Rummaging Through the Seat Pocket of the Mind

April 13, 2018

I AM AMAZED that more people aren’t injured, or even killed, during boarding or deplaning, as passengers stow or remove their luggage from the overhead bins. The act of hoisting, and then lowering heavy items from a position well above shoulder level is simply dangerous for those seated below. Aisle seats always make me nervous, as some man or woman hovers above me, one hand clutching a mobile phone and the other hand swinging a fifty-pound roller bag inches from my head.

……….

One of the surprisingly pleasant things about the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, is that aircraft are boarded the old-fashioned way, using a drive-up staircase. There’s something dramatic about stepping onto a jet this way: the ground-level approach along the tarmac, followed by the slow ascent. The effect is similar to watching the opening credits of a film – it’s a sort of formal introduction to the journey. And to the aircraft itself. The standard boarding technique makes the plane itself feel almost irrelevant; you’re merely transitting from one annoying interior space (terminal) to another (cabin). This is much more impressive, and allows you to appreciate how physically impressive a jetliner really is.

……….

The most alarming trend to strike air travel in the past half-century is not suicide hijackings, surly service, or overzealous pat-downs from the TSA. No, the most troubling thing about flying, and perhaps humanity in general, is Sudoku, this generation’s answer to crossword puzzles. Sudoku originated in Switzerland, but was popularized in Japan. Need you be reminded that things “popular in Japan” include meat-flavored ice cream, carrying womens’ panties around in your wallet, and indoor fishing.

I’m not saying the game isn’t challenging. But so is solving quadratic equations, or sword-swallowing. That doesn’t mean we should all be doing it. Maybe one of the reasons people enjoy Sudoku is because it requires a lot of thinking, but only from a small and highly specialized corner of the mind. It’s very egalitarian, in a way, because it’s an entirely left-brain exercise with a single and absolute solution. (I think back again, as I often do, to my favorite movie of the 1980s, Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” Mind-numbed citizens of Gilliam’s sick dystopia entertained themselves with a small, toy-like device that dropped a pendant onto a board, randomly indicating a result of “yes,” or “no.”) More to the point, you can be a failure at Sudoku without guilt. Crossword puzzles make you feel bad about yourself, for not knowing the capital of Canada or forgetting the name of a Shakespeare play. Sudoku is numbers, and for most of us there’s little shame in being lousy at numbers.

Am I being too harsh? Judging from the immense piles of Sudoku books in airport newsstands — at last count, they have outsold the Bible, along with every dictionary and cookbook ever published — I’ve just alienated myself from every airline passenger on earth, along with 95 percent of my readership. Try not to hate me.

……….



 

Here’s a question: why does no American carrier fly to Poland? Surely a route from New York or, especially, Chicago, would be popular. United and American both have hubs at O’Hare, and Chicago has the country’s largest population of Polish-Americans. Polish carrier LOT has been serving both ORD and JFK for decades, and I can’t imagine there isn’t room for another contender.

Then again, does an ethnic connection, by itself, justify service between two countries? Granted there are plenty of Polish-Americans, but maybe there wouldn’t be enough of the high-end business traffic that airlines need to survive in international markets.

……….

The second pleasant thing about Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, is the name: Bob Hope Airport. Not that I ever had much of an opinion, one way or the other, about the famous noodle-nosed comedian, but if American airport names need anything, it’s a bit of personality.

And by personality I do not mean the likes of “Houston George Bush Intercontinental” or “Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.” Under no circumstances should an airport name be more than three words long.

Similarly, I remain uncomfortable with the renaming of Washington National and Newark airports. Reagan National? Plain old “National” was the perfect moniker for the diminutive, domestic-only airport of Washington, D.C. If nothing else, there should be a strict no-presidents rule, up to and including switching New York-JFK back to its original name, Idlewild.

Then we have the pseudo-patriotic puffery of “Newark Liberty International.” The change was made after the 2001 terrorist attacks just across the Hudson, and is yet more fulfillment of our nation’s hunger for heartstring gibberish. I suggest, instead, “Hudson River International.”

Do we even need the “international” suffix anymore? Pretty much every big-city airport has international service these days, even it’s just a flight or two to Canada or Mexico. The label doesn’t mean what it did in, say, the 1950s, so how about we get rid of it?

……….

Wait, time out, stop the press. I’ve just been told that Bob Hope Airport is no longer Bob Hope Airport. It’s now called Hollywood Burbank Airport. That takes a lot of the color out of it. Couldn’t leave well enough alone.

……….

Music: Am I the only person who can’t stand Elvis Costello?

