Watch out for 3hree Things every Tuesday, where Riley Breckenridge, drummer of Orange County's favorite local alt-rock band Thrice, gives his take on life in Southern California, being an OC native and, of course, music.
At the time that this is posted I will be 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, headed to Belgium for the first in a series of Euro and UK Festival shows, in a giant metal tube filled with luggage, pre-packaged meals that have been reheated until they're pasty, flavorless hillocks of gloop, and a smorgasbord of a few hundred people of different shapes, sizes, scents, and levels of annoyance (ranging from "I am going to stab this man with my spork" to "Is she dead?") I've never been a fan of crowded enclosed spaces, or invasion of my personal space, or awkward conversations, and/or breathing the recycled farts, sneezes, coughs, and bad breath of strangers for twelve hours.
And seeing as those are all unavoidable facets of air travel, I hate it. (That sentiment is exacerbated by a fear of flying that conveniently made itself known right about the time that I started to have to fly fairly often for work.) Most often, I've found that the best way to combat this fear and discomfort cocktail is to enjoy a few cocktails of my own and hope that I can sleep through a large portion of my flight. Unfortunately, since I'm unaccustomed to sleeping sitting up, and drinking myself catatonic is not only unhealthy, but frowned upon by the FAA, I'm usually left slightly buzzed, terrified, and awake to sit and stew about my fellow passengers. (I also usually bury my face in a book for several hours, or watch a terrible movie or two, but for the sake of the column, we'll have to pretend that I do nothing but people-watch and make mental notes of the person or persons I'm sitting next to.) I could conceivably put together a laundry list of gripe-worthy airline passengers, but I've decided to pare that list down to three airline passengers that I sincerely hope I've had the good fortune of avoiding on the flight to and from Europe.
1) The Purveyor Of Horrible Odors: I once believed that airplane seats magically diffused farts, that the seat cushions could not only put your ass to sleep and double as a flotation device, but that they tripled as a trouser cough neutralizer. I'd squeeze shit whispers out at will, fully convinced that none of my fellow passengers could hear or smell my offerings. I was wrong. All I needed was a to spend a flight next to someone that believed the myth (or just had a gut-twisting pre-flight meal and didn't give a damn) to debunk it. I once flew from Long Beach to JFK next to a gentleman was either exhaling from the fanny, or had an accident in his pants. Whichever the case, I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to be able to taste farts, but this man was putting forth such a prolific output, I swear I could. Knowing that it would be impossible to hold my breath for five hours, I employed the "reverse hoodie" technique--putting a hooded sweatshirt on backwards, pulling up the hood to cover my face, pretending to sleep, and using laundry detergent-infused cotton as an odor shield. I can't say it worked perfectly, but at least I lived to tell the tale. FYI: It's also a passable method for combatting the passenger that smells like they might have used corpse-scented body wash, someone to whom the concept of body wash or soap is totally foreign, or fending off the mouth-breathing passenger that had a cat butthole sandwich for lunch.
2) The Pile Of Human: Almost everyone that has done a moderate amount air travel has had the misfortune of sitting next to someone with bonus flesh. Even sitting next to an average-sized human can be a little trying for people with the most liberal of personal space barriers, so when the person sitting next to you is spilling under and over their armrest and into your rented square-footage, it can be virtually (and in extreme cases, literally) suffocating. My most "memorable" experience with a passenger of this sort, was, thankfully, just a short flight out to Phoenix. I had a window seat, and an empty seat next to me, until, two minutes before the flight was done boarding, my hopes of a comfortable flight were crushed by a 350-pound pile of sweaty man in a sleeveless t-shirt. If you were to ask me how much time I'l liked to spend pinned to the interior of an A300 with a face full of buttery and sporadically hairy manshoulder, my answer would most certainly be, "None." That was the longest hour and twenty minute flight of my life.
3) The First-Time (Or Infrequent) Flyer: The last time I took a Trans-Atlantic flight, I was sitting next to an elderly Russian man that had either just stepped out of a time machine from the '30s, or had never set foot in a plane before. He seemed overwhelmed and confused by everything, from how to stow a carry on, to how to fasten a seat belt, to the functions of a tray table, to what a pillow was. (He spent no less than three minutes looking at his pillow from every possible of angle, then experimented with it's malleability, picked at its cover, and stared at it like it was the the most alien thing he'd ever laid eyes on. Maybe he was a pillow salesman.) He nervously fired through the entire contents of the pouch on the seat back in front of him, never once looking at anything for long enough to actually suggest that he might be reading any of it (except for the barf bag, that he fiddled with in the same manner as did the pillow.) After we took off and our in-flight entertainment began, I put on my headphones to watch a movie, and he started to explore the armrest. My armrest. I looked over to see him mashing my volume buttons with his finger, looked up at my screen in time to see the volume meter shoot across the screen, and was able to toss my headphones off my head before my eardrums exploded. I looked over at him. He looked confused. Knowing his grasp of the English language was weak at best, I had to point, hand-gesture, and single-syllable-word my way into to explaining what had just happened. I thought it registered, so I put my headphones back on and resumed my movie. It didn't, because a minute later my screen went dark. I looked over to see him fussing with the brightness buttons on my armrest, and as I tapped him politely on the shoulder, he decided to crush the volume up button again. I ripped my headphones off again and patiently tried to explain to him that the reason none of his armrest fingerplay was registering on his seatback TV was because he was pushing my buttons (literally and figuratively.) He nodded, mumbled something, and crossed his arms on this chest. Problem solved. Or not. Three minutes later, the channels started changing on my screen, the volume shot up again, I flung off my headphones and looked over to see Fidgetov McButtoncrusherskaya raping my armrest (again) and staring at his TV, dumbfounded. This happened at least three more times in the next hour and a half, with the latter two times coming as a result of inadvertent elbow volume button mashes by Fidgetov that woke me up out of a dead sleep. The poor guy just couldn't figure it out. My patience and compassion meter was on empty, and I was resigned to the fact that no amount of explaining or demonstrating the basic functions of the inflight entertainment system would make a bit of difference. That's when I buried my face in a book, threw in some earplugs and wondered what I'd done to deserve being seated next to The Confused Button Pusher as Karmic Payback.