Plebe Air

It was rather incredible to look around and see just how many people were gleeful gluttons for punishment. So goddamn willing to be abused. How else could such a willingness be exhibited to put oneself through the “economy” (read: sardine can) form of travel? “These days,” in other words, “economy” tended to infer any means of air travel that didn’t involve a private jet. And, of course, those who could afford the private jet route liked to swear up and down about how important “eco-friendliness” was to them. Luckily for their “conscience,” the term “eco-friendly” had quite a bit of leeway, therefore did not exempt them from flying private rather than deigning to experience what the hoi polloi did on any given day, in any given airport. 

On this day, and in this airport, Madeline Foltia was trying, for the second time this week, to board a flight to a frightful little place called Amérique. She had missed it by the skin of her teeth the first go-around, and now, determined not to be made a fool of by the slow-moving operations (border and security checkpoints, to be exact) that hindered her during the previous foray, she arrived a grand total of four hours early. Well before the once commonly recommended three hours. Madeline was certain this would allow her a comfortable amount of, at the very least, minutes to linger in the terminal, casually perusing the duty-free shop with grand notions of bringing back something equally as grand to someone nonexistent. For, although Madeline had a “respectable” number of friends and family, she wished there was someone who cared for her romantically that she could gift with a not usually “affordable” trinket. But Madeline had to reconcile that there was no one, and probably never would be. Plus, it didn’t much matter when Madeline was not, as previously believed, going to have any “spare” time at all. Not to piss, not to grab a quick coffee—not, in short, to do anything at all that typically gets one excited about the so-called “experience” of travel. 

Something “breaching” must have occurred in the twenty-four hours since she had last been at the airport, for it was palpably more intense in terms of security’s invasiveness. Hence, the increased blocks and demands to see a boarding pass. To be more constantly probed as though guilty until proven further guilty. “Show us your papers,” as the Nazis once said. This, too, could have explained why the line to get one’s passport reviewed and stamped was wrapped like an endless snake through the entry to the terminal. It was unfathomable to Madeline, who didn’t think the queue could have become even more of a cluster fuck than it was the first day she was rendered “too late.” But yes, somehow, some way—thanks most likely to “Destiny’s” cruel sense of humor—the line had expanded as unconcernedly as the universe. Madeline, initially confident at the outset of getting in the back of the ouroboros, was quickly losing that confidence as two of the four hours she had allotted for her “getting to the gate” process passed both gradually, then suddenly. 

Glancing in horrified awe at the fellow cud-chewers around her, she couldn’t comprehend how everyone—herself included—could be so complacent. Not to mention how so many masochists (a.k.a. parents) could consent to bringing their children with them on a trip. Particularly if said child was nothing more than an infant. What possible “vacation” connoting “relaxation” could any being have with a child at their side (or tit)? Whining, complaining—incessantly howling like a feral animal. Just as the ample handful of them surrounding Madeline were at this very instant, creating an unsynchronized cacophony of visceral rage and sadness over being in such a bummer of a public space. Ironically, they had no awareness of how much they were contributing to that bummer of an atmosphere. For Hell isn’t merely other people, it’s other people’s spawns (on a side note, there is a special circle in Hell for the ones who push their seat back all the way on airplanes).

If only they could communicate to their selfishly traveling parents how much they did not want to be there, any more than the rest of the public wanted them to be. Like so many vexing phenomena in life, it was unclear just who, exactly, was benefitting. As the minutes turned into another hour, Madeline felt like she was crawling out of her skin with anger and irritation, compounded by the sudden surge of would-be passengers dispensing altogether with the one rule of what a line entails by pushing through those who had been waiting longer by making the “excusing” announcement that they would be late if they weren’t permitted to cut. As if the same fate wasn’t awaiting everyone else compliantly standing there in the daft hope that Big Bro would soon track their past and near-future whereabouts by scanning their passport. 

Madeline only wished she could be the sort of asshole who “advocated for herself.” That’s what people called being a cunt nowadays, totally graceless and unaware of anything like politesse. No, that was just deemed an unhealthy form of repression in this era. So yeah, Madeline wished she was able to function better in this boorish epoch by also having no shame in bombastically declaring that her needs were more important—more pressing—than everyone else’s, the same way they believed theirs ought to take precedence, too. Silly plebes, no one cares about you at all….unless it’s for a requisite “human interest” piece. 

