Flakes on a planeWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Uncertainty Principal, which states that an object being observed is often altered by the presence and method of the observer, does not seem to apply on airplanes.
I have seen more aberrant human behavior on airplanes than I did in such extreme
environments as college, the White House and Walt Disney World, where giant rats with four-fingered white gloves march happily alongside some dogs who can talk and some who cannot.
But airplanes, those social laboratories at 36,000 feet, inspire the oddest behavior, from people who just do not care who sees what they do. Maybe it’s a natural reaction to hurtling above the clouds in a flying tube that defies gravity, with one’s life in the hands of a pilot and crew one has not met and has no sway over.
I was once seated on an airplane next to a man who, halfway to San Francisco, began flossing his teeth. I must have looked as perturbed as I felt, because he stopped in mid-floss and asked me, “Does this bother you?”
“Yes. Yes it does,” I said.
He shrugged and put away his floss, with a look that suggested I was way too uptight.
If not wanting to be showered in chewed, soggy food particles makes me uptight, hand me a lump of coal and I’ll get started on that diamond.
During a flight to Fort Lauderdale last year, the plane hit turbulence and started to buck and toss like a small boat riding large waves. The captain assured us there was no danger, but as he ended his announcement, we dropped what felt like seven stories and he broadcast a spontaneous expletive that mirrored the passengers’ bowel-emptying reaction.
At that point, a flight attendant sat down among us, buckled up and began saying The Lord’s Prayer, which undermined the tiny bit of remaining confidence we had in living through the flight.
The plane eventually stabilized, but we were looking aghast at the panicky flight attendant, who was whisked to the back of the plane and not seen for the rest of the flight.
Flying to Miami for a family Thanksgiving celebration, I watched a man with a peculiar habit. He was in the first row of seats behind First Class, which was separated from us bohemians in Coach by a thin, transparent curtain. Every time an airline employee would pass trough the curtain and pull it closed, the man sitting in Coach would reach over and pull it open about 6 inches.
I’m sure he thought he was the essence of stealth, but by the midpoint of the flight, several of us were smiling at each other, watching him compulsively open the curtain. He must have done it 40 or 50 times; two men behind me made a drinking game of it and were in no shape to drive by the time we landed.
I wondered if he was checking to see what goodies the First Class folks were receiving, or if he was debating slipping through the curtain and into an empty seat, mustering all of his stealth, which I would rank on a scale between a 4-year-old with pots and pans and a diesel engine running without oil.
In the row to my front right, a man slowly ate from a box of Wheat Thins. His wife was reading a book beside him. At one point, she fell asleep, and he unbuckled his belt to walk to the lavatory. He hesitated, set the Wheat Thins down, started to walk, then returned, picked up the box and took it with him to the restroom.
Did he so mistrust his wife with the snack that he’d rather take food into one of the most foul places imaginable, an airplane toilet, than to leave them with her?
Ah, sweet mysteries of life.
When we landed and I walked to baggage claim, a man was explaining to passengers arriving from Wisconsin that a man had tried to ship fresh deer meat in a duffel bag, which leaked blood all over everyone else’s luggage.
People were understandably upset by this news, and I wonder if the deer hunter escaped in one piece.
It’s not cheap entertainment, but for studying human behavior, there is no uncertainty — it beats the mall hands down.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted by phone at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at mmiller@ toledofreepress.com.