I recently completed a work trip to the States to get a bit of training. I flew to San Francisco via Melbourne on a beautiful QANTAS A380. It’s quiet, stable, and just a delight to travel on. I sat next to some goth chick who never said ‘peep’. I hope to travel with her sometime in the future so we can not talk for the whole trip again.
But, on the way back I traveled on an older QANTAS 747-400. Don’t get me wrong, these are nice aircraft, but they’re a little noisier and more susceptible to turbulence. I sprung a little extra for an Exit Seat, which meant pretty much infinite leg room since I could stretch out and not touch anything, a blessing of unimaginable joy when you’re 6 foot 4. In fact if I stacked my pillows just right I could lie flat, only at a slight angle.
I took my seat and greeted my travel companion to my right. His name was Mark. We exchanged stories on where we we from and where we were going. “I’m heading home, I was doing some computer training for my job” was all I really wanted to share, and was pretty much what I was expecting in return.
But Mark offered more. The story of how he got on this particular aircraft seemed to begin with his birth, and meandered around via his childhood and youth. I tuned out, nodding occasionally to feign interest only picking up that he was a bodybuilding hairdresser originally from Lebanon. After what seemed like a few hours of this tedium I checked my watch, hoping that we’d be landing soon. No such luck. We were still on the tarmac, suffering from some delay in taking off. This wasn’t to be my only inconvenience in this ordeal.
The girl on my left, it turns out, was a doctor. She was Australian, returning home from a friend’s wedding. Fair enough, nice to meet you, see you at the other end.
Once we got in the air, Mark asked me if I managed to sleep on aircraft. I don’t travel very well, not well at all. I don’t really ever manage to sleep, that I know of, and generally feel like I’ve been hit around the head and body with a bag of oranges for the whole trip by the time I disembark. Mark told me he’d give me some ‘sleepers’ to get me through the trip. “Sleepers?”, I asked. He reached under his seat and produced a small gym bag CHOCK FULL TO THE BRIM of tablets. There were tablets in unmarked clear plastic lunch bags, tablets in screw-top containers, and tablets spilling onto the ground.
I asked him how he gets through airports with so many tablets. “Nah, they’re looking for stuff like cocaine. Not my stuff”.
Mark offered me some small yellowish tablets. He said they were Valium, marked with 25, which I’m guessing was the dosage in milligrams. I took it and looked at the doctor. She nodded, indicating she recognised the pills. I told Mark I might take one of these later if I felt tired, thanks very much. Mark said the Valium would relax me, but then if I wanted to go to sleep I’d need some of these other tablets, larger white ones. I can’t remember what he called them.
I met eyes with the doctor chick and she gave me an almost imperceptible shake of the head, and a wild “not if you value your life” look in her eyes. I thanked Mark, and told him I’d consider one of these if I really was feeling awful.
He pulled out three other lots of tablets, with names along the lines of Rizoplam, Nomonugex and other gibberish. I declined each of these, not wanting to make it look like I was totally relying on the doctor.
And so the trip continued. After the seatbelt light turned off, Mark got up and opened the overhead locker, spilling the contents onto my head. He had another bag of drugs which he took down. For the next few hours he sat in between the rows of seats, blocking access to the staff and passengers, and counted his pills over and over. He did this for about four hours.
It was dinner time, so the stewardesses really needed him to take a seat so they could get the drinks trolley past him. He gave up counting, stuffed his bags under his seat (and some under mine) and we were served our choice of a hot chicken or cold fish meal.
Now, when most people finish their meal they hang onto their trays and wait for the stewardesses to come and retrieve them. But not our Mark. He was intent on getting rid of his and getting as soon as he finished. Since we were in Exit seats, we didn’t have tables which fold down from the seat in front, but rather extended out from long arms from under our own seats. Mark tried holding his tray in one hand and folding his table back under the seat with the other and managed to spill half his rubbish onto my lap. I suggested waiting for the cute girls whose job it was to clear all this away to come and get his tray, but he really wanted out of his seat.
Once he was out of his seat, I thought he might casually walk over to the staff with the meal trolley and hand it over. But no. He stepped into the galley, opened a cupboard and threw the tray and the contents in, snapping the door shut with a “job well done” grin. He sat back down, put his own custom headphones around his neck, jacked up the volume, popped a handful of pills and fell asleep. I have no idea why he turned the music on, given that they headphones weren’t on his ears, but I was just glad he was sitting still and not shuffling about making an annoyance of himself.
This gave me the opportunity to talk to the doctor about the pills he had. The Valium, she said, weren’t too harmful but the dosage was fairly high. If I wasn’t used to taking them already, then 5-10mg might be OK. The others he showed me were extremely high dosages, not something she’d recommend to someone who didn’t have a pre-existing medical need for them. One of them doubled as an anti-psychotic prescribed in jails and such for hard core violent criminals with mental issues. Another, she was sure, was used on horses for muscle building. I decided then that upsetting Mark may not be a good idea, and the doctor agreed.
Meanwhile, a stewardess looked at us wondering where all the rubbish in the galley came from. We pointed at Mark, and she rolled her eyes.
So, despite Mark waking a couple hours later and elbowing me in the head when he stretched out, and despite lots of other inconsiderate behaviour I didn’t take out my frustrations on him. I suffered through my 14 hours, happy to make it back to Australian soil, knowing that I was that much closer to being reunited with my family.