Got Baggage?

baggage

I travel quite a bit for both work and pleasure. I am a frequent flier, complete with award miles to spend, TSA Pre-Check benefits, priority boarding with three different airlines, and free checked bags. I have travelled for work for almost seven years, now, and have evolved in my preferences over that time. Originally, I did all “carry-on”. For a few years, I compromised style and comfort for the total inconvenience and sheer hell of dragging my miniscule suitcase everywhere with me. On more than one occasion, I ran from airport gate to gate at a clip so desperate, my roller board didn’t roll so well, and because I was in such a hurry and already burdened with my overstuffed computer bag (backpack), I simply drug it along, on its side behind me. Once, my carry on suitcase teetered off the escalator step, and, failing to simply let go of it, to avoid taking out the folks on the steps below me, I clenched the handle and, ever so slowly, lost my balance until it pulled me down several steps into a heap on the floor. I landed atop my suitcase, at the foot of the escalator, in some airport, somewhere. Seattle, I think. But, because I was all “carry-on”, I never lost my bags. My bags and I always arrived at the same airport at the same time. But, I had to deal with jockeying my way on to the airplane at the earliest point in time in order to secure adequate space in the overhead bins for my “as large as permissible and wholly over packed” roller board bag. Talk about stress! And I made no friends in the boarding area when it came time for my boarding zone to be called.

luggage stuffing

I was at a company meeting in Chicago a few years back, arriving late, exhausted, bags in tow. I met a couple of late arriving co-workers in the elevator and one such co-worker had with him, the largest, orangest, suitcase I have ever seen in my life, accompanied by another orange suitcase, nearly as large, one I would have considered “the largest ever”, before this encounter. Our company meeting was to be only three days. I couldn’t help but comment. My co-worker, a larger than life gay man with a particular way of doing everything, who is oft quoted as saying “sounds like a you problem”, filled me in on his big baggage policy. In his behemoth, orange suitcases, he has room to bring his favorite, down, pillow, from home and all the other creature comforts he cherishes (I didn’t ask for any more details). Life on the road should not equate to compromise, he stated. I nodded. True. How true! Another co-worker, also an adorable gay man, always checks his bag, though more reasonable in size, because he likes to bring “full-size” bottles of shampoo and contact lens solution. “I hate refilling little plastic bottles all the time.” I nodded. Right. How right! Yet another co-worker always checks her bags because she distrusts hotel linens, and, so, packs her own Egyptian cotton linens of an absurd thread count, whenever/wherever she goes. And finally, the shoe diva, a co-worker with an insatiable appetite for very expensive shoes, had an impressively sized, auxiliary, suitcase, checked, of course, for “just shoes”. Suddenly, my life seemed so inadequate, so dismal, so sparse, so compromised; jostling tiny little plastic refillable bottles in their entirely too small quart sized 3-1-1 bag, one pair of “practical shoes” (a synonym for “ugly” in the language of footwear), no work-out clothes, only one bra, no satin pillow case, no favorite bottle of wine, all TSA compliant and a pain in the ass to drag around from gate to gate, terminal to terminal, airplane to airplane, overhead storage bin to overhead storage bin. It was then and there that I began my baggage evolution.

Staff members try to move huge trolley case during Chinese Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou

I am now the proud owner of my second set of matchy-matchy, wine colored, Samsonites, one slightly smaller than the other, but both, in combination, in volume, close to the largest suitcase I’ve ever seen! Yes, I have already worn one set of suitcases out, we can actually thank a TSA agent in BFE, Montana, for finally busting the zipper on my road-worn suitcase. Why he felt he “had” to search it, I don’t know. What, the next massive terror attack is going to originate at a Tuff Shed size airport in BFE, Montana? I digress.

thanks TSA

In my suitcases, I carry with me, now, every creature comfort I desire; a bottle of wine for every two days I will be away from my wine cellar (which, truthfully, consists of a single, cardboard, box in my garage), corkscrew, and squishable, plastic, stemless, wine glasses, a champagne/large format beer bottle closure, a bar of exquisite dark chocolate, a bag of my favorite cereal, dried apricots, almonds, a cutting board and paring knife, a couple of really cute, plastic bowls, for my cereal yogurt, a coffee-press-coffee-mug, satin pillow cases, fuzzy wuzzy slippers, every pair of shoes/boots I feel I may be in the mood for, multiple sweaters and jackets, work out clothes, athletic shoes and a yoga mat. Once, I even brought dumb bells, when I knew I was going to be in a hotel sans a fitness center and away from home for three consecutive weeks. And I am now, feverishly, on a quest for a small, battery operated, coffee bean grinder.

