The Breakfast Table

Crossfire Over West Virginia

Nice try, but as I warned you in my first posting I am not going to get dragged into our Burns & Allen “Let’s talk Canadian politics” routine. Also, I’ve only now woken up and am barely literate–a common condition in Los Angeles I am given to understand, but I didn’t expect it to overcome me quite so quickly. There’s no newspaper outside my door, not even a Hollywood Reporter. For all I know the feds have staged an overnight raid on Bill Gates’ house, Fidel Castro has washed up on the shores of Miami in an inner tube, and Sierra Leone–isn’t something going on in Sierra Leone? Wait, forget I raised that last one.

I am just bloody grateful to find myself in this seedy Sunset Strip hotel room with its view of a tattoo parlor and the parking lot of the Comedy Store. That was the worst flight I have ever had. First, we were stranded on the tarmac for four and half hours while a thunderstorm rattled overhead. (Sorry for all those phone calls, but I was ready to blow my head off. I appreciated your description of the lettuce wilting in the refrigerator after we’d run through everything else that had happened that day.) By the fourth hour, the cabin of the plane was divided between a cocktail party in first and business class (with everyone out of their seats and schmoozing) and a growing people’s insurrection in coach. The revolutionary rumblings were not diminished by the “snack paks” thrown at us by stressed flight attendants. We had begun to take bets on when the first smoker would lose it when, Allah be praised, we were told the plane would be taking off. The prospect of the imminent arrival of the drinks cart lightened everyone’s mood considerably (it certainly did mine).

Airborne, there was suddenly a loud explosion in the front of the plane. This is literally true. I was in the middle of telling my seatmate–an amiable woman with whom I’d been exchanging reading material–that in the time it was going to take us to reach Los Angeles we could have made it all the way to Fiji, when there was this enormous bang. The passengers all gasped. Then silence.

My seatmate and I looked at each other and instinctively grasped each other’s hand.

“Was that a bang?” I asked stupidly.

“Yes,” she said. “It was.”

“I can still hear the engines.” We could–they were humming and the plane’s temperature seemed to be about normal, but what the hell did we know? The pilot wasn’t talking. After what seemed an endless amount of time (maybe four minutes), a flight attendant, struggling to sound chipper, announced that the crew knew we’d all heard “that noise” and they were looking into it, but as we could understand, “the pilot is very busy right now.” Oh yes, we could all understand that, although it was not the message we wanted to hear. What we wanted to hear was “We apologize for that loud bang but it was the result of exuberant passengers in first class opening champagne.” I gripped the woman’s hand more tightly and wondered aloud, in a robotic tone, whether it would be a good idea to phone my husband. Is it thoughtless and needlessly upsetting to phone your loved ones when you are plunging to your death? What would Emily Post say?

“I have no idea,” she said blankly.

I decided, selfishly, that I would prefer to die with your voice on the other end of the phone than not, and that was when I phoned you again. (I was in such a stunned state it took me several tries of swiping the credit card through the phone. For a moment it looked as if the last voice I would hear was that of some electronic female informing me that my card was not valid and to please try again.)

You were wonderfully calm and reassuring (maybe a little too calm, hmm? How big an insurance policy do you have on me?), and you stayed on the phone with me until we heard the second announcement that the explosion in fact had been a burst of lightning directly in front of the plane. We were fine! We weren’t going to die! Bring on the drinks!

It turns out the woman’s hand I’d been gripping so tightly belonged, in her own description, to “an unreformed hippie radical.” I told her she’d been gripping the hand of a rabid right-winger. We’d been about to go to our deaths together as a perfect picture of political rapprochement, poster children for those who’d managed to transcend their differences, get beyond the politics of personal destruction (into the politics of mutual destruction), build a bridge to the next eternity, etc., etc.

Of course we argued for the rest of the flight.

But that was oddly comforting too. As you say, there is something reassuring when people live up to stereotype. I think my seatmate felt this, as well.