Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Samsonite Pariah

The view out Shag’s window.
(click to enlarge)

How many times has your luggage soaked in pouring rain for 90 minutes? Whose fault was it? Yours, or trained professional baggage handlers’?

Okay, so “trained professional” might be a stretch.

The point is, I was on a plane at DFW about to take off for northern California. While handlers loaded the passengers’ various suitcases, duffles, and oblong cases into the belly of our plane, the venerable MD-80 that American Airlines loves so much, lightning struck within 10 miles of the airport. According to our flight attendant, when that happens the crews are instructed to go inside and wait until the dangerous weather conditions have passed.

Ten miles? WTF? How chickensh*t are these people? Even if it were reasonable to evacuate all outdoor personnel in this instance, let’s take a quick look at this policy. There we were, the customers, sitting inside a huge metal tube, but they didn’t move us. I’m sure someone reading knows 20 reasons why we were safer than anybody else on the airport’s property, but it seemed ludicrous to me.

Regardless of the meteorology and just general physics involved, we never heard any thunder, yet our plane didn’t move for the next 100 minutes. For most of that time, its protective tarp blown off within 30 seconds, the luggage sat there like a cart full of overpriced sponges. My checked bag already weighed 49.5 pounds. A good soaking would push it way over the 50-pound limit.

Once the luggage was finally loaded, the plane undoubtedly suffered from water weight gain. I wondered whether it would freeze as we got up to 35,000 feet. Whoa, that sounds really high. I reassured myself that plummetting from such a height wouldn’t kill passengers dead any quicker than a drop from 5,000 feet. Then again, if one remained conscious long enough in the altitude, there would be lots more time for sheer terror.

The time I sat there, I got to know the people on either side of me. One, Shag, was a high school junior returning from visiting family in the New England area. He played speed metal guitar, but has taken a college course in advanced jazz.

I tried not to visibly shrink away from him when he listed the names of bands he follows. I told him I had heard of Gwar, but not Cradle of Filth. Finally, perhaps trying to find common ground, he mentioned more mainstream metal acts like Metallica and Pantera. I knew of them, I said. He never mentioned my personal favorite speed metal band, Your Mother’s Mangled Toenail.

The young lady Red, on my left, was a college student in the midst of transferring from a state college in the midwest to a small school in northern California. She had left her boyfriend behind, but he promised to visit. Ummm… I didn’t comment. I wish only the best for her in that endeavor.

“My Dad bought me a Jeep, but it’s a standard. I can’t drive a standard. He said I have until Wednesday to learn how to drive it, because I have to take it to have a lift kit installed.” At least she’ll have a fun vehicle to take her mind off her boyfriend.

Once she figures out the clutch.

They were very friendly young folks, and we enjoyed lots of laughs while sitting there at Mother Nature’s mercy. I allowed myself to feel all cool and hip, or whatever words they use for such qualities these days. For a while Shag pointed out funny things in the Sharper Image catalog, including the hot dog cooker. It looked oddly like a toaster, with slots for the bun and holes presumably just the right size for a frank to go in vertically.

I learned lots more about my row mates that I won’t share here. It’s amazing how much people their age will reveal about themselves to complete strangers. I told them a little bit about myself — wife, kid, the cups in the storm drain. You know, the usual.

In the air, the engines’ roar limited our verbal communications to yelling or leaning in close. Consequently, we went about our own activities. Red rifled through various magazines from the seat back in front of her (I’ve always loved that wording). Shag read about speed metal while listening to it. I finished up a Dan Brown novel called Digital Fortress. I’ve come to the conclusion that Brown uses nearly the same formula in every book and, particularly in this one, throws in too many impossibly narrow escapes via a secret passage or Vespa motorcycle that suddenly becomes available.

I leaned over to Red. “So, I never got your name.”


“Hi, I’m Mark.”

“Nice to meet you.”

I leaned over to Shag. “What’s your name?”


I let that sink in a moment.

I raised my voice enough for both of them to hear. “You’re Michael, and you’re Jordan. What are the odds of that?”

As we descended, I contemplated sharing my blog address with them. I like people, and here I was with two who had their entire lives before them, but I would never see nor hear from them again. I want to know how Michael’s next concert went, and how well Jordan’s doing with that Jeep. Is that weird?

At the baggage claim in Sacramento (did I mention that was my destination?), I anxiously awaited my potentially waterlogged suitcase. I love the word “waterlogged,” but I don’t get to use it often. Only the top outer pocket was damp, and the book inside had a few wet pages. We didn’t stick around to see reactions of those whose bags weren’t so lucky.

I didn’t miss my family yet, but it was only the first day of my trip.

9 Responses to Samsonite Pariah

  1. I tend not to be particulalry social on planes. Off in my own litle world, I’d just rather ignore all the folks aroun me. Which is a shame, because the few times I’ve felt chatty with my fellow travelers…I’ve narly alwasy met interesting people. Glad you took the effort to meet these two people.

