January 30, 2004

Mile High Fate

By Richard Bulkeley © 2004

I have spent a wonderfully depressing length of my life in airplanes. It is wonderful, because I am usually going somewhere exciting. It is depressing because, well because it is air travel. Getting there is definitely not half the fun. At least not when you are an air-sickness prone seven year old in a gloomy pressurised tin can with a fifty or more chain-smoking Belgians, several crying babies, and a drunk South African rugby team. Several unpleasant incidents over the last twenty years, like the time I thought I was going to get arrested in Charles de Gaulle airport for throwing up, or the time I was flagged at US customs as a potential drug courier, have only served to reinforce this impression. Air travel is something I endure.

It has some upsides of course. Nothing, except for raw tomato, and one particular ex-girlfriend of mine, is entirely evil. The redeeming features of air travel are the fantastic views – I stare for hours out over the mountainous landscapes of clouds. Even more exciting for me is when a plane flies above real mountains. I always love the feeling of insignificance and belonging that I get in the mountains, and flying above the, reinforces their elemental power.

There’s also the potential for interesting chance meetings. Plane people are not usually as friendly as longhaul-bus passengers, I think because there’s more to do, but it’s still a unique opportunity to meet someone truly random. Admittedly, a lot of the time it’s a slightly over-weight ruddy faced businessman suffering from expense cutbacks and halitosis, but often it is my neighbour who makes a journey pleasant.

But every time, no matter how interesting the person beside me, there’s a small part of me that whispers “why couldn’t they be a beautiful woman?” It’s not that I harbour fantasies of joining the mile high club (well no more than any red-blooded air traveller). There’s just something inherently pleasing about being close to an attractive member of the opposite sex (assuming that they are not a total psychopath).

But it never happens. Not once in over 100,000 kilometers, about 50 international flights, has fate smiled upon me and given me a seat-mate who could be mistaken for Cameron Diaz, even in profile with the lights dimmed. Except once. My most recent plane trip was certainly a memorable one.

It all started off normally enough, I blagged my way into a bulkhead row seat. Blagging is what a half Irish half English mongrel like me does in a tricky situation. It can be compared to pure Blarney, but with more dogged mind-numbing politeness. If the check in clerk won’t believe that “I may only be six two, but I have the legs of a man six inches taller” or that my old knee injury is quite as bad as I claim when I say “sure it’s a miracle I can walk some mornings”, then I simply wear them down with a bombardment of “excuse me”, “please”, “thank you”, “if it’s not too much trouble”, and all the other social niceties that won World War Two for us according to my grandfather, who would never stoop to blagging anything.

I stowed my regulation sized carryon bag in the overhead compartment, and my first two paperbacks in the seat pocket in front of me. Then, like I had a dozen times before, I waited for the gathering in the aisle to disperse and reveal who I would be sharing jokes with about the safety routine, and fighting for the armrest – I’m willing to yield the front, and even about half of the back, but that’s where I draw the line. That far and no further, or I break out the jostling skills that made me so effective through 5 years of high-school rugby mauls.

By this stage in my flying career, I had all but given up the dreams of sitting next to anyone attractive. So it amazed me when a good-looking woman motioned that she needed to squeeze past me to the window seat.

Now if this was Playboy, instead of a “literary blogzine”, this would be the point I described her long golden blonde hair, luscious mammaries, pouting lips, and the way that her skirt rode up her toned legs, before recounting an acrobatic sexual adventure that stretched the bounds of physical possibility, let alone the probable turn of events in a crowded airplane.

But it isn’t, and in real life, the woman was a petite brunette who was more cute than gorgeous. The distinction is important to marginally above average looking guys like me. If we’re interesting and funny, we actually have a chance with cuties. She smiled at me as she sat down in the window seat, and her face reminded me just why an honest smile is a thousand times more attractive than a gorgeous smirk or pout.

“Hi, I’m Jenny Cole” she said and offered me her hand. That’s another gesture I like, it shows openness, and strength. I managed to introduce myself without doing anything stupid like kissing (or drooling over) her hand. Since it had taken me the first three years of my adult life to work out that only guys named something like Pierre or Dario can get away with it. The rest of us just look like geeks.

Just as we finished exchanging hometowns and destinations, the stewardess interrupted us, ruining my joke about being on the wrong plane.

“Ms. Cole? Since you’re a frequent flyer, we’ve decided to upgrade you to Business Class.”

So this potential girl of my dreams walked out of my life about three minutes after she squeezed in. Two loud, self-absorbed, and ignorant retirees from Buffalo, New York quickly replaced her in the best of the cheap seats.

Sometimes fate just kicks you right square in the teeth, but that’s just one of the joys of air travel.

Richard Bulkeley is gentleman scholar from Auckland, New Zealand.

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