Like most people, when I fly I am crammed in the general seating area fighting for elbow space. I reach my seat by taking the walk of shame past all the people in First Class and Premium Class and Business Class to get to my seat in Lower Primate Class. I don’t appreciate the baggage fees or the other grumpy passengers coughing and clipping their toenails on me. I’m not happy about the federal security screening, especially as I am always carrying numerous harmonicas on my person and in my bags, which leads to some uncomfortable questions: “Do you sell harmonicas? Oh, you play them! Did you say you play in a band with Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, and Scott Turow? (Laughter) Can you play us a little something?”
Yet for all the discomfort, indignities, and lousy service, I still like to fly. I enjoy hunkering down in airports waiting areas, catching up on email and watching the passing tide of humanity. I like settling into my seat on the plane, reading and dozing, with nothing more important to decide then whether or not to have the orange juice or water. I get more reading done in airports and planes than anywhere else. But it’s not just the reading I enjoy—it’s also the sense that I am in an in-between world, a place where time stands still.
Recently I travelled to attend two very different publishing-related events: the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) in Atlanta and the Miami Book Fair International. I was managing a booth at SBL for HarperOne, where I work in marketing. (Marketing is a technical term that means “I will say or do anything to get you to buy this product, even if I don’t know what it is.”) I was at the Miami Book Fair to help promote the book my wife Kathi and I wrote about writing and getting published, Write That Book Already: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now, and to play with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band of authors who play rock and roll to raise money for literacy, much like the Rolling Stones.
While I was at SBL I went to dinner with the Catholic publishing crowd, which includes such leading lights as Bob Byrns of Paulist Press and Bernadette Price of Orbis Books. The Catholic publishing folks are a pretty rough bunch—many of them are, in fact, of Irish descent—and several of us of decided to have beer flights, which is nothing like flying in an airplane. The waiter brought us each samples of five different beers, after which we were required to stand on one foot and count backward from 100.
The different beers led to a discussion of types of beer. As it turned out, one of our dinner partners makes a lot of beer at home. He told us that he recently made a “milk beer with a touch of clove, cinnamon, and garlic,” which led me to wonder why he wasn’t adding really useful ingredients. How about aspirin beer to prevent hangovers, or vitamin-enriched beer?
My trip to the Miami Book Fair International was a little rushed because I had to set up the SBL booth in Atlanta Friday and get down to Miami for a Rock Bottom Remainders rehearsal at Scotty’s Landing in Coconut Grove that night. (By rehearsal I mean we checked to see whether we knew the same songs in the same keys, and if not, tried to decide what we should do about it.) Kathi and I did our panel at the fair and then played with the Remainders the next day, and Sunday morning I was up before dawn to catch a flight back to Atlanta and the SBL exhibit floor, where I found myself talking to people about biblical literature. I felt like I had lived five days in two.
All my flights were on Delta, and I immediately fell madly in love with the woman on the Delta in-flight safety video. She is a redhead with an engaging smile who has a remarkably sexy way of explaining slides, flotation devices, and wagging her finger while saying that smoking onboard any Delta flight is a “not allowed.” I tend to fall in love with inaccessible woman, such as models on billboards, mannequins, and this Delta woman. I’ve also been known to fall in love with the flight attendant if she smiles at me as I step onboard the plane.
You can learn to enjoy flying as much as I do. Here are a few tips for a better experience. First, make sure you’ve removed all metal, fluids, plastics, nylon, cotton, beer, and harmonicas from your person. Once you are through security, purchase your pre-wrapped sandwich and nonchalantly hover near the gate, always at the ready to get on the plane ahead of your fellow passengers in Zone 3 in a dignified, polite way that doesn’t involve running over little old ladies. Next, find a flight attendant, fellow passenger, or character in an educational video to fall madly in love for the duration of the flight. Turn off your cell phone, and read a book or watch the in-flight entertainment while the passenger seated next to you (who is apparently asleep because he is snoring and drooling on your shoulder) does all he can to elbow you out of your seat, or perhaps off the plane altogether. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.