Backpacking, and Other Burdens Part 1

[See original post here]

My friend took me on my first overnight backpacking trip last month. Via the Crow Pass trail, we were due to leave Girdwood early in the morning on Saturday and arrive at the Eagle River Nature Center parking lot late Sunday afternoon.

I looked forward to this trip for months. I created a curated playlist of songs about walking. I perused Fred Meyer’s selection of freeze-dried instant foods, all set to expire in 2067. I bought a bladder.

On the morning of the trip, she left her car in Eagle River, and I drove us to Girdwood. We snapped a fresh face “beginning of the trail selfie” (a tradition according to my friend) and began tottering along with our walking poles.

Upon reflection, this would become the “before” shot, to be compared later with the “after” shot, of what shape my body would be in after finishing the trip.

The trail began with a 3,500-foot elevation gain. My friend sprang along the trail like a jackrabbit, and I soon lost sight of her. The backpack, taller than my entire torso, made it difficult to balance, and I hobbled along waiting to twist my ankle. The shoulder and chest straps were so tight my breathing was restricted.

I’d brought a small portable speaker, currently and fittingly tuned to “Dead Man Walking.” The music broadcasted my presence to my intended audience (bears), and all other collateral damage (any living being).

I rounded a corner and found a small group of fellow hikers looking at me bemusedly.

“We heard you coming!” they called. “We wondered who was bringing the party!”

In the far distance, I saw my friend waiting patiently at the summit.

I trudged slowly towards her. After an eternity of crawling uphill –

“My backpack….” I sputtered between gasps. “It really…hurts…. Is it supposed…to hurt…like this?”

“Well, that’s backpacking!” she sang delightedly.

For the first time, I considered the possibility that my friend might be a lunatic. She voluntarily put herself through this pain, multiple times per summer… for fun?

She suggested we sit down and have lunch, and I ate three large pieces of cold pizza in quick succession. They were the last pieces of food I could eat that would have had to know the insides of a refrigerator.

My friend announced she hates cold pizza.

Confirmed, she was a lunatic.

I struggled back into my pack, requiring her help because I couldn’t get one arm through the strap; instead, I was hopping around like a chicken.

Seeing me struggle, she stared at me quizzically. Then, without warning, she grabbed the shoulder straps, pulled two cords, and they loosened.

Relief shot through my chest and shoulders. I took my first real breaths of the day.

And then we were off again. I felt lighter than air for about seven minutes before the pack began pulling into my shoulders again as the weight of gravity took hold. I would spend the next day and a half periodically loosening and tightening straps, depending which part of my back was seizing up in that particular moment.

Crow Pass covers dramatically different terrain throughout its full twenty-one miles. Starting with the stark elevation gain, hikers pass through snow, down shale coated mountains, through grass so tall and thick you can’t see bears coming, over boulders, through forests, and, of course, crossing Eagle River.

Trudging through snow, I started to worry that my newly acquired “backpacking sleeping bag,” rated down to 47 degrees Fahrenheit, was going to be warm enough.

Contemplating this chilly prospect, my foot slipped, and with an “Ummm…” by way of announcement to my friend, I tipped over and rolled down the hill.

What with the weight of the backpack, I began to roll faster and faster. Ever gaining speed, I hurtled towards the bottom of the mountain, and the large rock wall waiting for me there.

Growing up in Fairbanks, I knew the best way to slow down after bailing out on sledding hills was to increase your surface area as much as possible. I spread out my arms and legs and hoped I would slow down.

As I passively pondered what life would be like with a spinal injury, I felt my momentum stall, and I stopped sliding about 15 feet from the wall.

I sat up, took off the backpack, and looked at my friend, far up the top of the mountain. I’d lost a walking pole and my hat somewhere along my slide.

At a loss for anything else to say, I called up to her, “Um, can you get my hat? And I think I lost one of your poles.”

She shook her head.

“No, let’s keep going. You don’t need them.”

