A Passage to India, Day 1

Getting sleep on an airplane shouldn’t be this hard. Really. It’s an eight-hour flight from Calgary to Heathrow, after all. And I’m not a particularly light sleeper. But there are impediments.

First, we have to get past the gauntlet of service with a smile. Wine we probably shouldn’t drink. Meals we don’t really need, since we ate at the airport just before we left. I know that sounds like I’m complaining about the positive, but it probably takes an hour and a half for all of this to grind its course, and when the flight doesn’t leave until 10:00 p,m. that pushes back any attempt at sleeping until close to midnight. And with an engorged stomach because of too much wine and too much food, that’s not happening immediately. (Children of children of the depression inherit at least this much from their parents: we don’t waste food or drink, especially when it’s free – or included in the price.)

My travelling partners indulge in some Gravol to help them get to sleep, but I’m more stubborn than that. No drug-induced coma for me!

So, I listen to a talking book for a while to wind down (David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames, if anyone is interested). At about 12:30 I make my first attempt to get to sleep. And I do. For about ten or twenty minutes.

Now, please understand, that I like children. I’ve even helped raise a couple myself, one of which I’m currently traveling with. But man, there’s nothing to rouse a person out a light sleep like a screaming toddler. I mean screaming. No hyperbole. I have foam ear plugs in and the stock airplane headphones over top of those, and still the piercing shrieks make it to my tympanic membranes. I can’t blame the child. God knows what inexplicable pressure changes her own ear drums are suffering from. Or perhaps it’s the steady, other-worldly drone and vibration of the engines and of the airplane itself. Nor can I blame the parents. Heck, I feel sorry for them; they’re doing their best to calm the little gaffer. In the end, that’s probably what keeps a person awake the most – the feeling of impotence in the face of a little person’s discomfort. There’s nothing I can do – legally at least – to quell the little spud’s fear or pain.

So I crank up the Ipod again, but this time with music. What would shield me from the screams and have a pacifying effect at the same time? I decide on The National, and immediately my thoughts turn to musical tastes. Why is it, after all, that I like these guys? I could say that it’s somehow the simple layering of a lyrical vocal track over a persistent drum beat and a simple chord progression, kind of in a 54-40 sort of way, but that could describe almost any rock song or group. Or I could argue that it’s Matt Berninger’s voice, which sort of conjures up Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies but with a smoother, sleep-walking I-don’t really-give-a-shit-about-what-I’m-singing-about quality, but I’m hard pressed to turn that comparison into a sell job.

Here’s a sample of The National.

But I digress.

Nevertheless, I manage to listen to most of the CD before I’m ready to give sleep another try and leave behind little baby gut-wrench. I try, and I succeed. For twenty minutes – maybe.

That’s when Bozo Bob at the adjacent window seat decides to open up his window blind and wash the cabin in a warm, sunrise glow that just screams, “Wake up, knucklehead,” right through the ol’ translucent eyelids.

A geography lesson may be necessary here for some. You see, the path of least resistance from Calgary to London takes us up in Arctic Circle territory, over Greenland and down over Scotland. And on July 2nd, we’re still pretty firmly planted in the “Land – and Time – of the Midnight Sun.” Add to that 30,000 ft. or so of altitude, and you can pretty much be guaranteed that the sun is going to shine throughout the entire trip.

But back to Bozo Bob. Why does he open the blind, you ask? Is it to admire the sunrise? To gaze at the clouds? No. Bob is working on his laptop, which for some reason, he can’t seem to do without the glory of full, blazing daylight. Part of me wants to scream, “Your screen has a backlight, assface!” while the other part of me wants to school him, none too kindly, on the advantages of being able to touch-type. You see, Bob is in his sixties, and it would appear that he is a late-comer to the whole technology thing. His efforts are accompanied with much chin-scratching and staring longingly at the screen, as if he could will it to produce loaves and fishes, or whatever the frick he’s trying to accomplish. In the end, Steven, who is closest to him, asks him if he would kindly pull down his blind. He does so, sort of. He pulls down one and leaves another open. I guess that cuts the candlepower in half, but it doesn’t exactly do the trick.

At this point, I will summarize. I do get back to sleep, but only for a few moments before little baby gut-wrench fires up again. And so on …

On the upside, I became more familiar with my Ipod, discovering trivia games and solitaire that I never knew I had before.

The long and the short of it is that when we landed in Heathrow, I had had about and hour or an hour and a half sleep, tops.

So ends the tale of Day 1. Perhaps tonight, on the way to Mumbai, the Gravol will hold more appeal.

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