Flew out of Washington National, with wheels up at 5:30 am. At the airport at 4:15, a woman was losing her mind, screaming at US AIR personnel because there was no on at the counter. It was a 55-year old undergoing the complete meltdown of a 5-year old. The ticket kiosks were turned on at 4:30 am, and I checked in and was first at the gate without saying a word, a cup of smoking hot darkness in my hand on the edge of dawn. The flight from DC to Charlotte was without drama; still dark in Charlotte. Charlotte to Atlanta went without a hitch. All good.
Atlanta went fine. Dollar car rental was actually a pleasure, the Google Girl gave me turn-by-turn directions to where I was going and back. Perfect.
I got back to Dollar Car rental one hour and 3 minutes before take off. I was cutting it close, as there are airport trains and security stations to negotiate, but I arrived at my gate just as they were loading. My seat was in the second-to-last row at the back of the airplane.
The first suggestion of a hitch in the giddyup was that the airplane was very, very full; packed, in fact.
The second hitch was suggested when a tall, old, wraith-like thin woman began arguing with the man in the row behind mine. Would he change seats so she could sit on the aisle? He would not -- he said he had specifically asked for an aisle seat as he had claustrophobia.
Before I knew what was going on, this same demanding woman was pushing past the aisle person in my row to sit in the seat between us. Did she have a ticket for this seat? I did not know.
The first sign of trouble was the size of her purse, which was as big as Santa's bag.
The second sign of trouble was the short wig on her head. It clearly came from one of the cheapest ghetto wig stores -- perhaps a throw away once used on a manikin. She had to be entirely bald underneath that wig
The third sign of trouble was when she reached into her purse and began to remove more than a half-dozen plasticated menus she had stolen from some airport concession, and which she carefully placed on the seat before she sat down.
Great. I was going to be sitting next to a full-blown Obsessive Compulsive who was very clearly off her meds (or who had never been on them).
I could recount what happened next, but US Air helpfully sent me a text as soon as I landed in Charlotte and asked how was my flight. This is what I wrote:
"The seat was fine, but the lady next to me was certifiably insane. Mentally ill with very bad OCD. Touching herself all over, constantly mumbling, and then she spent an hour cleaning EVERY part of her body, including reaching under her skirt and into her behind, to clean her privates with moist toilettes. She was a sad case, but there was nothing to do as it was a full flight. The poor bastard on the other side feigned sleep. He wasn't. We were just holding on. A nightmare. I was freaked out by the whole thing."
I remained freaked out the rest of the night and I am still a little freaked out the next morning.
To be clear, I am not without sympathy for the mentally ill. But it does not change the fact I was dragged into something I desperately wanted escape from. No doubt she did too -- but not enough to take her meds. She would rather ruin her own life -- and that of everyone else around her -- than do that.
Yeah, I know: First World Problem.
That said, you should have been there.