Voltaire and the Dog Whistle

I’m flying home. 

One random note, before my actual notes on the flight – we were served pasta with a lot of garlic for lunch and a black bean empanada for a snack. Someone at American Airlines hates U. S. Customs & Border Protection.

As some already know, flying over to France, I had the incredible sleeping woman sitting between me and the aisle  – and therefore, between me and the lavatories. I was determined to prevent 3000 miles on a full bladder this time.

So, I did some research on SeatGuru. I like SeatGuru, it’s a very interesting site. Check it before you fly. Trust me.

As an aside, I still maintain the idiots that outlawed our business class travel should be forced to have monthly team meetings in Kuala Lumpur, and fly home via Madrid and JFK, but that’s just me.

The American Arlines 777 has multiple models. The one that does the Dallas to Madrid run is the 777-200, also known as the “crappy” one. I’m pretty sure the pilots complain about their seats on this cattle car. If you read SeatGuru, there are complaints about the First Class seats on is aircraft. Ouch. That, my friends, is a bad plane. Plus, there’s no WiFi. Joy.

All of the recommended seats that I would consider were taken, but after checking at random times through the week, I finally found 31J – which should be a window seat, but there’s no window. It’s an emergency exit row, so you have to self-certify for the exit, but I sit in exit rows all the time. Come to think of it, the flight crew never even asked if I was willing to open the exit, in the case of an emergency. Hmmm.

SeatGuru mentioned that the slide compartment takes away some legroom, but I have pretty short legs, so that didn’t frighten me. It should have, a little bit – I can sit and point my legs sideways, but it’s annoying. I can’t imagine if I had long legs, especially since American advertises the seat as “extra legroom.” The “offset” window – there’s a window in the door which is in front of the seat doesn’t bother me too much, as in, I’ll tolerate it. I can’t see out of it without leaving my seat.

Another comment was that it is right by the lavatories and people tend to congregate here. So far, this has been true. There have been any number of lines.

Also, people keep missing the lavatory door. The gentleman sitting next to me has become the Potty Director. So, it occurred to me – on every flight tells you where the exits are, and there’s escape path lighting to lead the way. This is for emergencies, which by definition will not happen that often. Why don’t they light a path to the nearest potty? People need those all the time. 

In fact, I would say, based on the number of visitors, this particular group of passengers has produced so much waste, that I hope the cargo bays are in the front and back of the plane to balance the weight. If we dump the poop, we’re covering a small city or fertilizing most of Arkansas.

Now, my assumption on actual groups (people not hopping up and down, just waiting to pee) was that if you get the usual older, bitchy international flight attendants (“Where did I go wrong? Why aren’t I working First Class by now? What am I still doing in steerage?“), they tend to break up groups, because they can, so that didn’t scare me.

Oops.

I actually slept a bit on this flight. I managed to turn sideways, point my legs out, and approximate curling up. I woke to the low-pitched drone of a French lecturer – I’m assuming French, because every third sentence or so ended with “uuuuhhhh” – or as Basil Fawlty once said about his wife Sybil’s laughing, “It sounds like someone machine-gunning a seal.” 

“Uuuuhhhh” is French for “Uh”, because much as every dinner there takes at least three hours, everything takes longer in French. (This is not a bad thing.)

I opened one eye, and there were three skinny-jeans EuroTrash gentlemen in a circle, stationed (unfortunately) blocking my view of the actual speaker.

I’ve just spent a week with the French, and they are lovely people, and most are not what I would consider boring. Most are quite delightful, as long as they remember to speak English for me. However, this guy was droning on and on, except for the “uuuuhhhh”‘s and none of the others were saying anything.

What was this? A philosophy class?  

Hey! Voltaire! Find another potty to hold your lectures!

I’m saying lecture because the others never said anything. If he was talking about cars,  sports (the Rugby World Cup just started – what could be more important than that?), or carnal conquests (that would be more important than rugby), then guys being guys, there would be laughter and the others interrupting to one-up him. So, he wasn’t talking about anything interesting or important. Maybe he was their manager.

