NEW YORK—LaGuardia Airport is located in the Queens borough of New York, smack dab in the Fifth Circle of Hell.
The airport is big, rundown, covered in bubblegum wads, and full of angry people who are waiting for delayed flights. I am told that LaGuardia always has thousands of delayed flights.
In fact, three quarters of New York’s population is comprised of airline passengers, most from the Midwest, who have been waiting for a flight home since 1940. They are sleeping atop their luggage, huddled in various corners, living on breath mints.
I am sitting with hundreds of them. Most of these are people whose mothers never taught them to speak with inside voices. Like the two women behind me.
One woman says loudly, “Have you ever seen that one movie with, oh… What’s his name?”
“What movie?” says the other.
“It has that movie star… Oh, what’s that movie? He was real funny.”
“No, not Chevy Chase.”
“I love Chevy Chase.”
“I don’t remember the name of the movie.”
“Look it up on your phone.”
“My phone’s dead.”
“Why don’t you charge it?”
“I forgot my charger.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t Chevy Chase?”
“No. It wasn’t Chevy Chase.”
“Chevy Chase was in a lot of movies.”
“I’d remember if it was Chevy Chase.”
“I like Chevy Chase.”
“I wonder what ever happened to him?”
“Who? Chevy Chase? He’s still going at it.”
“Chevy Chase is?”
“Chevy Chase won’t quit.”
“Did I ever tell you about my hysterectomy?”
Beside me are boys playing games on smartphones. They barely speak. They are not even in this world. Their heads are craned forward. They are staring at bright screens.
Every few minutes one shouts something like, “HAHA! I JUST DECAPITATED YOU!”
“I‘M LIQUIFYING YOUR BRAIN!”
Maybe I should be concerned about America’s youth. But of course these are just kids having a little old-fashioned fun. What’s a little decapitation among friends?
But I’m not being fair. Not everyone here is all that bad. There is a sweet old man, for instance, seated on my left. He is infected with H1N1 Swine Flu.
Each time he hacks, without covering his mouth, he says to his wife, “How high was my fever before we left the house?”
Which leads to more hacking.
He turns to another woman and says, “Don’t worry, the doctor said it’s not contagious. Not after four rounds of antibiotics.”
Anyway, our delay is almost over and we are about to board at any second now. The airline representatives keep telling us this.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the intercom voice says, “we are sorry for the delay, Delta Flight 666 is about to board, just as soon as our pilots get through playing strip poker with the flight attendants in the cockpit. Captain Jenkins, in strict accordance with FAA regulation, is waiting until his beer buzz fully wears off. Thank you for your patience.”
But what makes my airport waiting experience truly special are all the televisions. There are hundreds of them. They are mounted above everyone’s heads. Each television is tuned to a twenty-four-hour news network.
These high-energy news shows are basically the same. The host introduces himself and his guest, then they yell at each other for twenty minutes before being joined by The Expert.
The Expert is usually a white-haired man filmed in a separate location, posing in front of an official-looking big-city backdrop—often D.C., L.A., New York City, or Dothan.
We only ever see these experts from the chest up. And it always makes me wonder if these men are actually sitting alone in their living rooms with a video camera, naked from the waist down.
I’d like to think they are.
Finally, the lady on the intercom tells us it’s time to board. We herd toward the gate like cattle. We tow our luggage, elbowing our way forward, and form a line. Only it’s not a line. It’s more like a prison riot.
Swine Flu Man loses a lung when he coughs. Spit goes flying. The spray from his blast showers several of us nearby.
He reassures us by saying, “Don’t worry, folks, I’m not contagious”—COUGH! COUGH!—“unless it’s pneumonia.”
We get on the plane. I walk down the aisle past the first-class passengers. They do not make eye contact with us peasants on our way to the lesser classes. They are too busy drinking bourbon, wearing fuzzy slippers, and commanding flight attendants to stoke their private fireplaces with more hickory logs.
I keep walking past business class, economy class, refugee class, international-war-criminal class, Purgatory, and I finally arrive in livestock class, where I will ride the remainder of the flight with a chicken in my lap.
People are placing luggage into overhead compartments. They are settling into seats. Ahead of me are the video-game boys.
“HAH! I JUST RIPPED OFF YOUR YOUR FACE!”
“NUH UH! I JUST TORE OUT YOUR SPLEEN!”
“I’M BLOWING UP YOUR HEART!”
“MOM, CAN I HAVE CHEEZ-ITS?”
“HEY! YOU SAID ZITS!”
I see the same loud-talking women from earlier. They are inspecting the seat bedside mine. Carefully. They get closer to me. And closer.
“Please,” I am praying. “Please, God. Don’t let them sit next to me.”
They sit beside me. They buckle their seatbelts. One woman leans over my body and shouts to her friend across the aisle.
“You know what? It WAS Chevy Chase.”