This is the first entry in a new series titled In Transit, which will consist of stories that take place in movement, or relate to it in some way. I hope to keep it up and avoid getting sidetracked by Seinfeld erotica. Again.
This past winter I visited my old roommate and my brother in Las Vegas, where my brother lives and works as an architect, a job relatively abnormal, if only for its normality.
The journey from my home near Philadelphia connected me through Chicago. The first leg completed uneventfully, my apprehension of impending chaos grew as I queued for the final segment amidst a chattering, amorphous line, where Zone 3ers tried to board with the Zone 1ers, lurching forward with carry-ons that would clearly not fit overhead.
What my fellow passengers lacked in self-awareness, they surely compensated for with an overflowing sense of enthusiasm. And why shouldn’t they be excited? They were replacing chilling gusts of Lake Michigan wind with sun-drenched cement, fluorescent radiance, and the compounded freedoms of being on vacation and in a city with very fluid standards of normality, morality, and legality. It would be a time to cut loose. We were going to Vegas, baby!
The flight attendants were clearly not sharing in the fun. By the time us plebeians in zone 3 had boarded, they already had the look of grocery-aisle mothers on the brink of breakdown, run ragged by tenacious toddlers. Except these toddlers were fueled not by sugar, but a slightly different white powder, and a juice that burns on the way down. I might’ve thought to give them hugs if I didn’t think it would get me tased and trading Caesar’s Palace for Guantanamo Bay. As a compromise I thought I would be the ideal passenger, and I settled in to my window seat with just that in mind.
“Hey! What’s up Harry Potter? You want a drink bro? Let’s get this guy a drink!” called the guy taking a seat behind me, his knuckles tattooed with some indiscernible text, and his speech indicating that his next drink certainly wouldn’t be the first of the day. He moved and spoke with the reckless confidence of a successful con man; his great con being that all he had to do was work, say five or six days a week, and in exchange, he got all the money he needed to buy whatever he wanted — mostly party supplies of varying degrees, I imagined. Under non-avian circumstances, I surely would have admired the optimism of his approach.
“Nice hair, Harry Potter!” he said, apparently talking to me and thus grossly over-exaggerating my resemblance to the wizarding world’s golden boy.
“Hey, check out Harry Potter!” he told his large, bull-necked friend, who audibly umphed as he dropped into the seat next to me.
“What? Why? Because of the hair?” he asked.
“Oh. Yeah. Right.”
“Let’s get a drink!”
“Yeah, let’s get a drink,” said my agreeable neighbor.
“Hey waitress! Can we get a drink?” He called out, to nobody in particular, before violently shaking his friend’s seat from behind.
I looked out the window and assessed the situation. I was Harry Potter, just without all of his charm, magical abilities, or broom handling abilities — my roommates could attest to that; and I was corralled between the window, the agreeable henchman Crabbe, his buddy Goyle in the row across the aisle, and the indefatigable Draco Malfoy in the row behind us, masterminding the chaos.
“So, vegas, huh?” asked the man occupying our row’s aisle seat, who, broad shouldered and bear handed, looked like Vince Vaughn’s insurance-selling cousin.
“Yeah! Vegas!” replied Crabbe, as we taxied toward the runway.
“My buddy here just turned twenty-five!” Draco told us.
“We’re going for a week.”
“We brought bail money!” Draco added excitedly.
“Better safe than sorry, I guess,” said Insurance Vince, his legs stretching out into the aisle as he gave me a look of skepticism over Crabbe’s shoulder. That look was only made possible over Crabbe’s bulky stature because he had taken to resting his head on his hands, his elbows propped up on the tray table. I noticed that he had begun to sweat, despite the breathability of his cargo shorts, which exposed an infant-sized tribal calf tattoo.
I decided to let the flight attendant handle the returning of his tray table to its mandated locked position for takeoff.
