"I need a window seat" she said.
Leaving Washington DC is often difficult for the weird security measures. We had to wait for a bag search because a man in front of us had shaving cream in his carry on bag. The airport can be interesting if you have plenty of time and want to talk to an overly polite African diplomat who phrases his comments very carefully until he finds out you don't care for the current American President very much. You can find out things you never suspected, like for instance, Al Franken is taller than me with his shoes on and shorter than me with his shoes off. Whatever the situation with his shoes, He still cracks jokes and laughs at everything.
US Air is bankrupt but still flying. The staff seems to have a fatalistic attitude and is determined to have a good time no matter what. We were crammed into the gate area which is like the feedlot at a slaughter house, and as the planes were announced, herded by groups to the lower level to be boaded onto busses before being carried away to search for our plane. I say "search" because our driver had to stop twice to ask directions before we stopped in front of the nice shiny short hop jet that was to be our chariot back to Chattanooga.
As I worked my way to my seat, I could see it was already occupied. She was nice looking, well dressed and wearing expensive jewelry...a Princess, by her own standards. "Hi" I said, and she said "Hi" back, unsmiling.
"Um, I am in 11F which is that one, I believe," holding up my ticket stub.
"Well that's my seat" pointing to the empty one, "But I need a window seat."
You "Need a window seat?" I thought. I had Paid for that window seat, actually. The ticket service I use charges for a specific seat choice.
She never once smiled or said anything friendly but was simply stating the fact that the window was hers, by divine right, apparently. I thought about my new favorite bumper sticker I had seen in DC traffic, prominantly displayed on the rear window of a Volkswagen..."That's MS Bitch, to you!" it said.
"No problem," I said and took the empty seat. I was tired and sleepy and with any luck I could doze most of this flight and not worry about it. I did want to be able to see out the window in the last 20 minutes because I knew this flight would travel down the Tennessee Valley and sometimes I can see my house if it's clear enough. She never said another word to me or looked over or anywhere else except out the window or straight at the back of the seat in front of her.
I went in and out of consciousness, as I tried to sleep through the boring flight. Not much luck. Normally there is a good view of the mountains of North Carolina and then Tennessee but I couldn't see much from my angle. Then we were over the Valley and I started recognizing land marks, or watermarks actually, because the Tennessee River has been dammed up creating lake after lake of the huge variety, and the dams themselves are easily identified from the air. I couldn't see my house itself but there was the gap in Walden's Ridge that Whites Creek chopped through the sandstone edge of the Cumberland Plateau. "Nothing on fire", I thought..."Good."
We were descending and as I looked past her out the window I noted that she only stared straight ahead at the seat in front of her. It got bumpy and noisy as landings in small regional jets tend to do and then we touched the ground smoothly. The pilot wanted to take the short cut and stood on the brakes trying to make the first turn toward the terminal, throwing us all forward against our seat belts. My seatmate was holding herself off the seat in front of her with one arm rigidly outstretched and the other clutching her stuff tightly to her chest and then it was all ok. We were slowed to a taxi speed and things were smooth. Those small jets corner nicely if you don't mind being tossed around, but our pilot had made his turn and there we were parked at the gate.
The tight screnched up woman who had ridden beside me from DC had been replaced by a bubbly smiling lady who looked as if she had just been given a new life to live. "We're very sorry, MS B, those medical tests turned out to be wrong, you are quite healthy and do not have a terminal disease after all!"
"Where are you going? How far is that? Well, drive safely." All the normal platitudes and obligatories of a seatmate pouring out now that we were safe and on the ground.
Scared...She had been very very scared...That was why she "Needed a window seat"...