Friday, March 31, 2006

Red Eye For The Traveling Guy

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

While growing up the idea of going on a business trip sounded like a lot of fun – what better way to see the world than by traveling on somebody else’s dime? Might as well add that one to the scrap heap of notions conceived in my youth that did not exactly pan out in adulthood, along with “I’m going to be the coolest dad in the world because I will relate to the music my kids enjoy.” (Oh, I had high hopes for that notion but man oh man who saw Rap music coming?)
It never occurred to me, for instance, that the person putting up the dime might want to part with as few dimes as possible. As a result, when I travel like I did earlier this week to San Diego for a conference related to my day job I turn into a modern day Jack Benny, looking to save money anyway I can.

One such method is to take what is known in traveling circles as the “red-eye flight” from the West Coast to the East Coast. You leave late at night from the West Coast and because of the three-hour time difference you arrive on the East Coast just as everybody else is getting up for the day, usually around six in the AM. Taking this trip saves you the cost of staying in a hotel room and a day lost to traveling.

It also tends to fry your brain, but what are you going to do.

When you take the “red-eye” in a perfect world you sleep the night away on the plane and arrive fresh and relaxed and ready to hit the pavement the following morning once you brush your teeth. Of course the perfect world only exists for the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. For the rest of us the red-eye involves sitting in front of somebody with a cold who hacks and sneezes with amazing regularity during the night. Or sitting across the aisle from a petite little flower who snored the night away like she went to the Ralph Kramden School of Sleeping and graduated Magna Cum Loudly. That’s what I encountered this past Tuesday night / Wednesday morning on my way back from San Diego.

Those two did not bother me as much as the “medical emergency” during the night. The flight attendants never did explain what happened but I wouldn’t be surprised if the passenger pretended to be sick just to get off the plane first. Ironically, there was a “medical emergency” on the way out to San Diego too, and I use the “quotes” because it turned out that guy was hung over and just passed out from being dehydrated. What scared me most, however, was my reaction both emergencies: My first thought was, “Oh, great. Now we are going to have to land at the nearest airport and be delayed for hours.”

My lack of compassion at times can be frightening, but I think it might be a New York thing more than anything else. Take our morning traffic reports, for instance. If there is a traffic accident involving the loss of human life the event is often described in terms of how long a delay might result. “A man was killed in a car accident this morning on the LIE,” the newscaster will report. “Officials expect the morning rush to be backed up for hours.” It’s never, “A man was killed on the LIE this morning. His family is devastated and his co-workers wonder how they will manage to go on.”

My trip had one other unexpected treat. For some unknown reason about two dozen members of a local high school dance drill team had to fly from California to New York. Overnight. Together. Some of them for the first time. As the plane taxied into position for take off one of the female team members called to the others, “I love you all.” And they all chimed back, “I love you, too.”

Now, I consider myself a fairly tolerant fellow but such cheerfulness has no place on an airliner, particularly one that is going to be flying through the night. In fact, the thought occurs to me that there should be some rules specific to overnight flying.

- No cheerful people. Cheerful people like to talk, often in bubbly, excited terms. That’s okay for most of the time but can be detrimental to anyone trying to get some sleep.
- No sick people. Under my rules, the person sitting behind me would have been stopped at security under the “American Right To Travel From Here to There Without Catching Your Disease” Act.
- No one under the age of 21. Young people are not accustomed to the rigors of sleeping somewhere other than one’s bed and as a result they tend to get cranky and require noise-generating attention.
- No one over the age of 65. Older folks are not accustomed to the rigors of sleeping somewhere other than one’s bed and as a result they tend to get cranky and require noise-generating attention.
- No one with a bladder the size of a pea. If I had a nickel for every time somebody bumped my arm (and woke me up) on their way to the bathroom I would have flown for free.

So now it’s Friday and I am still trying to recover, but I was able to get things done on Wednesday and Thursday that I would not have been able to do if I had waited to Wednesday to leave San Diego. Now comes the hard part – filing the expense report and trying to track exactly how many dimes I parted with. That could keep me up all night.

Thank you for reading this column.

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