10.2 Overhead Compartment

It’s dangerous traveling alone.

Before the holidays, I was on a business trip and waited in a large room before heading into customs. My flight was one of the first to take off in the early morning and customs was not yet open. It was merely a matter of minutes before the floodgates opened and we could continue on our journey, when, to my left, those dreaded words every single traveling person dreads to hear:

Can you move over so we can sit together?

It was three o’clock in the morning. I had been at the airport all night. We were literally going to be sitting here for a few minutes. I was not in the mood. Is there any way, please, that you could wait for these precious few minutes apart, or better yet, stand together off to the side? Why do I, the person who had gotten here early and waited patiently through this arduous process to actually get a seat for a few goddamn minutes and I have to move because it is of the upmost importance that you desperately cannot sit down unless it is beside your mate?

I moved over, I wasn’t in the mood to go through all this. So, instead, I just cycled through it in my head.

The most embarrassing moment came when I was wrapping up a vacation in Cuba. I got on the bus to the airport, I was the only single person in an increasingly filling up vehicle of couples. We made the rounds to other resorts and kept adding more couples. The bus was almost full except for the one seat beside me. The driver came over the loud speaker, “You, sir, yes, you - the person sitting by himself. Can I ask you to come and sit next to me so this lovely couple can sit beside each other?” Since I had chosen the seat over the wheels, I was at an elevated level than everyone else. Everyone else, who were all staring at me. All those couples. I dug in and shook my head. The driver didn’t seem to know what to do. The woman from the aforementioned couple stomped down the steps and took the seat next to me, while her mate stayed up front. I think she actually enjoyed the break from him.

There are always storage issues on planes. People bring too much damned stuff. One time I was sitting in the second row, took my coat off, and placed it under the seat in front of me. Under the seat in front of me is my territory. That is my space. That is for my stuff. Everyone knows that when you sit in the first row, you have no room under the seat in front of you for your stuff because there is no seat in front of you. You have to put everything in the overheard compartment. A couple boarded the plane and found their seats in front of me. I guarantee that if things were different, she definitely would have asked me:

Can you switch seats so we can sit together?

As soon as she sat down, she was confused. It started right away. She couldn’t grasp the concept that there was no room for her stuff under her seat. “Where do I put my stuff?” She kept asking. Finally, she reached down, yanked my coat from under her seat, grabbed a passing member of the cabin crew, held up my coat, and said, “Why is this coat under my seat? Under my seat is for my stuff!” The cabin crew member looked at me, and I looked at her with raised eyebrows. She asked, “Is this your coat, sir?” I replied in the affirmative, the woman sitting in front of me threw it at me, and I replaced it under the seat. She glared at me as she put her stuff in the overhead compartment and she didn’t stop talking about my coat under her seat for the entire trip.

On a train a while back, the young person beside me had to charge her cellphone or I think she would have spontaneously combusted on the spot. The plug on her side didn’t work and she asked if she could use mine. She reached over and plugged it in, and since the cord wasn’t very long, when she sat up, it essentially wrapped around my ankles. I couldn’t move, I was trapped. But, at least she could use her cellphone.

I like sitting next to older people, but it can be a crap shoot. Most of the time, they don’t want to talk to you, which is fine by me. On a flight a few weeks ago, a purple-haired woman sat next to me. She smiled at me and went back to her book. Perfect. We went through the entire flight without talking except for one time when she tugged on my sleeve to point out the full moon in full view. I nodded and smiled, and that was enough for her. I didn’t notice that she had a cane with her. As we began out descent, I reached down to put my computer away and it was at that moment she decided to flip her cane around, whacking me first in the head and then on the knee. She didn’t notice a thing.

Perhaps my favourite memory was on a train many years ago. I was sitting next to an older woman who immediately started talking to me. She told me all about her grandchildren and the reasons why she was heading to Toronto. At some point, I pulled out my earphones, which is usually a good sign to your seat mate that you want some alone time. She pulled out a Walkman - it was not that long ago, but yet she had a Walkman. She said, “Let’s see, I got a few tapes from the library - Paula Abdul, Shut Up and Dance! I think I’ll try that one.” She put the cassette in the Walkman and started fidgeting with it, until finally she said, “It looks like I’m low on batteries.” And put the Walkman away. I put my earphones away too. She was faking the bit about the batteries. Out came the photographs of her grandchildren. Later in the trip, I woke from sleep after dozing off. The woman was ignoring me and no longer speaking to me. She was made because I had fallen asleep when she was telling me about her grandchildren.

As a person traveling alone, you just can’t win.

Paul Dore