Today I sit in the squalor of this bottom-rung Santa Monica apartment I share with DJ Steve, recently fired from a job BUSSING TABLES and unsure when, how, or if I will achieve those dreams of screenwriting I’ve harbored for however long.
…But a year ago I was regularly and undeservedly flying FIRST CLASS, and that seems like a better launching pad for today’s post than counting the nooks in my spackled ceiling! Tray tables up, please!
For those who haven’t experienced the ecstasy of first class flight (you simply must), here’s everything you need to know: it is EXACTLY AS PERFECT as you think it is. The booze upgrade hits you first. You can drink in coach, sure, but it’s hampered both by price and frequency of cart appearances. No such problems up front, where you’ve already paid* the open bar fee and flight attendants are less safety regulators than waiters. The nuts? They’re warm. And the space — oh, the space! The fattest among you would find absolutely no trouble even splitting one of those extra-large seats, and with another fatty to boot. You will not be discriminated against!
* Note: I did not pay for a single one of these special flights. I cannot afford shirts most of the time.
But for all the Candyland wizardry, there’s a trade-off in flying first class…and that’s dealing with the kinds of people who fly first-class. We’re not blind to the ways of the world — we know that assholes exist everywhere, and in every form. Little kids and Habitat for Humanity workers can be assholes! But it isn’t all random. Spend enough time in a particular pocket of the world and patterns of asshole-ishness begin to take shape; the Matrix starts to reveal itself. What follows is the result of six months, and 8-10 flights, researching life behind that elusive curtain: a field guide to all of your new best friends.
1) The Alcoholic
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” she mumbles to everyone or no one as she, propped up by her husband, swims into her second- or third-row seat. It’s a 4pm evening flight from Honolulu to LAX, and the Missus has already knocked back three full-bodied Mai Tais before getting on the plane. She is, simply put, a CHAMP. Say hello to your unsolicited Betty Ford Center advertisement! There’s unfortunately no getting around the fact that The Alcoholic is almost always a woman, and always escorted by an only slightly-less-drunk male companion. He does the apologizing. “Cold medicine,” he tells the flight attendant. “Nervous flyer, you know how it is.” Sauced smile to really sell it. In rarer circumstances the PILOT comes back to lecture The Alcoholic, telling her handler to keep everything in check or they’ll both be ejected from the flight. But does he turn the plane around when she vomits at the start of The Ugly Truth? ALL BLUSTER, CAPTAIN.
2) The Young Family
Whether they’re more East Egg or West Egg is beside the point. What matters is that even with all that money they still failed to buy their baby a pacifier, and now he or she won’t shut up about it. Why are you crying, baby? You’re in first class! I was 23 before finally getting to sit up here, and most of us NEVER get the chance. Ungrateful little… And if it’s not an out-and-out baby who’s crying, it’s a toddler conversing with his parents in French. (Or Mandarin if they’re more forward-thinking.) The rest of us do not appreciate feeling stupider than we already know we are, and those somehow less intelligent are terrified of your child’s obvious terrorist intentions.
3) The Multi-Generational Flying Circus
Young Family with a twist: relatives! It’s basically an Olive Garden commercial at 32,000 feet, where Italian or not everyone is just super-sassy and constantly passing stuff around. They’re also for whatever reason unable to stay in their seat for too long. Even though there’s definitely no park to go to on the plane, Grandpa offers more than once to “take the kids for a walk.” Meanwhile Grandma won’t stop turning around in her seat, leaning over the headrest so can better hear her granddaughter sing “Teenage Dream” again at high volume. How thick is the window glass? Do you think an iPod could break it?
4) The Blackberry Monster
Unlike your run-of-the-mill werewolves and vampires, the Blackberry Monster has found a way to operate by night AND day, but still does his worst in the dark – when the glow from his phone screen reaches its most vibrant. You may be trying to sleep, but he is MAKING THOSE DEALS and checking scores on the latest Man U match. Loudly. Whether he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jerk School (probably Yale) with a degree in Douche Studies or just does a lot of coke, along the way he learned to type angry, with the oppressive force of a tiny hurricane. CLACK CLACK THUCK CLICK THUCK THUCK. He is writing an email to the President, probably. “Yes it is important that I get this message fired off at midnight! Do you even know what time it is in Hong Kong?”
5) The Turtle
Another variation on one of the types above, The Turtle is The Blackberry Monster plus 20-25 years and an allegiance shift to Apple. In his life he has collected relationships, stories, riches. And now, facing the final act of that accomplished life, he is on to collecting dumb computer stuff. iPhones, iPads, Kindles, noise-canceling headphones. These things he wears like a resplendent, Wired-approved shell. “I’m dope, right?” he thinks about asking the flight attendant delivering a mimosa to him in a slouched and super-comfortable position, arthritis be damned. Then he pokes his head — slowly, cautiously — to see if anyone else is checking him out. (I am!) Every few minutes the same gesture, a silent prayer that SOMEONE will ask him about ‘Angry Birds’ on the iPad. “Graphics are killer,” he knows he’ll say. “But lately I’ve been way more into Instagram.”
It is no guarantee that you will meet all five, or any of these people on your first class flight. Like everyone else, they’ve got to take time off — they can’t always be there to simultaneously drive you insane and entertain. Being an obnoxious stereotype is hard work! But that moment you do run into The Turtle, or the Multi-Generational Flying Circus, or the Alcoholic (this is the most common encounter), you will be armed with a knowledge borne of preparation: one that just might make you a new friend. You’re WELCOME.