"It is a 100 percent full flight" the announcement said as the pre-boarding procedures began.
Let the drama begin, I thought to myself. I have traveled enough to expect crazy things whenever it is a full flight. People go bonkers, and so do the flight staff sometimes.
The drama began on the ground itself!
"Oh, my coffee and everything else" yelled out a mother to her husband and everybody else as the stroller toppled--that baby was, thankfully, cradled in the father's arms. I hoped that this mother would not end up next to me on the plane.
As always, I had an aisle seat. A mild claustrophobia that I counter with the openness of the aisle and by being as much in the front half of the plane as my dollars can possibly get me.
I waited for my seatmates. First came the window seatmate--a guy about my age. The middle seat occupant finally walked in. Slender, tall, with a smile. Perhaps in her early- or mid-seventies.
We watched the procession of passengers go past us to the rear of the aircraft. People jostling for space for their carryon bags.
And just like that the plane went dark and emergency lights blinked on. "Shit, we will be stuck here" I cursed myself for having opted for a red-eye flight to get across to the other side of the continent. There was a collective gasp from the passengers.
A few seconds later the pilot cleared his throat in the public address. I now worried about what was to come.
"As you realized the power went out. But, it was not anything with the plane. The entire airport lost power. Our backup system will kick in anytime now."
The lights came back.
Meanwhile, two people in the row behind me claiming to have the boarding pass for the same seat--23A. An airline staffer threaded her way through the bodies in the aisle and asked to see the boarding passes. "You have 28A" she told one, who apologized and went away. "23A ... 28A ... at least in the twenties" she was being sarcastic. With her role in the drama done, it was exit stage rear for her.
A young man wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt, and with a whiff of curry about him to signal his Indian origin perhaps, re-arranged a few pieces in the overhead bins and successfully loaded up his huge carryon bag.
When it seemed like everything had settled down, the woman in the middle seat in the row that was immediately to the front got up, grabbed her things and left the plane with one of the stewardesses. And she did not come back. She could not have boarded the wrong plane. So, then what?
I turned towards the woman in the middle seat. "Quite some drama" I said.
"Always interesting" she said with what seemed like a trace of a British accent.
"Where are you off to?"
"Of course, Chicago. And from there to Iowa."
"You returning to Iowa, or ... ?" I could not imagine somebody with a British accent returning to Iowa. Perhaps visiting there. But, returning?
"Yes, returning. After four months in Maui. It was 45 below zero when I left Iowa."
"I have never been to Iowa."
"I would not recommend it" she said with a smile.
"Since the nineties, I am involved with the Transcendental Meditation center. Do you know about it?"
I nodded my head to convey a yes. What I did not tell her was that during my undergraduate days, two friends--Nari and Ravi--and I went to the local TM center because we were curious. We sat through a thirty-minute video presentation that urged us to "contemplate not concentrate" as we meditated. We figured we had contemplated enough and never went back.
"How about you?"
"I am off to Florida for a conference."
"In Maui, I was also at a conference for four months. I was conferring with the ocean" she chuckled. Aren't we all funny! We might come here from India or from the UK, but apparently we all become Americans in how we love silly humor. The humor that makes a red-eye flight less painful. The humor that makes life's melodrama tolerable. The humor that will also make the conference presentations a lot less dull than they otherwise will be.
O Me! O Life!
By Wall Whitman
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.