SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SQUISH! SQUISH! CHEW!
As she went for yet another piece of gum, before her sharp, yellowing teeth could kill the rubbery devil already occupying her mucus cavity, I knew that she would be the reason this flight was a rough one. I had already sucked it up, and paid an extra $86 to upgrade my seat from the back of the plane to the front, but I was still doomed to occupy a middle seat. Why were so many ATLiens headed for San Francisco so soon after the New Year that I couldn’t pay my way up to an aisle seat?
My eyes were still a little blood shot from the lack of sleep the night before. A kidney stone had sent my mother to the hospital my last night in town. After a three hour resting period, the chimes of my iPhone alarm startled me out of bed, and in to the bathroom to wash my face. Drowsy from the tease of sleep, my father chauffeured me to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
By the time I got to the lengthy bag drop and security lines, I had reached a state somewhere between being awake enough to get myself to my gate and sleepy enough to view it all as a weird dream sequence. By the time I got to T17, I could see that gate crowding had already begun in eager anticipation of hearing “Boarding Group 1 is now permitted to board”. Perhaps I’m a terrible person, but scanning the crowd I could see multiple sets of young families desperately trying to keep their kids from running amok, and I thought to myself “this is effective birth control”.
Allowing myself space from the cluster-fuck that was the boarding process, I finally made my way to seat 10E. “You’re 10E” she asked as she unclipped her belt and stood to allow me entrance. “Indeed”. As I crammed my way into this flight purgatory, I was just thankful to be surrounded by two women instead of any of the 3 and under demographic on the plane. I grabbed my headphones from my backpack, pushed it underneath the seat in front of me, and swiped my credit card to ensure I had unlimited access to Direct TV for the duration of this 5 and half hour flight.
About half an hour into our flight, I was hit with the overwhelming stench of a manufactured fruity substance. It was invasive, finding it’s way into every cilia. It was as pungent a smell as one would expect from an empty New York City train car. I had to cover my nose and hope that the sweat shirt I had been using for warmth all weekend was somehow more bearable. I scanned the plane, looking for the source. Was it the couple in front of me, using this disgusting tactic to keep their two year old from screaming? Didn’t appear so. Whoever it was clearly disregarded the fact that some of us might find the sound of chewing to be like that of nails on a chalkboard and the smell to be so strong that it was as if someone doused themselves in a stinky perfume before walking in to a crowded elevator. We were trapped.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman next to me in the aisle seat I wanted, reach forward into the seat pocket in front of her. As I glanced over, I saw her reach for a piece of gum, stick it in her mouth (where another piece was still being mangled), reach in an pull out the older piece, stick that in the seat pocket in front of her, all while reading the book she grasped in her right hand. I felt like a detective at the end of an episode of Law and Order who, all of a sudden, is hit with the awful truth. There was nothing I could do for the rest of this flight. This woman was compulsively chewing gum, something that makes me cringe from the inside out, and she chose the most potent smelling one of them all: Juicy Fruit. She might as well have dumped a bucket of cockroaches on me to crawl all over me the whole flight. It was disturbing and creepy and I could do nothing about it because, ultimately, my phobia of gum is my problem.
As I glanced over to take in what she looked like, a mousy middle aged women with thin, straight hair and CVS reading glasses, I could see that she kept looking up from her book to see what I was watching before shaking her head and looking back down at her novel. It was then I realized what my only means of silent retaliation would be, the one thing that middle aged, intellectual white women can’t stand: trashy reality shows. For the next three hours, I gleefully indulged in a Christina Milian Turned Up marathon followed by several episodes of The Real Housewives of Cheshire. I could sense every time she looked up because she would cough or shift uncomfortably, wanting to ask me to turn that shit off but knowing she couldn’t. She was trapped. There was nothing she could do but be distracted by glaring images of anti-feminist characters.
In the end, nobody won here. We were both just trying to deal with the nightmare of traveling with strangers, all of whom carried their own frustrations and particular irritations, and get the hell home. I have never been so happy to get to baggage claim.