I slide into seat A1. Window seat, lots of leg room. I am grateful. My friends and I have just finished our 8th girls weekend in Florida. I am thrilled at my good luck, as this coveted seat was almost lost on the flight east. Two business men wanted a seat between them, and I stood my ground, asking them which seat they wanted to give up. I got the window.
Imagine the excitement of getting yet another good seat coming home. There was a seat between me and a guy on the aisle. I was feeling lucky.
Then I saw her.
Shuffling down the gateway, last one on the plane. Of course she wants to sit in seat B, between the guy and me. As she sits, I have a very bad feeling. That my luck has just changed.
Big heavy woman. Not just her weight, but her spirit. About my age. But hard. Long black hair and liquid eyeliner. She lifts her flip-flop clad feet to reveal lime yellow painted toenails, with a tattoo on her big toe. The blast of cabin air I was enjoying suddenly is penetrated with old perfume and stale cigarette smoke. Lots of coughing. No mouth coverage. Scratches her arm and pulls something out of her hair. I don’t want to know.
As she adjusts herself, she lays her arm on top of my arm. Like she can’t feel that my arm is there. I adjust. I move so that she can get comfy but I have a bad feeling. I am nearly squished up against the window. I push back.
She says “I hate it when people complain about somethin’ I cain’t do nothin’ about”. I say that perhaps we can take turns sharing the space. She says “you want me in his lap?”. I show her how that 2 inches of seatback might help.
During drink service is when I get my first whiff. This woman appears to be hungover, and perhaps puked sometime last night without a shower. I drop my water bottle. She picks it up. By the cap. Bye-Bye Bottle.
Above the seat she gets out her personal red cup…you know, the one you get at a kegger. She orders water. Complains that it’s in a can. She says “I want plane water. Or plain water…AND MORE ICE!”. Gulp chew ice. Repeat. Keeps asking for ice. Says her meds are making her thirsty.
It takes me nearly an hour to stop screaming in my head. Because this woman? Clearly, I could have been her. Save for the grace of God, and the program, I would have been the drunk woman at the counter asking how far my credit card could take me.
I read Runner’s World, facing the fact that I can’t run well until my heel is much better. But this? This is a Cadillac problem, compared to where I could be right now. I finally offer her my water. I know she is not a happy woman. And I know she has given up, and has accepted her lot in life. She shows the guy her knee operation scar. Says she has to stretch her leg. Points it out, loudly.
The pilot says “Look here! We have a tail wind! Only a 3 hour flight!”
She burps. I settle in. And smile at my good fortune.