This was a moment of ratification on my status as a material girl. I hate losing things.

Loath to leave any belonging behind, I stood up, and started climbing back up the hill, justifying my actions to my friend.

“I need the pole for balance!”

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and my friend was definitely fidgeting because we still had not made it to Eagle River. She wanted to camp at the river that night, and cross first thing Sunday morning when the water was at its lowest.

Pole collected, hat on head, and backpack grudgingly placed on, I continued down the mountain, away from the snow.

I was thrilled the temperature was warming, and we were seemingly once more in summertime.

That’s when my friend cheerily reminded me to crank up the tunes again; we were back in bear country.

We entered some tall grass, positively obliterating any potential bears from view.

Knowing we were trying to make it to the river, I did my best to pick up the pace, though the ground was covered with giant boulders. If you took your eyes off of your feet for even a second to study the bear infested tall grass, for example, you’d trip and hit your head.

Feet burning with new blisters, and my pack once again feeling like the weight of the entire universe on my shoulders, I pouted silently, wondering how I was ever going to make it back to my car by this time tomorrow.

Amongst these gloomy thoughts, there was a rustling in the tall grass ahead of us, and we both stopped and seized our bear spray.

Two young men emerged, looking mildly amused as they took in the site of us brandishing our weapons.

As we lowered our arms, they happily announced that a woman on this side of Eagle River had just been removed from the trail by ambulance helicopter; she’d broken her ankle.

Realizing it would take more time to finish the journey with a broken ankle, I decided to just go ahead and continue at my poky pace. My friend must have decided the same thing, because both of us began walking at a noticeably more leisurely rate thereafter.

We sat down in the forest to have dinner around five. My friend had a nifty propane heater and a pot, in which we boiled water. We dumped the water into our freeze-dried food bags, and stirred the contents. My dinner was, ostensibly, spaghetti and meatballs; her’s beef stroganoff.

I eyed both gloopy messes suspiciously. When she told me about the food, I ventured that I would just bring some protein bars, or something. Having largely lived off of Lean Cuisine in college, I’d long since sworn off instant food of any kind. I’d eaten my entire lifetime’s worth over a four-year period, and my allotment was completely used up.

My friend, however, insisted I would want hot food and that I really should buy these unique items, guaranteed fresh for 46 years!

I stirred my spaghetti with a grimace and took a salty bite.

The spaghetti tasted exactly like Lean Cuisine.

It did, however, put some pep back into my very tired steps.

We cleaned up from our meal, leaving no trace as good backpackers should. Naturally, and just my luck, I was beginning to regret bringing the cold pizza, as the leavings in the bag were beginning to stink.

We hopped along, revived from the sodium ladened slop, avoiding tree roots precariously popping up throughout the forest. My friend confirmed we were almost to Eagle River, so we hurried along, trying to finish the day’s journey.

With a crack, my left ankle twisted out, and I went down with a yelp.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Sarah Brown suffers in silence. Feel free to pester her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at sarah@browns-close.com; she rarely fights back. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Study in Horse Racing

“Hastings Horse Race” by You As A Machine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

[See Original Post here]

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, and as part of America’s newfound freedom from COVID-19, I went to Louisville, Kentucky, and met up with a longtime friend who lives on the East Coast. We spent a day at the racetrack at Churchill Downs on one of the last days of the season.

If there is a sport with more specific forms of jargon than horse racing, I do not know what that sport is. Horses are measured in hands, tracks are measured in furloughs, and jockeys are measured in times in or out of the money. Guests are in turn judged by whether they know what it means to dress in “track casual,” and by whether they can distinguish between a Woodford Spire and an Oaks Lily.

Upon arrival, spectators are welcomed to the stadium by a statue of Barbaro, a beloved Kentucky Derby winner. Unlike elite Triple Crown champions, however, Barbaro holds the distinction of being shot after he failed to win the Preakness Stakes. His demise solidified his legendary status to the point of inspiring an entire society, “The Friends of Barbaro.”

