'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
THE FLYING SARDINE CAN
OK, I know you’re getting tired of reading about my recent once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Europe. If it’s any consolation, I’m getting tired of writing about it, too. So I promise, this will be the last column about my trip. But I simply cannot move on to other topics without commenting on airline travel.
It turns out, by some quirk of geography, that if you want to see the sights of Europe you first are required to travel to Europe. This means you are required to be shoe-horned into an oversized sardine can known as a commercial jetliner for the better part of nine hours. They call those aircraft “wide bodies,” and they certainly are much larger airplanes than the ones typically used to fly from, say, Hartford to Baltimore.
But the term “wide body” only means they can put more seats in each row. It does not mean they are doing anything to make your own personal “wide body” more comfortable. The seats in the plane are straight out of Parent-Teacher Night at the elementary school. (You know what I mean: you go to visit your young child’s teacher, and are forced to sit in one of those tiny chair-desk units, and afterward countless parents have to go home bent forward at the waist, with the chair-desk unit permanently stuck onto their gut-butt unit.)
About ten minutes after the plane took off, the captain announced that it was OK to use personal electronic equipment. Immediately the people seated around me pulled out a plethora of hi-tech gadgets: iPods, DVD players, laptop computers, and an assortment of BlackBerry, BlueBerry, and DingleBerry devices.
Knowing it was going to be a long flight, I also brought along electronic equipment: a 15-year-old Sony Walkman tape player and a few 30-year-old cassette tapes. The people seated nearby looked at me like I was Amish. (Once I was listening to my Walkman cassette player in a public park, and an Amish family walked by. They glared at me with disgust because of my primitive ways.)
I fully understand that a portable cassette player and Lynyrd Skynyrd tapes that I recorded in college are not exactly 21st century technology. But I brought those items only because I knew there would be no place on the airplane to plug in a vintage 1966 Zenith stereo (complete with four-foot wide walnut cabinet) and play some vinyl albums.
Trans-Atlantic flights usually depart from the U.S. in the evening. You fly all night and arrive at your European destination when it is already morning local time. Conventional wisdom says you should try to sleep on the plane (in that Parent-Teacher Night seat? Impossible), but no matter how tired you are when you arrive, you should force yourself to stay awake throughout the day. This supposedly is the best way for your body to adjust to the time zone change and jet lag.
Regarding jet lag, let me say one thing: Jet lag, schmet lag! It has nothing to do with adjusting to a different time zone, and everything to do with good ol’ sleep deprivation. By the time we finally got to bed that first evening in Europe, my wife and I had been awake for 33 straight hours. (At that point the hallucinations were quite vivid.) Austrians must think nonstop yawning is a customary American greeting.
Someday, if they can figure out how to see the sights of Europe without actually being required to travel to Europe, I’ll be more than happy to do it again. But until then, I think I’ll spend my next vacation a little closer to home: such as in my bed.
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