I don’t travel very often, so when I do I usually have the luxury of saying to myself, “Self,” (sez I) “you don’t need to write for these few days.”
But not always. And just occasionally, believe it or not, I want to do some writing when I’m out of town.
So I take my laptop and set it up in the hotel room or the nearest Starbucks, which is usually no more than five feet away.
There was also a time when I could work on a plane.
Last week I flew to Houston for a wedding. Surprisingly, a flight to Houston is almost four hours from SFO. That doesn’t make sense: If it’s five hours to New York, then shouldn’t it be two-and-a-half hours to Texas? It must have something to do with what my third grade teacher, Mrs. Ritter, taught us about how maps are misleading, because maps are flat but the earth is round.
The shape of the earth was not on my mind as I “emplaned.” I was too busy feeling like toothpaste that the great hand of the corporate first world was trying to stuff back into the tube.
But hey, I paid for “Economy Plus” and a reliable source had told me that it was much better than regular coach, oh much better, more legroom, more headroom, maybe even a winking flight attendant to hand you the whole can when you asked for a Diet Coke.
My reliable source was no Deep Throat.
I prefer aisle seats but I was lucky to get a window, rather than the dreaded middle seat. I was lucky to get a seat at all, since as I’m sure you’ve noticed, no plane takes off unless every single seat is filled, and the airlines make sure that the planes are filled well in advance, so getting an aisle seat can be like scoring tickets to Wicked.
I finally slipped into my row. I had my laptop in my carryon, and I was going to slip it under the seat in front of me. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off I was going to whip it out and get some work accomplished.
Have you ever had the nightmarish experience of trying on a skirt that you haven’t worn for a year, only to discover that it magically shrunk in the closet? Well, someone did that to an entire fleet of 737s!!
Now only would my carryon not fit under the seat in front of me, I wasn’t sure my feet would. So I waited for a gap in the line of passengers in the aisle to open up, and then squeezed past my two grim seatmates. There I managed to force my bag into the overhead bin, on top of all the carryons that should not be carryons, but should be checked. (The carryon bag phenom has become my favorite recent example of my favorite economic principle—the only economic principle I know, hence my favorite by default—the Tragedy of the Commons: Since there’s no advantage to one person to obey the rule, no one obeys it.)
I still planned to retrieve the laptop and hit those keys, but sometime during our taxi to the runway it hit me that not only did I not have room for a laptop on the tray table (and what happened to that circular indentation they used to have, for putting your cup on so it wouldn’t spill, at least not in mild turbulence? Removing it was a passive-aggressive way of saying we don’t even want you to take the free beverage, the last free thing we’ll ever give you), but that I wasn’t even going to make it to the aisle. Or if I did make it to the aisle, and if by some chance the aisle wasn’t blocked by the beverage cart, then opening the overhead bin would surely spill 120 pounds of Samsonite luggage on the passengers on the other side. (See The Tragedy of the Commons, supra.)
When you can’t write, you are immediately awash with ideas. I fumed for a while, thinking of how productive the remaining three and a half hours could have been.
Then I was possessed by the spirit of noble make-the-best-of-it for which I am not famous. Hemispheres claimed that the flight was equipped with Direct TV, but on closer inspection (the fine print) I saw that United was in the process of equipping all their 737s with Direct TV, and I hadn’t boarded one of the lucky ones. I could buy wi-fi. At that point—and we’re talking an hour into not being able to move my left arm—I would have cashed in my 401K for wi-fi. The fact that I don’t have a 401K is beside the point, and although I did have an iPad the iPad wouldn’t connect to the United wi-fi. Miraculously a flight attendant passed by and when I asked her she said, “oh, it moves around.” (“It” being the signal, I inferred.)
For the rest of the flight I contemplated kicking out the window so that I could sucked into the sky.
As for being able to write on a plane, I learned this lesson: If Tolstoy could write some of peoplekind’s greatest literature without a computer, without even electricity, then maybe I should look into sticking a pen and notepad into my purse.