    I also like the fact that Michael is a trained jazz musician who chooses to play speed metal. neither are my music of choice…but it always makes me smile to see people with credintials that demand respect opting to work in mediums that for one reason or another get very little respect. Forces re-evaluation…and I’m always a fan of that.

  2. Where are you off to now bud?

    I have gone both ways when talking to people on planes… sometimes, we strike up conversations, some times, not.. depending on the situation.

    Wherever you’re going, I hope you have a great time…

  3. MG and Dave – I go either way on airplane interaction. On the way home from this trip, I said nearly five words to the guy next to me, and that was strictly for logistics.

    Dave – I’m home now. The trip I’m posting about right now was last week (just got back Saturday afternoon). I know it’s confusing.

  4. Hi Mark. Followed your link home from Anna’s: I’m glad I did, because your blog is an absolute delight!

    A few years back, I was privileged to be stuck in a Dash-8 turboprop aircraft for 8-and-a-half hours on the tarmac of Pearson International Airport in Toronto. The region was being lashed with massive electrical storms that the pilot said he had never seen in 15 years of flying.

    The airport had a protocol that they called Operation Thor Guard, and it was pretty much what you experienced at DFW: everything stops and everyone on the ground goes inside in the event of a lightning strike within the established threshold.

    By the time they sprung us, the airport had closed for the night (gaa?) and they brought us to a hotel. Thankfully they let us use cell phones from the plane while we waited. And the snacks were free.

    I hate the MD-80 and all its generational cousins – DC-9, MD-90-series, Boeing 717… – they’re noisy, inefficient, underpowered aircraft with seriously lousy takeoff performance. Thankfully, my usual airlines – Air Canada and Northwest – no longer have them in their fleets.

    I’ve bookmarked your site: can’t wait to read more!

  5. Carmi – Thanks, and welcome.

    I’m not experienced enough in the flying arena to know the subtle differences between aircraft. You obviously know your stuff.

    I have to agree with you on the MD-80’s noise and lousy takeoff.

    I’ve dropped by your blog before (from Anna’s list no doubt). I like what you’re doing over there. I, myself, am a former journalist. And photojournalist.

  6. I hope you’re still this outgoing and friendly when you’re my age ;-) Mark. I have always initiated conversations with people in reasonable (safe?) circumstances and I feel like my life has been so much richer for it. And you never know what you can learn. I’m a firm believer in the idea that everything is connected and I’ve seen dozens of examples of that concept, just through meeting and talking with people. Far away, or close to home.
    There was way more to comment on here but it’s past my bedtime.
    Welcome home :-)

  7. So Red, on your left, was leaving her boyfriend behind, and her daddy bought her a Jeep with a manual transmission? Do ya think Dad was trying to send her a message: Here Honey, learn to drive this stick instead. It’ll get you farther.

    Maybe it’s just me.

    After reading The Davinci Code (a Christmas gift), I’ve sworn off all other Dan Brown books. It was just too bad for me to want to read any more. Others may think differently, but they’d be wrong. :)

    Me, I’ve rarely been a social plane talker. Buckle belt, nose in book, snooze, pee, eat, read more, land, stretch, leave.

  8. Linda and Simon – Sometimes I’m nose in the book, too. Just like on the flight back. I had some things I needed to write, so I flipped open my laptop and did just that. A few things the kid next to me said made me think he was a very nice young man, but talking wasn’t in the cards.

    I try to be respectful of people’s mood to talk or not, because it isn’t fair to start jabbering to an involuntarily captive audience. However, if I’ve ever chatted up somebody who didn’t want it, it’s kind of their fault too. I’m a pretty good reader of people, and if someone fakes me out so well that I keep yammering even though they want me to shut up, then they’re just stupid.

    Having something in common to talk about makes a big difference, too, and all of us were living through that annoying delay and potentially soaked luggage. It brought out our senses of humor and helped us pass the time.

  9. Michael and Jordan. That was funny.

    It’s funny you brought up the plane conversations situation. For the most part, I’m anti-social on airplanes. However, there have been a few times when I’ve had some really great conversation, which made the flight time go by much faster. Looking back on it, I’m not sure why sometimes I found people interesting, and other times I didn’t.

    Every male knows this feeling.
    Full flight.
    Empty seat next to you…someone’s going to sit there.
    Seats filling up.
    HUGE person enters the plane.
    OH KNOW…I’ll have 1/2 a seat for the next 2 hours…misery coming.
    Wheww….passed right by, dodged that bullet.
    Thin person enters plane…well kept. Things looking up…
    Stops at your isle…sits down.
    Breath smells like a garlic, curry, and onion patty, and they want to tell their life story.


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