They finally just left – all as a group. I guess classes are still forty-five minutes, just like when I was in college.

This meant I never had to implement Plan B, which was putting my feet up on the exit, kicking the handle, and “accidentally” blowing them into space. This was good, since I never would have gotten another drink, and I wouldn’t be able to visit the potty without holding on to someone.

So, now I’m awake. However, I can’t really blame Team Lead Voltaire completely, because the one noise that will always keep people awake on a plane is the high-pitched, almost dog-whistle constant exclamations of a very small child. (The usual English version is “Dad! Dad! DAD! Mom! MOM! Look!”) These noises can only be tuned out when the child is in your direct lineage, say a grandchild. Then, it is somewhat cute. Somewhat. If it is your child, you learn to tune it out or you will lose your mind. The rest of the time, it tends to cause anyone within earshot to consider strangling both the child and his parents – which, I believe, is the real reason that the airlines tell you to stay seated and keep your seat belts fastened all the time.

This is why I say, “Children should be in the overhead bin, and not heard.”

Luckily, this child was in my row, on the other side of the aisle, although he could have been within a 42-row radius, and I would have heard him. People on cruise ships below can probably hear him.

So, before my next long-haul flight, I am going to put my excess weight to work. I have finally found a use for my beer belly. 

I’m going to grow a beard, dye it white and get myself a red cap.

If one of those little bastards starts chanting, I’m going over, and I will just say, “Hi! I’m Santa. I’m on vacation, and you just woke me up. Four times. You are never getting anything for Christmas again. I will have Rudolph crap on your house as we fly by. I hate you.”

I can sleep through crying.

Off The Grid

I’m flying home from a week in Nice, France for a bunch of meetings – actually, some successful meetings for once – and I just realized I am off the grid. Since I finally had a data plan in Europe this week, it’s quite disconcerting.

I can’t get online.

I’m on one of American’s rather tired 777s – basically, a cattle car with wings. I did score a bulkhead seat, so even though I have a slide sticking out of the door in front of me, I don’t have someone reclining into my lap, and I can go pee any time I want, even with someone sitting next to me. All I’m missing is a window.

Here’s the issue – there’s no Internet access on the plane. So, that’s 10.5 hours across the Atlantic without email, Facebook or Google. Email doesn’t bother me too much – I checked it before I left Nice and there’s one work crisis that’s going to have to wait until Monday anyway. Facebook can wait.

Looking up stuff is problematic.

I just noticed on the TV screen that it’s -52 degrees outside. I was wondering why American thought anyone would care – it’s not like you can go out on the wing for a smoke, and you can’t open the windows. So, I assume it’s a measurement they take, and they share it because they have it. I wondered how they measure it, and “pitot tube” popped into my head. I know a pitot tube is used to measure something on aircraft during flight, but what? I’ll Google it. Oops.

I’m off the grid.

I would rather use my maps than the maps that scroll in English and Spanish, Imperial and metric. I have a GPS adapter for my iPad, but I need WiFi to load the maps. Oops.

At least, I can write this and sync it for publishing later.

It is interesting to me how many applications now just assume there is a network available. Most applications require it – as opposed to years ago, when apps were written defensively, to recover if there was no connection and restore or update when it came back.

Having a data plan in Europe meant my phone worked all the time, not just at the office and the hotel, where I had WiFi. Suddenly, it was more than a clock!

I could use Maps to find the restaurant, even while walking down the promenade.

I could use Uber to get a better car at half the price of a cab – Uber in Nice is impressive, as in three days, I rode in a Mercedes van, a BMW and a Jaguar. Also, the driver knew where I was and where he was going without requiring my fractured French.

I got text messages about flight delays before I got to my destination, which was a pleasant change.