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For years, like two, I never suffered from the plague called “lost bags”. Every time I got off the plane and headed for the baggage carousel, there were my two wine colored Samsonites with their “Priority” tags affixed, spinning slowly, around the conveyer. In the past year, though, I have arrived a day or so before my luggage on more occasions than I can count. Knock wood, I have not, yet, had my treasured wine-colored bags and cherished contents permanently lost. Does that actually happen?

baggage 4

You may be thinking I have too much stuff, she who supposedly embraces minimalism, and while that may seem the case, I do have everything I need, and plenty of options, too. On too many occasions, when traveling more sparsely packed, I have had to purchase a pair of shoes, tights, slacks, a sweater, toiletries, wine, purses, scarves, and, yes, on more than one occasion, an extra suitcase to haul the new loot home. Now that I am habitually over packed, I am ready for anything. I love spontaneity, and one must be prepared for spontaneity! One must be adequately prepared for spontaneity! You can’t go out target practicing in the boonies in heels and a skirt, you can’t go on an impromptu airboat ride in a business suit, and you can’t go to a fine dining establishment in soiled, holy jeans and a wife-beater. I pack for all occasions. On all occasions.

baggage 2

In a further attempt to avoid arriving with full bags, but minus some, one, critical item, I have taken to buying triplicate of toiletries, hair styling appliances, corkscrews and bottle closures, and such; home use, suitcase, gym bag. I keep little bags of organic, whole, raw almonds EVERYWHERE! My computer bag, my running pack, my suitcases (both), my purse, my gym bag, my desk drawer, my cupboard, of course, in the glove box of my car, and, I believe I saw a bag in the center console of my car, too. I was a Boy Scout leader for over a decade; I embrace preparedness beyond reason. My bags, now, are never quite unpacked. I do immediately remove my clothes, no matter the time of day I return from my trip, and dutifully launder them. I’m not one to keep smelly, dirty clothes, festering in my suitcase. I may need them again, soon, and I’d like them clean and ready to go. Besides, who wants to open a suitcase full of stinky, dirty, clothes three weeks, three months, or three years after they arrived home? I never put my bags in storage, they are always rolling about in my room, always at the ready, always in the way, a constant reminder of the lifestyle I lead.

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Yes, I check my bags, as many as I can, as full as I can possibly pack them. Yes, they have been temporarily lost, but, I still say, it’s all worth the risk. More often than not, I am all comfy at my destination in my fuzzy slippers, sipping a fine glass of wine, or walking about wearing a lovely pair of shoes and an adorable sweater, after a great workout and a hot shower with all my favorite potions and lotions, my industrial quality blow dryer, straightening iron, and curling iron infused with Moroccan argan oil. It’s totally worth the risk. It’s totally worth the effort. It’s totally worth the expense. I finally got tired of a compromised experience, travelling from, living from, a tiny suitcase, week after week, month after month, limiting my risk, limiting my quality of life, while on the road.

baggage 3

I almost always arrive to spend some quality time with someone special to me, only to be greeted with something like, “shit, girl”. Yes, this is my shit. Yes, I’m a girl.

