I can say with all certainty that I have never, ever, ever had an airline experience such as this. That's to say, similar to a field trip to Carnaval from the hard side of Pomona on the naughty kids' school bus. Look, I travel coach. I vie for a bargain, yet I believe in traveling on the cheap with panache and comfort. But to save a buck on a long weekend in Vegas, despite my gut feeling on the matter, I chose a new skyway less taken. I've endured less travel tension and taken more pleasure in jeepneys treading rock roads in underdeveloped countries or crossing the Arizona desert by foot in three digits fahrenheit.
But today… Today, I rode a whole different animal. I rode Spirit Airlines...
At the terminal entrance at Dallas/Fort Worth airport, searching frantically for the check-in gate, I felt and saw a social tide turn in the extreme. (You know that feeling in Los Angeles neighborhoods where you cross from affluence to police copter vibe in just half a block?)
We were already late. I had the crasian*(crazy asian) mom in tow at her leisurely pace half a mile behind me. I ran to the self-serve check-in computer, where I cued behind four people each at a computer, all tragically confused. One guy in a yellow suit and fez who was the personification of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America was hailing down a Spirit employee, and the other three women check-ins so obviously did not have a plane to catch in twenty minutes.
Finally, as one woman sauntered off on a Sunday stroll, I ran to her freed monitor and slid my card like a knife-wielding banshee for boarding passes. All good in the hood. Until I see a stipulation: one personal item to board on the plane for no cost and/or one larger carry-on for a fee of $40. To board our carry-ons... $80 cold, hard cashish?! Thanks for discounting the friendly from friendly skies, "Spirit."
As I pulled my disassembled pieces from the security x-ray belt, I was insanely grateful I wasn't screened. I hadn't slept in two days for reasons I won't go into, but I wasn't thinking clearly when I packed at 5AM this morning, tossing in all my toiletries against code. No ziplock, no clear containers. Too tired to give a bollocks, I freeballed my sundries, full-size, straight up in a vanity bag and shoved it right up in my intimates pouch. And then, the crasian habitually travels with her snacks from home, and she was so upset when she finished packing yesterday afternoon (she really, really gets excited about Vegas) because her bag was so full she couldn't fit her fruit. When I passed through the detector, I was ready for a right frisking and a citation for the contraband lotion packaging, on top of hauling a conspicuous number of bananas in my stash.
After we sprinted to the gate, we found the flight delayed by 90 minutes. I tried to nap, but the sweet girl sitting next to me wanted to chitchat. This was her first time on a plane, and she was nervous. She started conversation after we saw CNN's sound bite on Bill Maher's donating a million dollars to Obama's PAC.
"Oh. To Obama? That's nice. I don't know who that guy is, but I thought people didn't like Obama, though. I didn't vote, so I don't give an opinion, but…"
She was sweet, the girl. African-American, mid-twenties, massage therapist living in inner city Dallas. She was genuinely interested in hearing about my last presidential vote and how I always look forward to voting day.
"Well, you know what? I'm gonna vote next time, then. You married?" she asked.
"No," I answered slowly, pondering the segue.
"You got babies?"
"No. I got a chihuahua."
"Let me show you my babies," she smiled as she pulled up her phone to show me her three kids, 9, 6, and 8 months. This girl could not have been older than twenty-three. But she's in great shape and loves her kids. Respek'.
The flight started boarding and I surveyed the passenger crowd, a colorful bunch - whites, blacks, hispanics, and a few asians and middle easterners sprinkled in - already laughing about anticipated hangovers and accidental pregnancies. A middle-aged guy sat next to me and invaded my airspace with his liquored odor. I nearly passed out from noxious fume inhalation.
My mom and I were the last to seat on the plane. I was knackered, and I knew it was going to be a longass flight when I heard the crowd noise from the jetway bridge. The line paused and I was trapped in front of a sign plastered, as in permanently affixed to the plane, that said
"If you have something to say about this trip, say it to this wall.
Do yourself a favor and leave it on the plane."
I didn't understand it until I saw another sign affixed to the cabin doors in the front rows hanging over a group of middle-aged guys who were clearly launching their bachelor party read
"Some Vegas stories are okay to share.
