Saturday, August 18, 2007

Calming the Drunk

Last night after a full day of driving, and waiting around the Salt Lake City airport, I caught a flight to Oakland. I managed to get a nice aisle seat in the third row, got comfortable with my book and waited to take off. After the whole plane was boarded and we began to taxi, an obviously drunk guy in the fourth row, opposite from me, got up and tried to use the bathroom. The flight attendants asked him to sit down until we were in the air. He sat down loudly, claiming he really had to go.

The guy looked like he was in his late twenties, clean cut in a black button up shirt and jeans, and he was sitting in the middle seat leaning over and talking incessantly at the girl sitting against the window. An older man was in the aisle seat, looking perturbed as he read his book.

When we reached the runway the pilot came on the speakers and informed us that high winds were going to delay our flight for about a half hour, that we’d be on the runway for a while. At this information, the drunk yelled to the flight attendants for permission to use the bathroom, and they allowed him, despite how rude he had asked.

I tend to enjoy the spectacle of obnoxious people losing control of themselves, but this was a closed environment, we were stuck there for hours and the weather made people nervous, babies were crying.

One of these babies was sitting behind me, and once the drunkard was back in his seat, he leaned over and began to berate the infant for what must have been an entire minute. People were becoming really annoyed, turning their heads back or sitting up high in their seats to see what the hell was going on.

Eventually we took off in a very shaky manner, the sort of turbulence where you can feel the plane drop in the pit of your stomach, where you think a bit about your ideas of god and afterlife, about how ready you are to die.

The drunk continued to talk at the girl beside him and she seemed uneasy, a flight attendant asked if she was okay as she was taking drink orders and the girl indicated that she was not. At this the drunk became irritated and began yelling at the flight attendant for “disrespecting” him, asking for an apology, promising to file a grievance. She ignored him and kept taking orders while he continued to yell. I could see this all going on, and when she took my order, I offered to switch seats with the poor girl.

When the flight attendant got to the front of the plane, he got out of his seat and walked to the front, demanding some sort of apology, making threats, getting way the fuck out of line. Everyone in the plane was uncomfortable, in such an enclosed space, in frightening weather, this man was taking the form of a wild animal, needing a leash and muzzle.

Having so many friends that have had issues with belligerent and self destructive tendencies when they drink, I was nervous about my offer to sit beside this guy, but I felt prepared.

I did all I could do, I ignored him while he went on and on at the top of his lungs about how the girl was a coke head, was just out of rehab, about how he was going to “lynch” the black flight attendant. I got so angry that I could feel the red deepening in my face - I swallowed my pride and did the one thing that I knew could shut him up. I asked him about himself, and then I listened as he went off in a much more restrained fashion in my ear about the girl and flight attendant. Then he began to lament about serving in Afghanistan, about getting shot, about having to shoot a 10 year old kid because he had a AK-47 pointed at him ready to fire. It seemed like he was still pretty messed up over it, he told me wanted a beer. When he stopped a male flight attendant making a fuss about not getting peanuts, I gave him the pack I wasn’t going to eat. Then I focused on my book, ignoring most of what he said unless it really needed some sort of reply.

He then went out of his way to make sure he wasn’t disturbing my reading. He shut up for a while. He apologized to me for interrupting to ask what city I thought we were flying over. He even apologized to the flight attendant, though still demanding an apology from her.

Once we arrived at the gate, the pilot asked everyone to stay in their seats. The door opened and an Alameda County sheriff walked in, asked me and the man sitting beside me to stand up, and he put the drunk in hand cuffs, pulled him off the plane.