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I have baggage. In the literal sense and in the figurative sense. And don’t we all. For what it’s worth, I manage by baggage pretty well. I can pack my suitcases to precisely fifty pounds, and not an ounce more, I lift them in and out of the trunk of the car by myself, on and off the shuttle bus, and up and down stairs both at home and at some hotels where the elevator is of questionable mechanical integrity. I’d like to say the same about my figurative baggage. I manage. Though it may look as large, bold, and unwieldy as my large, purple suitcases, with the zippers barely holding shit in, but likewise, I’ve got it all handled. Like the Samsonite gorilla.

baggage 6

The “baggage” we are carry, often, is a result of taking risks in life, in love, in employment, in experiences. The “baggage” we carry almost always provides us with the catalyst to learn, to grow, to become greater that we once were. Hurt, perhaps, lost, a for a little bit, like a misplaced suitcase, but whole, again, with a little time and the right attitude. And, like a suitcase, the baggage we carry, can be unpacked, laundered, and put away when we’re ready. Living life without taking risks is much like trying to live for a week out of a puny piece of luggage; a fairly unenjoyable experience. Risk is to reward what caution is to compromise. And, usually, baggage.

baggage 5

Too often I hear people dismiss people, acquaintances, would be dates or lovers, job applicants or friends, because they “have too much baggage”. May I just say, if you think you don’t have baggage, you are a) incorrect b) tempting fate c) in for big trouble d) in denial. Baggage, in life, equates to “troubles”, of course, “trials”, “problems”. Please, really, tell me, who is completely free of troubles, trials, or problems, ever, in their whole life? Only fibbers, braggarts, and liars. And, perhaps, like beauty, those troubles, trials and problems are merely in the eye of the beholder. We all have scars, we all have baggage. To be so closed minded as to label someone as having too many troubles, trials, problems to be worthy of friendship, of acquaintance, of employment, of companionship, is really, quite cruel. And limiting. And foolish. For, in my experience, from my own experience, and in observation of many, people of admirable wisdom, people with the most self-worth, self-confidence, and, by far, the best stories, are those who’ve handled the most “baggage”. So, “shit, girl”, you bet!

baggage 7

 

Scarlett’s Letter June 27, 2013

Not flying so high anymore!

I posted an article earlier today about my dreamy flight experience this morning, and was fairly confident my good flight karma would continue. In truth, it has, but with a few twists.

After deplaning from my dream flight in Los Angeles I spoke with the gate agent about my connecting flight, with another airline. Basically, in his words, he “thought” I could get there from where I was. Maybe. And he gave me a route to follow. I started on my way, and because my life is totally charmed, one of those nice people in the electric cars offered me a ride. I was in no particular hurry, but I’m not one to be rude and turn down an offer like that. He asked where I was going, I told him Terminal 4. When he squinted, I should have known I was in for an interesting experience. An inquisition, “where did you come from?” I felt like saying Mars, but I told him I just got of a United flight and needed to connect to an American Airlines flight. That seemed to satisfy him, except he couldn’t take me all the way to Terminal 4. He could take me to Delta in Terminal 5, but then I’d have to exit the airport and walk to Terminal 4. This is Los Angeles and I’m walking? No one walks anywhere in Los Angeles. Unless you need to go to Terminal 4. Apparently.

I followed directions and wound through a maze of deserted hallways and corridors, and encountered no other passengers, just airport employees. I eventually found my way outdoors. I turned left, as directed, and walked through the typical L.A. summer heat, much dryer than New York and New Jersey, but still hot. I made my way to Terminal 4 and went inside, I could not detect that any air conditioning was running. It was warm, I was warm, toting my big ol’ backpack and my sizable purse. I followed the signs to security, the “normal people” security line. No status with this airline. But apparently, “normal” people who fly American haven’t flown since before 9/11. They had NO IDEA what they were doing. Call me intolerant, but it drives us “road warriors” nuts. It’s not that they don’t know what to do, it’s that people just don’t pay attention. For the fifteen minutes we’re in line the TSA agents are repeating over and over and over, have your boarding pass and your ID out and available. They get up to the agent and exclaim, “I have to have my ID? You want me to take it out of the wallet?” Um. Yah. And clean your ears.

