July 24, 2009

One Year Ago: Home on Hell Airlines

July 25-26, 2008: Inspired by distant recollections of D.B. Cooper, I imagine myself purposefully marching six rows up and resolutely pushing up the long red lever to open the emergency door. In so doing, my body would be sucked out of the aircraft and into the soundless sky over British Columbia. Peace at last.

Exactly one year ago aboard an Air Canada flight from Ottawa to Vancouver, this was what I seriously contemplated doing, if only for a second. It was the first leg of our 18-hour return to Japan from Ottawa. I would have done almost anything to end the existential hell created by the incessant, high-decibel wailing emanating from my beautiful daughter, despite her small body.
I’m sure I’m not alone.
You read magazines stories on how to deal with children on airplanes, as the parent or as the passenger sitting close to them. You laugh at the jokes made by comedians on late-night TV about kids and air travel. You hear the stories of flying with children from your peers who have rugrats and think, “not me.” But when you’re experiencing it for real…

We had an absolutely awful experience. First, there was the early morning emotional toll of getting to the airport on time and saying goodbye to my folks. Lady E. was docile, sleepy, compliant…at first.

We’d already had the experience of coming over on the long haul from Japan, and we did our recon—baby websites, baby books, talking with friends and relatives, scouring the Internet for information on how to travel semi-comfortably with a small kid in a cramped titanium tube with 300–odd other people at 35,000 feet for hours and hours. We had an array of carefully selected toys to distract and disrupt. We had the snacks and the beverages. We had abundant patience on tap. But in the end we had…nothing.

As we crossed the skies over western Canada, Elena became more animated, then bored, then outraged at her confinement in my lap and arms. Too young to be enthralled by the TV monitor embedded in the seat two inches ahead, too pissed off to be placated by Mommy three inches to our left, she soon transformed into a roiling, slippery eel with wave after wave of rock concert-level screeching. I’m not talking about your usual toddler’s crying. I’m saying it was a deep-from-the-diaphragm, full-bore, maximum-volume keening that was amplified by the tight space and sound-friendly conical shape of the plane’s fuselage.

The poor Asian gentleman sitting to my right. There are no words to describe his patient suffering for that last hour during our descent into Vancouver International.

It was though Elena was merely inhaling the necessary oxygen that would enable her to blast out her revulsion over this mode of travel by screaming with such volume and resonance it was utterly soul-scorching. It did not stop. It grew worse as we started descending and the air pressure dropped. She couldn’t equalize the air pressure in her ears and refused to drink anything, thereby guaranteeing the dropping pressure would cause her further discomfort.

As Naomi and I both scrambled to do anything, ANYTHING to stop the pain, like reality TV show participants, we began to squabble amongst ourselves.

We would definitely have been voted off the plane. The eyes of those passengers sitting around us seared their hatred of our family like a tattoo on our faces. Elena’s red and violently twisting head was a beacon for attention. I was oblivious, repeatedly popping up and out of the seat, walking the aisle when I could, avoiding the air attendants, who, having seen this many times before, kept their distance lest I proffer our child to them in a desperate attempt for help.

When we finally touched down, Naomi and I had absolutely no semblance of civility as we stood up once the seatbelt sign went off. We wanted to escape the aircraft. We shouldered our carry-on bags and strapped on our kid, and as soon as we detected forward movement, began the relentless march to the exit, elbowing older people, kids, the infirm and the unlucky in a desperate dash for open space. Elena did not stop her screaming until we reached the terminal.

Is this form of torture worse than waterboarding? Of course not. But I think that it is perhaps a perfectly legal substitute. Something for people in the intelligence community to think about.

July 21, 2009

San Francisco Blues - 40th Chorus

And when my head gets dizzy
And friends all laugh
And money pours
from my pocket
And gold from my ears
And silver flies out
and rubies explode
I'll up & eat
And sing another song
And drop another grape
In my belly down

Cause you know
What Omar Khayyam said
Better be happy
With the happy grape
As make long faces
And groan all night
In search of fruit
That don't exist.
-Jack Kerouac

July 16, 2009

Back From Bangkok Virus Free

That title caught your eye, didn't it? Get yer mind out of the gutter!

I’m not an H1N1 virus carrier (right now)…and I have the official documentation to prove it!
I was handed this swine flu symptom reminder yesterday when I exited the plane and passed through quarantine booths with an intimidating array of thermographic cameras at Kansai International Airport. The cameras measure your ambient body temperature and, if you’re above the norm, you’re politely pulled aside and questioned, perhaps quarantined.

Lacking a feverish temperature, it seems I did not carry the dreaded H1N1 flu back with me from a business trip to Thailand. The Japanese government has taken measures to prevent the further spread of the pandemic since the early spring. So I half-expected to see these folks enter the plane:

Courtesy of The Japan Times

In fact, the Japanese government gave up and halted quarantine inspections on flights in May because the H1N1 virus was already present in Japan.

In between washing my hands and gargling incessantly – the preferred preventative measures – when there was some downtime on the flight home I collected my thoughts about what I’d read about the H1N1 outbreak.

One thing I noted was that despite the facts about the recent bout of swine flu sweeping the globe and government agencies doing their best to educate people, people are still irrational. In Thailand, they were pulling kids out of school for about a week and banning them from getting together at malls and game centers. In Japan, people are wearing Dr. Lecter masks more than usual despite the dubious prevention qualities.

In other words, people put on masks and governments put out official notices in a fruitless effort to place a guise of control on something that is inherently uncontrollable. Thus, perception of control becomes reality and the need for visible examples which demonstrate that some action is being taken, even if it is ineffective.

I had planned to bring along a copy of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ to read on the airplane and get my picture taken with the health inspectors, in their white contamination suits or soothing sterile greens, should they board our aircraft. But King's opus was too heavy, the joke not that funny, and the irony not worth the effort.

I got through my event in Thailand unscathed, and so far I still feel comparatively healthy. So why does everyone look at me with suspicion whenever I sneeze?