Aerial Ruminations

There are people in this world blessed with the ability to sleep on a plane. I’m surrounded by them at the moment. I wish I knew how. I’m almost tempted to wake one of them up and ask, but I have this sneaking suspicion that if I pointed out to them (or fate) that they were asleep in one of the most uncomfortable positions known to mankind, they would never be able to return to that state. I bet that’s part of the art of plane-sleeping; suppressing that incredulous inner voice insisting that no one can sleep under such conditions. I can just see the bestseller now – Zen and the Art of Airplane Somnolence.

(On a completely unrelated note, the iPad keyboard has no em dash. I have the symbols for the British Pound, the Euro and the Yen, but no em dash?)

There is something…not nice per se, but fascinating about being the only one currently conscious in a room filled with people (I’m sure I’ll get a chance to rediscover this particular feeling once I start teaching). I mean, we’re in an airplane. And it’s all so small and tight and cramped, at least until you look out the window and then there’s all this expanse.

That’s the best part of the first leg of this journey. The very short flight from Santa Barbara municipal airport to LAX occurs in a prop plane that seats about thirty people and it is possible to be seated in an aisle and window seat at the same time. Since I’m the kind of person who needs an aisle seat (part of not sleeping means I get bored and antsy during any flight longer than, oh, forty five minutes, and there’s a certain point in the flight when even the wonders of my iPad cannot compete with the simple joy of standing up and taking a walk), I rarely get a chance to just look out the window and watch takeoff or, in this case landing. When we landed in LA, there was this blanket of fog over the city. I understand this is one of those things that just happens in LA. So we were circling around for a landing and I was staring out the window at what looked like a giant snowdrift. There was this blanket of pristine white clouds, with the occasional ripple or channel that exactly mimicked a heavy snowfall as viewed from the window in the early morning before anyone had even gone outside to dig the first path from the door to the street and you just knew you were going to get a snowday. Then we flew into it and I honestly thought we’d landed and I just couldn’t see the ground through the fog, but no, that sudden thud and feeling of solidity was us going into the clouds.

Of course, once we were in them, they became far less substantial and I could see LA right beneath us, with its blocks of orange lights set neatly in a row.

And then we landed in LAX 20 minutes early, which worked out perfectly as my original time table left all of 5 minutes between arrival and the next plane’s purported boarding times. (No, this wasn’t an oversight. They build 20 extra minutes in to the SBA to LAX flight, for reasons I still don’t know, and the boarding time inevitably refers to “star alliance” passengers or whatever the current alias for people-who-paid-more is). So now I had twenty-five minutes to kill and a Starbucks around the corner from my gate, which almost made up for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Santa Barbara already being closed by the time I went through security. Mmmm, Chai.

So I ended up being far less rushed than I could have been and the second flight took off without a hitch. Which is not to say that it has been entirely adventureless. During the earlier phase of my flight induced insomnia, when I was trying to convince my body that sleep was not only possible, but desirable, I was sitting up and staring blankly ahead (because keeping your eyes closed until you fall asleep is boring) and this woman walks by, carrying a baby.

And she stops right in front of me and holds the baby out and asks if I could take her while she went to the bathroom.

My mouth says “sure” long before my brain has processed “hey, look, a baby” and then I’m holding this bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little girl while her mom rushes off to the bathroom with the warning/suggestion that she (the baby, not the mother) likes to bounce.

Well, yes, she certainly does. The first minute or two was spent juggling bouncing baby with finding my glasses and putting them on so I could see this child I was holding. At a guess, I would say she was 8 months old, old enough to have a good amount of power in her legs so long as someone was supporting her torso, but definitely not walking yet. Also, she was old enough to recognize that I was a stranger and that was Not. A. Good. Thing.

And here I’d thought I still had a little while before strangers on airplanes would glare at me for having screaming children.

Okay, so she didn’t work herself up to full screaming, although that might have been because she was expending quite a bit of energy in twisting around to check in every direction for her mother, who, I might add, was only gone for about three minutes and who was very grateful.

The funny thing is that I knew immediately why this stranger chose me, out of a plane full of people to hold her child. Well, it wasn’t as though she was choosing from the entire plane, just the subset of people who were to the aft of her seat, were sitting in the aisle and were not already asleep. But still, this woman and I were the only two people on the entire aircraft who were covering their hair (conveniently, in almost the exact same manner. For those connosouirs of such things, she had her hair covered with a scarf that was then pulled back in a bun. I find that traveling like that hurts my neck). I can only speculate regarding what she was thinking and how much of it was conscious, but I, at least, was intrigued. I wonder whether she asked me because the way I dressed designated me as another religious Jew or because she recognized my covered hair as a sign that I was married, which (possibly!?) made me a better choice for impromptu childcare? Maybe both? Maybe I really was the only one awake and she really needed to pee?
The world will never know.

Hmm. It seems the baby’s awake again and crying. But this time, she’s someone else’s problem.

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About

I'm a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My interests lie in the field known very broadly as the Digital Humanities and I focus on reading digital books (what happens to books as they become not merely digitized, but digital) and reading books digitally (how can we use computers to learn new things about literature). In what spare time I have, I read speculative fiction, transform long strings of yarn into apparel and decor and play with my friends' dogs while eagerly awaiting the day when we move to an apartment complex that will allow us to have one.

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One comment on “Aerial Ruminations
  1. H.anna says:

    My first thought was, “that doesn’t happen in America, that’s so Israeli.” The headscarf paints a totally different picture. Shana tova!

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