Now, dissing Elvis Costello is in many ways the musical equivalent of dissing the Lockheed Constellation or the DC-3. “Serious” rock fans just won’t have it. I’m sorry, but for as long as I’ve been listening to music, the sound of Costello’s voice instantly causes my toes to curl and my blood to boil. These were the songs heard at college dorm parties in 1986, their adenoidal choruses and pinched little couplets slobbered over by teenage girls who’d had a few too many wine coolers. Moreover, I find it nauseating the way his songwriting skills are spoken of with such pompous reverence, at the expense of other post-punk Brits whose lyrical cleverness could run circles around Costello’s. Take the early and mid-career work of Billy Bragg for example. (Bragg’s proletarian garage-folk and prickly love songs weren’t just smarter, they had balls.) Or, to the north a bit, try the sweet and sour poetry of Roddy Frame, of the long-forgotten Scottish band Aztec Camera.

“Oliver’s Army” is one a few songs of Costello’s that I don’t mind. “Radio, Radio,” is another one, along with, of course, “(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding.” The latter was written by Nick Lowe, not by Costello. There’s a story, maybe apocryphal, about Lowe not realizing that he was in line for a huge amount of royalties after that song became so popular. One day he goes out to his mailbox, and there’s a check for a million dollars. Nick Lowe’s greatest hits collection, Basher, is a terrific album. The song “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” is one of my favorites.

……….

Don’t get me started on Sonic Youth.

And I don’t like bacon, either.



 

Related Story:

MISCELLANEOUS MUSINGS ON AIR TRAVEL, VOLUME 1

 

Note: Portions of this post appeared originally in the magazine Salon.

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52 Responses to “Rummaging Through the Seat Pocket of the Mind”
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  1. jazzbo says:

    Regarding Elvis Costello..you are not alone, he is off pitch a lot and apart from his reedy voice, his songwriting is not that great either.,beats me as to why he has iconic status..fear not, you are not alone Captain..and may anyone who disses the Dakota /DC-3 be held up by TSA for 24 hours prior to boarding any flight…

  2. Rfa Renthlei says:

    Thank you so much! I thought I was all but alone in fondly remembering Aztec Camera and their music! Full agreement on Billy Bragg as well.

  3. Jim Meadows says:

    You don’t like bacon, well f**k you!

  4. Stephane L Pare says:

    I just lost it a the final comment:
    I don’t like bacon either!

    Now, you’re just being contrarian… Wow, did I ever laugh out loud.
    Further, good for you, nitrates will kill you anyway.

    Cheers,

  5. Beverly D. Hasegawa says:

    I have no particular feelings about Elvis Costello one way or another. But I loathe Joni Mitchell – there, I’ve said it!

  6. Gareth Tuffery says:

    Hi Patrick,
    The bouncing Madonna

    Returning from Georgia (GE) and changing flights at Turkeys Sabiha Gokcen airport. We were delayed on the tarmac by over 30 minutes as a large group of pilgrames boarded our flight. Much to our amazement each passenger appeared to have two very large bags for the overhead lockers. With much pandemonium the planes passengers refused to be seated as lockers and gangways were filled with bags of religious icons. Eventually bags were removed and placed in the planes hold. But what I remember most on landing at Brussels Zaventem airport was a locker been opened and a falling Madonna bouncing off the head of a man who had remained seated!

  7. Marty U. says:

    Hey Patrick, love the column. And bacon. Just curious if you have an opinion about the music of Marshall Crenshaw, whom I once heard referred to as a wanna-be Elvis Costello. As to myself, I find Elvis’ sound yet another interesting entry in the soundtrack of my high school years, some songs better than others. Sorry they’re not to your liking.

  8. UncleStu says:

    Dissing the DC-3, the Lockheed Constellation and now bacon!!!

    All in the same paragraph!!!

    What’s next – apple pie and motherhood?!!

    Just joking, although I do like all three of the above, in that order.

    Warmest regards

  9. charles e Friedman says:

    What’s you take on the Georgia legislature punishing Delta? Oh, if only Delta had it in them to leave ATL.

  10. DBS says:

    OMG, another Elvis Costello hater in the world, I’m not alone! My friends, people I love, people whose musical taste I admire and trust, all love him and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. He just seems so damn contrived, like the whole thing is some little cute act. Even most of his songs are gimmicky. It’s as if a soulless computer invented the perfect college rock artists.

  11. Kozmo says:

    Heh! I have NO IDEA what “Sudoku” is or why I should care. Send that hate directed at Ask the Pilot to me instead!

