read in their faces. It was as if I had kicked-in a fully-loaded home invasion. They looked terrified.
And, as I was told later, so did I.
I shimmied in between them, locked my elbows to my side and began to stew. Seethe about how unfair it all was. I recalled the Op-Eds in USA Today and Time Magazine about how unfair it was that "fat" people weren't forced to buy two seats.
It was then that the Head Steward arrived and provided them with "seatbelt extensions." I later learned that these are given to those folks whose seatbelt is not large enough to "hold them in or provide them comfort in their physical state." I freaked out. Five hours of this?
Then I calmed down and pulled out my laptop and began photoshopping pictures I had taken over the past four days. It always relaxes me.
I was acutely aware of how excruciating it all was, each time 26-A brushed up against my elbow … or how his wife, 26-C, would continually edge away from me into the aisle when the flight attendant wasn't around. We would all visibly – physically and emotionally cringe. It got worse when we heard a teenager – he was probably 17 years old, and a punk I might add – say to his friend that I looked like "a slice of turkey between two oversized bagels."
I'm not sure what happened next but I suddenly saw the flight attendant offering these United Airlines snack boxes that came in four different flavors/styles. I had my Bose head phones on so I simply shook my head no. I thought the tunes in my iPod would make this 5-hour sandwich-situation a bit more soothing. 26-A and 26-C shook their heads "no," too, instead reaching – or attempting to reach – for their "home-packed-lunches." They couldn't bend far enough to actually reach the containers – I was happy to assist. But, suffice it to say, it was getting more and more bizarre.
I looked left at the husband, his flesh was pushing so hard into the arm rest he (from the sound of it) was precluded from taking deep breathes. He smiled and opened up his Tupperware container of carrots and celery and began chomping away – providing a bigger smile. I smiled back – as hard as I could. And I prayed.
I put my lap top away and I shut my eyes. When I reopened them 26-A was just finishing swallowing a huge ham and brie cheese hoagie (with "the works") and tucking the wrapper into the pocket of the seat in front of him.
I thought nothing of it. I was just waking up from a nap … getting re-oriented into the space where I was.
26-A assumed what he perceived to be an expected level of disapproval emanating from me. He grimaced and cringed and then visibly whimpered. I touched his hand, returned the smile and as I was again tucking in my elbows, I saw a tear slide down his right cheek.
I handed him my United Airlines napkin and smiled – a smile of hope and empathy. He simply said: "I'm sorry; I'm trying."
I replied: "Aren't we all." And we laughed – that conspiratorial laugh – one from one stranger to the other. That we're all dealing with our "stuff" – it just comes up in different formats.
I imagine the whole point of this piece is: if I hadn't just attended the Annual Gala for Physicians for Peace, and won the President's Award for my efforts to help those in the developing world … I know I would not have had the sympathique that I had that Sunday afternoon for this morbidly obese married couple … my two fleshy bookends for this five-hour flight.
I understood at that moment that's all we can do – keep trying. And to keep praying.
This KBTV Productions Blog is a four-part series … I began with Part 4 … to be continued …
Posted by J.P. at 9:21 PM