The Man on The Plane

Yesterday I had to fly. Flying used to be fun, sort of exciting, but as we now know, everything has changed about the experience. Now it’s just, well, tedious. So many things to accomplish before I lay my head down. Or, in other words: Miles to go before I sleep. (I always liked that.)

There’s all the preparation to go. Don’t forget anything. Make sure there’s enough time. Count backwards. Let’s see. Flight leaves at 10:40 so let’s call that 10:30. Need an hour and a half at Tampa International Airport. (Actually, that’s a stretch, you really only need an hour, so I’m probably overcompensating by forty minutes at this point.) Allow thirty minutes for the shuttle to the airport from the rental car place. And thirty minutes to get to the rental car place.

Okay, we’re at the airport. Stand in line at the ticket counter to check two bags. Here, a slight diversion. These are bags designed to be carryons but of COURSE we can’t do that anymore because of silly rules about liquids in 4 ounce containers (thank you Mr. Shoe Bomber!) and other forbidden items which may become weapons, like nail files and miniature socket sets. Check the bags, reprint the boarding passes, show ID.

Next, stand in line to (again) show ID and boarding pass in order to get on shuttle for a one-minute whisk to the terminal. Once deposited safely terminalside, prepare for the TSA IPP (Invasion of Privacy and Patdown). Show ID and boarding pass (yet AGAIN), where a uniformed Security Specialist shines a light on your driver’s license and makes his secret little mark on your boarding pass. Take laptop out of case, disrobe and try to remember whether you need ID and boarding pass again. Try to keep track of belongings, get x-rayed, retrieve belongings, get dressed.

We are now ready to board the plane but, as usual, we’re about two hours early, having grossly over-estimated the amount of time everything will take. Play the waiting game and listen to lame pages. Will Ruth Quackenbush please pick up the nearest white courtesy telephone? Every ten minutes we are instructed that we are in an indoor clean-air facility and no smoking is permitted. And also a reminder that any unattended bags will be im-pound-ed.

Line up, get on plane. We usually board first, since I’m one of those anal people who has my right mouseclick finger poised at exactly 24 hours before boarding time so we can be part of the esteemed A Group.  The seats are three across, so if it’s a full flight, someone will be joining our cozy little party of two. It was a full flight. Okay, I’m in the middle seat, so let’s make eye contact with someone who is relatively slender and looks like he or she won’t want to make much conversation.

Woman and her husband approach, and she sits across the aisle and he sits next to me. He is a small, wiry sort of fellow with a thick crop of untended black hair. He looks a bit like he is continually on an adrenaline rush. He carries a book which is a good sign.

“Good place to sit!” he says. “More leg room here!”

“Yeah, I guess so,” say I, while I don’t believe there is any more leg room at this particular location than anywhere else.

His wife requests her “reading material” so he stands up in the aisle and proceeds to fumble in a suitcase in the overhead compartment holding up approximately forty passengers waiting to proceed to the rear of the plane where there are still empty seats remaining.

He gets to the material his wife has demanded and hands it to her and settles into his seat. He eats (rather noisily) a peach and half of an overripe banana before the plane takes off.

As we take off and are climbing to 10,000 feet where we can turn on electronic devices, he and his wife pass a small turquoise bottle filled with something that produces a pungent aroma back and forth. It smells a bit like smelling salts. What the…? It’s a bit stinky actually, and they reverently pass it back and forth and inhale deeply the fumes. Does anyone know what this is? I didn’t ask. Something for ear pressure problems? Air sickness? Maybe just good karma?

The flight attendant asks him if he’d like a complimentary juice, soft drink, tea or coffee. He orders a mixture of half cranberry juice, half diet sprite. It seemed a bit demanding to me, that he be served some sort of special refreshments. Let’s just keep it simple, shall we?

Snack? Peanuts and Ritz Mini Snack Thins (only 100 calories!) are offered.

“I’ll have four peanuts,” he says.

Four peanuts! Who says you can have four? You’re supposed to get one! What if everybody on this plane asked for four? He got his four, and later he accepted his Ritz Mini Snack Thins too. Then he proceeded to ask for two refills of his special concoction of cranberry juice and diet sprite. Clearly, here is a man who likes to take advantage of free stuff.

He read, did a crossword puzzle, and then fashioned himself a bookmark. He carefully ripped the back cover of the Southwest Spirit Magazine down about one inch, and bent the page down, flipping the magazine back and forth as he did this, elbows flailing and invading my personal space. Fold, press, run thumbnail firmly over the fold, flip, repeat. Finally he tore it off. Voila! Bookmark!


When we stood up to get off the plane, waiting in perhaps the last line of the day, he said to his wife, “I did some verrrrry deep thinking during this flight.”

I think this guy might make his way into a novel somewhere down the line.

Realistic and Believable Characters

Characters evolve. They might start out with one characteristic, a flaw, a problem, something that will be important to the story. I had a vision of one of my main characters, let’s call him Leo.

Leo should be moody, depressed maybe so that his depression can be the cause of a breakup, or a problem. I didn’t want him to be depressed all the time, but wanted him to go through periods of it, so he could be un-depressed and normal sometimes. I didn’t want him to be bipolar, because I didn’t think I could research that enough to make it seem realistic, and anyway, I didn’t want him manic when he wasn’t down, I just wanted him to have a period of depression once in awhile. Basically a normal guy, but…

Okay, then, Leo gets depressed occasionally. I researched the types of depression, and it can happen, there are disorders like that. He needs another flaw, or quirky thing about him. He sometimes has difficulty talking about certain issues, certainly about his depressed periods, and other things, like, uh, sex. He just doesn’t feel comfortable discussing it. But he wants it, as much as anyone. Let’s throw in another issue. He believes very strongly in his Catholic values, that he would wait until marriage and that marriage is forever. He’s a bit of an unusual character. I’m starting to like him now. And since he’s not all that easy to understand, and he’s not a real straight-forward kind of guy, I’ll bet he could get involved in one huge misunderstanding.

Once he has a few things established about him, I start thinking about things he would do and things he wouldn’t do, things he’d say and things he wouldn’t say. He would think it wrong for, say, politicians to have affairs. If he thought it were funny, joked about it, that wouldn’t really ring true, because he’s just not made that way. And he’d get together with his friends in a bar, and swear a little, and drink beer, though not to excess. He would do these things though, because he’s a normal guy, with a few unordinary traits.

And after thinking about him for a few months, and tweaking him just a bit, until becoming satisfied that he is a believable character, I’m satisfied with him. He becomes a real person to me, it’s as if he lives in my head. So when I write scenes he takes part in, I know how he’ll react, what will make him unhappy, or disgusted, or feel good. And if I write something, and reread it, I might say to myself, “Leo would never say that.” It’s out.

I kind of miss Leo, now that he isn’t around in my head so much. I liked him.