My flight is scheduled to depart from San Francisco International Airport at 11:20PM. It’s currently only a few minutes past 7:00PM, which means I have almost an entire evening to fall into my typical pre-travel routine: delay packing my bag indefinitely, attempt to learn a new musical instrument, put together the random piece of IKEA furniture that’s been sitting in its box for three weeks, read the entire Wikipedia page on knot-tying, and eventually find myself frantically scampering through the terminal on the verge of a full-blown nervous breakdown.
But no. Not today. Today, these demons will not win. I can do it. I can, and I will. My newfound positivity will lead me to face responsibility head-on in every aspect of my life, and I’ll take my first step on that path right now — in this moment — when I will establish myself as a prepared, sensible traveler.
Exactly 47 minutes later, I am midway through the 9-block walk to my neighborhood cannabis dispensary, where I’m granted access to a borderline inappropriate amount of medical-grade supplies. I enter the dispensary with one main goal: to acquire a marijuana product that will put me into a comatose state for the entirety of my upcoming 6-hour overnight airplane voyage. This, I have convinced myself, is a responsible decision.
My local dispensary is comparable to a Bed Stuy dive bar in its overall appearance and laissez faire attitude towards service. After the woman behind the counter finishes some light personal work on her cell phone, she unenthusiastically motions me over. Through a bulletproof glass divider, I share my aforementioned goal. She immediately empathizes with my desire and is eager to recommend a particular brand of THC gummy, even going so far as to share her typical routine:
“So I really like eating a Cheeba Chew before a long flight. They’re 175 milligrams per gummy though, so I usually just take a third of one and I’m good. I tell people to start there and see how they feel, because you can always eat more, but you can’t eat less.”
I take her up on her recommendation and process her advice. Before checkout, she also manages to sell me on adding a battery-powered, THC-infused vaporizer pen to my order after pitching it as an inconspicuous travel accessory. Properly equipped for a stress-free, restful flight, I make my way back home.
Because I am fickle and riddled with anxiety, packing my bag is a straining chore that takes thrice as long as it should. Eventually, I feel content enough with my outfit choices to take a seat, catch my breath, and assess next steps.
The clock is rapidly approaching 10:00PM. I decide that rather than leave now and give myself plenty of extra time to adapt to the universe’s undoubted curveballs en route to the airport, I’ll just sit here and become engulfed in a social media cyclone until the mounting pressure of a potential missed flight becomes unbearable. There’s no denying it, I have now fully lost my way on my newfound path of prepared, sensible travel.
I snap out of my rampant swipe-swipe-doubletap spree and request a Lyft. In the ten minutes it takes my driver to arrive, something special takes place within me. Suddenly, I am reminded of my internal “When To Not Get Stoned” checklist. Made up of unassuming situations like “Before a Haircut,” “On Your Way to Work,” and “In the Parking Lot Prior to Oral Surgery,” I remember that more than a decade’s worth of ill-timed marijuana usage has led me to keep a running tally in hopes of avoiding similar bad decisions in the future. Of course, at the top of this list is “Any Time Before Air Travel”.
I combine this pre-existing knowledge with another potential warning sign: one of the few times I have ingested marijuana in edible form was when I ate a homemade pot brownie at a party on Thanksgiving night in the calendar year of 2008. Shortly after consumption, I became transfixed on a faint smell of kerosene coming from the basement, convinced myself and the entire group that we were in the midst of a highly volatile fuel leak, and promptly caught a ride home in a fit of borderline psychosis, wondering whether or not the car was actually just driving in place on a treadmill for the entirety of the trip.
Regardless of this knowledge and past experience, I allow a beautiful moment of clarity to transform into a brutal dosage of self-sabotage when I decide that this moment—roughly two minutes before I embark on my cross-country journey—is an appropriate time to experiment with my new THC-infused vaporizer pen.
I suck on the pen with the voracity of a small child ingesting an extra thick milkshake, cough uncontrollably, suck on it once more, cough again, grab my bag, shove the Cheeba Chew into my pants pocket, and rush out the door. Inside the car, I very quickly understand the Power of the Pen. Sitting in the back seat, I try to sort through the mish-mash combination of my driver’s conversational inquiries and the blaring Top 40 radio. A wave of paranoia washes over me when I realize that I have gotten Uncomfortably Stoned.
I try to level myself out during the 30-minute drive, but to no avail. I enter the terminal and all of the intel that went into adding “Any Time Before Air Travel” to the “When To Not Get Stoned” list instantly comes rushing back to me.
Approaching the entrance to the TSA shakedown, dozens of conspiracy theories and worst case scenarios are already swirling in my mind. I am a very fragile bundle of nerves, and this is before I begin weaving my way through the maze-like line and notice an actual military soldier in full regalia making his way upstream, accompanied by a police canine. The canine is not your classic German Shepherd, but instead appears to be some sort of very attentive hound, and I am smacked with the realization that I’m packing a drug-fueled treat in my pocket.