Others should stay in the air."
This passenger roster was a demographic of all colors, aged from twenty to seventy. Yet, if I closed my eyes, the plane's ambient noise sounded like a scene from Porky's-meets-Big Momma's House.
Our seats were inconveniently occupied by two women. A pretty twenty-something Asian girl with the irreverant demeanor of Paris Hilton and a beautiful fortyish African-American woman with a -- and I say this without irony -- a really chic disco afro. The svelte afro returned to her seat, leaving us to deal with her friend, the "stuck up little Asian girl," as Mom later put it, sitting in the middle seat between me and the crasian. A flight attendant approached to give us the exit-door speech.
"Now, you're all aware you're sitting at an emergency exit door. Are you prepared to assist in the occurrence of an emergency?"
I nodded excitedly from my window seat. Call me crazy, but if ever came the day when you need the door knocked off a jet, I'm your girl. Mom agreed in kind. Apparently, the girl in the middle didn't share our sense of community. She sat stoically with a bored-model face.
"Hello? Are you prepared to help in an emergency?" the flight attendant leaned in and asked the girl, all up in her face, waiting for a response. "Do you speak English?"
I'm pretty sure the flight attendant was reacting to disrespect rather than race, but my mom found it her place to speak up against alleged prejudice. An anti-racism rally was firing up in Row 11, and we hadn't even left the ground.
"She speaks English! She was probably born here in America, just like you!" the crasian piped.
Oh god. Here we go.
The Asian P.Hilton snapped, "I said yes, but I guess you didn't hear me!"
The flight attendant stomped off to prepare for departure, but A.P.Hilton used me to make her point before the stewardess was out of earshot. She looked straight at me to deliver her line.
"What a bitch!" she exclaimed to me, expecting me to join her high school bathroom girl fight. I conscientiously ignored her. My flight drama quota was already past capacity, and we were still on the tarmac.
I'd tuned out the vacuum of humanity sitting next to me by dozing off, but I was jolted awake at take-off by applause, laughter and shouted drink orders. The whole plane was already mentally on the strip. My eye caught another plastered sign.
"Our cabins are pressured to seal all Vegas secrets."
I wished I'd packed penicillin and antibacterial gel in my $40 carry-on. I wondered if I might catch a venereal disease from my plane seat. Enough of the propaganda, already. I'm fully capable of debauching myself without the cheesy bridge-and-tunnel encouragement.
I half-slept for the next two hours with more of the same. The flight attendants offered non-alcoholic drinks for a fee, the piecemealed-pricing Spirit way. Some passengers posed for pictures in the aisle. The suburban couple sitting behind me were telling people they're getting married tomorrow. One guy in the back started singing the chorus from a Kanye song, "Heeeey, heeeey," and ten people joined in. Like Showtime at the Appollo, in the air.
We landed with more clapping, a more intoxicated applause than at liftoff. When the wheels touched ground, the suburban groom behind me shouted, "LET'S GET WASTED!"
I'm not a disgruntled party-poop. I'm just sleep-deprived and impartial to frat parties, on the ground, in the sky, in the ether.
Once we settled into the hotel, far enough away from the trauma site, I set a new rule with my mother. She hadn't said anything about the journey, but I wanted to set things straight.
"Spirit Airlines. Never again," I told her over lunch.
"Ape. That was raunchy!" she exclaimed with wide eyes. I haven't heard the word raunchy since I last watched Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In 1984.
The crasian shook out of me my first laugh of the day. After some nourishment and a nap, I found my humor again. In hindsight, I tried to find the half-full glass on this morning's airplane tray table.
The upsides: More room in coach. I'll give them that. Secondly, this flight reminded me of my highly particular choice of party company and my good fortune with friendships. Also, I might've inspired someone to vote. Most importantly, although I didn't partake myself, I witnessed community among the masses crossing the color lines. Well, let's call a duck a duck. It wasn't community. It was a party barge with a ghetto blaster and a keg. Still, I admit, it's nice to look back in rose-tinted tunnel vision at the unexpected comaradarie.
So in that sense, cheers to you, Spirit Airlines.
But seriously, don't call me.
*crasian = crazy asian; a term I affectionately use to refer to my crazy Asian mother