You Think You Hate Holiday Travel?

                                                            By Paul Briggs

                                                                (Another one for the ESWA December meeting.)


One of the many bad things about my parents splitting up as soon as I was off to college was that I had to choose who to spend the holidays with. I decided to spend Thanksgiving with Mom and Christmas with Dad. Thing is, Dad was going to be down in Florida that Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa and Uncles Jake and Hank.

Not a problem at all. I had a wonderful five-day road trip all planned out. It was going to give me a chance to see places I'd never been — New Orleans, San Antonio — with time to visit the sports bars and see if any of the guys knew who I was yet, and if any of them were cute and feeling brave.

And then I got the word. Uncle Jake and his family were in southern California, and they were going to be flying to Florida for Christmas, and they'd bought an extra ticket just for me.

He shouldn't have. Really. He shouldn't have.

I could have taken the train, or even the bus… but of course, it had to be airplanes. The owner of the second-biggest Chevy dealership in Cedar Rapids does not travel by bus, and neither does his family, including apparently his giant niece. And I have to admit, getting hold of six seats right next to each other in the Christmas season… he must have done it months in advance.

I didn't want to hurt his feelings. There'd been enough family dysfunction in my life that year. And I did sort of want to know if it was still physically possible for me to do this.

Before we go any further, let me tell you a little about them. There's Uncle Jake, the success story of the Harris family. There's his wife, Jennifer, seven-year-old Steve, four-year-old Britney and nine-month-old Luke, who was probably too young to fly, but never mind. Steve and Britney took a while to be convinced that I wasn't about to eat them. Luke gave me this look I get from little babies sometimes — like they're trying to work out how close I'm standing.

Moving on to the big question — How does an 18-year-old, seven-foot-nine, three-mumble-mumblety-mumble pound girl get into one of those tiny little seats on one of those flying crawlspaces? I had to do my Russian Dancer Walk even to get down the aisle. Luckily, I have some experience in getting in and out of tight spaces — car doors, bathroom stalls and so on. The trick is to map out every step in your mind before you try putting your body in there.

Steve, Britney and I were in one row. First I let the kids in, then I sat down sideways, facing away from the aisle, with my head ducked until my forehead was almost up against the window. I got my right leg up, set my right foot on the armrest between the middle and window seats and put my left foot in the middle footwell. There, now I'm comfy.

Steve and Britney were not too happy about this. It was kind of an invasion of their space — especially little Britney, whose face was practically in the crook of my knee — and they still weren't sure if they trusted me or not. "For the last time, I'm not going to eat either one of you. I promise. No matter how plump and juicy you are." (What? Those kids could've used some exercise. You think I could tie myself in a bowknot like this if I weren't in shape?)

I didn't have to spend the entire flight like this, of course. Once we'd taken off and the plane was cruising, I could get up and stretch my arms and legs (not at the same time, of course) while everybody else in the cabin got out their cameras. Of course, I had to get back in my seat if anybody wanted to get past.

While I was in my seat, the drinks cart went by, and of course both of the kids wanted soda. I had to reach behind me, get them to put the soda cans in my right hand and pass them forward. (As for me, I hadn't had anything to drink since I got up that morning. And I went to the bathroom before I got on the plane. Do I really need to explain why?)

My aunt and uncle were seated right behind us. At one point, Uncle Jake decided to strike up a conversation.

"So… Reenie… you got a job?" (Uncle Jake went into business right out of high school, so he pretty much thinks of college as a way for kids to put off real life.)

"No… between schoolwork and basketball, my day is pretty full."

"What about over the summer?"

Hoo boy. "Well… over the summer I worked at this place downtown, where women like to go and relax and have fun, and my job was to keep everybody safe and make sure nobody started a fight." (I was talking over a fussing baby with two small children sitting next to me, trying to explain to my very conservative uncle my stint as a bouncer at a lesbian nightclub. And just think — if I'd only had an oxygen mask and some warm clothing, I could have been stretching out in the cargo hold right then.)

There was an hour's layover in Houston, but we didn't have to change planes. The flight attendents were very obliging — they served our group lunch during the layover, so the kids could put their trays down and I could eat in the aisle.

But… just as we were heading into Orlando, whoops. Attention passengers, there will be a brief delay while we await clearance to land, please remain in your seats. The delay was forty minutes long. By the time we landed, my whole right leg had fallen asleep, just in time for me to do the Russian Dancer Walk again.

By way of apology, Uncle Jake said, "I have to say, Reenie… when I bought the ticket I didn't realize how big you'd gotten. I mean, the last time I saw you, you were only thirteen." (And already over seven feet. You'd think he'd have remembered.)

Anyway, I was finally in Florida, which if nothing else meant this Christmas I didn't have to worry about waking up at 5 a.m. and having to shovel two feet of snow before I got to open my presents. The only bad part was knowing that somehow or other I was going to have to get back to L.A.

The moral of the story is that you can fit in almost anywhere, if you're flexible enough and not too attached to your dignity.


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