The man next to me in Row 28 of the Alaska Airlines 737 was handsome and tall, nicely dressed in a white shirt and brown slacks. The lady squashed into the window seat was thin, her red hair sparse. None of us spoke to each other the entire two hours we were in those seats. Window woman knitted. Handsome man worked on charts on his laptop. I read on my Kindle. His leg was touching mine for most of the trip, but we did not say a word, not until we landed and I asked him if he was leaving or going home. He was visiting friends in San Jose. I said I used to live in San Jose. I didn’t mention I was here for my cousin’s funeral. Then we got off the plane and rolled our rolly bags away.
Across the aisle, a man with huge headphones watched a movie on his iPad. The guys next to him dozed. In front of him, an Anglo man with equally huge headphones seemed to be reading Chinese on his laptop. Directly in front of me, all I could see was the beige back of the Row 27 seats with menus and the airline magazine in the pocket. I could barely see the window past people’s heads and the wing blocked our view anyway. Might as well read my book.
It’s crazy how people don’t talk to each other anymore. When I got to the gate in Portland, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone already seated at Gate C2 was staring at a phone or laptop. So I got my phone out, too.
On the return trip, where I had the middle seat in Row 29 of 32, the woman on my left had her sunglasses on and read off her tablet from beginning to end. She switched to games on her phone as we landed. My efforts to talk got nowhere. The woman on my right was a little younger and clearly a regular on these flights. She knew the menu and knew the flight attendants. She plugged in her headphones and had her eyes closed or focused on a magazine the whole trip. The whole vibe was “don’t talk to me.”
Everyone seems to want to be alone. We’re all staring at our phones, tablets, computers, and books. We seem to want to become invisible. People used to talk on planes. I remember a trip long ago where I almost had sex with the handsome guy sitting next to me. We talked the whole trip. That doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Aside from a few couples whispering to each other or a baby screeching at takeoff and landing, I hear only the roar of the plane and an occasional garbled announcement from the captain. With WiFi in the plane now, why talk? Right?
I couldn’t help thinking how much more fun it would be with a friend or a mate. We could talk. Also, we could go to the bathroom at the airport without having to take all our stuff. We could share a table at the restaurant with a person instead of a suitcase. We could make wisecracks about all the people staring at their screens.
I think we’re all nervous about flying, about going through security, about the possibility of the plane crashing, about being late. We’re uncomfortable being so close to strangers. I know I’m a bundle of anxiety when I fly. So much so on the return trip Friday that I handed the TSA agent my debit card instead of my ID. That got me a trip to the possible terrorist line. But they let me through.
These days, with no husband or kids, I always travel alone. Flying solo, you have to ask all the questions, do all the planning, and do all the heavy lifting of luggage. And you have no one with whom to share the memories, the laughs and the experiences. I miss that part the most. That and having someone to greet me when I stagger off the airplane at the end of the journey. But you’d think when you’re sharing an armrest, you’d be able to strike up a conversation. And hey guys, we’re 30,000 feet in the air traveling at a ridiculously fast speed. At least look out the window.
In spite of all that, it was a good trip. Lots of hugs, lots of sunshine, lots of quality time with family, one of whom gave me their cold. Rest in peace, cousin Jerry. I’m going to miss you. Thanks for bringing us together.