So, after a week of discussing cloud solutions with colleagues, it’s painful not to have a network connection.

I may be going through withdrawals, but I can’t check my symptoms until I get back online.

Current Events

I think I recreated a famous Spousal Unit moment last night. At least, I have a horrible feeling I did. I will deny all knowledge if asked.

Years ago, my wife was traveling with her sister and niece through Italy, and managed to black out an entire hotel just by plugging in her curling iron. Voltage matters, people.

However, that was years ago, when the most complex equipment somebody had was probably a curling iron, or perhaps an cassette player. One of the joys of traveling with entirely too much electronic gear (iPad, iPhone, MacBook, digital camera, CPAP) is that there is no hotel room in Europe that will have enough plugs to charge all of them at once. Plus, all of the plugs over here are different, and the voltage is different, so you need adapters, and if your device is old enough, you need current converters. (Just plug it in. If smoke comes out, you needed a current converter.)

Luckily, all my devices are dual-voltage, so I just need an adapter. Well, one adapter for each device. I solved that problem by bringing a small extension cord with multiple outlets. Plug the devices into the extension cord, and you only need one adapter.

I’m in the South of France, so I was actually surprised to find two outlets available in the bedroom. One was actually by the bed above the bedside table, so that was perfect for the CPAP so I don’t die in my sleep. Everything else I have can share the “other” outlet.

My first night, I had left my laptop in the bag, and was just using my phone and my iPad. So, before I went to bed, I plugged the extension cord into the adapter and stuck it in the wall. Then, I plugged in the iPhone and the iPad. Both showed “charging”, so I went to sleep.

In the morning, I swapped them out for my laptop so I could get some work done. Then, I went to the office and tried to stay awake all day (including having someone schedule a 4pm – 5pm meeting with me.)

So, last night, feeling lucky, since the extension cord had an extra outlet I hadn’t used yet, I plugged in my MacBook. So, I had an all-Apple extension cord. All I needed was a AppleTV, which would have been nice, since almost everything on the hotel TV is in French.

I got ready to go to bed. Then, the lights went out. Oops. It’s dark in here.

So, I panicked. I had a flashback to my wife blowing out a hotel with her curling iron even though I wasn’t there – I’ve just hear the story enough to feel like I was. I wondered how to repair the damage. What would the Spousal Unit do?

First, hide the evidence. The computer and its cords go back in the bag. Next, check around the room for any fuses, using my phone as a flashlight. I couldn’t find any.

So, the next step is to ‘fess up. I called the front desk, and said, “Uh, I may have blown a fuse.”

The clerk said, “No, it is a general failure. We are trying to find the problem.” (See? Good thing I hid the computer!) “We should have everything back in ten minutes or so.”

About five minutes later, the lights came back on. So, I turned them off, since I was trying to go to bed.

I didn’t charge my MacBook last night after all. I’ll survive.

Deep Sleep (or, The Princess and the Pee)

So, I’m flying over water again, this time, it’s the Arlantic, and I’ve found something even more challenging than smelly baby poop. It’s having a window seat, with a seat partner that refuses to awaken.

We’re three hours from Madrid, and the sodas I had with dinner finally need to cone out. So, it’s time to find a lavatory. Actually, there’s one located one row behind me, because I’ve been hearing it flush all night. Easy-peasy.

Except for one thing – I’m in a window seat. I like window seats. You can see where you’re going. You have something to lean on while you sleep. You don’t get slammed with carry-ons and drink carts. The only problem is getting up.

So, all I have to do is find a way past my seat mate. In almost all of today’s aircraft, this requires moving my seat mate. 

Usually, this is easy because I’m traveling with someone I work with or live with. So, a couple of good pokes, they’re awake, they get up, I get up. No worries. Most of the time, if I’m traveling with the Spousal Unit, she has to go way before me, so I just get out of my seat while she’s gone. Efficient.

