OK, so, I'm flying home from North Carolina, where I've been visiting my parents, and here on the last leg of my journey, I have finally found the worst person to share an airplane ride with. I've always known that somewhere out in travel land there had to be a worst, but like bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and customer service from the Sears "Customer Service" department, I figured I'd spend my whole life without ever running across him.
Not any more. This chupacabra of the travelling set is sitting less than a yard away from me, on the other side of the airline aisle. I weep for the woman in the middle seat on his side of the row, the sort of soul destroying weeping one does for a person who is doomed but not yet dead, such as a deep sea diver with his tanks empty, a skydiver whose chute has failed to deploy or anyone who debates the "liberal" side of any issue with any random one of my in-laws.
To begin with, this wad of humanity is easily 350 lbs. No, that's not fair… to anyone who is 350 lbs. He's really not that fat, but he just carries himself as though he should be, the sort of "I may not actually be overflowing the bounds of my seat, but damn it I can make you wish that's all I was" kind of attitude.
My fellow plane mates and I were already in something of a foul mood. The boarding process had gone as usual, ruthless airline representatives with cattle prods herding us into the plane, border collies nipping at our heels if we got out of line, and a giant hydraulic "trash compactor" running down the length of the "jetway" shoving us into the fuselage door.
We all took our seats and… nothing happened. We sat for about ten minutes, and finally the announcement came "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are waiting for a late connecting flight. We will be holding here for a short while. If you are meeting someone in Manchester, you might want to let them know we'll be a bit late. If you have any children older than 4, we suggest you cancel your plans to attend their high school graduation ceremonies." We sat for a while.
Finally, a few harried looking people began to straggle onto the plane, and when that tide had stemmed, we still sat, waiting with the level of patience normally associated with a DMV but with more miscellaneous fees. Finally, we heard a bellow, more bovine than human. "Dude... I think this is our plane", and on lumbers the yeti and two or three less notable companions.
He makes his way down the aisle and honestly, my eyes began to water. Have you ever gone into a gym locker room and smelled a pile of used towels that have been sitting in a pile for several days, because no one has gotten around to laundering them? That combined smell of days old sweat and mildew that we associate with socks or noted transvestite actor Devine came wafting down the aisle, and for a moment I was glad he hadn't hurried to make the connection. As bad as the wait was, I can only imagine what enhancement a good perspiration would have lent to the ambiance.
Two of the very few remaining empty seats on the plane were the middle seat in my row and the aisle seat across from me. As he walked in, I caught the eye of the gentleman sitting next to me at the window and he nodded, and I could tell we were both having the same thought: "This is the exit row, we're sitting here because we're both capable of opening the exit in an emergency. I'll support you if you want to consider this an emergency!" So, as Putrid Pete walks down the aisle, he predictably stops at my row. The aisle seat on the other side was next to the kindly octogenarian couple, and while I'm not proud of it, the thought "they've had a good, long life, PLEASE let it be them" did pass through my head. Miracle of miracles, I won, they lost. He was going to be across the aisle from me, but at least he wasn't going to be physically touching me for the 150 minute flight.
Final passengers on board, the flight attendants begin closing the doors and preparing for takeoff, and Sasquatch gets up out of his seat and walks (ambles, really) to the bathroom, ignoring the protestations of the flight crew. Really, he didn't go immediately, he'd sat in his seat for a good five minutes, and only when it would further delay our departure did he decide NOW was the time he simply had to void, and clearly he considered this noteworthy, because when he returned to his seat, he took out his phone and began to text someone. Honestly. Everyone else had put away their phones and iPods (the gentleman on the window end next to him had turned off his pacemaker, just in case), and E.T. begins texting away.
And sniffling. About every 10 seconds, a big snorting, braying sniffle. Oh dear lord, is he going to sniffle through the entire flight? Well, no, he paused from sniffling occasionally, to bellow loudly to one of his travelling companions three rows behind him. Throughout the flight. A flight that had been scheduled to depart after 10:30pm, and on which many travelers were going to attempt to sleep, the random firings of his neurons were so important that he was simply incapable of holding in the thoughts, so we were treated to a random sampling of discussions about how he really wished his friend would introduce him to the girl he (the friend) was dating, and how (to the gentleman sitting several rows ahead in combat fatigues, clearly returning from active duty) "ARMY" stood for "Aren’t Really a Marine Yet". Classy.
Snort, bellow, snort, bellow, the pattern repeated itself until suddenly he realized that something was missing, there wasn't enough variety, at which point he began to intersperse in great wracking coughs. Only comparatively rarely, but violent enough that every news story from the past few years of airlines trying to track down the other people on a flight with someone known to have tuberculosis began running through my head as people in the rows ahead of him picked bits of lung out of their hair.
So now you're thinking this is bad enough, this clearly qualifies this gentleman to be in the top 10 worst people of all time to be on an airplane with, what could he possibly do to ice that cake and cement his place at the top spot. One word: Dip.
About 20 minutes into the flight, he begins squirming around in his seat in rippling undulations that eventually produced a tin of chewing tobacco, from which he pulled a plug of... I can't even talk about it. I would rather dip my finger into the vats at a sewage treatment plant and rub the resulting mixture onto my teeth and gums than shove this gooey wad of black yuck into my mouth, but into his it went.
If you've never had the dubious pleasure of being around someone who partakes in this noxious substance, the problem isn't the tobacco itself. It's not even the cloying, sickly sweet odor, which under normal circumstances is nauseating, but in this case actually helped mask the more obnoxious ambient odors. No, it's what they do with the resulting expectorant that having a foreign body in the mouth generates.
Most dippers at least have the decency to use a styrofoam cup or other opaque container, but not Piltdown man. He begins spitting into a clear plastic cup sitting right next to his flight-attendant supplied glass of diet coke, as if the rest of us needed to see this container full of the Devil's tea. (I've now made several attempts to describe it in humorous terms, but each of them turned more sickening than the last, so we'll leave it at that).
And here's the worst of it: Although I'm writing this on April 1st, each and every core detail is true.
Santa Claus may still be a myth. The Tooth Fairy may never cross your path. Zeus may be just a figment. But there is a worst airline traveler in the world. If you see him coming in all his tattooed, stringy haired glory, fake a heart attack. Throw up violently. If all else fails, call the flight attendant and tell them you have a bomb. Anything to get off the plane. Trust me.
Copyright © April 1, 2008 by Liam Johnson. http://liam-humor.blogspot.com