I made my way through security and began to follow the signs to my gate. The signs led this way, then that way, all the way to what appeared to be the end of the gates. There was an escalator down with a sign directing me to proceed. I did. Again, the gates ended and there was another hallway to a waiting room. A waiting room for a bus to the last few gates. The door was open and the heat was pouring in. I could feel my carefully straightened hair beginning to curl. I could feel my carefully applied makeup begin to shine. There was a small but ferocious woman guarding the door leading out to the tarmac. She suspiciously inspected everyone’s boarding pass and, when satisfied, directed passengers to sit and wait. I sat. I waited. A bus came and we were ordered to board. The bus was not air conditioned and had large windows. The sun reflecting off of the black tarmac radiated into the bus, making it even hotter. We drove, and drove, and drove. We drove past Terminal 4, Terminal 5, Terminal 6 and Terminal 7. We drove right past the plane I exited from not so very long ago, then turned. We waited for a large jet to pass, so as not to be squashed, and proceeded a little further, to the edge of the airport property, to a collection of temporary, portable, trailer/buildings, crudely constructed plywood corridors with plastic sheeting “windows” and cyclone fencing. Therein, more gates. I looked and looked and looked and finally found a sign for the last few gates, including mine, behind locked doors. On the door, a sign, stating the door would be opened forty-five minutes before departure and to wait nearby. There was exactly on purveyor of refreshments, a coffee shop serving Peet’s coffee. And beer. I had a beer.

I was finally allowed to proceed through the last door, to another temporary trailer/building where I could actually see my gate. And, a plane at my gate. For all the trouble of finding the gate, I was a little surprised the plane was on time, mechanically sound, appropriately staffed and allowed to depart on time. So, my good karma continued.

I made it to Sacramento a few minutes early and met my son. I had a very elaborate plan involving him in order to swap out the contents of my suitcases in preparation for my vacation in Alaska. He also had “the gift”, a very large, very crazily taped together box with my Sweetie’s birthday gift inside. Not something I wanted to, or even could haul all over the country, so he was employed, in exchange for food and gas, to deliver and carry said large box to the terminal for me. I checked in to my third airline for the day. With hours to spare, we decided to grab lunch and a beer in the airport, then head out for gas. The problem, though, was the heat. It was in the upper 90’s and my son’s car does not currently have functioning air conditioning. Just taking the shuttle to my car to swap out suitcase contents worked up a sweat, standing on the blacktop unpacking, repacking, repacking again. And I was still six pounds over the limit. The cost penalty was well worth it, I was not about to repack again. Whatever.

But, with the hot car and the hot day, I pretty much melted as we drove to the gas station and back. All I can think about is a nice cool shower. I pity the person sitting next to me on the plane. I feel like I smell like sweaty cattle.

My son dropped me at the curb and I made my way into the terminal and through security, for the third time today. I unloaded my stuff into the bins and was just unzipping my “scan safe” computer bag when I noticed my water bottle. My full water bottle. I’d decanted water into it earlier in the day and hadn’t finished it yet. Have you noticed, there is rarely a convenient place to dump water out of a reusable water bottle? I guess most folks just buy water in plastic bottles and can just toss them into the trash. I excused myself from line, shoeless, and stepped aside and chugged about sixteen ounces of water. Sort of reminded me of college except no one was chanting “chug chug chug!”

I got back in line and proceeded through security. I confirmed my gate on the display, even though my plane wasn’t due to board for a few hours. I figured I’d pass time at Vino Volo, cooling off with a flight of sparkling wine. As I headed in that direction I heard my name over the loudspeaker. I was to see an Alaska Airlines agent. I guarantee, when you hear your name over the loud speaker at an airport, it is not a good thing, it isn’t because you won the lottery.

