Let me offer some advice to aspiring writers. Don’t send your editor an autobiographical feel-piece about airline travel every time you jump on a plane. It may strike you as enormously fascinating that the man sitting next to you keeps wiggling his upper lip to have his mustache scratch his nose, but your average reader is not impressed. And if you sat next to the woman of your dreams for three hours without working up the nerve to say hello, just swallow your futility; if you couldn’t tell her, don’t tell us. (If you try one of those “Missed Connection” personal ads and it gets results, then you have a story.)
In my case, for example, I returned to Miami yesterday from a weekend lecturing in New York City. I was speaking about some of the historical setbacks of the Jewish People, with an emphasis on the miraculous resurgence that predictably follows each trough. A local radio personality was in my audience and he made my day with this clever compliment: “Even if I were already in Heaven I would ask for a furlough to come enjoy your presentation.”
Distracted by my obligations, I could not devote the degree of study necessary to opine about such weighty matters as Georgia invading Ossetia but denying it, followed by Russia invading Georgia but denying it. I did hear our President boldly venture into treacherous territory… trying to pronounce Medvedev. It came out as Med-ved-ee-yev, which is only one syllable too many; coulda been worse.
You can see my temptation to slough off my journalistic duties by recording anecdotes about my flight experience. Personally I was very interested by the elimination of rental car company shuttles in JFK Airport. The “Air Train” system is now operational, putting all those chatty middle-aged bus drivers out of work. While that nice lady who used to gab about her aunt in Florida collects unemployment, I am being sent up an elevator from the car return area to a train platform. I put my bags down and settled into one of the chairs thoughtfully provided… until the train pulled up short fifty feet away.
Grab bags, sprint, sprint, puff, puff, crash through the closing doors and sink utterly humiliated into the last available seat. Now there was a sequence I deemed eventful, albeit disturbingly so. But would the average reader — not you, I know you’re way above average — find that engaging? Nah, best kept to myself.
My flight was slated for Gate 7, but the wrong incoming plane pulled up there, so they loud-spoke us over to Gate 5. This flashed me back about twenty years, when I was flying out of New York for a speaking engagement in Chicago. My scheduling was squeaky tight, no margin for error, with just enough time after landing to taxi down the runway and cab down the highway before hacking through my delivery any old way. I was flying out of LaGuardia, where they have gate doors arranged in a series of side-by-side pairings.
I boarded, settled down in Seat 14A and waited for takeoff. When everyone was seated, there was still one man walking up and down the aisle looking perplexed. He consulted a flight attendant, who accosted me. “Excuse me, sir, this gentleman seems to have a ticket for 14A.”
“I have mine right here,” I countered, wielding it triumphantly.
“Yes, sir. But your ticket is for Chicago and this is the flight to Denver.”
There is plenty more of this quality of reminiscence where that came from. I could tell you about the quirky schizophrenia of our delayed departure — we’re not leaving; we’re taxiing; we’re stopping; we’re starting; we’re waiting; we’re anticipating; hey, sit down, we’re off. There was the nice lady knitting her afghan for the great-niece that one ultrasound tech sees coming, unless it turns out to be the great-nephew the other ultrasound tech sees coming. We had a Dennis Quaid look-alike with well-behaved kids and a Sharon Stone look-alike with well-behaved kids; plenty of screamers, though, fore and aft.
Iron Man was the in-flight movie and the ladies seemed to like it, prompting this thought: “Any man who irons is a superhero to women.” And yes, the delay scenario was repeated before we were allowed to land in Fort Lauderdale.
Well, that’s all I had, and as a seasoned pro, I knew better than to try to palm this off as a column. I did not want to run afoul of Marshall McLuhan’s caution: “The tedium is the message.” Instead it occurred to me that I could offer some advice to aspiring writers.