    Also, I note that Aer Lingus seems to have regular service between Chicago and Ireland, is this connected in any way to the Irish-Americans in the Chicago area? So why not Poland, too? (By the way, how about a look at Aer Lingus, should we fly the Irish national airline or is it no better than any other?)

  12. Sheila Hartney says:

    Patrick,

    I don’t think you’re old enough to recall when they changed the name of Friendship Airport in Baltimore to BWI, Baltimore Washington International. That’s another name change that should never have happened.

    Those of us who worked at DCA, National Airport, mocked the name change, as I expect those who worked out at Dulles did also.

    Sheila

  13. Lee Withers says:

    I don’t foresee Liberty being changed to Hudson River. The actual river is now known as Sully Regional.

  14. Jack May says:

    Re lengthy airport names, there’s Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field (LIT) in Little Rock, AR.

  15. Michael Smith says:

    Sudoku is a logic puzzle but does not require numbers. Any unique set of characters, sounds, smells will work.

  16. phoenix says:

    Don’t forget, Japan also gave us sushi, Kurosawa, anime, sake, and…. tentacle porn?

    So it ain’t all bad.

  17. David says:

    Thank you so much! I thought I was all but alone in fondly remembering Aztec Camera and their music! Full agreement on Billy Bragg as well.

  18. Lurk says:

    Not liking Elvis Costello? Odd, but forgiveable. Not liking bacon!? I’m lost for words. You’ll be telling us next that you’re not that keen on black pudding.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I’m just off to play my “Talking With The Taxman about Poetry” cassette …. hisssssss

  19. Matt Gailitis says:

    No, you are not the only person who hates Elvis Costello. I despise his music and I want to be your friend.
    For a minute there I was thinking to myself, “Hey, this guy seems pretty cool.”
    And then, BAM!. You went on to reference the brilliant Billy Bragg.
    That sealed the deal.
    All best from YYZ.

  20. Howard Koor says:

    Yes, the romantic in me agrees that walking on the tarmac to board or inboard a plane certainly enhances the experience of flying…

  21. David Deibel says:

    I’ve lived inTucson since 1968. My first flight out was in 1969. After that, I’ve flown in and out from TUS (the first 3 letters of the most common misspelling of Tucson) dozens of times. I think I’ve walked across the tarmac at least through the ‘80’s. I totally agree with you. How would the last scene in Casablanca be filmed today?!

  22. Tod says:

    I can imagine that you will have a post about this but what are your initial thoughts on the Southwest incident?

  23. Eric in NH says:

    I have been told that if you call DCA “Reagan”, and you are neither an airline employee (who has to deal with clueless out-of-towners) or a WMATA employee (who is required by act of Congress to use the name), you are identifying yourself as a clueless out-of-towner. I was pleasantly surprised back in 2012 to see JetBlue correctly call the airport “Washington-DCA” (the way you would refer to London-LHR or Tokyo-NRT), but they have since knuckled under to the Reagan hagiographers. Worst of all, DCA was already named after a president: it was officially George Washington National Airport before Congress insisted on naming it after Reagan.

    I consider the renaming of IAH after George H. W. Bush to be almost as egregious. Houston Intercontinental Airport, the previous name, was perfect: everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas, so of course that state’s largest city can’t have a mere international airport.

    • mollusk says:

      Most people in Houston still refer to the big airport as either “IAH” or “Intercontinental” – or “Intergalactic” if they’re feeling sardonic.

  24. 39alpha says:

    When they announced the renaming of Newark Airport, I wrote a letter to the NY Times noting the irony of the name: it’s hard to find a place in the US where we have less liberty than at an airport. My letter was of course not published.

  25. Martin says:

    Elvis Costello’s New Amsterdam should be included in the exception list.

  26. Dan says:

    You reminded me of the days of my training for my Instrument rating in the 1970s, when my ground school instructor gleefully tasked me with planning an approach into “The William B. Hartsfield International Airport” in Atlanta, as it was known then, and handed me the government approach plate books for the purpose. I couldn’t for the life of me find *any* published instrument approaches for it! It turns out they had it alphabetized under “T” for “The”!

    I used to share your romantic appreciation for the air stairs, until I developed mobility problems. Now I could not possibly get both myself and my carry-on into the aircraft unassisted without the jet bridge.

  27. Marshall says:

    Kudos to the Bacon Industrial Complex in the US for successfully turning ordinary enjoyment of cured pork sides into a mainstream cultural/comedic riptide. Bacophilia isn’t just another meme-able opportunity for obsessive one-upmanship (tho it is definitely that). Liking bacon has become nearly an assumption. I think it’s because people believe that proclaiming your love of bacon says something about you as a person. That you’re a contrarian because you love something so unhealthy? That you’re not a food snob? That, despite your intelligence and complexity, you are still given to basic passions? I’m not sure, but people are going to great lengths to show it.

