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North By Southwest

O. Henry's Incredible Time-Travel Adventure!

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North By Southwest
I'm reclining in my favorite seat on the plane: On the aisle, over the left wing. It's on the emergency escape aisle- an oasis of space in the center of the Southwest Airlines' world of narrow seats and low headroom. There is zero turbulence. The flight attendant has provided me with two bags of magic peanuts and a glass of water. My CD player is feeding me a steady stream of random weird music, easily drowning out any annoying cabin noises. I would call this the perfect flight.

If I was actually flying.

I am not flying. I am sitting in a plane on the runway. I have been sitting here for nearly forty-five minutes, delayed by weather. But saying I've been waiting forty-five minutes is an unfair distortion of the truth. I've actually been waiting close to four hours, but most of that time was spent sitting on the carpet in line at the gate, then rushing to a new gate so I could quickly get on the plane and do nothing. The only interesting thing to see in the last hour was a woman getting thrown off the plane (travel tip: no matter how frustrated you are, it's probably a bad idea to yell "Would you get out of my fucking face" at a stewardess).

Eventually, the plane begins to move: not soaring into the sky, but trundling back to the gate. Our pilots have been waiting too long, and are no longer allowed to fly. I grab my stuff and join the cursing herd heading back to the terminal.

I sit on the carpet again, tired and cranky like a kindergartener on a "time out," waiting. Waiting. Thinking I didn't need to go beg my boss to let me leave early. Thinking that if I'd driven, I would already be in San Francisco . An hour passes while they find fresh pilots.

Then I hear the call over the PA system: "Attention, Southwest passengers: Flight 1105 to Oakland is now boarding at Gate A1." Everyone rushes to the gate (our third), and gets on a new plane (our second). Someone else has taken my seat, so I'm in a standard, built-for-guys-who-weigh-less-that-250-pounds seat- but I don't care. All I care about is leaving the damn airport. The captain welcomes us, we taxi out to the runway, and.

We wait. And wait. Eventually, six hours after we are originally scheduled to leave, the engines come to life. A weak cheer goes up when we take off, but by this time I'm too numb to care. The flight is bumpy, but I do not care. We are on our way, but I don't care. I have been living in the airport and on the plane for too long- I am sapped of energy and free will. I am a drone, an object, an automaton, a shipped and delivered package of meat.

I exit the plane on cruise control, following the path of least resistance to the exit. I walk outside, head down to avoid the rain. I cut across the traffic to the parking lot, lift my head- and she is there. Her face, her mouth, her eyes-

And I am finally flying.