Slam into the Cockpit

Charlebois Humor

After a lovely holiday with the folks in Florida, it was time to get back to reality. I had two kitties back home wondering where the hell Daddy went, and why he hadn’t at least called to check in. I also knew that Los Angeles shuts down when I leave town. (I wish, for once, the city could function without me.) Anyway, I was set to return, but as usual I dreaded the long flight home, because things rarely go smoothly for me when I travel.

Many people are curious how someone like me, a quadriplegic, flies on a plane. Some think I sit in my wheelchair during the flight. Luckily, that’s not the case because during take-offs I would roll to the back of the plane, and on landings I’d probably slam into the cockpit. And if we hit any turbulence I might be thrown from the chair, causing a random passenger to exclaim: “Excuse me, Flight Attendant, but a strange, limp man has just landed in my lap.”

The good thing about being disabled in a wheelchair is that they board you first, even before the first class royalty. The bad thing is that you’re the last to be taken off. To get me on the plane they bring me down the jet way to pre board me. Outside the plane is a tiny little device called an aisle chair. It’s about as big as tricycle, and somehow a clown like me is able to fit in it. With limited use of my arms, it’s rather difficult for me to transfer onto it without assistance, so I usually have someone lifting me from under my arms and legs to plop me onto it. The process is easy, efficient and I enjoy a good groping without having to pay for it. Besides, by that time, it’s been a good 20 or 30 minutes since I was groped by airport security.

Problems almost always arise when I travel. Many times the two people sent to lift me are females who aren’t built to lift a flabby lump such as myself. They’re good with little babies, but not big babies like me. It’s been years since I’ve been breast fed, three to be exact. My complaints to the airlines about pairing up a man with a woman has hit the proverbial wall. I always tell the ladies, “I don’t think you can lift me.” They assure me they can in a thick accent from some country I’ve never heard of.

“Are you sure you can lift me?” I ask to confirm. “Yes, no problem” they reply. And so the process begins. They wrap their meat hooks around me, and for a split second I feel loved. They struggle to lift me up. They grunt, but nothing’s moving. They try several times and still nothing. Someone walking by might think I’m getting the Heimlich maneuver and that, at any moment, a chicken bone is going to shoot out of my mouth. Somehow they manage to get me in the aisle chair. Sure my hair is tussled, my shirt ripped up and I can check off my prostate exam, but I’m alive.

Once onboard we go through the same thing but the armrests are higher, so it’s more difficult. “Are you sure you can get me over there? I ask. “Yes, no problem,” comes the reply in the strange accent. They struggle to hoist me up. Again it’s a no-go but this time the flight attendant has joined in to help. One person lifts me under the arms, another under the legs, while the flight attendant pulls me towards the seat. Everyone is huffing and puffing and groaning and grunting, including me. The pilot notices and gets in on the fun as he leans against one of the seats and puts his feet up against my ass to try and push me over. It works. I’m somehow in the bulkhead seat… alive, but barely. They forget to put the cushion in my seat, so everyone grabs a piece of my flesh, lifts me up again, while yet another flight attendant slips the cushion under me.

I wiggle around doing my best to pull up my pants that have slipped down to my knees during the mayhem. Finally, I’m situated for the flight, and the flight attendant kindly asks if I need anything. “How about a blanket?” I say. “We don’t have any.” A pillow? No dice. “Well give me a Scotch and make it a double,” I snap. “That’ll be 20 bucks,” they say, to which I reply, “You gotta be kidding me. Can I pay you after my sixth bottle, since I only pay those prices when I’m drunk?”

Sometimes before I board they ask me if I want a window or an aisle seat. I say aisle because it’s the path of least resistance. I feel bad for the people who sit in my row. When they need to go to the bathroom they have to climb over me. Sometimes they give me the skunk eye thinking I’m some lazy, inconsiderate pig unwilling to stand and let them pass. I whisper, “Sorry, I’m in a wheelchair,” and then the stone face melts away as they realize this guy ain’t so bad after all. They smile, pat me on the head and say, “God bless you, Tiny Tim,” as they gently climb over me using my head as a handrail. Incidentally, a butt or groin at eye level is not appealing in the least—unless you’re stuffing dollar bills in it. I hope that’s not TMI.

