Monday, October 17, 2011

Travel... the stuff from which jokes are made

At a recent meeting of our Delaware County Toastmaster’s Club, member Bernie Selling had us laughing for a good five minutes about the subject of flying for his “humorous speech” assignment. Bernie agreed to my request to share excerpts from his speech with our readers. He explained that several of his jokes and phrases came from the internet and were then mixed with his own “observations and quirky insights” to create his speech. I hope that, even without his terrific voice inflections and gestures that come with hearing his speech, you’ll still enjoy this week's blog.  With my keyboard's tongue in cheek:

Do you remember how, when you were a child, traveling was so exciting, so much fun? Especially when you got to fly somewhere in an airplane? Man, how things have changed. Between TSA, long lines, baggage fees and whatnot, it really stinks.

Labor Day was a few weeks ago. My wife, son and I flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to visit my in-laws. Grand Rapids is a small city, and there not much to do there---but my wife likes to see her family every so often, so we go. My son says it’s boring. I say it’s a study in sensory deprivation.

We go to the Philly airport, and right away the ticket agent demands 75 bucks. This is so she’ll allow us to bring luggage on our trip, which is useful for people who like to change their underwear once in a while. After this shakedown, we go and visit our friends from TSA.

When we get to the security area, we get some fine and dandy news. On this day, the screeners are testing out one of those new optical disrobing machines. They won’t really install these in Philly until next year, but they want to make some trial runs first. We stand there and get scanned, because we’re obedient sheep and we always do what people tell us. After the scan, they tell my wife that she needs an enhanced pat down. Why? Because she’s wearing cargo pants. You know, the kind with all the big baggy pockets. It turns out, the scanners cannot see into baggy pockets. I guess they figure that’s okay, since pockets are probably the last place anyone would put sharp things--like pocket knives.

As I watch my wife getting patted down—in an enhanced manner--I’m reminded of an article I read a year earlier. It said that two thousand women had complained about excessive touching by TSA screeners. And a week after that article, THREE thousand men applied for jobs at TSA. Maybe they applied because they liked TSA’s new motto: “It’s our business to touch your business.”

After TSA is finished, we proceed to our gate. We go out the door, down the stairs, then we cross over some tarmac, then climb up the stepladder and stoop low to get into our little connector plane to Grand Rapids. Years ago, if you flew to a modest-sized city like Grand Rapids, you would probably fly in a Boeing 727 or maybe a DC-9, something that actually had jet engines. Now, they put you in these beat up old propeller planes. Our plane is a buzzy old gnat called an SBR-85. I think SBR is an acronym. I think it stands for “shoulda been retired.” We carefully proceed down the little plane’s narrow aisle and find our seats. As usual, I get to sit in the very last row.

After I buckle up, I look up and ….there I see Paul Bunyan’s great grandson squeezing into the plane. This guy is so immense, and the aisle is so cramped, that as he oozes down the aisle he is literally smearing his head along the ceiling. He gets about three rows ahead of me and sits down. As he sits, there’s this [crack], as his seat-back literally breaks and he slumps into the lap of the guy behind him. This is what happens when airlines use leftover aircraft from the Hindenburg era.

This results in a delay of 30 minutes while mechanics come in to remove the carcass of the collapsed seat and bolt in a new one. Or at least a less old one. Finally, with some creaking and groaning, the little plane that could climbs into the sky and we’re on our way.

The propellers are noisy, but our flight is really quite smooth. ….Our landing … is not. A pilot once told me that an airplane landing is basically a controlled midair collision with a -- planet.  Now I understand.

The plane—or what’s left of it--slowly rumbles to a stop. After the passengers start breathing again, we get up to leave the plane. The flight attendant and embarrassed young pilot stand up front, saying good bye and thanks for our business. I’m the last one off, except for this little old lady walking with a cane. As she’s about to deplane, she says to the pilot, ‘Sonny, would it be okay if I ask you a question?' Of course, Ma'am,' says the pilot. 'Which is it', the little old lady asks, 'Did we just land, or were we shot down?'

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