Ten minutes into the flight and Crabbe’s sweating had increased to a level best described as profuse. To add to that, he had begun mumbling to himself, while leaning his head forward against the mini-tv screen lodged in the seat-back in front of him. The sweat caused his head to repeatedly slip across the screen, leaving a glistening trail in its wake. The situation was beginning to turn from uncomfortable to worrying. I looked back to chief Malfoy for assistance, but he was fast asleep, his head resting unapologetically on the shoulder of his neighbor, a baldheaded older man who flashed me a look of disbelieving amusement.
In between the repeated head slipping and mumbling, Crabbe had managed to pull everything from his pockets – his wallet, a pack of cigarettes, and his cell phone. For whatever reason, he thought they were better suited resting on his lap, where they promptly fell to the floor. The next two and a half hours of the flight were a loop of him dropping his phone on the ground and Insurance Vince Vaughn or I picking it up for him, as his broad frame made it impossible for him to reach below the seat and retrieve it himself. After the fifth time picking up his phone, I began to identify less as a pupil at Hogwarts and more as the do-good Sisyphus of American Airlines.
This cycle repeated. And repeated. He continued sweating and didn’t reduce at all during periods of what I assumed was some state close to sleep, his personal TV surely taking on more liquid than its design called for, his sleep only interrupted by the thud of his phone as it slipped off his lap and hit the floor. I wondered what medication might help ease the situation, or what medication caused it. Insurance Vince and I gave each other worried-but-not-sure-what-to-do-shrugs.
An extended period of turbulence rocked the cabin, along with whatever delusions I might have had about my own immortality. It shook Crabbe upright and lucid, but only briefly enough to relocate his phone from his seat-back pocket where I had wedged it back to his lap. The turbulence had a more lasting effect on Draco, who awakened from his slumber and immediately sought out a nearby “waitress” to order a drink.
“What do you mean you don’t take cash?” he asked the attendant unfortunate enough to answer his call.
“I mean we do not accept cash. Only credit,” she explained.
“Correct, we do not accept cash.”
“Okay well I don’t have a credit card…so?” He looked at her as if he expected her to change her mind about the cash thing.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said before walking off to attend to other concerns.
Draco looked at Goyle, now awake in the row across the aisle.
“Can you believe they don’t take cash? What kind of airline is this? Cash! That’s gotta be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Yeah, bro, that’s dumb,” Goyle offered.
Crabbe’s head sweatily slipped across the TV screen in further agreement.
Eventually the captain announced that we were closing in on Vegas and we should ready for descent. Again, it felt like the job of preparing Crabbe’s seat and tray table for landing was a job best left to the professionals. A flight attendant quickly came by and woke him, and he obeyed her commands. But, as she walked away, he began accusing her of failing at her job because she didn’t once bring him a water, despite “asking five times!” In reality, he was in an unreachable, trance-like state of head-sweating during each of the beverage services. Of course mentioning that would’ve done nothing to abet his thirst, and I figured anger was as good an alternative to water as he could get at this point.
We landed without incident and lingered in the uncomfortable moments between landing and deboarding for what seemed like ages. As soon as the space opened up, I kneeled to retrieve Crabbe’s wallet and cigarettes for him, which fortunately were still within range on the floor under his seat. For this task he was so appreciative that he offered me a cigarette, and became incredulous when I told him I didn’t smoke.
Later, amidst the slot machines and Jamba Juices of the terminal, I ran into Draco and the gang outside the bathroom.
“Harry Potter! How was the flight?”
“Okay. But your buddy here had a bit of a rough flight,” I told him.
“Yeah, well Harry, that’ll happen when you take 8 hits of molly, two lines of coke, and a lot of beer right before you board.”
I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I guess that’ll happen,” I said.
It appears that Draco and the gang grew up and got into drugs, a fate likely absent from any of J.K. Rowling’s epilogues. The next few days and nights in the dessert-city, a world capital of excess, were satisfyingly wild as we navigated its sensory overload as both voyeurs and participants. The only thing missing at the end was closure — I guess I’ll never know if Draco and the Gang ended up having to use that bail money.