The Tampa airport was frenetically busy at what I considered to be an ungodly hour of the morning. For many writers, 7 a.m. is still the middle of the night. I am one of those writers. The alluring smell of fresh brewed coffee from Starbucks was almost enough to make me brave the line that stretched around the kiosk and halfwaydown the terminal…almost.If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to get the two and a half hours of sleep on the flight I still so desperately need. I love my Starbucks…and not just because there are (so-called) rumors of it being laced with methamphetamines.
I’ve always wanted to be three things in life: a morning person, a black coffee drinker, and someone who can function perfectly on four hours sleep. I will never be any of these.
If I don’t get enough sleep, I literally feel hung over; nauseous, weak, foggy, and my head pounds. I’ve been on crazy wrestling tours where we didn’t catch more than a few hours sleep between a show the night before and getting on the tour busthe next morning to travel seven hours to another city. I was always deathly afraid I was going to drop someone on their head if I was sleep deprived.
It only happened once in my fifteen year career, but it DID happen – and it was bad. I was in Japan and jet lagged as hell. It was my first show on the tour. My opponent jumped off the top rope and I barely caught her in time; then I fell on top of her, snapping her ankle in several places. She needed surgery with metal rods and pins to put everything back together again. It is something I’ve always felt reallyhorrible about. I’ve also given myself several concussions by landing stupidly because I’m not all there while in the ring. Due to these things, I’ve managed to train myself to sleep anywhere in any situation. I know I have to when traveling in order to function.
I walked past the airport gates to find a water fountain for my refillable bottle. I’d love to say I’m environmental – and most days I am – but in this case, I’m just cheap. I refuse to pay $3.50 for water. Remember when water was free and you paid for porn?
An exhausted mother, herding three small children wearing Dora the Explorer backpacks and faces full of crumbs ran into me, her arms overloaded with diaper bags and…stuff. She apologized and I waved it away, asking her if she needed help. Her voice said “no, thank you”, but her sagging posture suggested otherwise. My heart went out to her. Then I secretly prayed if they were on my flight that they would be located far, far away from my row.
As I made my way back to my gate, a giant Mr. Olympia sized bodybuilder openly stared at me. Shaved head, shirt that was too tight and jeans that barely made it around his Hulk legs. He wasn’t bad looking, but he made me uncomfortable. He looked at me as if I was a steak and he hadn’t eaten in a week – and he didn’t stop staring. So, I kept walking.
I’m generally used to stares. But this guy started to follow me.
Sure, we are the same breed of alien gym rat. I’ll admit: our kind is rare. This does not mean I’d like to share my genetics with him to create miniature gym rats.
Fuck. I realize that he’s on the same flight I am. Southwest Air’s open seating policy makes people rush to board instead of clogging aisles trying to figure out what side A or D is on like aimless idiots. Most days I’m a huge fan of this concept…not today.
Naturally, Mr. Olympia was in “A” boarding as well and with nothing but open seats, he headed straight for my row. He and his much smaller friend squashed in, with him taking the middle seat.
Even the most petite human being will not willingly take a middle seat with other rows open. I was definitely being stalked.
He graciously allowed me half my window seat since his 300 pound frame and one leg took up the other half.
As if on cue: “You’re really vascular,” he stated. Vampires, athletes and Homeland Security agents looking for people carrying drugs love vascularity. I’ve learned to suffer the long sleeves in summer when returning through North American customs and immigration to avoid being “randomly selected”.
“Um…yep.” I made a big show of opening my book wider and turning towards the window.
“You look great. I’m a personal trainer, so if you ever want help with your diet or anything, that’s what I do,” he volunteered.
Him: “We travel to see Rush. Been to all their concerts. They’re playing in Philly tomorrow night. Do you like Rush?” I fucking love Rush. Red Barchetta, Tom Sawyer and Limelight got me through endless I-95 drives lasting twenty-two hours, between parental visits from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Enterprise, Alabama.
“They’re okay,” I replied.
“So, what do you do?”
“I’m…an accountant.” I deliberately picked the least interesting career I could think of on the spur of the moment.
“Oh? That’s interesting,” he said.
“Really, it’s not.”
“I love your hair. Can I touch it?”
My copper red hair hit the back of my jeans in length. At the moment, much of it was on the armrest. He picked up a handful, rubbed it thoughtfully and then – SMELLED IT.
I snatched my hair back. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just going to read and sleep.” I dramatically put earplugs in and made my 5’8”, 150 pound frame curl up as small as possible against the window.
I could tell I wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. Hell hath no fury like a bodybuilder scorned. He fidgeted around and continued a loud running commentary which included something about A playlists versus B playlists for Rush concerts for the duration of the two hour and thirty-eight minute flight. I wanted to ask him if he minded shutting the fuck up, but had a feeling it wouldn’t matter. I began to wish for the mother and her backpacked toddlers. At least they tend to fall asleep at some point after the seat kicking wears them down.
Damn. I had to pee, but would face the sticky issue of getting out of my row.Do I turn my ass or front to pass the guys? Forget it. I’ll just hold it.
“So, do you want to meet us for the concert in Reading Thursday night? I can probably get another ticket for that show.”
I looked at him and said, “Sorry, I think I have to return some videotapes.” He looked confused, thus confirming that the only thing we had in common were dumbbells.
“Uh, no. Not my thing. I’m not much of a concert goer.” Unless you count Kid Rock, Reverend Run, Greg Allman, Def Leppard, Coldplay, Madonna, Blue Oyster Cult, Whitesnake, Great White, Guns n Roses,an awesomely absinthed night at the Stone Temple Pilots, The Trailer Park Boys live, nearly every Cirque du Soleil show…I pushed my earplugs in deeper, turned into the window and tried to ignore his jostling leg up my rear. My throbbing forehead pressed against the cold window and I desperately wished for a pair of those expensive noise cancelling headphones and sleep.
When you don’t sleep on a flight, it seems long. Really, really long. This was clearly one of those flights.
Eventually, it was time to get off the plane. Or as the airlines call it in their made-up word, “deplane”.
Mr. O eyed me as I stood up, looking like he may make one last desperate attempt. With a big smile and a warm tone in my voice I told him, “Touch anything on me and my fist will ‘Rush’ into your face, sweetheart.” He went silent for the first time in hours.
I stepped past him and shook out my hair. He took a step back and made room for me to pass. Victory. Exhausted victory.
Pee or Starbucks? I desperately needed the bathroom, but Starbucks was………Closer To The Heart.