I am a person of routine and habit. Such surprises some who know me well and most who do not. The devil of routine is travel which I both enjoy and, over the past five years, endure with frequency. I read that the airlines consider charging we passengers for carry-on luggage.
Prior to leaving London recently, I stocked my backpack in the airline lounge with two small cans of pineapple juice, an apple, and packs of crackers and cheese that I would wave away anywhere else. I bring my own pillow, eye shades and entertainment. If I am to be charged for my carry-on luggage, the irony will be that 75% of these items simply replace what the airlines use to offer. Such a charge for carry-on items will be the Tom Sawyer Fence Painting Con at 30,000 feet. “Well, Huck, ya kin hep paint this here fince, but it’ll kost ya $2.” ‘I’m gonna hav ta charge ya for the handbag that I’ma makin ya kerry-an-bord thisa here air-o-plane’.
International flights are long ones. I admit that its fun when heading easterly, usually back to the States, to rewind my watch instantly regaining four hours of my eclipsed life. Kind of like my personal episode of Lost or Groundhog Day. ‘Let’s do noon again. I’ll have that baby portion of faux cheese lasagna instead of the fake chicken pot pie.’
As we know, the body has its own routines guided by its own timing mechanism: a couple of mine are breakfast upon awakening, lunch about 5 hours later, dinner after dark, sleep at 10 pm in addition to other insundry, necessary and not-to-be-mentioned-in-public personal activities, unless one is French. One of my unspeakable routines occurs about 6:30 am daily. Adjusting for British Standard Time, this is about 10 minutes before American Airlines flight 173 departs London’s Heathrow Airport for its 8 hour journey to the USA.
Like a school student, I can usually wait until I get home. Last November, I could not even though I waited too long to calculate my urgency. Be alarmed not, dear reader. This will not be gross.
As I meandered past the numerous Airline Lounge facilities, all of which seem to elevate the unexceptional to the extraordinary by simply deflating the expected and customary to a variant of a visit to the dentist, I spotted the Air Emirates Lounge on my way to my departure gate. I knew that I could not get into the AE lounge. I did conclude that their departure gates must have excellent personal facilities befitting a high rolling, oil sheik, Airbus flyer. I changed course and headed in that direction. I found the AE gates, but only their gates?! As time was not on my side, I asked the courteous lady at the AE boarding counter for directions to the men’s facilities. She recommended the way back where I came from, near the center of the concourse! Like Columbus, I was not to be deterred by a slight navigational miscalculation on my part and a lack of inspiration on hers. I thanked her and carried-on my initial route.
Spotting the international symbol for personal convenience above a broad door- and this polished portal was configured to handle wheelchairs- I cautiously turned the handle and was granted entrance. All my own. Spotless. Vast. This chamber was the size of the sum of what all of the accommodations on my pending airplane flight would equal.
I’ll spare you the details, certainly. Everything proceeded according to plan and habit except for the conclusion. May I be quick to say that I am used to all manners of plumbing actuation, aka flushing: levers, knobs, switches, sensors, manual, semi-automatic, automatic and magic. I could not figure this dude out. Nothing looked like anything that I ever used before. And I needed to get back asap to my own departure gate. Confronted with a cord from the ceiling and a one inch square, illuminated button in the wall, I opted for the bright, shiny button and pushed it in.
This actuated the Call For Help light, at least on my side of the locked door. It was one of those moments when you are so frightened that everything moves slowly and you are aside yourself watching yourself behave. “I wonder what Chris is going to do now?!” Of course, I took some of the precious seconds available to me to wonder what will be the consequences of my greed, deceit, disrespectful and insulting behavior. I wondered if the Emirates had territorial authority in a handicapped bathroom? What language would my attorney need to speak? Would I suffer an incarceration similar to that dope-runner in Midnight Express? Seriously though, I did envision a SWAT team in desert garb blowing the hinges off of the door to rescue what they had to perceive was the desperate soul pleading for assistance. As I stared at the amber, flashing light and enjoyed the melody of its whirring alarm, my only option was to try what works with computers and computer software. If one click makes it go on, maybe the same click will make it go off. I did. It did. Instant quiet and monochrome illumination.
I like to think that those assigned to rescue the truly needy in such situations don’t alert immediately the airport ambulance as false alarms are a common or not uncommon occurrence. Kind of like the aggravating car and home alarm systems.
Now that order was restored, at least on my side of the door, I squared my shoulders, channeled my best 007 look of aplomb- you know, while the bad guy’s vehicle burns, Bond slips into a taxi initially hailed by a beautiful woman and they head to the casino. Just as Mr. Evil’s car explodes into vicious flames, James quips, ‘that’s one way to be fired from your job’- and pushed open my door.
To my relief, there were no Balaclava-clad men kneeling with weapons drawn- which I thought might be standard procedure for a false alarm; there was no gurney poised with an Accident and Emergency team; there was no one. I walked away as slowly as my desperate to run legs would allow me.
At the check-in process for my own flight, I was especially polite and thoughtful in answering the questions related to my journey and personal details. I was prepared for the Columbo retort,” thank you sir; have a good flight.” “Oh! By the way, where you the one in the handicapped restroom near the Air Emirates gates?” I would try to run and would be tackled by a dozen plain-clothes Bobbies and MI-6 types meandering nearby in disguise as fellow passengers.
I boarded alone and seemingly unobserved. I sat in my window seat. I ate and drank everything offered to me. I complimented the flight attendant on the quality and quantity of food. I paid for in-flight WiFi service so that I could email the Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines with a list of members of the flight crew that I felt should be immediately promoted. While online, I donated my frequent flyer account balance to charity. I purchased 4 bottles of Duty-Free scotch. I’m trying to change my habits.