Monday, June 09, 2008

Cielo Vista

A final thought on air travel before I return to writing about more earthbound matters.

Airplane society — by which I mean the society contained on a given airplane and not the class of people who travel on airplanes — reminds me of Isla Vista. For those of you who don’t know and for those for whom the world of grown-ups has made Isla Vista a distant memory, I speak of the “town” that the majority of UCSB students live in. An unincorporated chunk of Santa Barbara County shunned by Goleta when it attained cityhood a few years back, Isla Vista is basically a terrible, discarded keg cup of a community where young people frequently accept a standard of living below what their parents raised them to strive for. That’s not so unusual, as it’s a college community and most such locations often amount to student ghettos, but it’s part of my experience, so I’m choosing to compare air travel to it and not some generic, more universal university-adjacent place.

Like I said, Isla Vista is mostly unpleasant, now that I look back on it. Aside from college students, a list of its occupants include bad hip hop, the lowest grade alcohol imaginable, awkward hook-ups, girls shouting “Woo!” for no apparent reason, broken side mirrors, blind corners and random single flip-flops found in the middle of the street. However, despite its status as a hole, I am still pleasantly surprised that Isla Vista doesn’t devolve into bloody, eye-gouging anarchy. Sure, they burned the bank down so long ago and a few people have died in incidents that turned out to be quite preventable, but it keeps itself together, like a drunk girl who manages to surprise everyone and teeter home from the bar without falling down or breaking her cell phone.

In a similar manner, I think of air travel as, in general, a thoroughly unpleasant experience that so often turns out better than you might expect. It’s not just passengers who ride on planes, you see, but such horrors as uncomfortable seats, overused community bathrooms, infuriatingly stupid movies, bad lighting, stale air, high tempers, low tipping points, and lousy food — all suspended in a metal cylinder thousands of feet in the air and oppressed by the notion that acting out could result in the plane landing somewhere worse than wherever you departed from and you, an apparent terrorist, being arrested on the spot.

Parallels exist. That awful man who falls asleep a half hour after take-off, trapping you in your window seat until you shake him awake? He’s a lot like Joe Couch Surfer, who somehow gets permission to crash in your living room and monopolizes the space until you get fed up and order him to hit the road. The jerk who shoves an impossibly gigantic suitcase into the overhead compartment above your seat, forcing you to stow your laptop case at the back of the plane, next to the extra pillows? That’s the same person who parks an Excursion in your spot, forcing you to put wedge your compact somewhere on Camino Majorca, which your forgot existed. The idiots behind your seat, blathering on about what a cute movie Fool’s Gold was? They’re the sorority girls smoking in your driveway at 3 a.m., blathering on about what a cute movie Fool’s Gold was.

But despite all that badness, shit and fan keep their polite distance, save for the occasional automobile-bicycle run-in or the statistically insignificant engine failure and resulting crash. Just as a smoldering cigarette butt has managed to not set a dumpster aflame and rip through block after block of student slums, the plane stays aloft and the people on it take a deep breath and endure the pain. In Isla Vista, you somehow don’t get robbed everyday, even though your window locks don’t work and someone left the back door open last night. In the airplane, passengers don’t snap and vent their air rage on you, who are too tightly buckled in to do anything but feebly block the barrage of fists raining down upon you. Students and air passengers alike realize that the ordeal — Isla Vista or flight on a commercial airline — is not only a means to an end, but often the most sensible means to an end, potential for disaster notwithstanding.

Oh, and they both cost more than they should.

Provided the worst case scenario doesn’t become reality, you emerge having done what you needed to do, and possibly with a few good stories to tell your friends waiting for you on the other side.

Either way, I’m equally glad I have no reason to set foot either in Isla Vista or on a plane again in the near future.


  1. Anonymous1:46 AM

    Is it me or are you post titles featuring more Spanish than usual this month?

  2. Haha. Makes sense, even though I like airplanes and I like Isla Vista. You have to be fascinated by how they persist, staying up in the air or...hmm, I don't know exactly what Isla Vista does. I'll be living there starting this fall, so I guess I'll find out.

  3. Anonymous12:04 PM