I was on an airplane last fall and it just so happened I was in the very front row of a JetBlue airbus. Not like First Class or anything. I don’t believe the plane I was on even had a First Class Section. In any case I was on the way to a Florida vacation to see some old friends, and to be my special somebody’s special somebody. I had college textbooks in my carry-on. A course pack on my lap. I was doing the multi-tasking New York thing, you know? Work your ass off during every free moment. Conveniently schedule every compartment of your life.
But I knew I was full of it.
I knew the minute I landed in Florida all systems would go offline in the NASA computer room of my brain and Jack would shift from all work to all play. I’d “brought work” with me mostly to convince myself that I was an escapist slacker by choice, and not because I was out of other options. In any case I happened to be sharing my particular seat triplet with two middle-aged White people. I had the aisle. A guy in some autumnal GAP clothes and comfortable sneakers with a receding line of mouse brown hair and small glasses had his laptop-lap in the ready next to the window. A dark-haired lady midway towards Arm-Flapper City with some sleeveless dark top and grainy slacks and heels rode Bitch. Go figure.
Immediately they got each each other, in that unspoken way that people who happen to share the same culture/demographic/tax bracket get each other. Neither of them got me. So I played the fun Minority Spy role as their instant conversation began:
I hate sitting in front says the guy. No space.
Yeah I know, the lady reflexively responds.
And the American cliche unfolded. They barely notice my “crazy” hair or acknowledge my apparent pursuit of higher education before revealing they are both traveling for business. He’s appropriately, moderately affected as he shares that constant travel caused his separation from his wife and keeps him from being more than a weekend fly-in commuter father to his progeny. I’m amused by how morally neutral it seems for him to be a rolling stone/deadbeat. She is appropriately, moderately controlling as she shares that she interviewed nannies alongside her husband before leaving so that she could insure that none of them were attractive enough to elicit adulterous behavior from said husband. I guess she missed whatever episode of Oprah it was where the emasculated “relationship expert” emphatically and condescendingly hailed trust to be the only thing that makes a marriage work. Go figure some more.
Anyway, if you’re as cynical as I am on a 6 a.m. flight then you know where this is going. I listen for signs that they are going to cheat. Same convention? Same hotel? Drinks from the flight attendant? If you’re anywhere near as ADD as I am on a 6 a.m. flight then you understand that it didn’t take too long before I stopped caring and stopped pretending to study my course pack and conked out for the rest of the hour and a half I was above the clouds.
What stays with me about the commuters on my flight is the empathy with which they responded to each other as they shared feelings of helplessness against the way their pursuit of capital regularly disrupts and imbalances their lives. It stirred my deep well of liberal arts student weltschmerz regarding The System and my inner iTunes playlist kicked out The Stones’ “Street Fightin’ Man.” But I have been in enough circular dialogues with various non-professional colleagues to understand the uroboric futility of complaining about things that won’t ever change.
What’s really depressing is that I don’t know how much better my life will be as a result of having recently received my BA. I want to believe in the midst of this recession that I will find a job that makes me happy, pays my bills, and might support my future wife and any potential kids we may have without destroying everything it helps me to build at the same time. I’ll keep you posted if anything comes up.
Oh, yeah… that…
So when I woke up the guy helped the lady get her bags down from the over head compartment. We were first off the plane and I kept spying for just long enough to watch them casually chat as they strolled off to baggage claim. Together. That’s as far as the voyeurism went for me before I stopped myself, but whatever happened between them wouldn’t surprise me. For better or worse. You all know the statistics. And the traveling for business cliches.
I don’t know any happy professionals. Not one.