Several weeks ago my daughter, a marine geologist who works off-shore assignments around the world, left for a 6am flight out of Spokane. It was the first of leg of a grueling multi-flight journey that would end when she arrived in Italy late the following day. She sent me a text to say the she was on board and we said our goodbyes. Then, a few minutes later she sent another text. This one was accompanied by a photo.
The picture was a “selfie,” taken with her phone and the expression on my daughter’s face made it clear something was wrong. I quickly saw why she’d sent it. Just beside her left elbow were the bare feet of the passenger in the seat behind her. The woman had stretched out and pushed her feet into the space beside my daughter’s armrest and the wall of the plane. My daughter’s expression said it all. Yuck.
A 6am flight is not easy on anyone. It means waking up at 4am or earlier to get to the airport for the inescapable check-in and security requirements. When you finally make it to your seat the first thing you want to do is settle in and relax, maybe even make up an hour or two of lost sleep. But there are limits to just how comfortable we’re entitled to get. Or, at least there used to be.
I sometimes feel like I’m the only one on the plane wearing shoes.
Once, halfway into a long flight across the country, I began to feel something move against my, uh, backside. It felt like there was some kind of small animal in my seat. Unnerved, I reached back and caught the wiggling toes of the passenger behind me, a young woman who’d burrowed her feet into the space between the seat and seat back. Her bare feet must have been cold, but that wasn’t my problem. I had to ask her to get them out from under me.
On another flight, a man sat down in the seat beside me and before he buckled his seatbelt, he reached down and pulled off his shoes and socks and pushed them under the seat in front of him. He rubbed his feet back and forth on the carpet, giving them a good scratch before he opened his book. Later, absorbed in the book, he reached down and absentmindedly rubbed his toes as he read.
I took an Advil.
Humans evolved from ancient barefoot nomadic wanderers. Now, it almost seems that here in the 21st Century we’re going through some kind of peripatetic de-evolution. We’re wandering without shoes again, only this time on flying machines. I guess once flip-flops became streetwear it was a short fall.
Sometimes, I like to sit and look at old ads from the golden age of air travel. The women are wearing gloves and hats. The men are dressed in suits and ties. The children are in their Sunday clothes. And everyone, everywhere, is wearing shoes.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org