Next, guests are presented with programs containing the daily facts and figures about the lengths of the various races, the jockeys, the horses, and the horses’ colors. Charts are detailed and include how much money the horse has won cumulatively over its career, when it last raced, how it races in dry conditions versus wet conditions, and its projected odds of winning.

Given we were at the racetrack, we reasoned it was only logical that we start betting. Unfortunately, it is a moral failing of mine that I never carry cash. My friend, however, thoughtfully brought $23 to the track, and we amiably agreed to spend $10 of her money.

We walked up confidently to the ticket machine and inserted the bill. After that, there was nothing for us to do but stare at the complex mix of buttons and blinking lights displayed on the screen. There were options for a horse to “Win,” “Place,” or “Show.” We could bet the “Daily Double,” “Exacta,” “Trifecta,” or “Superfecta.” And that does not even include the “Pick 3,” or “Pick 4.”

We argued a bit, debating what each bet would mean.

“Daily Double means we can bet on two things at once,” I pronounced, based on no evidence.

“Pick 3 is that you can pick three horses in the same race,” she countered, sounding equally confident.

In between assertions, we stared open mouthed at the screen. We spent so much time gawking that our session expired, and we received a ticket printout, but no $10.

“Wait,” she asked. “But what did we bet on?”

Nothing. We bet on nothing.

We pulled the ticket out and gaped at that for a while. It most closely resembled the test print sheet when setting up a new printer.

We looked around, wondering what to do with a $10 slip of paper tied to no discernable value.

Behind us, there was a long line of desks where people could place bets, but there were signs reading, “$50 minimum.”

We walked up to the nearest desk, where an old, stooped man looked at us curiously.

“Hi,” my friend spoke loudly, and to the point. “We have this ticket here –”

“Oh, did you win?” he twanged.

“Well, no,” she laughed. “Our session expired.”

“That’s alright.”

He took the ticket and examined it.

“It’s for $10,” she explained. “Can we exchange it for a bet on something else?”

“Sure, sure,” he agreed.

“But it says it’s $50 minimum. Can you help us?”

He chuckled.

“Ma’am, I can do anything I want.”

“How would you bet?” she asked. Then, doubting her straightforwardness, “Or, are you not allowed to tell us?”

He looked at her wryly.

Yeah, yeah, we know, you can do anything you want.

We opened the program, and together, the three of us poured over the nine or so races to take place. As we only had $10, we decided to bet on the next race only. Among others, we could choose from contestants known as Good Penny, Cuzzywuzzy, and Parking Ticket.

“So, it’s $5 per bet, and you can bet on horses to win, come in second, or third, or you can bet on a horse to come in either first, or second, or third.”

I wasn’t sure what the difference was, and apparently, neither was my friend.

We looked back at the booklet.

“Who do you want to bet on?” I asked. It was her $10, so it seemed only fair she should choose the horse.

“Oh, I don’t care, whoever looks good to you.”

I peered over the complicated rankings in tiny print with my nose pressed close to the page. Good Penny won the most money, was not the crowd favorite, and had the luckiest name. All of these seemed like good omens.

“Can we put $5 on Good Penny to finish first?”

The ticket agent’s expression told me what I needed to know. I could do anything I wanted.

“You mean Number 11? You want to put $5 on Number 11?”

“Uh, yeah that’s right.”

He entered the information into his computer.

“Alright, how about second?”

She and I frowned.

Appearing to be talking to the deeply dense, he spoke slower.

“You can also bet on him to come in second. Do you want to do that?”

Yeah, that sounded good.

“Alright,” he nodded, “what’s the next bet?”

Cuzzywuzzy had the same ranking as Good Penny.

“$5 on Cuzzywuzzy to win?”

He looked at me pityingly.

“You mean $5 on Number 5?”

“Uh, yeah, that’s what I mean.”

He pulled our new tickets out of his machine.

