What does this picture have to do with anything? Nothing at all. Its just awesome. Gentle readers, you know I live in the middle of nowhere. So air travel is not one of those hop on 95, park the car, and have at it sorts of things. When I booked my ticket I had two choices of beginning my journey within 55 miles of home: Williamsport, PA or Elmira, NY. Churchgoers, take a good look around next Sunday, and you'll have the general idea of the size of either airport. There were two flights available to me in my chosen city of origin; the very reasonable and civilized 12:05pm, or the actually-better-in-terms-of-sucking-the-marrow-out-of-my-vacation 5:45am.
We availed upon family friends to stay with them Wednesday night so we could shorten our airport commute to about 15 minutes. After a brief chat centered mainly on cats we retired to the room they prepared for us and discovered quickly that its really just better not to monkey with someone else's sleep number settings, because it deflates almost soundlessly but firming it back up sounds like you pulled the starter on some piece of small and angry lawn equipment before shoving it under the bed. After about four hours of tossing and turning on an underinflated mattress we gave up and crept out of the house at 3:30 for a ridiculously early breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.
After a carefully organized and perhaps too brightly polite for the hour encounter with the TSA I was released to wait for the plane at the gate. I dozed most of the way and was surprised to be told we were making our final descent into Philadelphia. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked down at the twinkling strands of traffic framing neighborhoods that gleamed dimly like more distant stars. The dawn was just pinking up the horizon as we flew over Penn's Landing and I found myself awash in the peculiar homesickness that always visits unannounced and unexpected when I go down toward home. My sister, an airline employee, was waiting when I stumbled up the jetway and got my sleep-deprived self on the right bus to the right connecting terminal. I checked in and boarded my flight to Atlanta without much ado.
The doors closed and we were in the capable hands of, well, we were in the capable hands of the pilot and the co-pilot, who I decided I never want to think about now that I've reached an age where I eyeball co-pilots and think to myself, he is younger than me. Oh God, he's younger than me. Or when they are in line at Starbucks: What is he getting? Is he MY pilot? Is it okay, the vanilla latte, for flying? Is there someplace to put that muffin that's safe? So, no youngish co-pilot with a dangerously large muffin, just close that little door next to the bathroom and we'll forget all about them for the next hour and thirty-five minutes. Anyway, we had other things to worry about.
We had Sister Aeronautica and Sister Mary Catherine.
Look, I know its very important to please give my three minutes of attention to the flight attendant showing me how to remove my seatbelt by lifting up on the faceplate. I know I need to put on my mask before assisting someone else needing assistance. I know my seat cushion is a flotation device and that the nearest exit may be behind me, and that if I am sitting in an exit row I need to be willing to help other passengers go down the yellow slide with their seat cushion and masks that I put on them after I put on my own. Most people just thumb the Sky Mall and hit the mute button on all the 'what to do in the unlikely event of a depressurized and potentially fiery or watery death' business. Not today, friends. Because Sister Aeronautica was TALKING and you needed to be EYES FRONT. We were also advised that our seat backs needed to be straight up and our window shades OPEN. Though I don't know if 'advised' is a strong enough verb, since she walked through the plane reaching rather suddenly toward people's thighs, mashing the seat button with one hand while UPRIGHTING the back with the other.
Sister Mary Catherine, so named because she was younger, lacked the persistent shellacking of hairspray and determined eyeliner of her counterpart, and looked like she might be nicer but was taking her cues from the top, was in charge of window shades. I leaned toward the passenger in front of me who had lowered her shade an inch to prevent early onset cataracts and warned her by saying "Sister Mary Catherine is coming, you may want to put that back up." This illicited a snort and a giggle that was taken up by three other passengers, who she looked hard at one by one as she passed us. I feared being labeled instigator and made to stand in the galley with my nose in a circle of chalk. I needn't have worried, all the scolding was reserved for a woman speaking in rapid-fire Russian on her cellphone even though she was TOLD to TURN IT OFF. As I waited for her smackdown I listened to her conversation and learned there is apparently no Russian word for 'Altoona', 'granola bar', or 'home game'. 15 minutes before we landed she sequestered herself in the tiny bathroom and emerged five minutes later to ensure the last four rows landed wide awake. She'd apparently blown her whole 3-1-1 acceptable liquids wad on a perfume I can only describe as olfactory assault and battery. I wondered idly if anyone else had decided to hate her a little.
Next: Vacation Part The Second- Being There