If you’re anything like me (and I’m not advocating that), you love to travel and hate to fly. I am one of those uptight, paranoid travelers who always shows up 2 hours before take-off and can’t sleep on planes. I pace around the terminal because I’m often too nervous to sit still, and even if I could find a seat, I have the kind of soft, trustworthy face that strangers seem to really want to talk at. More often than not, I end up eating a $17 half-frozen veggie burger and washing it down with a watery $6 bud light until my flight is ready to board.
By the time we’ve actually boarded the plane all I want to do is crawl back home to my own bed. I want to forget about Miami, or Venice, or Austin. I don’t want to go anywhere or experience anything but the sweet oblivion of a dreamless sleep.
And if the experience of flying weren’t bad enough, there are other people to contend with. I was once trapped on a 14-hour flight next to a man who seemingly never slept, or ate, or went to the bathroom. But he talked. Oh god, he talked. It’s been almost a decade since that unbearable flight and I still remember that he was a gym teacher, he was from Spain, he wore contacts but they irritated him so he carried his glasses around with him anyway, he couldn’t stand Italian food, and in the heat of the back-end of a jumbo jet he never stopped sweating.
But the gym teacher was nothing compared to people I call “touchers”.
Touchers are generally mid-aged and mid-western. They are very friendly (which is good, I guess). They also think that you, a stranger they have just met, are just the sweetest little thing! They don’t hesitate to compliment you as soon as you sit down. They ask you what you’re reading and where you’re from and where you’re going and if you have any family there and they had a cousin from there and they wonder if you know them. They remark on how “You seem like such a nice young lady.” So many times that you want to scream “Bitch, you don’t know my life!”
And the entire flight continues that way, the toucher laying her hand on your arm and telling you about her children and wondering out loud if her middle-son, Charlie, would like that show you’re watching. Even when you put on your headphones or close your eyes and feign sleep, the toucher taps you on the shoulder to tell you about that thing she was trying to remember earlier.
But by far, above all else, the god forsaken worst thing about flying is the bathrooms. Oh god. The tiny, smelly, perpetually wet bathrooms. Everything is mysteriously moist and emits the aromas of shit and chlorine. How enchanting.
I generally find myself in the middle of the aircraft (since I’m too poor for first class but anxious enough to always choose my seats online when I buy the ticket). So I have to shove my way from my seat into the isle, trying my best not to smother the person next to me with my butt. Then shuffle from my row to the tiny space at the back of the plane reserved for the bathroom line. And heaven-forbid there is a service cart in the isle, or prepare to be stared down by the sourest stewardess in the sky!
By the time you’ve earned the pleasure of waiting in line for the least pleasant bathroom experience in the world, you’ve forgotten that horror of what awaits and just pray that you, an adult, do not wet yourself.
The only thing that makes this kind of torture worth it is the new experiences it affords. Visiting a new cities and countries has been one of the great luxuries of my life. I was lucky enough to be raised by people who, in addition to being immigrants themselves, really valued travel, and encouraged their children to do so as much as possible.
But they were also smart enough to take sleeping pills and sleep through the terrors of air travel.