As the hound ferociously sniffs every square inch of a housewife’s carry-on, I very casually reach for the Cheeba Chew, unwrap it, and—despite the voice in my head reminding me “you can always eat more, but you can’t eat less” — pop the whole thing in my mouth like a goddamn Jujube. The hound makes his way towards my ankles and gives me a once-over while I smile and tip my imaginary cap at the soldier. Inside, I am rapidly developing a stomach ulcer.
For some strange reason, I decide to take my shoes off much too early in the TSA Screening Process, and my fear grows, wondering whether or not I’ve drawn attention to myself. Barefoot and neurotic, I spend the next half hour making my way through the winding, lengthy line. As I finally prepare to enter the strange tubelike security machine, I feel the residual effects of the earlier pen puffs beginning to meet the recently ingested Cheeba Chew, and the thought of having to interact with the world’s most dogmatic and power-hungry law enforcement agency nearly cripples me.
I somehow power through the brief bout of paralysis, gain clearance, and head towards the conveyor belt to collect my belongings. Once there, I notice that my bag and shoes are still being investigated, and I nervously search every avenue of my memory to recall whether or not any illegalities may be present. I remember my recently acquired pen, and a darkness falls upon me. After my belongings emerge halfway out of the X-ray dome and are rewound back inside twice more, I’m nearly certain that this is the end for me. The nearby TSA agent — a mean-looking version of John Candy — senses my angst boiling over and tries to reassure me.
“Sorry for the delay…she’s in training,” he says, rolling his eyes in what is quite frankly an unprofessional lack of support for his colleague.
“Ah, wonderful,” I think to myself, beginning to question if perhaps this is all part of The Big Sting. They’ve planted contraband in my bag, I’m sure of it, and tomorrow’s headlines will read, TSA TRAINEE HAS BIG FIRST DAY, STOPS ISIS LEADER DISGUISED AS HIPPIE IN SAN FRANCISCO AIRPORT. Finally, my bag and shoes come fully into view. I grab them before there’s any chance of another examination and dart towards my gate, still barefoot and becoming more delirious by the minute as the Cheeba Chew continues to grow stronger.
At the gate, boarding has already started, but I need to sit down. I begin a deep-breathing exercise as I cross-reference my ticket with airport signage exactly 37 times to make sure I haven’t somehow wandered to the wrong gate. An airline employee breaks into a scripted announcement over the intercom, informing the huddling mass of impatient travelers that “we are expecting a completely full flight” — news that sends my deep-breathing exercise into a tailspin.
Barely able to open my eyes or understand the events unfolding around me, I reach into my pocket for my phone and type “Cheeba Chew” into Google. Within the first several results is an article from High Times magazine titled 10 Extremely Potent Cannabis Edibles. I sink deeper into my chair.
I am in Boarding Group 2, but it’s not until midway through Boarding Group 5 that I regain basic control over my motor functions and drag my decaying body towards the jetway. Once on board, I gracelessly shuffle towards seat 30A — a window seat, my personal preference in hopes that I will be able to awkwardly lean my head against the plastic window and enter an unconscious sleep void for the next six hours. On my way there, I struggle to find space in the overhead storage and begin physically rearranging the baggage of other passengers with a sloppy, tactless approach. While playing Tetris with Samsonites, I can feel sets of scornful eyes searing me from the seats below. Eventually, I abandon this strategy, resort to brute strength, and continue on to the sacred sanctuary that is Seat 30A.
When I arrive, I’m met by a completely vacant row. Knowing better than to accept this type of good luck as my fate, I smother any hope that might be spawning, not even allowing myself to think of the prospect of an open middle and aisle seat. As I fasten my seatbelt and feel my body slowly transforming into a liquid state, I overhear a snippet of the conversation between two middle-aged women in the row behind me.
“I don’t even think it’s gonna be that full,” one of them confesses.
“Yeah, I think they’re just saying that,” the other smugly agrees.
A chill creeps up my spine. Immediately, I become nauseous thinking about what this jinx means. I close my eyes and assume my position against the window, trying to take my mind off of impending doom and begin my transition into a catatonic state before we even have liftoff.
Seconds later, I’m rattled from my attempted meditation when a seven foot tall man in a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap and cargo shorts throws himself into the aisle seat like Hunter Hearst Helmsley, hoisting his 75 lb. backpack onto the middle seat in one fell swoop. My whirlwind of THC-induced emotions shifts from near orgasmic bliss back to sheer terror as I try to comprehend the abrupt development. The goliath smiles to celebrate his upgrade; I try to shoot him a disapproving look, but in my highness, I can’t figure out if my face contorts to follow suit.
Before I can make sense of things, a flight attendant shows up to stomp out the giddy mutant’s maneuver like a spent Pall Mall, relegating him to his ticketed seat several rows back. Alone again, I wonder if maybe — just maybe — the Most Holy Lord and Savior might be on my side tonight.