However, this is a business trip, so I’m on my own. While I feared sitting next to the other large guy all the way across the Atlantic, fate has given me a young, pouty, possibly anorexic generic European woman. She’s probably in her late twenties. Her girl friend/traveling companion is across the aisle. They chattered quite a bit at the beginning of the flight, ate, and passed out. 

So, she has been asleep since just after dinner with her sleeping mask on. We’re five hours or so into the flight. I envy her, actually, I’ve slept some, but mostly just read. I don’t sleep well in planes anymore.

So, how hard can it be to awaken a possibly anorexic generic pouty European? 

I grabbed her shoulder. Gently. “Excuse me.” Nothing.

I squeezed her shoulder. Nothing,

I shook her shoulder. Nothing.

I squeezed her arm. Nothing.

I’m out of ideas at this point.

I could grab something else, but there may be Sky Marshals onboard, and I would not want to explain that particular arrest to the Spousal Unit.

I could just kiss her, but I’m pretty sure at least one porno movie started that way – and if not, there should be one – “Sky Booty”, maybe.

I could get her friend to help, but she’s asleep with her sleep mask.

You know, if I had offered to switch seats to put them together, I’d be on an aisle right now. So, it’s my fault.

I’ll just read another chapter. She’s bound to wake up. She had as much to drink as I did, and women have smaller bladders. Right?

She’s still asleep.

Commence grabbing and shaking (gently) again.

Nothing.

Try to figure out how many languages I can say “Excuse me” in, since maybe she just doesn’t speak English.

Well, that was an entertaining exercise (“Excuse me”, “Con Permiso”, “Pardon moi”, “Pardon me”, “Yo, Adrian!”), but I still have to pee.

I could call the flight attendant. If I get lucky and get the old, bitchy one, she’ll wake her up. She may even dump water on her. Revenge!

Maybe I could dip her fingers in water to make her need to pee. I still have a water bottle from dinner. I could just flick some in her face. That may be cruel, though. Also, I’m thinking I’m glad I didn’t drink the water bottle.

Horrible thought: Maybe she’s dead. Who could tell with the mask? We’re already delayed, if they have to take a corpse off, and do paperwork, I’m going to miss my connection to Nice.

If she’s dead, I’m glad I didn’t kiss her. That would be icky.

Can you ask a flight attendant to check if your seat mate is dead? What part of the manual is that in?

Wait. When will the crew wake her up for something, so I don’t have to be the bad guy? Hey, whatever happened to the duty free cart, anyway?

When’s breakfast?

She moved! Frantic rubbing of arm. “Excuse me!”

Nothing. However, she’s crossed her legs, so there is no way I’m climbing over her without hitting something that could cause an incident. Not that I could have before, but I was considering it.

This must be what it’s like to live in a Tiny House.

I’ll just read another chapter. I’m pretty sure it’s at least ten hours until a human bladder bursts, so I can always crawl into Madrid. Also, I’m reflecting on how glad I am the flight attendants didn’t offer coffee after dinner.

I remind myself again of my rule to never take my Furosemide unless in an aisle seat, even though it will make you walk the cabin.

She moved! Now, both her legs are in her seat. She still won’t answer my “Excuse me”, of course. So, I could squeeze past, except for the people in front of me who seats are all the way reclined. And they are occasionally smooching.

Luckily, American 777s still have barf bags. I may need one from having to watch the kissing. Hey, can you pee in a barf bag? Is there a pee bag? Why didn’t I keep my Coke can?

However, if that couple is talking and kissing, they’re awake. So, I ask if he could move his seat forward for a moment, so I can try to get out.

He finds this humorous. Just move the seat, Loverboy.

Now, today’s airplanes are designed to have less space between rows than buses or cornfields, so, it can be a bit tricky for a “person of size” (say, anyone larger than a six-year old) to squeeze out, even with the seat in front all the way forward, and your seat mate’s legs crossed poutily onto her seat. This is why I usually try to sit in the bulkhead row – which is where I was for the hunger strike and poop from hell flight.

