The "flight service director" hands me a two-pack of cranberry citrus oat crunch cookies that look like petrified scat, and I knew I was in trouble.
I could feel the anxiety and rage bubble up.
The problem is, I have a bone-deep fear of flying. And I hate nearly everything about the experience, starting with the bank account-busting cab to the airport.
I was worried that my first flight since I quit would do me something like Icarus, bringing me back down to earth, knocking me off the wagon and send me scurrying to buy a pack of cigarettes once on the ground. Assuming this plane lands ...
The flight didn't start well.
The pilot said liftoff was delayed because a maintenance worker noticed a nick on the exterior of the cabin door. In a folksy voice, the pilot then informed us that a safety crew was en route to see whether the door was damaged. But if it's a blemish, he continued to drawl, we should be on our way.
I thought, this is the opening scene of a CSI episode that ends with Grissom sifting through the debris strewn about the burnt husk of the plane. The impending revelation visible in his eyes, he stands up, sighs and tells of how the plane was brought down by a speck of grit that burrowed in a nick in the cabin door. Aggravated by the high winds blowing at 33,000 feet, Grissom concludes, the mote had the force of 10 jackhammers and tore a hole in the metal.
Why do pilots talk about this stuff with passengers? I don't need to hear it. My imagination did the rest and now I am sick with fear.
And the cookies and the grey, lukewarm coffee aren't exactly calming me down.
To my left, with his head slumped awkwardly in the narrow gap between headrest and window, a man snores loudly but sporadically. In his stupor he has let his right knee drift into my personal space. Our knees are touching.
To my right, across the aisle, another man struggles with a wet-sounding head cold.
I look heavenward, hoping that someone or something can make this end.
That's when I notice Embraer, in this relatively new model plane, has pointlessly included a no-smoking sign.
A cruel beacon, lit up to remind me of what I want to be doing more than anything else.
Across the aisle, the guy's nose gurgles into a Kleenex, and I gag.
I am flying to Boston, allegedly, but all I see out the window as the plane hurtles down, is water. Nothing else. I start to reel. I grip the armrests and rock and back and forth, muttering prayers and obscenities, until finally, the plane lands.
I try not to think about smoking.
But at the cab stand, I am standing near a guy smoking a Marlboro. I get a whiff.
Cigarettes just smell better here. More woodsy. And usually way cheaper.
Despite my better judgment, I tour the hotel lobby, and saunter into the gift shop. I ask the lady how much for a pack of cigarettes. Just out of curiosity, I tell myself. She says $8. Wow. Not so cheap anymore. Expensive enough to help me forget about smoking for a little while.