Outside that window, as far below the ocean's surface as we are above it, live the earth's most revolting creatures. These fish, generously named given their unkind form, float listlessly in the submarine darkness, with nothing to occupy their time—if the concept holds any meaning in their eternal abyss—other than drifting about, waiting for some pathetic crumb to fall into their agape mouths.
They weren't always this way. It was their environment that did them in. Pinned down by mile after mile of impenetrable sea, their faces sprouted lanterns and their eyes fell out of their heads. In their world, only monsters can survive.
Fortunately, 18A, we humans have kept our wits and our eyes, our reward for typically being clever enough to avoid such inhospitable habitats. But every once in a while, we plunge ourselves into a hell worse than the deepest trench in the ocean: the inside of an airplane, the nightmare we regrettably find ourselves in today.
When we fly, we pressurize ourselves and hundreds of irritable strangers in a narrow tube, glue two metal boards to its sides, hang a rocket the size of a bulldozer to each, and launch the whole thing into low orbit. It's a grave situation, and that's before we hand the entire operation over to United. Like the fish forsaken at the bottom of sea, we've all developed ways to cope.
There are the drinkers, who sedate themselves on white wine and Jacks and Coke—never beer—at the beginning of a red-eye, and on orange juice and smuggled mini bottles of gin at the end of it.
There are the animal lovers, who try to fit their Bernese mountain "service" dog under the seat in front of them, and assure everyone, over its whines and shuffling, that he never does this and he's a good boy.
There are the workaholics, who crank through hundreds of emails on an company-issued HP Pavilion, emails so urgent that polite asks—and federal regulations—aren't enough to compel them to stow their electronic devices, all so that they can blast out another punctuation-free update declaring "in air now but will review when on the ground thx".
There are the narcoleptics, who travel in sweatpants, socks, no shoes, an oversized UMass hoodie, a Snuggie, a neck pillow, an eye mask, a teddy bear, and a value meal from Wendy's, and refuse to be kept awake by turbulence, crying children, or their 32-ounce Dr. Pepper.
There are the zombies, who stare blankly at the seat in front of them, their eyes glazed over and their heads full of static, drifting in and out of awareness of where they are, who they are, what they are.
And then there are the deep sea fish.
These are the unholy creatures who, upon finding their seat, take a couple glances at the bustling tarmac outside, and push the window shade shut, like a pedestrian waving away a Greenpeace canvasser. To them, the tiny perforations in our barrel of steel and precious life aren't an engineering marvel, or a portal to the divine horizon through which were hurtling, or even a way to get a little bit of pleasing natural light in humming, sterile tube; no, they are irritants to be extinguished, distracting from the more important business on their screens. So they blot them out, trapping us in darkness, illuminated only by the glow of a seat back screen looping ads for a new direct flight to Johannesburg.
You, sir, are one of these creatures.
But the glare, you'll say, the glare is making it difficult to see your iPad. You would open the window, but you can’t.
Nonsense. Turn away from the unnecessary Powerpoint you're creating to excuse your unnecessary trip to Dallas, to help an unnecessary pharmaceutical company sell an unnecessary drug to make an unnecessary profit. Instead, take in the unobstructed view from the top of the earth, higher than any point on the planet, and multiples higher than the shallow hills you hike to to peek above a treeline at a few fields and creeping suburban sprawl. Take in miles of the meandering Mississippi, the pulsing lights of a some unknown city crackling to life on Saturday night, the unyielding teeth of the Rockies, covered in glistening snowy enamel, the fading amber sunset refracting through streaks of cirrus clouds, or the entire arm of Cape Cod, with views stretching from Providence to Provincetown in one breathtaking sweep.
But, you might object, the view from my local trail is earned. Its beauty is both seen and felt, by the tired legs and blistered feet that made it possible.
And so too is ours! A few lazy clicks on kayak.com didn't put us here—centuries of dreams and tireless innovation buoy our ascent! For ages, our ancestors longed to defy the indomitable forces of gravity, to join the birds and clouds in unencumbered aerial locomotion. And now, at this privileged edge of our long anthropological timeline, at this culmination of millennia of patience and tragic trial and error, against the odds and the natural laws governing our universe, we can! What Icarus gave for a fleeting moment of flight! Oh, what we refuse to give—a couple winks of sleep, an hour of doomscrolling on Slack, another rerun of Beat Bobby Flay—to take in ours!
Do your duty, 18A. Open the shade. Show us the splendor you so casually discard behind a cheap plastic shutter. Be our host to the heavens. For without your mercy, we are trapped, as damned as the fish at the bottom of the sea, with nothing to look at but Failure to Launch and 17B's growing pile of Sutter Home chardonnay bottles. We beg of you: A magnificent world is out there, but in here, the darkness is devouring us, and we are transforming into monsters.