    I mean, I like bacon. But it’s no sausage.

    • Rod says:

      The Bacon Industrial Complex (aka agribusiness) is a huge bruiser of an industry that takes no prisoners. Anyway, unless you’re a committed vegetarian, I’d say it’s quite unusual not to like bacon, so there’s real contrarianism here. And the freak/fluky factor of personal taste.
      As for sausage, remember what they say …

    • DBS says:

      Bacon is fine. But it’s a lazy way for chefs to add flavor, and kind of 2012.
      Put it next to my eggs, but keep it out of my vegetables.

  28. Josh P says:

    One of the reasons I dislike the “International” designation in airport names is that many of the smaller airports that include this don’t even have international commercial service! I know the designation is put in place in order to signify that the airport has CBP facilities, but I think it is misleading to people who don’t realize this distinction.

  29. Alan Dahl says:

    One thing I like about the Seattle area is that people here in the Jet City (not the Emerald City) don’t take well to name changes. When Sen. Henry Jackson died well-meaning politicians changed the name of SeaTac airport to “Jackson International “. Not only was this confusing on flight boards (are we going to Seattle or Florida?) but it also violated a condition that the airports name had to include “Tacoma” as they had contributed money to the original construction of the airport. The row was immense and resulted in at least one port commissioner loosing their seat ungainly a candidate (Ivar Haglund if you know Seattle) on the single campaign plank to change the airpirts name back. The new name lasted about a year and a half and it’s been SeaTac ever since.

    • mark r. says:

      Naming lots of things after politicians proves they are egomaniacs.

      Anyway, Henry Jackson got a Trident submarine named for him, more appropriate since he was such a fan of preparing for nuclear war.

  30. MikeO says:

    And by the way, it isn’t Bob Hope Airport anymore. It’s Hollywood Burbank Airport.

    • Peter says:

      Read the whole article, please. 😉

    • John says:

      And if you look at the time line on their website, it’s the second time it’s been named the “Hollywood Burbank Airport.”
      1934 – Name changed to “Union Air Terminal”
      1940 – Name changed to “Lockheed Air Terminal” when Lockheed bought the airport.
      1967 – Name changed to “Hollywood-Burbank Airport”
      1978 – Name changed to “Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport”
      2003 – Name changed to “Bob Hope Airport”
      2016 – Name changed back to “Hollywood Burbank Airport”

      Is this normal for an airport?

  31. MikeO says:

    I grew up near DC and it will always be just National Airport to me. It fell victim to the “name at least one thing in every county in the US after Reagan” conspiracy. People tell me they are flying “into Reagan” and my brain still doesn’t process it. it is only a mater of time before they start to sell naming rights:.. Ladies and gentlemen we are beginning our final approach to Hatrsfiled-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, brought to you by Home Depot Airport — we’ll be landing on Johns-Manville Insulation Runway and pulling into the Hello Kitty Gate in the Michael Kors terminal. Ugh. Overhead bins: yes. agree. I am an aisle seat person and fear for my life quite often. If not a person dropping a carry-on bag on my head (which has happened), the people who wear backpacks and forget that it makes them thicker. They swing around and whack you with the thing. Or just the people who walk by and smack you for no reason at all with a purse, shoulder, small child, etc., and just keep going. And my favorite: the person who wants to talk to the people across the aisle from you and sits on your armrest with his ass in your face. I gave him a gentle elbow and got the dirtiest look. He just kept talking. Common courtesy is dead. Elvis Costello: I could take him or leave him.

    • UncleStu says:

      “the “name at least one thing in every county in the US after Reagan” conspiracy.”

      It must be real. No other plausible explanation.

      His following is cult like; but history will not be kind to him.

  32. Jim says:

    I hate to tell you this, but it’s no longer officially Bob Hope Airport — it’s now Hollywood Burbank Airport (a revival of the name it previously bore from 1967 to 1978). There is, at least, still a display of Bob Hope memorabilia in the terminal.

  33. Rod says:

    If you fly low-cost airlines here in Europe, you find soaring populations and plummeting prices are overcrowding airports to the extent that remote stands are proliferating. So you have plenty of opportunities to climb stairs onto the aircraft.

    Gosh, I’ll do my best not to hate you, Patrick, but as a Swiss I have to quote http://www.sudokudragon.com/sudokuhistory.htm: “Sudoku originated in Switzerland and then traveled to Japan by way of America.”

