22 Hours of Steerage: Hour 1

The clouds look heavy and full of impending turbulence as we drive into Milan Malpensa Airport.  Lighting splits the air on two different occasions.  Surely, I think, I am going to die.  I then reassure myself that I had read an article about planes being more than adept at taking midair lighting strikes like champs; this was in regards to the Air France flight that disappeared off of the coast of Brazil.  Comforting.  So I might not spiral to my doom due to lightening, but any other number of things are still up for grabs, within reason.  I squirm in my seat, biting my lip while wondering if 9 AM is too early for a cocktail.

When I first get in line at the American Airlines General Boarding counter, there are five attendants working at a glacial pace to see that every customer misses their flight.  I am the last person in line, having not given myself the ample two hours of “just in case” time my mother has hounded me about for as long as I could remember.  The fact that I rarely heed her advice does not mean that I am immune to hearing it in the back of my head from the moment I step into an airport.  “You’re going to be late.  The line’s going to be huge.  You’re going to miss your flight.  You don’t have time to stop for a coffee.  You’re going to miss your flight.  Miss your flight.  Miss your…” pumps through my veins, raising my heart rate and giving me the spins.

As my line moves forward, the attendants begin to disappear; packing up their little AA satchels, checking with their supervisor, and making their way to what I am pretty sure is an early morning Italian siesta.  Each disappearing American minion means that I am an additional six minutes behind.  I plead with them telepathically to stay, but my non-verbal Italian is apparently about as good as my verbal one.

In my boredom, I discreetly spy on an affluent and good looking family waiting in front of me.  The dad and daughter look strikingly similar, like beautiful cartoon characters.  The mom stands behind with her giant white bag and a periwinkle tank top, the elasticity in her arms beginning to loosen and her chest freckled from too much sun.  I wonder if she’s jealous of her teenage daughter and what appears to be a real life Electra complex in action.  She looks joylessly at the Business Class check in.  I imagine she longs for the days she didn’t have a husband, a daughter, and bad wrinkles.  She is sour and I am happy she’s not my mother.

Finally I reach the ticket counter, assisted not by the best looking attendant I have ever seen in my life, but by his boss who looks like an Italian Jason Statham.  His English is okay and as we go through the list of “Are you carrying loaded weapons?” or “Do you kill babies in your off time?” list of airport no-nos I struggle to understand what he’s actually saying.  One wrong “Yes” and I’m off to a detention center, getting grilled about my puported admission of heroine smuggling.  This is not something my mother warned me about, per say, but common sense tells me I would most definitely miss my flight.

By the time I finish, forty minutes of my life have evaporated and my heart is about to explode.  I look out the large windows onto the tarmac.  Rain.  Sheets of rain.  A plane lands, spraying water behind its tires like barbque smoke.  It’s pouring so hard I can hear it hitting the ceiling suspended fifty feet above me.  Choke.  I get through security and move to the gate where people have already begun to line up to board.  I have four euros left in my hot pink coin purse.  One of my favorite games is spending every last foreign cent I have in the airport, it doesn’t matter on what as long as I’ve spent it – something that reminds me of my brother when he was seven.

The race is on.  People begin to inch forward at my gate as I stand at the back of a line for a preventive espresso; I am currently quite alert but I am well aware that if I do not stock pile caffeine in my bloodstream I am going to get a slamming headache at 35,000 feet which no amount of watery pot coffee will be able to cure.  I order a “dopio” and am half way through my cash.  After an unsucessful search at the magazine rack, I go back to the cafe to purchase two blue boxes of hazelnut chocolates for my mom.  I want to buy the hazelnut candy shaped and named after “Happy Hippo” but I’ve already blown my budget.  I am officially broke in Italy.

I wait for the last few people to get on the plane, expecting it to be delayed.  I strike up conversation with a boy who I had overheard talking about living in Venice.  His female companion has gone to the restroom; she is apparently his new wife and this trip was their honeymoon.  They look nineteen.  When it looks as though this plane really is going to take flight, I relent and hand my ticket to the previously mentioned best looking attendant I have ever seen, who has magically appeared.  I would attribute this to budget cuts and a labor shortage.  It would not surprise me if he’s flying this plane, as well.

I take my aisle seat next to a Latin looking man with what I can only best describe as a European mullet.  Although instead of the “party in the back” bit being left to its own devices to sway like Fabio’s, my plane mate has sensibly fashioned his into a braid.  He looks amiable, doesn’t smell like Old Spice, and offers his foot space to me if I need it.  I cannot ask for more.

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