As those of you who read this blog religiously know, I am not exactly a screaming, backstage-pass-holding, titty-flashing fan of airplane travel. Although my parents often greet major turbulence, emergency landings, and engine trouble on their flights with a shrug of the shoulder, there is a genetic precedent for my fears. My Aunt Barbara is afraid of storms, heights, and (most of all) flying. She just turned seventy but has only flown maybe two or three times in her entire life—despite her love of travel and her desire to visit many places that are only reasonably accessible by air travel. Instead, she's had to settle for shorter car trips around the Midwest and the occasional longer trip via rail to the farther reaches of this nation. (I'll bet—statistically speaking—there's a significantly greater chance of being in a train derailment on Amtrak than there is of encountering any major mechanical problem on an airplane. Amtrak gives you the best of both worlds: third world travel with first world rudeness.)
So although we share a common fear, my Aunt Barbara and I cope in different ways: she, by strict avoidance, and I, by deferring my terror until a later date. You see, usually I plan my trips months in advance, so the David Who Books The Flight has the luxury of enjoying the idea of a getaway while at the same time saving up all of the accompanying anxiety for a latter-day David—also known as the David Who Actually Has To Board The Fucking Plane. As you can plainly see, the David Who Books is a kind of an asshole who, time after time, lets the David Who Boards do all the dirty work while enjoying none of the benefits.
As we approached Denver on the way home, the Captain made an announcement. Whenever I hear that routine preamble 'This your Captain speaking...' I always brace myself for the unspeakable. The wing just broke off! The engine is on fire! The pilot is actually a high-ranking Al-Qaeda functionary and this is his scripted 'fuck you' address to an Airbus full of infidels! Of course, the Captain is usually just informing us that we're making our initial descent or thanking SkyMiles members for joining him today... but that's no reason to let down your guard, y'know?
As I was saying, we were approaching Denver and everything was going smoothly—or as smoothly as can be expected when you're in a giant megaton dildo, defying the intuitive laws of nature and common sense—when all of a sudden the Captain told us he was having the flight attendants prepare the cabin for landing early because he was expecting 'moderate turbulence' during our descent.
Moderate turbulence. What does that even mean? Moderate to whom? How am I supposed to calibrate my expectations when dealing with such an ambiguous and relative modifier? But wait... 'moderate' doesn't sound so bad, right? When we talk about political moderates, we're talking about those wishy-washy middle-of-the-roaders without any strong convictions. Nothing to be frightened of there. Merriam-Webster defines 'moderate' as 'avoiding extremes of behavior or expression.' That means that the Captain's warning of moderate turbulence precludes any extremities. We won't be batted out of the sky like a spiked volleyball—it'll just be a little bumpy—like a ride down a gravel road. Maybe a few potholes here and there, but it's not as if we're driving off a cliff.
Then again, I'm assuming the Captain is using the word 'moderate' correctly. Why would I foolishly assume such a thing? Most people born and raised in the United States cannot be considered skillful in their deployment of the English language. Their use of multisyllabic words like 'moderate' is approximate at best. They gravitate toward whatever sounds correct rather that what is in fact correct... 'Moderate' sounds like a word that conveys the seriousness of the turbulence without panicking the passengers... doesn't it? So maybe it's more of a rhetorical device than a rigorous attempt to get at the truth. ('We can't handle the truth!!')
As the bumpiness started, I put on my game face. Of course, I'm not exactly sure what my game face looks like—maybe I look like Marty Feldman after a coke binge—but I try to seem impassive, calm... bored almost. Oh, what? A little turbulence? How frightfully banal! I just hope they land this thing soon because I have to play croquet with the Vanderbilts in an hour.
Okay. Wait. Now the turbulence is getting to be a little more than I'm comfortable with. I will have to resort to some kind of diversionary tactic... I know! The Sky Mall catalog! I will seem to be fully engrossed in these electric nose hair trimmers in the Sky Mall catalog. Let me read about them carefully and nod my head at both their practicality and affordability. This is definitely the most fascinating electric nose hair trimmer that I have ever seen in all my days. I should make a mental note to share this useful information with my friends and family when we land. Who cares about planes crashing in a fiery wreckage when you've laid eyes on an electric nose hair trimmer like this? This is the Valhalla of electric nose hair trimming. It's like seeing the face of God...
JESUS FUCKING CHRIST. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON NOW? SOMEBODY, HELP ME. WE'RE GOING DOWN! This airplane is bouncing around like a tit at a wet t-shirt contest. (I know that simile is a rerun, but it's the perfect evocation of turbulence.)
It's okay! Keep telling yourself it's okay. Keep your game face on. Sky Mall catalog. Focus. Quit holding onto the arm rest with that death grip. The person in 12E is getting suspicious. He's on to you. He knows you're shrieking like Aretha Franklin on the inside—and he's amused by it. Don't be his entertainment. Look at this head massager. If one had a head that needed massaging, well... this one would certainly do the trick. I wonder how it would feel on one's genitals.
HOLY SHIT. IT'S GETTING WORSE. They'll be scraping me off the side of a mountain with a shovel. What the fuck are you looking at, 12E? Do you have some kind of problem with a perfectly normal fear in the face of non-intuitive laws of physics? I hope the contents of the overhead bin have shifted and they clock you in your big fat head when we land. Maybe someone has an anvil in their carry-on. An anvil or a bowling ball.
'Flight attendants, prepare for landing.'
WHAT IN THE FUCKING FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? PREPARE FOR LANDING? You're going to try to land this piece of shit with all this bumpiness going on? Mother Nature's gonna swat us against the runway like a housefly. You're insane! Let's just get back in the air and fly someplace else. I'd rather land in Baghdad on a calm, windless day than in Denver with all this 'moderate turbulence' going on. Have you even lowered the landing gear? Because I didn't hear the landing gear get lowered. Maybe I should press the flight attendant call button to tell her that I didn't hear the landing gear. Maybe they forgot about it. Maybe I will be the hero who saves this flight by reminding them. (Maybe I'll be the one they take away in a straitjacket at the arrival gate.)
OH FUCK. WE'RE ALMOST TOUCHING DOWN—WE'RE ALMOST TOUCHING—WE'RE ALMOST—!
We've landed! We've landed!
Then the David Who Books lets loose a giant, jaw-unhinging yawn and says, 'That was no big deal.' He leaves the David Who Boards shivering in a puddle of cold sweat on the cabin floor, clutching the mangled Sky Mall catalog like a talisman or a gnarled magical root that wards off injury and death.