After my wife stuffed a last minute contraband wheel of very ripe Livarot cheese into her carry-on luggage, we entered the airport, cleared security, and settled into our seats for the seven-hour flight home from Paris.
Just in case you didn’t know, the word “travel” comes from the French word travail, which means work or burden. The etymology is apt.
A man of similar girth to my own dropped into the aisle next to my wife and, after the plane taxied what seemed like half way home, we were suddenly airborne. The other passenger compressing my wife was a seasoned and well-accessorized traveler. After adjusting his Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and the font size on his Kindle, he inflated his fur-bearing neck goiter, reclined his seat onto the kneecaps of the passenger behind and began a noisy battle with sleep apnea.
As the TV screen twelve inches from my face showed an airplane icon over Ireland, the in-flight dinner service began. First, however, we were offered the opportunity to open an airline credit card account that ensured we would never again have to pay to check our bags on this carrier, even though for our first fifty years of travel we never had.
The offer not to charge us for something previously free if we signed up for a credit card at usurious interest rates left us first amused and then incensed. Sensing our reluctance, the steward added that any over-priced duty-free goods we bought on the plane would not be charged interest for the first month.
We were then offered the choice of a $10.00 sandwich and a $4 bottle of Evian water or a free plastic cup of tap water and our choice of a free peanut, pretzel or animal cracker. I took the sandwich. The bun looked like the 10-week old plaster cast removed from my daughter’s broken arm. I separated the soggy breads to find a mysterious pink slab of something, a carefully ironed leaf of lettuce and two pale pink tomato slices varnished with now translucent imitation mayonnaise.
In addition to the usual chorus of wheezing, gasping, hacking and sneezing, a woman immediately behind us, sounding like she might be in the final stages of ebola, was seized by a violent attack of coughing. This apparently terrified the man next to her who unsuccessfully begged a surly cabin steward to be reseated.
Finally, the pilot announced our “final descent” as if we were about to cross the Styx, and a chorus of toddlers began wailing like infant howler monkeys as the pressure on tiny tympanic membranes mounted.
When we landed, an earnest little US customs beagle dragged his beady-eyed handler over to the carry-on bag that concealed the now very ripe cheese. As a diversion, my cagey wife withdrew and surrendered a ripe banana to the alert agriculture officer who seemed satisfied and left. But not her canine counterpart who, wise to the ploy, kept looking back at my guilty wife and maintaining a full body-wag as we left the terminal.