I am absolutely terrified of flying. People who know me know that I take the bus or the train everywhere, which over the years has exposed me to some very interesting, not quite classifiable body odors. I took the train from New York to Los Angeles once, that was pretty interesting. It was cool to slide through the little nooks and crannies that you can’t see unless you take the train. If I’m not on a train then I’m on a bus, which I’ve taken basically everywhere I’ve been in this country. Sure, going by ground takes a lot longer than usual, which everybody points out when they learn I take the bus places, but I’ve always planned my trips to allow enough time to get there when I’m supposed to be there. What’s an additional couple hours? Relax. Plus I like knowing that, in general, I’m going to arrive in one piece, which I can’t say about airplanes.
I feel safer in a bus because I know how a bus works and I know where the road goes and I can see the road in front of me and we’re on the ground and I see other cars zooming by and it makes sense to be on the ground and if there’s a problem you can just pull over to the side of the road. Planes, however, I don’t really get, which only adds to my fear of them. Being in the sky makes no sense to me, and if there is even the slightest mechanical failure or human error, like, everybody dies. Sure, busses get into accidents all the time, or the person sitting next to you could go AWOL and slice your head off. But thankfully, nobody likes to sit next to a black gay guy wearing a sequin catsuit who is watching hardcore porn on the computer, but that’s just my experience.
There’s a stigma around the bus which implies that if you go anywhere by bus, there’s something wrong with you. You’re somehow less of a human being. You’re poor, lower class, and have absolutely no couth. Believe me, I have seen some ridiculous stuff on the bus. People who talk loudly on their cellphones, people who haven’t washed their hair since water was invented, people who are really fat sitting next to people who are really skinny, people who steal things, people who ask to use your cellphone so they can call their ride to pick them up at the bus terminal and stay on the phone for 20 minutes. But taking the bus also reminds you of the real world, that there are people with social experiences and problems that are vastly different from your own.
I used to love airplanes and my fear of them is only something that has happened in adulthood. When my family moved to Hawaii we often flew between there and New York, and as a kid there was nothing more mesmerizing to me than getting on that airplane. Looking out onto the wings and at the clouds, having my ears pop, eating that little bag of peanuts. It was all so cool. At one point I even wanted to be a pilot, maybe like most little boys. Saying I wanted to be a pilot was probably more a metaphor for dreaming big than anything else, though. Then in college I moved overseas and flew a lot between New York and France, and I always looked forward to the flights. Smooth. Comfortable. Magical how in less than half a day I could be in this brand new place that speaks a whole other language.
But it only takes one flight to traumatize you forever. I was on a flight back to New York from LA a few years ago and there were “extreme turbulence,” something I had never experienced or thought about for that matter. The scary part is that the turbulence came out of nowhere. I had just had a fabulous time in LA and was thinking about all the fun stuff I did and then DEATH THOUGHTS happened. The woman next to me grabbed hold of my hand and looked at me, a face full of tears. People were screaming, praying to God. I am going to die right here, I thought. The plane jolted and shook, left to right, up and down. It was like an earthquake on the plane. The whole ordeal lasted 10 minutes, and when we finally landed in New York, everybody on the plane vowed never to set on one again.
Does anybody really like flying? The waiting at the airport, the strip searches, the crying babies, the cramped seating, the delays, the expensive “food.” Flying seems like a necessary evil more than anything. I know I will get over my fear of flying eventually. I’m already thinking about going to Puerto Rico for an academic conference in November, if I can just brainwash myself into believing that getting on a plane will be OK. For people who are afraid of flying, the biggest fear is even setting foot in that thing to begin with. My friends tell me that all I need to do is bring a flask of alcohol or pop a Xanax and I’ll be good to go, won’t have any clue what’s going on. So if anybody has any extra pills, you know how to reach me!