I proceeded to the only Alaska gate where an agent was, and as I approached, the man was on the phone with someone, his voice distinctively the same one that paged me moments earlier. When he concluded his call, I identified myself and he informed me that my flight to Portland was going to be delayed nearly two hours. Of all my flights today, it was this flight I fretted over the most. I had a short connection timeframe and, truthfully, I’ve never, ever made it through Portland without some kind of delay or drama. With a two-hour delay departing from Sacramento, I would miss my connecting flight to Anchorage. Thank you, Alaska Airlines, for the awesome customer service, no, seriously, the gate agent had already booked me on an alternate flight though Seattle that would connect me to Anchorage a full half hour earlier than my original arrangement. So, again, not as planned, but still, good travel karma continues. My only concern, as I headed off for Vino Volo, the gate agent was on the phone with the luggage handlers and they only had one suitcase in the bay. Not mine. Not my two purple suitcases, not my big elaborately taped up birthday box, which I’d checked a full two and a half hours earlier. The gate agent said he’d confirm with me that they’d been found and rerouted, but when I returned to the gate after my bubbly, he was gone. Fingers crossed. I really need my eighty-six pounds of clothes and my Sweetie’s carefully wrapped birthday gift to arrive in Anchorage the same time I do.

So, as I sit on my flight to Seattle, destined to arrive early, and to the gate immediately next door to my Anchorage flight (definitely good air travel jou jou), it seems I have the travel gods on my side today, and whatever I’ve done to pay them homage, I must figure out and continue to do. Okay, so I spilled my red wine on the Seattle flight, and the flight attendant totally forgot about me and I had to hail her down to pour my wine, which I’d already paid for. That isn’t bad jou jou, right? It’s all good. It’s all good. One more flight. I will arrive in Anchorage at 12:45 AM Alaska time. I left Newark, New Jersey at 7:00 AM Eastern time. It has been a very long travel day. But it’s all good.

 

The gift. Do you think he'll be able to tell it's from me?!
The gift. Do you think he’ll be able to tell it’s from me?!
I have a theory that lots of sparkling wine creates good travel jou jou.
I have a theory that lots of sparkling wine creates good travel jou jou.

Losing It

Have you ever thought you’d just lose it? Patience? Sanity? Composure? The ability to just go on? Is this, really, not a part of our day, everyday? When you think about all that goes on in life, it’s a wonder any of us can hold it all together for any period of time. It lends a great deal of credence to the sheer will and determination of the human spirit.

Okay, so it’s Monday, and I’m travelling. The time is ripe for Scarlett to rant a little. But, as always, I have a moral.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to heaven when I finally leave this place, because I’m pretty sure I’ve already experienced hell. I have traveled on commercial airlines from the west coast to the east coast, from the east coast to the west coast, so many times, I cannot even begin to count, nearly a hundred thousand miles each year on one airline alone. There are more miles on other airlines, just to give you an idea.

Today, I headed from west to east, and was unable to secure an affordable ticket on my preferred airlines, which I hold a very high status with. I am treated quite well, I usually get a free first class upgrade, if not, at the very least, I get to select a premier seat with extra legroom, and I almost always get an aisle seat, which I prefer. My preferred airlines has major hubs in the center of the country, so no flight is ever more than three or four hours and I get to deplane, have a nice meal, stretch my legs, use a loo large enough to have at least some air circulation and that you can turn around in without acquiring bruises and abrasions, and all that good stuff. Then I get on another short flight and, voila, I’m there. My airlines has fairly decent, fairly nutritious meals, you can purchase for a fairly reasonable price, if you do happen to get stuck on a longer flight, and if you combine it with wine, there is a discount. Smile! Not the airline I flew today, their hubs are mostly in the west, or the south, or the southwest, so I flew an hour to Las Vegas, then forever to Baltimore, being offered only non-nutritious snacks along the way. No thank you, I’ll pass on the mixture of high-fructose corn syrup, enriched flour and hydrogenated oil-like substance in consumer-pleasing 100-calorie packets.

My new living arrangement and the distance I have to travel means I set my alarm for 1:30 AM this morning. No, I am not kidding, for a 6:00 AM flight I had to get up at 1:30 AM. No matter how I did the math, that’s how it worked out. And it just worked out, no surplus of time. To say I was a bit tired, even after two venti “Three-Region Blends” from Starbucks, one in the car, one at the gate, would be an understatement. I was asleep on the first flight before we pushed back from the gate. This is a skill I have nurtured and developed, sort of like suspended animation.

