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