Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Nation of Babies

I'm not an especially tall man -- I'm about 6'1", which is about average for people my height. I realize that might seem tall to some people, but I'm sure it seems short to others. So I figure I'm about average. My rule of thumb is, if we're both standing and I have to look up to see your face, you're tall, and if I have to look down to see your face, you're short.

You're probably thinking "So what?" or "Who cares?" and if you are, I agree with you completely. I rarely think about height, and the only reason I'm thinking about it now is that I have to get on an airplane later today and fly across the country -- the country in this case being the United States.

If you don't see the connection between height and trans-continental flights, you're probably fairly short, because if you've got any height on you at all, you probably never have enough leg room when you're sitting in an airplane seat.

What makes it even worse is the people who insist on tilting their seat all the way back. And they always seem to end up sitting right in front of me. Rather than dance around the issue, I'll just come out and say it: I hate people who tilt their seat all the way back.

I do my best to avoid them, but it's practically impossible. I usually try to book my flights for the morning or early afternoon, when I figure people won't be tired, so they won't feel like resting and therefore won't be tempted to tilt their seats back. But I've discovered that it makes absolutely no difference what time it is -- as soon as some people board an airplane, they start to get drowsy and feel the need to take a nap.

I don't mind if they take a nap -- it seems like a waste of time to me, but I don't want to be judgmental -- I just wish they'd learn to nap with the seat in its locked upright position. If you can't sleep sitting up, you're probably not that tired in the first place, and if you're not that tired, you shouldn't be wasting your time trying to sleep. You should read a book instead. Or if you don't feel like reading, you might try watching the in-flight movie. There are plenty of things to do -- you can probably think of some yourself.

But I think there are plenty of people who can't, and that's the problem. People with active minds can usually find something to do, even when they're confined to a seat on an airplane and have very few options. The people who spend all their time watching TV or engaging in other mindless activities don't know how to keep themselves amused on an airplane, so they just try to sleep through the whole experience. That's my theory, at least.

Unfortunately, my flight leaves around 11:30 p.m., which I predict means that most people on the plane will be tired, and therefore most seats on the plane will be tilted back. The odds of one of those seats being directly in front of me are astronomically high. And to make matters worse, I wasn't able to get an aisle seat, so I'll be boxed in.

As you can probably guess, I'm not looking forward to this flight.

I may even try sleeping myself, not because I expect to be tired, but because it may be the only option available to me. Sometimes when the person in front of me has the seat tilted back, there's barely enough room to hold a book, unless I want to hold it just a few inches in front of my face. But I have a hard enough time falling asleep in strange beds, so the chances of me sleeping during this flight or any other are pretty low.

The flight attendants encourage us to sleep, of course -- not for our comfort, I suspect, but for theirs. They'd rather have a plane full of sleeping people than a plane full of wide-awake people who can bother them. I don't blame them -- their job is probably difficult enough without a bunch of passengers asking them for one thing or another. So they make sure everyone has a blanket and a pillow. And at some point during the flight, usually after the meal has been served and the movie has ended, they turn off the main cabin lights.

It feels like they're treating us like babies when they give us blankets and pillows and turn off the lights. I don't like being treated like a baby. I probably liked it when I was a baby, but I don't like it anymore. I outgrew it. But a lot of people haven't. As a matter of fact, we're a nation of babies, for the most part, and not just because we take our little naps on airplanes, but in just about every aspect of our lives. We're weak, we're soft, and we cry when we don't get what we want. We're selfish, we're self-centered, and we're self-absorbed. We like to blame things on others because we don't like to accept personal responsibility. We like our government to censor our movies and television and newspapers to make them more palatable to us. We accept most things without question, because we like our information to be spoon-fed to us.

Of course, we're still a pretty young nation, so one day we'll outgrow our babyhood. And when we do, the world will be a better place. There will be no more crying and whining and temper tantrums. We will no longer make a huge mess of our world, or start big fights over little things. And air travel will be much more comfortable as well, especially for tall people.