I developed my ability to sleep on demand out of utter will, pretty much, unless I am in my own bed and really NEED to sleep, then, for whatever reason, it eludes me. But, if I’m in a car or a plane or even a train, I can usually lapse into unconsciousness fairly easily. I developed this skill as a child quite deliberately. As a child, my dad drank, quite a bit sometimes, and then insisted on driving. My mom would state her fear, her concerns, but she never took a stand. I sensed the tension, the anxiety, and I knew enough to know the situation was dangerous and that I was powerless to do anything about it. My solution, my defense, was to lie down on the backseat and fall asleep. I figured if I were asleep, I wouldn’t see “it” coming, if I were asleep, I wouldn’t be cognizant of the moment of impact, or pain, or anything. I guess it worked.

Flying commercially is certainly not as dangerous as being a child in a car with a driver who has had one or two or a few too many. But, flying commercially, coach, I’m certain, is the hell I’ve been sentenced to as penance for the way I conduct myself on the highways of America, or for the bright, outward smile and the evil, dreadful thoughts that occasionally occupy my mind as I walk around the airport, or Wal Mart.

On my second flight, I slept off and on. I was awake far more than I would have preferred. Las Vegas to Baltimore is a pretty far piece, in one stretch. It’s a hell of a long time to be confined to a seat in extremely close proximity to anyone; it’s an unbearably long time to be confined to a small area with complete strangers! I was fortunate in my seat selection, I snagged one of the few remaining aisle seats and it was in an exit row, so I only had to share the row with one other person. She was quiet, of an average size, had bathed recently and had not recently ingested large amounts of curry, garlic or onion. Total win.

I was quite concerned about seating possibilities as I waited to board. There were many large passengers, and while I don’t normally have many prejudices, as an airline passenger, I admit, like TSA, I do some profiling of my own. I think it is wholly unfair to pay for a seat, including half of the armrest, and have the adjacent passenger oozing over the armrest and into my shoulder space. Worse, yet, is when the adjacent passenger is also protruding into my seat from under the armrest. There are body parts of strangers I’d prefer never to come into contact with; butt flab is high on that list. Clammy flesh is another. Equitably, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the airline to charge passengers with protruding body mass a pro-rated amount extra, say by the percentage of my allotted space they utilize, and then discounting my seat by that same amount. I’d be okay with the more rotund passenger just handing me a hundred dollar bill, which would appease me, unless it were an extraordinarily long flight, in which case, more would be appreciated. At what price do we value comfort? At what point do we lose it?

In the boarding area, there were also a number of visibly contagious people. If you are sick, you should stay home. Use your paid sick time for being sick and your paid vacation time for vacating. I am not fond of flying in a flying germ incubation capsule, where airborne infectants are recirculated throughout the entire cabin along with the smell of curry, garlic, onion and the nose hair curling odors of the unbathed. I take Echinacea on a regular basis, and I wash it down with Airborne, twice a day. I chant positive mantras about my health while flying. Until I fall asleep. I am usually able to ward off evil germs and remain healthy, I figure I’ve been exposed to just about everything and have developed quite an immune system. I do remember, though, sitting next to a woman on a very long flight that was excreting snot from every orifice. There were soiled tissues all over her tray, in her lap, on the armrest, I swear there was snot on the window next to which she sat. I leaned as far away as I possibly could, without encroaching on the occupant of the seat on the other side of me. At some point, I remember thinking “I am so getting sick”. I did. That slip in my positive thought process cost me dearly. Hence, the positive wellness mantra chant I do now. I’m sure I look severely emotionally disturbed as passengers pass, looking for a seat; I’m rocking back and forth, staring straight ahead, chanting, “I am well. I am well. I am well.” It works, on a couple of levels! I don’t get sick, and if there is going to be a vacant seat, usually, it’s next to me.

My other observation about the occupants of the boarding area yesterday; lots of crying babies and overburdened adult companions. Strollers, diaper bags, baby backpacks “I’m going to wear him onto the plane”, which, of course translates into “and then stand in the aisle for half an hour trying to wriggle free of the straps that entrap me while the line to board the plane stretches clear up the jet bridge and the spawn of the devil awakens from blissful slumber and becomes vociferously irate”. My daughter, who never cried or screamed as an infant, refers to airborne crying babies, fondly, as “screaming sacks of mucous”. I hope to have grandchildren some day, but that phrase does have me a little worried about the likelihood.

