Wild Fibers - - NEWS - By Linda N. Cor­tright

Have you ever no­ticed there isn’t a sug­ges­tion box on air­planes? Why is it that ev­ery­one else, from five-star ho­tels to your lo­cal drug­gist, wants you take a sur­vey, but not the air­lines? Have you ever heard a pi­lot say, “Hey folks, on a scale of one to ten, how’s my fly­ing?” My point, ex­actly. Ten hours on an air­plane is like a chainsaw to my seren­ity. It’s not just the in­evitable cho­rus of wail­ing in­fants. And it’s not just the jerk in front of me try­ing to ma­nip­u­late the seat con­trols like he’s back home in his Barcalounger. And it’s not just the tod­dler re­peat­edly scal­ing my seat from be­hind as if it were an as­cent up Ever­est. What re­ally knots my knick­ers is the credit card sales pitch that com­mences when the seat­belt sign is turned on and the flight at­ten­dants know they have a cap­tive au­di­ence.

If some­one tries to sell me a credit card over the phone, I hang up. When some­one tries the same pitch at 36,000 feet, I con­tem­plate hand-held ex­plo­sives, which is how I jus­tify own­ing a pair of ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive noise-can­cel­ing head­phones. You know, the kind they seem to sell only in fancy air­port elec­tron­ics shops. The kind that are kept shack­led to the coun­ter­top and play Mozart’s Top 40 un­til the sales­per­son beck­ons you to test just how im­pres­sive the noise-can­cel­ing fea­ture re­ally is, and sud­denly, he switches the sta­tion and you’re trapped lis­ten­ing to the Sex Pis­tols fully-amped.

In truth, all I re­ally want is quiet: a scarce com­mod­ity to be had when trav­el­ing and some­times next to im­pos­si­ble.

The night be­fore I flew to Chile for the cover story on Fi­bras An­d­i­nas, I was stay­ing in a small ho­tel in Cusco, Peru. It wasn’t par­tic­u­larly fancy: the com­pli­men­tary sham­poo came in generic pack­ag­ing to dis­cour­age guests from heist­ing dozens of free­bies, and the front desk was fre­quently left unat­tended with only a dry-erase board bear­ing the mes­sage “Back Soon.” I had asked for a room away from the street, pre­fer­ring the sound of cats fight­ing in the al­ley late at night than ven­dors hawk­ing fresh em­panadas at 7 A.M.

I went to bed early in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the fol­low­ing day’s travel when, the next thing I knew, the most ex­tra­or­di­nary ruckus was tak­ing place out­side my door and it was 4 A.M.! I squeezed my eyes closed, think­ing it would go away in just a mo­ment – it had to. But then I re­mem­bered from my pre­vi­ous visit to Cusco that the Hi­ram Bing­ham train to Mac­chu Pichu leaves early in the morn­ing – very early. Ap­par­ently, an en­tire tour group (I sus­pect there were thou­sands) was check­ing out, drag­ging bags and back­packs be­hind their weary bod­ies, thump­ing past my door, one af­ter an­other, af­ter an­other…

I should men­tion that the only rea­son I know this was the source of the dis­tur­bance is that I got out of bed, blindly stuffed my arms into my bathrobe (prob­a­bly in­side out), and then shoved my head through a par­tially-opened door, of­fer­ing my threat­en­ing glare to passersby who were, I sus­pect, too sleepy to even no­tice my di­sheveled pres­ence. Thor­oughly disgusted, I crawled back into bed. Five min­utes later, the noise grew louder. I threw back the cov­ers, crawled out of bed again, and searched my back­pack for my sa­cred head­phones, the size of which is com­pa­ra­ble to those worn by jack­ham­mer oper­a­tors.

In the best of cir­cum­stances, I’m not a par­tic­u­larly good sleeper. With my head­phones firmly in place, I had min­i­mized (not elim­i­nated) the sound of the hall­way riot squad, but it now felt as if my head were be­ing ca­ressed be­tween two bowl­ing balls. Af­ter an­other ten min­utes of agony, the traf­fic be­gan to dwin­dle. I be­gan to con­tem­plate tak­ing off my head­phones when I heard an ex­plo­sion that could only have come from an earthquake or a di­rect hit by an as­ter­oid to the room next door.

Out of bed (again), on with the bathrobe (again), and over to the door, in­fused with an odd blend of self-right­eous in­dig­na­tion and sur­vivor guilt, I opened the door and there was shat­tered glass up to my knees… or so it seemed. Ap­par­ently, some­one had in­ad­ver­tently slammed a suit­case into the dou­ble glass doors, span­ning no less than twelve feet.

Thank­fully, no one was hurt. In fact, there wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen. I looked at one of the ho­tel porters, who was flushed from ex­er­tion, nerves, or both, and in bro­ken English he said, “Go to sleep. Clean­ing lady come in morn­ing.” And then he did a dou­ble take at my fancy head­phones, now rest­ing on my shoul­ders, and added, “You like Amer­i­can rock? Me too!”

For only an in­stant I thought about men­tion­ing the Sex Pis­tols, but re­al­ized that the com­bi­na­tion of my sur­round­ings, the hour, and my par­tially clothed body (not to men­tion spotty trans­la­tion) was guar­an­teed to make the sit­u­a­tion worse.

“Yes, I do.” I an­swered, and as I went to close the door I looked at the hard-work­ing man one last time, and with a smile I said, “Rock-on!” And crawled back into bed. Wf

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