Those who had kids were given a pass far more easily than those who did not, like Madeline. For whatever reason (and perhaps more tellingly than most realized), being in possession of children was treated as a viable handicap—and not just in an airport setting. So it was that, in addition to a garden variety horde bum-rushing the line, so, too, did a massive family of six. All four children appeared to be under the age of seven, as though their parents couldn’t control themselves for the brief “honeymoon period” of the marriage. Either that, or it was as clinical as wanting to “propagate the lineage.” Then again, that was a rich person’s logic. And rich people certainly didn’t fly “economy.” Unless they needed some kind of damage control photo op—and even then, they would usually do more damage by disembarking the plane before everyone else, even if it was stuck on the tarmac. 

Madeline, in her daze of disbelief, didn’t budge when the herd of “I’m going to be late for my flight” ilk tried to barrel past. Thus, not only was she body-checked, but also yelled at for being so “callous” as not to “happily” move out of the way for these ultimately entitled gits. Sometimes, in fact, plebes seem to feel the most entitled of all. Watching the fray stream ahead of her, she couldn’t believe reality was that subjective. However, enough time spent in an airport among the self-concerned peasants, and that rude awakening about perception becomes unignorable. For good measure—and to really heighten the cinematic quality (we’re talking a Fellini movie) of it all, one of the rats in the four-child family stuck her tongue out at Madeline, which, for whatever reason, was blue. Kids: always shoving more dubious shit into their mouth than a hooker on Saint-Denis. 

Although Madeline felt some sense of relief about getting through the border check (approximately twenty-seven minutes later), she was then met with the fuckery of having to go through security, waiting oh so patiently for everyone in front of her to place their shit on the conveyor belt at what seemed like just the sort of glacial pace Miranda Priestly became rich precisely to avoid. Sometimes, when Madeline would assess all the travelers bopping around her on the way to their gates and destinations, she would wonder how they could all have so much shit to schlep. Like, what could possibly be worth the trouble of carting these inane articles of clothing and hygienic care they would be better off purchasing once they arrived at their next destination? Ah, but right, right. Plebes have to be frugal. That can’t “just buy things” willy-nilly—the “vacation” itself already being a sizable chunk of their purchasing power for the year. 

Just when Madeline didn’t think anything else could possibly slow her down, the security sadist decided her bag needed to put aside and examined by hand. Yes, Madeline thought, of all the people to stop, why wouldn’t it be her? After watching him examine her oversized tote with the painstaking attention to detail usually reserved for creating a great work of art, she was finally permitted to run to her gate, with just five minutes to spare before the door closed. 

Ah, but the door didn’t close, not for long anyway. Not like Madeline thought when she breathed a sigh of relief in her seat and metaphorically patted herself on the back for making it against all the odds. And then, out of the blue, one of the flight attendants was announcing that they were waiting for a passenger. Ten minutes later, lo and behold, it turns out to be not just any passenger, but the family of six. That’s the thing about “customs forms logic”: it allows a mass of people to be counted as a “single unit” when that couldn’t be further from the case. Madeline was left little time to ponder how they ended up boarding the plane so late when they had cut in front of her, for the visual assault of it all was too distracting.

As the mother of the outfit situated her youngest son, the baby, into the seat next to her, her momentary sense of calm was eradicated by the abrupt realization that something she needed for her precious child was missing. Something, evidently, the careless husband had left on the “carousel,” as the mother called it. He looked far less concerned about it than she did until she exclaimed that his diapers and medicine were in there, not to mention his twenty-first century pacifier: the tablet. 

She proceeded to bawl as Madeline stared in alarm at how accommodating everyone (crew members and passengers alike) was being to these inconsiderate plebes—their erstwhile blitheness about being so lackadaisical holding up everyone else’s plans to arrive somewhere at a specific time. Meanwhile, the patriarch snapped dismissively at his wife, “Stop crying. Why are you crying? How is that going to help anything?” But crying did seem to help something, for her blubbering caught the attention of enough flight attendants to ensure someone went back to the security checkpoint and grabbed the precious backpack off the conveyor belt. 

Madeline was affronted on too many levels to count. Not just that having a gaggle of children was some kind of get out of jail free card rather than a perfectly good reason to be publicly flogged, but that she, like a simp, played by the goddamn rules and would never have gotten such royal treatment (by Plebe Air standards). Staring out the window when the plane finally took off, forty-five minutes after it was scheduled to, she ruminated on how human beings were not designed to be this high up. Never meant to fly. If anything, they belong as far down toward the depths of Hell as possible. Which, perhaps, had something to do with the psychology behind making the airport tableau so unbearable. Traveling was for the gods. Or, in modern times, the rich. 

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