The worst passenger to spy in the boarding area, or, worse yet, approaching the (last remaining) vacant seat next to you, in coach, on a fully booked flight; an obese, un-bathed person with a screaming toddler strapped to their chest, numerous carry-on bags full of curdled baby formula, and, I’m sure, soiled diapers, and a Styrofoam container of Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indian food, just not the aftermath, in a confined area with re-circulated, stale air. I love Indian food. The rest, I tolerate, but only out of necessity. The combination of any more than one of these attributes is more than I can withstand. I could lose it.

Like I said, yesterday, my seat companion was none of the above. Score. But, it was still an epically long flight and my patience was being tested on that fact alone. There was, firstly, the yawning lady. She was seated in front of her husband, so she would stand up and turn to face the back of the plane. Me. She would make small, annoying conversation that older married couples seem to engage in, for whatever reason, sport, I think, from time to time. But mostly, she yawned. Open mouthed, gaping, noisy yawn. I deliberately chose not to go to dental school because I wasn’t fond of the idea of having to peer into someone’s mouth and see bits of chewed up food lodged in their teeth. And as she yawned she did her Ujjayi breath, the “ocean breath” exhalation technique used in yoga to dispel your body of impurities, but her impurities were aimed right towards me and I was not amused. God gave you two hands, one to hold onto the back of the seat to steady yourself on a moving aircraft, the other, to cover thy mouth with.

Then, there was turn around and stare guy, across the aisle, two rows up. Every time I looked up, his head was turned, he was craning his wrinkly, age-spotted neck, actually, to look directly at me. I gave him my special, wide-eyed “WHAT?!” stare a few times, with no effect. I even said “Hello?” once, still, no behavior modification. I went to the restroom at one point to make sure I didn’t have something unsightly on my face, that may clothes were all on (it was really early when I got dressed, perhaps I’d forgotten something). All appeared to be in order. Creeper.

Loud conversation lady was on the plane, too. She is almost always on the plane, talking in excessively loud tones about things she thinks makes her sound interesting. She speaks loud enough for everyone within ten seats to hear. I feel compelled to correct her in every way; her grammar, her flawed facts, her lack of logic, but, I bear it all in silence, focusing instead on what the people in front of me, and within my view are doing to entertain themselves. Do folks have any idea that everything they do is completely visible, and legible, from several rows back? There are e-readers, iPads and good, old-fashioned books. There was a nice looking young man, expensive inexpensive looking jeans, expensive inexpensive looking shoes, shoes, expensive inexpensive looking t-shirt, big fat wedding ring and, like me, two iPhones. I’d assume, like me, one for work, one for life. He was reading a James Patterson book at a furious rate. I glanced up, he’s on chapter two. I glance up again; he’s on chapter four, then seven, eight, fourteen. Perhaps he was just flipping pages, but he appeared to be reading each page fully.

There is always page flipping guy, and I figure he’s just excessively nervous about flying and flips rapidly through the free airline magazine to distract his thoughts of doom, flipping forwards, then backwards, cramming it back into the seat pocket and flipping frantically through the SkyMall. Then the menu. Then the emergency card, until he realizes what he’s reading. Then the fine print on the bottom of the barf bag. Then repeat.