They were indistinguishable from the first ticket test printer page.

“That will be $5.”

My friend, who had been somewhat disinterested in the horse picking process, snapped back to attention.

“We had $10 in credit.” 

He was really looking at us like we were hopeless now.  

“I know, that will be $5.”

She and I squinched our faces.

“I don’t understand,” she challenged. “If we paid you $10 for two $5 bets, then how do we owe you $5?”

“When you bet on the same horse twice, that’s $10,” he rattled back impatiently.

Feeling like those instructions had been less than clear at the beginning, we forked over another of her $5.

Racing math ultimately proved to be its own entire field. In addition to the vagaries of paying $15 for a $10 bet, we eventually discovered that one can win $7 for a $30 bet. By the end of the afternoon, I was holding my head and muttering that I was never going to retire at this rate; gambling, by gosh, is just not a good investment.

Still holding my head, I bought us each a round of mint juleps, and we went back to our seats to watch the respective fortunes of Bodacious Baby, Buy Me Candy, and Slim Slow Slider.

Passing through the rows of fastidiously arranged green folding chairs –

“What is that?” a scandalized voiced bellowed from our left.

Another man, similar in advanced age to the ticket teller, pointed accusatorially at our drinks.

While I am prone to ignore comments made about my food and beverage selections, my friend has never met a stranger.

“Mint juleps!” she replied enthusiastically.

He shook his head.

“You two aren’t from around here, are you?”

Well, this was obvious because my friend and I also didn’t know what it meant to be dressed in “track casual.”

“I could tell because you’re drinking those,” he continued, nodding to our drinks. The mint was so voluminous, it looked like we were carrying around tiny gardens in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses.

“You don’t like them?” My friend sounded genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, no locals like them,” he scoffed.

Ah.

“Well, what do the locals drink?” I asked.

He held up a can of Budweiser.

Honestly, though, the joke was on them. My friend won $74 on Good Penny, and I got three servings of my daily vegetable intake.

Sarah Brown is straight edge. Feel free to invite her to things that are risky, hedonistic, or otherwise a good time, but honestly, she’ll just kill your buzz. Instead, find her on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. 

Road Rage, Or Why All Other Drivers Should Be Annihilated

[See Original Post here]

My name is Sarah, and I suffer from road rage.

You’d think living in a state with relatively little traffic, like Alaska, would have cured me of this illness. Alaska has nothing but wide-open spaces, but even this, unfortunately, has not calmed me. If anything, it may be making my road rage worse. My fellow Alaskans are, by and large, a laidback bunch. In conjunction with this laissez-faire attitude towards life, drivers do not give much thought to when they will arrive at their destination, and instead toddle along, nary a care in the world.

On the other hand, I care very much about my destination and would like to arrive there sometime this calendar year, people, please!

I wasn’t always this frustrated.

As a newly minted driver with a learner’s permit in Fairbanks, I was very intimidated by the rules of the road. All the other cars dwarfed my first car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima. It had once belonged to my grandmother, and much like my grandmother, the car offered shelter and comfort. Also much like my grandmother, the car was smaller than others of its kind in the wild.

My grandmother topped off at a whopping five feet tall and would often complain that the world was not made for people her size. An early adopter of microaggressions, she maintained her whole life that the world discriminated against short people. I would hear her small voice muttering to herself when reaching for things in the cabinets, when climbing into cars, and when sitting in chairs.

“Everyone is against us! The world hates short people!”

As I scooted around Fairbanks in my grandmother’s car as a teenager, I too adopted my grandmother’s ethos. Trucks would loom over me, vans would steam by me, and I would clutch the steering wheel in a death grip. My dad, in his designated role as driving instructor, would sit stone-faced in the passenger seat beside me. Even though I could not bring myself to drive faster than 45 miles per hour, his foot would stamp the floor where the brake pedal would be so hard the car would rock side to side.

