By Tom Reilly, former road warrior
For this road warrior, the days are longer, the bags heavier, and the lines slower. The traveling public has what it wants—cheap flights. Now, they are paying the price. The security line is especially slow this morning, as it snakes its way around the TSA traffic lanes and back through the concourse blocking the entrance to the gift shops and restrooms, providing enough congestion to stop time. The Road Warrior in a hurry. In front of him, the cheerleading team that is heading to Orlando for the national championships is practicing their cheers while their hyperactive cheer moms clap and look around to see who else is watching. Behind the manic teenagers, young families, attached to their strollers and weighed down by carry-ons, head for Disney World while the snow birds behind them are busy asking everyone questions and looking confused. Airline crews sail through private check points.
He’s antsy, this Road Warrior.
He has fifteen minutes to board his flight. This is why business people hate to fly South West Airlines. It caters to the slothful, not the fleet of feet.
Of course, I’m going to miss my flight, he thinks.
He inches his way to the screening equipment.
Damn, don’t they know I have a plane to catch?
“Step back, we need to recheck these bags,” the TSA agent tells the family.
Of course, diaper bags and carry-ons full of electronics for the kids. How many iPads does a family need?
“Ma’am, do you have a note from your doctor for your artificial knees? Please step to the side. We need to wand you,” the TSA agent says.
“What did he say?” The old woman shouts to her husband.
“He said something about bees warning you.”
Of course, hard of hearing, too.
“Step forward, sir. May I see your boarding pass?”
“Sure. Damn, where did I put it?” He checks every pocket of his cargo shorts. “Here.”
“Okay, have a nice day, sir.”
You’ve got to be shitting me. They need to re-screen my bag?
He grabs his bags from the conveyor and begins his sprint to the gate. The wheelchair brigade is parading three abreast like a military unit in perfect formation while the drivers casually chat with each other.
He moves like a track-and-field star, juking around the coots riding their rollers, hurdling carry-ons the cheer team has littered about, and dodging strollers that serve as pre-flight entertainment for the children.
There’s my gate.
Out of breath, he rushes to the door way as the gate agent prepares to close the door.
“Boy, you just made it, I’m closing this flight. Boarding pass?”
He has it in his hand this time.
“Okay, you can board. There’s only one seat left. It’s an extremely full flight.”
Of course, extremely full. Why do they always say that? If it’s full, it’s full. Extremely sounds like people are sitting in the aisles. Oh well, airline jargon.
“Sir, there’s one seat in the back of the cabin,” the flight attendant says. “It’s a middle seat on your right.”
Of course, it’s a middle seat. Probably between two people that need three seats
He throws his bags into the overhead bin atop the row with the open seat and points to the vacancy without saying a word. The woman who is sitting in the aisle seat and spilling into his seat struggles to stand. The first thing he does is to put down the arm rest. He doesn’t care how it looks to the woman. He paid for the seat, the whole seat. He sits down and notices a travel cage under the seat in front of her. It’s her dog, a Chihuahua.
Of course, it’s a lap dog.
The door closes and the pilot powers up the engines. As they begin to push back, he hears a strange noise coming from the window seat on his left. He turns to the twenty-something sitting there. The young man is attached to his smart phone via ear buds, wearing a tie-dyed “Feel the Bern” tee shirt, dragging a ponytail, decorated with enough ink to write a short story, and looking like he fell face-first into the nuts-and-bolts bin at Home Depot. They nod at each other. He looks to his right, and XXXL smiles. They taxi to the run-up area.
This really sucks. I’m telling our travel coordinator never again on this airline.
As the pilot throttles up for the take-off roll, the road warrior hears the noise on his left again. It is a clucking sound.
What the hell?
The clucking begins slow and picks up speed as the plane accelerates. As they lift off, the clucking becomes hysterical.
He turns to the Millennial and says, “What is that, man?”
The young man removes his ear buds. “Huh?”
“What is that noise?”
“You mean the clucking?”
“Yes, the clucking.”
“That’s my service chicken.”
“My service chicken. I’m afraid to fly, so I paid the $65 to get this little guy certified as a service animal.”
“You’re shitting me?”
“No, for real. He’s a rescue chicken. I got him from the farm. They were going to slaughter him and I saved his life. I’m a vegan, you know.”
“Congratulations,” the Road Warrior dishes up a heaping portion of sarcasm.
For the twenty minutes, the neurotic chicken clucks uncontrollably. By this point, XXXL has the Chihuahua on her spacious lap. It’s whimpering and she’s baby-talking it the way the young mothers on their way to Disney World talk to infants.
I can’t take this. The world gone nuts and I’m the last sane person on earth.
Now, the Millennial has the chicken on his lap stroking its back. The dog is snapping at the chicken and the chicken is pecking at the dog. The Millennial is rocking to his music and XXXL is smiling.
This clucking is driving me crazy. I want to choke that chicken.
He laughs at the idea of his choking another man’s chicken. This comic interlude gives him momentary relief until the chicken frantically flaps its wings, which startles the dog and it pisses on XXXL’s lap.
“Oh man, this chicken hates to fly. Makes him nervous, you know.”
“No shit,” the Road Warrior says.
He asks XXXL if he can get up to get his Bose noise-cancelling headphones from his bag in the overhead bin. As he stands, the dog bites him on the ass. He jumps, startling the chicken.
XXXL says, “You scared him. He’s so delicate.”
By now, the chicken is out of control. The Millennial is trying to calm it down, but the flapping and the flying feathers won’t stop. In an act of defiance, the dog jumps out of XXXL’s arms and shits on the Road Warrior’s seat. Then, the bird shits. The cabin reeks of shit. The lady in the row in front of them gets sick and throws up on the man next to her, which starts a chain-reaction pukefest.
Of course this is happening.
The Road Warrior calmly walks to the back of the plane and asks the flight attendant, “May I have something to drink?”
“Sure, what would you like?”
“How about a diet Coke?”
“Can do,” the flight attendant says. “How’s it going today?”
The Road Warrior says, “Just another day on the road.”