Back to butt flab, not that I’m totally immune, I’ll admit, but my butt flab fits nicely, and comfortably, into a pair of size six jeans, sans muffin top. Do people seriously not pay attention to the comings and goings of other airline passengers? There are only so many johns, you can count them on one hand, meaning you can use the other hand to count the number of people heading up the aisle for an open john. The trick is to have fewer fingers occupied on the hand counting passengers than the hand used to count johns. Simple math, my friends, simple math. I seized an opportunity because I can hear the subtle shift in the engine RPM and feel the ever so slight, ever so gradual descent towards the runway begin, meaning, we have roughly forty minutes until we land and at about thirty minutes before landing, we are going to be ordered to our seats where we are to remain, strapped in. I get up and stroll to the back of the plane and right into the john the lady who boarded the plane with the “screaming sack of mucous” conveniently strapped to her chest, just vacated. She, thankfully, had done a decent job cleaning up after the exploded diaper mess, having used, if my olfactory senses are as keen as I think they are, cinnamon scented baby butt wipes. I did my job, not requiring any cinnamon scented baby butt wipes, and exited. To my disbelief, there are like twelve people, all profiled as “larger passengers”, doing a lurching sort of zombie walk up the aisle towards the single, empty john I just vacated. I had to pass each and every one of these folks in the narrow aisle, that I happen to know, is comfortably wide enough for someone who wears size six jeans. Anything greater than that requires “slalom hips” to negotiate lest you smack your saddlebags into the occupants of the aisle seats, much to their chagrin. I encounter a woman who is to be kind, nowhere near a size six. I contemplate, how, exactly, I am to negotiate my way past her. The only solution, I’m afraid, was to squeeze past, butt to butt. As I squeezed past, at one point, I was not so solidly wedged between one of her butt cheeks and the other, yes, I had slipped between the crack. OMG. Kill me. That is a level of intimacy that would embarrass me even with the one I am intimate with.

Six hours of all of this, and I am about to lose it. Not barf bag lose it. Not head exploding, making the eleven o’clock news, air marshals having to remove me physically from the airplane, emergency landing and blacklist kind of lose it. But closer to that than the barf bag version of losing it. It is a completely, totally, overwhelmingly helpless feeling, being stuck in a situation you can do nothing about and knowing you have five hours and fifty three minutes more to endure, strapped in a seat adjacent to people you’re certain should not be procreating, one hundred and seventy four of them.

Are there other situations in our life that leave us feeling similarly helpless and overwhelmed? Frustrations with situations we find ourselves in; empty marriages or relationships, dead-end jobs with thankless employers, failed diets, not enough time to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in any one day, standing in line for three hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles, being stuck in an elevator between floors? You know, that totally overwhelming, totally helpless situation. Of course, we all experience that feeling. How do you cope? How do you rectify this feeling?

Our natural state is one of happiness. That we aren’t often in this state is as a result of our ruling thought processes. In a world that seems to be one of fast paced, clambering for survival, fast paced struggling to move ahead and moving backwards, fast paced efforts for recognition, for accomplishment, for making the next milestone in an endless march of milestones leading to oblivion and never to freedom, there is an overwhelming sense of having lost it. Alas, there is a way out. Changing your ruling thought process.

Whether in the line at DMV, on a six-hour flight with the armpit of humanity, or in a dead end job, or a dead end relationship, you are still in control. You are in control of the single, most powerful tool in the world; your thoughts. Your thoughts rule your world, your thoughts are capable of changing your path of drudgery into a highway paved with gold. Like everything else, managing your ruling thoughts takes practice and skill. It’s just a matter of losing it, losing your negative, ruling thoughts.

You must first know the inclination of your regular thoughts, and this can only be done by carefully, and habitually listening to the thoughts that spill through your mind. It is amazing how many thoughts we have that slip past without recognition, without, well, thought. Start paying attention to the conversation in your head. Simply identify ruling thoughts that are contrary to what you desire, and correct them. It’s simply a matter of losing it, the thoughts that are contrary to what you desire.

I find it especially helpful to spend a few minutes, early in the day, maybe before even getting out of bed, “programming” my thoughts for the day. Meditation is one way to program your thoughts in a calm and deliberate fashion. While I find meditation helpful, I tend to have a wandering mind and spend more time trying to empty my mind of random, generic thoughts before I can fill it with deliberate and constructive, ruling thoughts. I find it a bit more constructive to write my desired “ruling thoughts” down, mechanically, with pencil and paper. Confirming your desired, ruling thoughts, also referred to as affirmations, can be highly effective, if done regularly and if done with conviction and intent. Again, this takes practice, like all habits, and replacing bad habits, with good, takes time, commitment, and perseverance. It really does just require losing it, the bad habit of detrimental ruling thoughts. Just lose it.