As a baby driver, I would get lost in my miniature hometown, drive many miles under the speed limit, and freak out if I encountered a one-way street. I once took the wrong exit off the Johansen Expressway, could not figure out how to get back on the expressway, turned around, and drove the wrong way up the exit ramp. There was absolutely no traffic on the road (it was Fairbanks after all), but I was sure I would be arrested at any moment for the high crime of being a dingbat.

As we all know, however, with practice comes confidence. As I matured in my driving, I had the temerity to approach the speed limit, make left turns, and choose a lane other than the right.

Having mastered the art of the turn, my confidence blossomed into aggression. My fear of my fellow drivers had been replaced with a blind resentment. Who were these other vehicles taking over the road? This place was not big enough for me, my Nissan Maxima, and them too!

This only got worse after I started driving in major metropolitan areas outside of Fairbanks. Drivers on the East Coast are not afraid to drive 80 miles per hour, merge aggressively, or block traffic so they can cut into a long line. Boston was the first place I saw taxi drivers run red lights more often than stop. Man, did those guys have game.

I learned much from these driving giants, and my fellow Alaskans could stand some similar tutelage. For example, upon moving back to Anchorage, I was devastated by my fellow residents’ complete and utter inability to use the passing lane.

Rather than passing the car on the right, and then dutifully moving back into the right-hand lane, drivers simply treated the passing lane as another lane. Two lines of cars, equal in length, meander along together, and I am back at the end of the line calling everyone around me a deadhead.

But the crème-de-la-crème of triggering behavior: nothing sends me into a fury faster than a car which pulls into the left lane, speeds up to pass the car on the right, reaches the car, and then slows down to drive the exact same speed as the car next to it.

People! I beg of you! There is no point in getting into the left lane, speeding up to the car in front of you, and then driving the exact same speed. For crying out loud, just drive the same speed behind them in the right lane. Don’t be a monster!

I’ve spent many hours profiling my fellow drivers, trying to ascertain who amongst me is an obstacle, and who is a fellow traveler; an ally, if you will, merely trying to get to his appointed destination. For example, I always try to follow a truck; they go faster and drive with purpose. I avoid Subarus, as those drivers are nearly always overly cautious. Stay away from boats, buses, and gaggles of RVs.

The worst of the worst drivers, however, is a very specific breed of truck driver who views being passed as an afront to his manhood. This driver will go out of his way to drive slowly on one-lane streets, block the sections of road where there is a passing lane, and then saunter back to the one lane once the passing lane is dispensed with, satisfied he has ruined everyone’s day.

I will be driving south this weekend for Memorial Day. May those who cross my path be speedy.

Sarah Brown takes many deep breaths. Write to her on pain of death at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Love Letter to Airplanes

[See Original Post here]

Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped traveling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space.

When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid.

I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at thirty thousand feet cruising altitude.

I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020.

Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last thirteen months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half.

One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb twenty minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another fifty-two seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence.

While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted thirty-eight seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time.

With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you!

Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

In the Throes of Air Travel

“P1000720” by jayhay2336 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

[See Original Post here]

Air travel is a key component of my job description.

Literally. The description reads, “Expected to travel between 30% and 50% of time.”

Given how much experience I’ve had, you think I would be better at it.

Wrong.

It’s a production to get me on an airplane, all of the extensive accommodations of Alaska Airlines aside. My appearance becomes the physical manifestation of my discomfort. I don my airplane pajamas (aka clothes that are at least three sizes too big). On go my eyeglasses, away goes the flat iron, in goes my night guard. And make-up? Don’t make me laugh.

I then adopt my Very Special Air Travel Expression.

It’s the sort of expression a corpse would have, if the person who once formed that corpse had died in an eternal state of exasperation. The light leaves my eyes, my jaw goes slack. I only alter this deadpan look to glare at all of my neighbors over the top of my glasses.