I have trouble sleeping at home so sleeping on a plane is out of the question, even if the inflight movie is The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp. I try and read, but it’s hard to concentrate because I have a heavy breather next to me, driving me crazy. Hey Bro, save it for sleazy prank calls. I just can’t get comfortable even though I practice sitting all day. The only choice I have is to listen to my iPod and slam down expensive cocktails from those mini-me bottles. Hey, you ever notice how those songs that you loved and downloaded, you don’t like so much anymore? Just an observation.

So I reach my layover in Denver and wait a good 29 minutes for folks to get off the plane. They anxiously grab their carry-ons from the overhead compartments, hitting me in the head as they yank them down. Once the other passengers are all off, I wait another 20 minutes for the aisle-chair gang. Every five minutes the flight attendant comes back to tell me they should be here any minute. “Do you have anymore of those little liquor bottles?” I ask, but she insists the beverage service is over. They finally get there. It’s two young ladies from another country I never heard of, and here we go again. Better get the pilot back here.

My wheelchair is usually waiting outside the plane. Lost baggage is one thing, but a lost wheelchair, that’s bad because you know it’s going to be a long crawl to the gate to catch your connecting flight—which is usually at the other end of the airport. Fortunately, to the airlines credit, they get me back in my wheelchair on the jet way, but then they all vanish onto the plane. I need a push up the steep jet way. Fifteen minutes pass and they still haven’t come off the plane. Maybe they hit the liquor cabinet. It wouldn’t be so bad, but I’m waiting in 10-degree weather. At least there’s no wind chill on the jet way—until I’m out on the tarmac, getting loaded onto my connecting flight back to Burbank. Hello wind chill!

I thawed out on the next flight and got into my home airport, tired, weary and hungry. I just wanted to get back to my place because someone on my flight told me there’s no place like home. Actually he told me a lot of things because he talked the whole way. I was the head nodder with pithy comments like “You betcha” and “Crazy stuff.” I was happy to see my luggage making the rounds on the carousel. “You made it! You made it!” I said to myself. I had someone grab it and put it on my lap so I could hug it. Everything was gonna be alright. Things were looking up. Bless you luggage-tag man.

I got out to the curb ready for the shuttle service to pick me up in the van with a lift. Cool, I don’t think I have the strength to transfer or even tell someone to lift me and put me in the van. Come on, I just flew across country and boy are my arms tired. The curbside shuttle organizer approaches me. “Your shuttle’s running about 25 minutes late.” I can somehow live with that. I got my luggage to keep me company. Luckily it doesn’t talk as much as the guy on the plane.

A half hour passes and my shuttle driver calls to tell me he’s in Temecula, which is 45 minutes away. “Why do bad things happen to bad people? “ I thought to myself. I was advised to maybe find another way home. So, the game home continued. They ordered me up an accessible taxi/minivan thing. Surprisingly it got there in 20 minutes, and the Iranian cab driver loaded me in asking, “It’s okay? He then strapped me down to prevent me from sloshing around. Conversation with him was a little choppy all the way home.

It had been a long day. When I got home the neighbor girl, who was watching my cats, was supposed to leave my door unlocked since I had given her my key. But the door was locked and the crazy thing was, I wasn’t surprised. Again, I asked myself, “Why do bad things happen to bad people?” The good thing was she was home and finally I got into the house. It was nice to be home, even though the cats refused to talk to me. What’s their dealio, I told ‘em I was going away?

The house smelled a little funny. I thought maybe the neighbor had left litter box duty to me. But when I went into the bathroom I noticed the plumbing had backed up. It wasn’t pretty. After suppressing any suicidal thoughts, I calmly mumbled, “serenity now, serenity now.” It was then I realized this was not my day. I tried to catch the cab driver to see if he was a plumber on the side… or maybe a janitor. Oh life, why do you mock me?

This was not how I planned on kicking off the New Year. It has taken me time, but I have learned that trials, headaches, problems and negativity will not define who I am. I slap on a smile and look turmoil in the face, “Is that the best you’ve got?”

Before I went to bed I thanked God for getting me home safely. I thought how blessed I am: I’m alive; I have a place to sleep; I have food; I live in a great country; I have family, friends and kitties who love me. And there’s a world of possibilities on my horizon. The only thing I don’t have is a plumber, but they’re out there. Never let one day of your life hold your week hostage. The quicker you get over things, the more time you have to be happy. And remember, this happened to me, not you, so you’ve got that going for you. But be prepared because you’re probably next.

by Jeff Charlebois

Read more articles from the Special Olympics Shriver Issue