Space from above

Almost certainly I was the only passenger on the American Airlines flight from LaGuardia to Dallas/Fort Worth last Thursday who had taken a subway and an overcrowded municipal bus to the airport, only to be seated in the first-class cabin.

My ticket had been obtained for me by generous friends with a surplus of frequent-flyer miles who convinced me it was compensation for taking care of the music for their wedding in Lake Tahoe. First class had apparently been the only seat available.

I hate flying — the indignities of security checks and $5 snack-paks, not the flying itself. Breezing through the first-class check-in line was on one level a pleasant change, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty and also separate from the coach-class passengers, my people.

The feeling of unfair separation continued on board my flights and was joined by a new source of anxiety. Was I acting first-class enough to avoid being spotted instantly for a fraud? I decided a mixture of gracious noblesse and quiet imperiousness was the right tone to take with the stewardesses who brought me meals and drinks, but I often caught myself slipping, not demanding enough, being too thankful rather than projecting entitlement.

I could, of course, easily get used to flying first-class. The greatest benefit is definitely the extra space — legroom in front, a wide seat, a generous armrest separating you from the person next to you.

I was fortunately seated by the window for all my flights. I love looking out the window while flying, either at magnificent cloud formations or at the patterns of development on the ground below.

It occurred to me on the approach to Reno, watching the desert give way to fresh suburban housing tracts, that there is a basic logic to land development, to the process of subdivision in particular: A given chunk of land will be divided into the smallest parcels that will retain whatever the desired essence of those parcels is to be. Suburban areas are being developed in ever-smaller lots with ever-larger houses squatting on them. But these suburbs maintain their suburbanness by keeping some little bit of yard on all sides of each house. What is being preserved is the illusion that the homeowners are masters of their own country manor in miniature; should the house actually abut another one, the illusion could not be maintained.

The same logic applies to houses outside of town, what looked from the air to be vacation homes or just houses for people who didn’t mind driving a few extra miles in to work in Reno. These houses each had several acres around them, but the acreage wasn’t enough to do any real work — you couldn’t raise horses or cattle, for example. The illusion of a Western ranch was carefully maintained on the smallest possible surface area. Similarly, the gorgeous lakeside estate where the wedding took place had just enough land to maintain the feeling of being its own world, even though neighbors were less than a hundred yards on either side, enjoying their own lake access. And it occurred to me that the reason a New York apartment can be so small is that, as long as it occupies some square footage rather than none, it will still retain its key quality of being a New York apartment.

Those are my thoughts, anyway, as I sit in this oversized first-class seat — just large enough to maintain its luxury lead over the coach cabin — on my way back to my room in my shared Brooklyn apartment where, thank God, I at least don’t have a vestigial front yard with illusions of country squiredom to maintain.

10 responses to “Space from above”

  1. Scotty says:

    I had a similar experience the only time I ever flew first class. The hardest part for me was doing the sitting in first class avoidance of eye contact with all the plebes as they carry their toddlers and other such extraneous bundles into the chattel car, otherwise known as coach cabin.

    The best parts for me were the free booze and getting to meet Al Sharpton.

    And Barber, if anyone’s first class, it’s you baby!

  2. Rachel says:

    So how was the music? (And how great was it that you didn’t have to lug crates of records onto the plane?!) I want the vicarious experience of a Dave B DJ gig.

  3. dave:

    as we deplaned @ JFK last night around midnight, molly made the pitch to us: we need to start flying first class. because, she said, you get the three Ss: (more) space, (bigger) seats, and (better) service.


    dave’s set was fantastic. at once cerebral and booty-thumping. it was amazing to see, though, that even really smart people respond like test monkeys to the lowest common denominator of wedding music. (there were requests for some recognizable favorites.) as dave was told prior to the event and confirmed by experiment during his set, nothing gets white people on the dance floor like journey’s “don’t stop believing.” it makes no sense, but it’s true.

  4. Becks says:

    So true! I get bumped up to first class sometimes because I fly so much and, while the space is nice, it is a bit awkward to wonder what’s expected. It’s especially weird because 9 times out of 10 I’m the only woman and everyone else is a 60 year old white man. The novelty factor of having a young woman in first class usually makes the flight attendants extra nice to me, though.

    And re: “don’t stop believing” — so true! That brought down the house at one of our parties.

  5. Dave says:

    “Don’t Stop Believing” was a recommendation from a prominent political blogger. I was skeptical, but he was totally vindicated — absolutely packed the dance floor, even though it’s really only barely danceable. I don’t get white people AT ALL.

    I will burn data CDs of the whole set and mail them to anyone who commented on my music bleg thread and who emails me with their snailmail address.

  6. trixie says:

    i don’t think it hurt that the track was played (which i have no doubt was intentional, dave)after several hours of imbibing had already taken place.
    i wonder what the response would have been if the crowd were sober.
    whereas i will dance to “ray of light” at any opportunity.

  7. i think “ray of light” is more universal in its appeal in general. it certainly did get folks on the floor too, though. even the reluctant ones.

    but dave really deserves props for the ones that don’t pander to universality but nevertheless had broad appeal. the only thing i noticed that didn’t work well with this crowd were the few country songs, and that’s just too sad, because country songs are just fine for dancin. at least if they were produced before 1977. i don’t go in for that new pop country crap.

  8. Tim Wager says:

    I wasn’t there, but dontcha think maybe the sopranos had something to do with the popularity of “Don’t Stop Believin” in this context? The finale was a scant 6 or 7 days beforehand. I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t a great choice and isn’t a really good wedding song, but . . . getting *everybody* on the dance floor? like, always and forever? That seems to me reserved for true masterpieces of western culture like, oh, “Superstition” or “Atomic Dog.”

  9. um, no. this was not a sopranos crowd, from either direction. and i had to leave the dancefloor on that song, for the record. waaaaaay too middle school for me. i would have been more comfortable with air supply for a slow song.

  10. AW says:

    There is a nice conversation going on here between this piece, and Brooke’s today. Both talk about space/place and music’s ability to evoke memory.

    And I must say, Dave, that I enjoy (and admire) your ability to write on wide-ranging topics week after week.