I stealthily slide past my sleeping seat mate and immediately step on all the crap she has on the floor (not under the seat in front of her.)

I’m wondering if I can move another two feet while off-balance when she finally wakes up, raises her mask, and looks at me. She curls up even tighter on her seat, which does not help move the piles of floor crap, but apparently is her way of being helpful. Gracias, bitch. At least, she’s awake. No, she’s back asleep. 

I feel badly I awoke her.

Wait. What?

In the bathroom, it occurs to me she might have been just faking sleep all along because she thought I was hitting on her. I’m strangely flattered, yet insulted she would think I would try to pick up a woman on an airplane by squeezing her arm repeatedly, and saying “Excuse me.” I’m old and married and not European, but I’d like to think I would have better opening lines. Besides, that would make me a male cougar. What do you call a male cougar? A guy.

I used the lavatory and headed back to my seat. She was asleep. I climbed over her and she didn’t even budge. She didn’t even raise her mask. That’s faster than in most of my relationships.

I don’t think I’m drinking anything else on this flight.

I hope she’s awake in Madrid. I have a connection to make.

Recycling The Hits

Television commercials need background music, so the easiest path is to find an old song and license it – it also helps target the commercial to a particular audience. (If I hear 70s music, it’s probably pointed at me. 60s music? Burned-out baby burners. I’m still burning, so not me. Really loud music? Old folks. Porn music? ED sufferers.)

The problem for me is that I always react to the song and not to the ad. Remember the brouhaha when Michael Jackson let Nike (I think) use “Revolution”? It’s the same thing. I think it was Nike. I’m pretty sure it was Nike. I know what the song was.

I had the same issue with “Bad Moon Rising” which was in somebody’s ad recently. All I could think was “CCR? Really?” I have no idea who the sponsor was. They have good taste in music, but “Bad Moon Rising” is not exactly cheerful – the music may be, but the lyrics aren’t. John Fogerty said it was about the coming apocalypse. That should sell sneakers.

I wonder about how successful this methodology really is. I suppose if you’re a person who hears the music and flashes momentarily to your (hopefully happy) teenage years, and you don’t think about the lyrics too much, or the fact that some of the players are no longer with us, then it may work, and get you to actually watch the commercial.

However, in my house, at least, the music in commercials just annoys my wife, because I will immediately start by identifying the music, then discussing the origins of the song, rehashing any trivia I know about the song, explaining why the lyrics make no sense for the given commercial, given the product in question, and not paying attention to any of the brand messaging. Worse, sometimes my song lectures (which apparently are not as interesting to all as to me) will make me fast-forward past the resumption of the show. So, music in commercials can be hazardous to my health.

At long last, the point I was going to make – as in, the song that finally made me write this down.

The other night, we were watching something on the DVR, so I was about to spin past the commercials, when the opening guitars from ELO’s “Do Ya” started playing. I love that song. The lyrics are a bit sketchy in places, but the guitars are great.

I mean:

I’ve seen old men crying at their own grave sides
And I’ve seen pigs all sitting watching
Picture slides

Methinks Jeff Lynne may have listened to “I Am the Walrus” a few too many times over the years.

So, the commercial in question was probably pointed at me and my generation. However, the end result was that I paused the DVR, went and played the song on my iPad while the Spousal Unit went to get a refill in the kitchen, and I then I skipped over the commercial. Plus, I missed the next section of the show we were watching, trying to figure out why pigs were watching picture slides. I’m almost forty years older now than the first time I heard this song, and I still don’t know what the hell Jeff Lynne is talking about – but the guitars are still great.

I’ve had “Do Ya” stuck in my head for three days. Three days. Three freakin’ days. I have no idea what the commercial was selling.

Thank you, Jeff Lynne. I can’t get it out of my head. Yes, I see the irony. (See? Music trivia. I can’t help myself.)