I am by no means a wealthy man and I definitely did not come from a family with money. My father was a Cowboy and a mechanic and my mother was a bank teller. Lower middle class by any standard. I did not get on an airplane until I was twenty-one years old and I never stayed in a hotel until I was twenty-three. My first suit was from Men’s Warehouse and only because I was selected to go to boys state. I had to squeeze into that same suit four years later for my first job interview. I did not go hungry nor did I go without any of life’s necessities. That being said I never knew most of the frills and excess that other people consider normal. So I never thought I’d find myself on a first class flight to Hawaii for an island vacation I had only ever seen on TV.
I can remember the old movies my father would make us all watch when I was a child. Mostly they were westerns but on occasion, they were the quintessential Americana films of the 1950s and 1960s. In those movies, both the men and women were elegantly dressed. The men all wore suits and were cleanly shaved and the women wore dresses and stockings with their hair neatly done and their faces lightly covered in makeup. It was a time when people genuinely cared about how they looked. As I sat drinking my third or fifth cocktail and looked across the aisle to see a man with a Johnny Cash t-shirt, cargo shorts and calf high wool socks with crocks. I knew those days of personal care were over.
As the flight attendant laid white cloth napkins on our fold-out tray tables I glanced up at the front row of first class to see a middleaged woman with an elaborate head wrap and a fluffy white dog in her lap. She stroked the dogs ear the way Smeagol stroked his precious ring. She was watching a real housewives show with her headphones in as her children sat the next row over bouncing and screaming. She did not seem to notice. After a few minutes, she took her headphones out and put the dog on the floor. She stood up and walked to the toilet, all the while not paying attention to her dog, who had started to terrorize the flight attendants. After running in circles and yapping for a few minutes the squeaking snowball finally stopped to wet the carpet in front of the head flight attendant. The woman came out of the toilet and without saying a word, scooped up the dog and headed back to her seat as if nothing happened. The flight attendants did not seem fazed by this as one put a towel on the wet spot as the other started serving food. Their faces never changed as it seemed like it was just another day at the office for them.
As I sat eating my chicken parmesan and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream while drinking the last cocktail they would let me have I started to wonder about sitting in the back of the plane. I had sat near the toilet in the tail many times before. I had flown for work quite a few times and they always got me the cheapest seat on the cheapest flight. In all that time I had never had any free cocktails nor had I eaten anything bigger than some mixed nuts or crackers. My arms and legs were always cramped next to someone as we waited for the flight to land. This was the most peaceful and luxurious flight I had ever taken. However, the people were far and apart different. In the age that has long since passed, flying was for movie stars, politicians and the ridiculously wealthy. Everyone smoked and drank cocktails while the captain would come out and mingle with the passengers as he assured them that all was well. Today planes are little more than school buses and cattle cars. Those sitting in the front simply paid more and that’s all. Free drinks and tempting food do not make those sitting around you any classier or more refined. So did the planes change or did we?
Elegance is usually confused with superficiality, fashion, lack of depth. This is a serious mistake: human beings need to have elegance in their actions and in their posture because this word is synonymous with good taste, amiability, equilibrium and harmony.
– Paulo Coelho