VIEWPOINT: Grounded 

In which an intrepid correspondent reports on his recent sally-forth in a contemporary, er, airship.

Untitled Document

I am incarcerated in a jet airplane at an altitude of approximately 10 feet and holding, a position my fellow passengers and I have occupied now for something approaching — no, there it is — 40 minutes. For 20 minutes before that, we sat in our assigned seats at the gate followed by a pushback and 400-yard taxi that amounts to no more than a blatant kidnapping. I believe that word is defined as an unauthorized abduction by an agency who then restricts the victim’s movements and makes demands. Well I got here over two hours ago and I have heard nothing but demands. Sit here! Stand there! Take your shoes off! Idiot! Don’t you know you can’t bring anything as deadly as a Bic lighter through security? ( I think that’s what Sergeant York used to capture all those Germans.) Now that I have come to my senses, I realize that I am being held against my will. The prospect of a takeoff is just the most immediately life-threatening fact.

I was lured into an area of the airport that must have been shut off or under construction or some such. It was down a stupid little escalator of 8 steps or so, supposedly to match the height of the toy airplanes they fly out of here. The scene was missing only a bit of livestock or it could have doubled for a second-rate terminal in El Salvador. Granted, I should have known better at this point, but I am from Memphis and thus have become inured to serially lowered expectations. I was among the first to board the alleged aircraft because my poor unsuspecting travel department paid two dollars a mile for this 500- mile flight, and boarding priority is given to morons. Their little “jetway,” by the way, is almost exactly the dimensions of the chute they send the steers down in the Amarillo stockyards as they make the transition from mammal to menu item. Coincidence?

As I crouched and crab-walked my way to the second row it was also obvious to me that this fuselage is just about the dimensions — and composition — of one of those aluminum tubes you get when you buy a really expensive cigar. It is small enough that they took one look at my carry-on and gave me that look. You know, the one you get from a Maitre D’ you haven’t tipped or a toll booth operator when you’re in the wrong lane. They promptly stole the bag with a vague promise to return it at my destination — if I made it.

The seat of course has to be similarly proportioned; which is to say, an average boy of ten or so would find it roomy unless he’d just eaten or was wearing a bulky sweater. I contorted myself into the aisle seat expectantly, knowing that moments later I would be involved in an impromptu pas de deux with another fat guy that would put the hippos from Fantasia to shame. At length my seatmate collapsed exhausted into the window seat of row 2 and, as I had no room to move my head more than a degree or two away from directly forward, I watched the improbable trickle of fellow kidnapees go by. Do you remember Da Beearsss? The group of stylized Bears fans on Saturday Night live a few years ago led by George Wendt from Cheers? Well suffice it to say that, like George, this bunch never met a bratwurst they didn’t like — briefly. This is what convinced me finally that they intend to kill us. This little thing can’t possibly get all of us off the ground. Frankly, considering their financial condition I’m not even sure they have enough fuel to do it.

So here we sit. Hopeful (some of us). Resigned (the rest of us). Fat (nearly all of us). Awaiting a restart of the now-dormant engines that would mean we are going to defy any reasonable expectation and logic and ride this silver Cohiba into the sky. Yeah, sure!

I’m not sure how long they intend to prolong this charade and if I had lived, I was expected to be in Chicago tonight. I’ll email this from the runway because we need rescuing while there’s still time. If anyone gets this, don’t send in SWAT. I don’t think there is room for any of the employees to be armed. Just send us a real airplane. And send us a bag of peanuts. These guys can’t give us any without permission from a bankruptcy trustee.

Oh God, there go the engines!

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