    Yeah, “Liberty”. Like, gimme a break already. Ah, self-righeous/cornball America. Though I did like Dave Barry’s suggestion: “Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport and Death March”.

    Costello gets very mixed reviews from yours truly.

    Any other complaints?

  34. ReadyKilowatt says:

    I wouldn’t say Elvis Costello is my favorite musician, but I do enjoy the fact that I can sing along with his music after a few beers without destroying my voice.

    As for airport names, why is it that for everything else in a city, the nostalgia factor creates massive historical districts, bans on building destruction and attempts to freeze progress in a way that attempts to preserve the most successful time of a city, but for airports it’s always tear down the old one and spend too much on the new one? Then when no one likes the new one, or the airlines don’t get enough traffic and close gates it becomes a white elephant and burden? Even the most iconic terminal out there, TWAs terminal 5, was going to be torn down until wiser heads intervened. Greater PIT wasn’t the most modern terminal out there, but it was paid for and reminded one of those 1930s era film flights we’d all love to take. The new one is like an empty shopping mall, but with constant announcements about unaccompanied baggage.

  35. Jonnny says:

    You seem to be in a foul mood Patrick. Did you wake up on the wrong side of the cockpit? Love your writing…even when you are grumpy!

  36. Speed says:

    Many years ago I took my parents to the Sarasota, Florida airport to catch a United 727 for the first leg — 10 minutes non-stop to Tampa — of a trip back north. Sarasota (now Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Woo-Hoo) was one of the last quaint Florida airports with open-air concourses and waiting areas. Boarding included a walk across the ramp to the air stair in warm sunshine. But not that day.

    A typical Florida deluge with lightning and thunder rumbled in as boarding began. United was prepared. Personal handed umbrellas to passengers, walked with them to the plane and up the stairs, retrieved the umbrellas, returned to the gate and repeated the operation until everyone was on board. It was a purely symbolic effort. But every soaked passenger got safely on board and had a memorably bumpy ride to Tampa.

    The good old days:
    http://www.deltamuseum.org/images/site/explore/dc-3-ship-41/ship41_boarding_1940s.jpg?sfvrsn\x3d2

  37. Richard, Michigan says:

    “Am I being too harsh?” Yes. Most definitely yes. It keeps many fellow passengers occupied, including those who otherwise would do stuff on their tablets that involved beeping or other annoying sound effects,
    attempt to engage me in conversation, or fall asleep.

    “Sudoku is numbers, and for most of us there’s little shame in being lousy at numbers.” Sudoku *seems* to be about numbers, but it actually has to do with logic and reasoning. It could (almost) as easily use the letters A through I, but people in general — at least those who have been exposed to numbers and arithmetic — are more attuned to recognizing scrambled number patterns than letter patterns. And hey, I’m for anything that helps people develop their logic and reasoning skills.

  38. catester says:

    You wrote: I’m sorry, but for as long as I’ve been listening to music, the sound of even a single note from any one of Costello’s songs instantly causes my toes to curl and my blood to boil.

    He’s married to Diana Krall, a Canadian icon and jazz musician who couldn’t carry a tune in a roller bag stashed in the overhead compartment. Under no circumstances try listening to this: https://youtu.be/Yr8xDSPjII8

  39. Steve says:

    Patrick,

    I sympathize with everything you said .. up to and MOSDEF not including the bacon.

    I mean … it’s bacon! What’s not to like?

    • Patrick says:

      I fully understand that I’m in the minority, and how outright iconoclastic — and perhaps unmanly — it is to disdain bacon. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I’ve never liked it.

      I can tolerate bacon if it’s rare and by itself. But if it’s crispy, or on a burger or a sandwich, no way.

      • Clark says:

        I don’t know, Patrick, other than the brilliant “Greetings to the New Brunette”, with its kitchen-sink view of unemployed pre-Thatcher Britain (and some help from Johnny Marr on guitar), I just couldn’t take much of Billy Bragg’s lefty agitprop folk songs. Give me a pre-Style Council Paul Weller any day – at least he rocked. And Costello’s Armed Forces has to be high on the list of best New Wave/post-punk albums. Like R.E.M., Elvis went flabby after the first four albums, but he was damn prolific and led one of the tightest bands anywhere – name a better rock drummer than Pete Thomas? Or Steve Nieve’s incredible keyboard work. After awhile his wordplay got tiresome, but I love lines like:
        “New Amsterdam, it’s become much too much,
        ‘Til I have the possession of everything she touches,
        ‘Til I step on the brake to get out of her clutches,
        ‘Til I speak double Dutch to a real double dutchess.”