Ever since 9/11, I’ve been especially uninterested in flying. It gave me great peace of mind to know I had no plans to go anywhere beyond a day’s drive or train ride. So when my LA publicist suggested launching Town House from out West, my knees went weak.
I would have to board a plane.
To ease back into flying, my husband and I made a quick trip to New York in January. The flight was 55 minutes long. Not even an hour. It was the perfect reintroduction to flying. Both flights were smooth, uneventful. Fun, even.
The five-hour journey to LAX was no longer going to be a problem. Or so I told myself. My son and I boarded the plane calm, happy. He had carried two Stephen King books and a Kit Kat. I carried Augusten Burrough’s Dry and a handful of celeb tabloids. Our travelling mate was a woman in such a deep sleep we felt we had the row to ourselves. The sun was shining, the air was calm–it was going to be a smooth flight.
Only it wasn’t.
Halfway across the country, the plane started bobbing around like a bottle in the white caps. I explained to my son that turbulence was nothing more than bumps on the road. That the plane was meant to withstand it. That the flight attendants weren’t even bothered. I almost believed myself.
Then the plane plunged a few feet. Fast. Drinks spilled. Our sleeping neighbor woke up and reached for her barf bag.
Something happens when airline passengers scream. Nervous fliers begin to think they have every reason to panic. I looked around for someone with a reassuring face. Someone who would smile at me and say, “What, that little bump? Eh, that was nothing.” I waited for the captain to make an announcement assuring us that all was well. Instead, a woman scrambled toward the bathroom and threw up in the aisle beside my foot.
I had no watch, so I asked a man how much longer until we land. He checked his watch as the plane continued to thump around. Only two more hours, he said.
Two. More. Hours.
My son seemed unperturbed and I couldn’t focus on my book, so I pulled out my trashy magazines and tried to lose myself in rock ’em, sock ’em celebrity news like Jennifer Garner swishing down a slide with her baby, Bjork wearing yet another frightful outfit, and Angelina Jolie flirting with some French guy (there’s a big surprise).
It didn’t work. If tabloids seems lame at the grocery checkout, believe me, when you’re stuck on a plane with your child, silently praying for both your lives, with another 120 minutes to go–the size of Britney’s glutes takes on a whole new level of shallowness.
So what did I do to calm myself down? I used my therapist’s techniques. I put on the headphones, closed my eyes, turned on classical music and counted to 31 by odd numbers. One-three, three-one, one-three-five…and so on. It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy and it works. Just ask my Town House protagonist, Jack Madigan. Within a couple of minutes, I had myself believing I was driving along a bumpy road and actually came to enjoy the motion.
The rest of the flight was mercifully smooth. When the plane landed in LA, I joked around a bit with the flight attendant, told her about my earlier fears. She said “What, those bumps? Those are nothing to worry about.”
“Never?” I asked.
She smiled and touched my arm. “Ever.”
It was what I needed to hear if I was ever going to board the flight home.
Then, in the galley just behind her, I spied a well-loved National Enquirer. I thanked her for her reassurance and handed her my stack of unread magazines.
She seemed like a girl who could stomach celebrity gossip under any conditions.