Gut Instinct: Hunger at 35,000 Feet

Trapped on a flight to San Fran with no food and a drunk, flirtatious neighbor

Every time I board a plane and belt in my jiggly belly, I’m convinced I’ll be killed.

Perhaps, I think, as the plane hastens down a runway, I’ll be charbroiled in a fiery explosion. Maybe I’ll be blown to ground-beef bits in a mid-air collision. Or the metal bird will crash into an ocean. My lungs will fill with water as I thrash spastically, deathly aware that I could’ve survived if only I listened to that stewardess’s safety speech.

I’m fatally resigned to my potential fatality. When turbulence bucks the plane like a rodeo bull, I don’t wail like a slasher-flick scream queen; instead, I grab my barf bag and thank heavens I cleared my porn cache off my home computer, preventing my parents from discovering a bookmark for Teenybopperclub.com.

Last week, I flew to San Francisco to visit several friends who’ve exchanged breakneck New York for bong-hitting California. Upon surviving takeoff, I reclined my seat and eagerly awaited Delta’s snack service. Seriously. The airline recently unveiled edibles like hummus and chicken salads devised by chef Todd English, formerly of Midtown’s lamentably named—and rapidly shuttered—English Is Italian.

It was 9 a.m. My belly grumbled for English’s croissant stuffed with turkey bacon, cheddar and apple slices ($6) or maybe a chicken parm on a ciabatta roll ($8).

“What do you have?” I asked a flight attendant. Her wide-load rump smacked my elbow whenever she shuffled past.

“Nothing.”

“We’re sold out.”

“But I’m hungry.” I pointed to my tummy. It was ready to revolt like some breakaway Baltic state.

“Well,” she said, rifling through her wheeled feeding trough, “we have Clif Mojo bars for $2.”

I resigned myself to chewing this stale rectangle of honey-roasted peanuts, pretzels, crunchy soy crisps and peanut butter. It was filling, but so is cardboard. Beside me, a Taiwanese businessman wearing wire-rim glasses also ordered the Mojo.

“Is this food?” he asked.

“Sort of.”

He bit. His brow wrinkled. “I need a drink,” he said, extending an index finger at the stewardess.

If he craved cocktails, he was riding the right plane: Cindy Crawford humper Rande Gerber created Delta’s new in-flight drinks, including cosmos, pomegranate martinis and the “mile-high” mojito. They’re priced to pound at an insanely reasonable $5 apiece. You know these are strange times when it’s cheaper to purchase a round-trip ticket and party in the friendly skies than hit a NYC nightclub.

My neighbor preferred Miller Lite.

“It makes me relaxed,” he explained.

“I hear you, my brother,” I said. I curtailed further conversation by withdrawing my laptop and stuffing my ears with headphones. I fingered away, filling the screen with pretentious adjectives like superlative, when my neighbor caressed my left elbow.

“You have very nice fingers,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, examining my bitten-bloody nails and gnarled knuckles of a retired football player.

“I like watching you type,” he added, sipping his Miller Lite. He smiled.

“Thank…you,” I said, squirming like an earthworm. Was this a compliment? A come-on? A sexual kink? Would he slink to the bathroom, tipsy at 10 a.m., and enter the self-gratified mile-high club while envisioning my fluttering fingers? “I like typing,” I added, as flummoxed as a teenage girl receiving her first compliment from an older man.

He nodded and smiled, revealing incisors like yellow Chiclets, then he tilted his melon backward and drained his burp water in one great, greedy gulp. He ordered a second, which was also sucked down with a thirst contradicting the early hour. Perhaps my neighbor’s internal clock was calibrated to some far-off happy hour—a pleasant time of day to drink multiple beers and angle for a piece of ass.

My neighbor tapped my arm again. I tensed up, like when someone hugs me or says, “I love you.”

“I’m so sleepy,” he said, shutting his eyes and leaning forward. He passed out. The time was 10:34 a.m.

What remained of the flight passed in peanut-eating, magazine-thumbing silence, only broken by my neighbor’s infrequent snores. Finally, after five-plus hours airborne, the plane swooped into foggy San Francisco, smacking the runway with a heart-in-my-throat thud. I gathered my bags and sidestepped my still-dreaming neighbor, shuffling away to eat fried-pork tacos, guacamole-loaded burritos and other calorific West Coast wonders that will likely snuff me long before an airplane becomes my coffin.

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