I tame my excitement as the captain’s voice chimes in over the PA system:
“Good evening folks, this is your captain speaking. We’ve closed the cabin doors, and we’ll get moving here in jaaaahst a few minutes. We’re looking at a little under six hours of total flight time. Alright then, I’ll keep quiet and let you get some shuteye, but don’t be a stranger on your way out. I don’t bite…not hard, at least.”
I am disgusted by my captain, but disgust is outweighed by elation as I relish in my glorious vacant row situation. However, my joy is short-lived when it becomes evident that what I briefly envisioned as the Immaculate Flight Attendant Interjection (IFAI) moments earlier was instead just a door opening for far greater mental anguish.
Just as the captain wrapped up his disturbing soliloquy, the same flight attendant who was responsible for the IFAI reappears, this time pushing a man in a wheelchair. The wheelchair stops in the aisle directly adjacent to my row, and before the very frail man occupying it has a chance to utter so much as a single syllable, I know that the walls are about to come crashing down.
“I’m in the aisle seat,” he goes on, “but I can’t walk…so…if you have to get out to use the bathroom at all, you won’t be able to…”
In my current mindstate, this sounds like some sort of Latin proverb, and I am momentarily stunned. His demeanor reads of intense sadness, and he follows up his nebulous statement with a question, asking if he can have the window seat. But wait. Why? What could this man’s reason be for wanting to be confined to the window? Can he sense my existential dread? Is the skin on my face melting?
My sympathy for this man , upon whom fate has dealt a most vicious hand, is immeasurable. Even in my haze, I immediately understand that today appears to have been particularly challenging for him, and I recognize that this is one of life’s rare opportunities to help ease the heavy burden of my fellow man.
“Oh… No, I’m fine,” I reply, the Good Samaritan in me not quite able to keep up with my heavily-sedated instinctual reaction to keep a firm grasp on my window seat.
Disappointed by yet another self-serving, worthless human adding to an already miserable day, the man shakes his head and motions towards the IFAI veteran to help load him into the aisle seat.
Moments later, my goodwill comes back into focus. This, combined with the damning realization that my bladder is already feeling about three-quarters full, causes me to stop the flight attendant midway through the loading process. I apologize vehemently through slurred words and drool, and announce that I will relinquish control of my window seat.
As I adjust to the aisle seat, I am torn. One part of me feels proud to have committed a noble act of selflessness, yet the other feels crushed by the jaws of defeat. Somehow still growing more stoned as time passes, I lose control of my vision and involuntarily gawk at the man in the window seat’s legs, both of which appear to have the circumference of a pool cue. Heinous thoughts consume me as my uncontrollable stare remains locked on the exposed extremities. Are these props? Is this man an actor brought in as part of The Big Sting? Was that Cheeba Chew laced with research chemicals?
Just then, a finger taps against my shoulder and snaps me back into reality.
“Ex-excuse me, but my wife…” the man beings to explain, pointing towards the aisle, “she needs the middle seat.”
My gaze snaps from the man’s legs towards the Herculean figure hovering over me. I am seeing double, but is obvious that some sort of traumatic event has recently occurred, or may be in the midst of occurring — she is an emotional wreck.
Her distress immediately rubs off on me, and I begin to feel a case of lockjaw setting in. I slither into the aisle, let her take her seat, and try not to swallow my tongue.
Shortly after take-off, when any remaining hope for a peaceful sleep has been replaced by a living nightmare, I notice my hysterical neighbor pause from her meltdown and perk up as she looks at her ticket.
“Oh, wait a minute,” she continues, speaking to no one in particular, “this is row 30? Our seats are in row 38!”
And with that, for the first time all night — and perhaps for the first time in her entire life — the man’s wife begins laughing. She looks at me, chuckling maniacally as tears still fill her onion-sized eyes, and I fear the poor lady may have fully lost it. As I cower in fear, I conclude that she must be working with the DEA, and this is the grand crescendo before they beat me senseless and drag me off the aircraft in a burlap sack.
I quickly escape into the aisle, trying to preserve my few remaining shards of sanity and hoping that the faux pas may have led to a vacancy in row 38. However, as I peek into the row, I let out a shriek of horror as I’m greeted by an eerily familiar sight in the form of cargo shorts and a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap. It is, of course, none other than the colossal human who suffered great shame during the now-infamous IFAI, sprawled out across the middle and aisle seats, already fast asleep. I hobble back to my seat, conceding defeat.
For the remainder of the flight, intermittent breakdowns of tearful apologies from my seatmate serve to break my hypnotized gaze that, despite every effort to look elsewhere, continues to be drawn like a tractor beam towards her husband’s disfigured lower extremities.
By the time the plane touches down, my pre-existing splintered spirit is now shattered completely. As I gather my bags and fire suspect glances over my shoulder for law enforcement closing in, I wonder if this paranoia is permanent. Moving unsteadily through the jetway, still feeling the effects of my poorly timed binge, and questioning every life decision which led me here, I can only muster one thought: “Goddamn, I need a joint.”
This story originally appeared on my Medium.