Once at the airport, I typically throw my weight around. Not that I have the necessary money, power, or status to intimidate people. Rather, I literally swing my shoulder bags from side to side, yanking my suitcases through the air. Any aggressive movement will do. I want strangers to approach on penalty of death.

All of this contributes to a distinctly nasty persona. When people see me hurtling through airports, they figure they know why I’m alone.

If life were a movie plot, travellers would not be like me. Rather, attractive bubbly strangers would be seated next to each other on airplanes with alarming frequency. They would both be single and looking for love. They would bond instantaneously over shared heartbreaks/divorces/widowhoods/insert romantic tragedy here.

In all my years of air travel, I have never seen this happen. Instead, men and women get drunk at airport bars and throw themselves at unwilling strangers.

Take my recent late-night Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle. I was across the aisle from a young woman, who, like me, was wearing her airplane best. Dressed in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, her purple hair was in a topknot on her head. She was wearing scarlet-rimmed eyeglasses, and her acne was showing.

Nevertheless, she was being pursued by a young sloper she’d just met in the bar. With the aid of some liquid courage, he adopted all the confidence of Thor, Son of Odin, and was shouting about how he wanted to sit next to her on our mutual flight.

This plan did not excite her.

She walked on to the plane, sat down, threw up into her airsick bag, and flagged down a predictably gracious Alaska Airlines flight attendant.

“Um, there’s this guy. Like, he …”

She trailed off as she tried to bring the flight attendant into focus.

“I, like, met him in the bar. And now he’s, like, trying to sit next to me?”

The flight attendant looked at her pityingly.

“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Okay, ‘cause, like, I don’t want to sit next to him. He’s, like. Back. There.”

She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing to the offending sloper, now sitting in his assigned seat.

The flight attendant followed her thumb.

“You know what? He’s asleep. I think you’re okay.”

The three of us turned around and, sure enough, the man was down for the count, his face mashed up against the window.

It’s not just men pursuing uninterested women on airplanes. Women also proactively live out their Hollywood “meet cute” fantasies. On a flight from Anchorage to Chicago, I spied on a middle-age woman sitting next to a similarly unprepossessing middle-aged man. Before my eyes, the woman became hopelessly infatuated with him, for no reason I could portend. She tried every feminine wile at her disposal to attract his attention. She giggled at him, whispered to him, and petted his arm continuously for the first thirty-five minutes of the flight.

That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, told the flight attendant he was moving to another section, and forbade the woman from following him.

If I were the woman, I would have taken the hint. However, I will never be she; I’m too busy throwing my luggage around.

Rather than accept they would not share a future together beyond the constraints of this six-hour flight, the woman grabbed her bags, and made after him. The flight attendant body blocked her like every great bouncer would, and the woman was forcibly returned to her seat, waving madly at the man to come back.

That’s why I don’t bother primping before flights; I’ve seen too many failed attempts by travelers to meet The One.

But then came the day I found myself sitting next to an acceptably cute blonde bearded guy on a flight to Los Angeles.

Alarm signals went off in my brain: “Don’t be weird! Don’t be weird!”

Naturally, the minute I brought my own weirdness to my attention, I immediately began acting bizarre; I tucked my plastic water cup into the hook holding up my tray table.

The cute guy next to me looked over at my water cup, now dangling helplessly from the seat in front of me, and frowned.

“I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

I considered explaining that I wanted to place my cup out of my way, such that I could continue typing on my laptop. I couldn’t waste a moment’s time, after all, in plotting my takedown of the ultimate universe. And gosh, by the way, didn’t he want to accompany me on said takedown as my sidekick?

Instead, I coughed and grunted back, “Whatever works.”

            My seatmate shrugged, and went back to texting other, better, girls on his phone.

            Alaska Airlines should really cast me in a commercial. I am, clearly, the young upwardly mobile model of 21st century womanhood to whom they desperately wish to appeal.

Sarah Brown is a road warrior and connoisseur of the Alaska Airlines Economy class free snacks. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.