Flight Advice

January 11, 2012

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There’s been something that’s been weighing on my mind since last week, when I flew back to Los Angeles from San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a long travel day – my first flight, from San Juan to Charlotte, North Carolina, was 3.5 hours, and after a two-hour layover in Charlotte, I boarded my second flight, bound for Los Angeles, which took 5.5 hours.

It wasn’t a fun or easy travel day. The Charlotte-to-Los Angeles leg seemed unending, but the San Juan-to-Charlotte leg… well, it was thought-provoking. And I’m curious for your opinion. My readers are a vocal bunch – so keep reading, and then share what’s on your mind in the comments section, if you would!

I’ve written about air travel on this blog before – specifically, how much less stressful flying has become now that I’ve lost a significant amount of weight. I no longer worry about my excess pounds spilling over the armrests and invading the personal space of the passenger next to me. I can use my tray table as much as I want without my belly getting in the way, and I have no trouble returning it to its original upright and locked position. And I no longer need to use a seat belt extender – the seat belt fits comfortable around my waist, thank you very much!

The post where I discuss all these changes, called “How a 400-Pound Man Flies,” has proven to be one of the most popular posts in the history of this blog, and I just read it again myself (you can read it here). I was prompted to write that post in the first place because I was seated across the aisle from a man who reminded me of my former self. Seeing him gingerly make his way down the aisle brought back years of memories of me doing the same thing – trying my best not to bump into other passengers, and seeing others look away, certain they were praying that I didn’t have the seat next to them.

On that flight, I was seated across the aisle from my former self. On my San Juan-to-Charlotte flight, I was seated next to my former self.

The plane was a Boeing 767, outfitted with a 2-3-2 seat configuration, and the other guy (I don’t know his name, so let’s call him Al) had the window seat, and I had the aisle. There was no middle seat. Al was already seated by the time I made it to our row, and I saw him make the subtle shift that I was oh-so-familiar with: a slight adjustment so he was leaning more towards the wall of the plane, with a second slight adjustment so his left arm and shoulder would be a little more out of my space and in his. It didn’t do much good, because Al was a big guy. I don’t know how much he weighed, especially since Al was probably 8 or so inches shorter than me, but his excess weight protruded up and over the armrests.

Even with my weight loss, I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable on planes – I’m taller than the seats, so there’s no place to put my head or my legs, and my shoulders are as broad as the seat, so I fill my space nicely. I still appreciate when I end up sitting next to smaller or shorter people, but when I saw I had the seat next to Al, I wasn’t bummed, and I wasn’t pissed. I immediately smiled at him. I knew flying must be difficult and annoying for him, and I was glad, for his sake, that he was seated next to someone who wasn’t going to a big deal, or a little deal, or any kind of deal over sitting next to him.

Oh my. I fear those last couple sentences may come off as self-righteous, and that’s not my intent. I only mean to say that I’ve had my share of flights where I’ve sat next to people who see me and roll their eyes, deliberately sigh, and make all kinds of other passive or subtle indications of their disappointment or disgust. I’d wager that Al has, too. And I’m not, and never will be, one of those eye-rollers, because I’ve been at the other end, and it feels awful. There’s nothing worse that having the thing you’re most self-conscious about pointed out or referred to in an uncomfortable setting.

Al and I didn’t talk the whole flight, save for a few words at the beginning, when he asked me to get up so he could retrieve something from his bag. For most of the flight, we both had our headphones in, and I turned my attention to my book. I spent a majority of the flight leaning into the aisle a little, to give Al some notion of space, and, all told, it wasn’t a terrible flight (not nearly as bad as the excruciatingly long Charlotte-to-Los Angeles flight).

This is where you come in:  For a long time, ever since I began building an audience of readers with this blog, I’ve occasionally gotten comments or suggestions that I should approach people and let them know about it. After I published “How a 400-Man Flies,” a number of people suggested I pass out cards at the airport, encouraging people to read my blog. The whole idea irks me a little bit, because 1) I’m not a natural schmoozer, and 2) If someone approached me at the airport about anything regarding my weight, I’d be mortified.

Here’s my question for you: Is there anything I could have said to Al to let him know that, in a way, I’m a kindred spirit who understands what he might be feeling? How could I broach the subject? 

The truth is that what I know about Al is astronomically less than what I don’t know about Al. He might already be on his own weight loss journey. He might have already lost a significant amount of weight. I don’t know. This might be his first time on an airplane. I don’t know. Maybe he’s been an airplanes tons of times, and maybe he has no feelings of shame, like I did. I don’t know.

I could have nonchalantly passed him my blog business card at the end of the flight, but I didn’t have any business cards on me (I brought a nice stack with me on my travels, but had passed them all out to family and friends). Maybe I could have pulled out my laptop and shared some ‘Before and Current’ pictures with him. I suppose my goal could simply be to kindly let him know that I walked in his shoes for a long time, and that change is possible. And I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out if there’s a polite, respectful, kind way to do that.

What do you think?

Share your comments below. OH – and be sure to come back tomorrow, I have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

Keep it up, David!

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CRUISE Part 4: Sights and Sounds (Mostly Sights)

January 8, 2012

I’ve already blogged about eating healthy on a cruise ship, exercising on a cruise ship, and trying a plethora of new things on a cruise ship. What’s left?

There are a few more photos and experiences I want to share, and since they didn’t quite fit in any of the above categories, I’m included them in this post, which is kind of a catch-all, et cetera, miscellaneous type dealie. There’s some good stuff in here, and I’m gonna start with one of my favorite moments of the whole week…

…getting up close and personal with SHARKS!

1) SHARKS! We went to the Sea Aquarium in Curacao. All in all, it was an okay aquarium (I’ve been to better). They had an okay dolphin show, and the sea lion show got rained out. But they had some fun touch tanks – we had the chance to pet stingrays, and pick up sea cucumbers and starfish, like this one:

But the best touch tank of all was the one with nurse sharks. Five-foot NURSE SHARKS! Nurse sharks are predators that hang out in shallow reefs and sand bars and, thanks to their vacuum-like throat cavity, suck up their prey (fish, crustaceans, stingrays), chew it, and swallow it. Even though they can grow to be 14 feet long, they’re not considered a threat to humans, although there have been documented attacks (mostly sharks defending themselves after dum-dum divers and snorkelers provoke or poke them).

The aquarium had a bunch of nurse sharks, and with the help of a guide, we were allowed to touch them. Here’s Camille – you can see how big the sharks are:

Soon it was my turn: I got to pet one along its back (the skin was leathery and tough), feel the air come out of its gills, and feel its floppy dorsal fin.

You have no idea how much I loved touching that shark. I’ve loved sharks my whole life, and I’ll watch any shark movie that’s made, no matter how terrible and cheesy. You may laugh, but I’m looking forward to both Two-Headed Shark Attack and Jersey Shore Shark Attack.

My aunt Mary and I got to feed one of the sharks – we were given a metal ring with a fish on it, and we lowered it into the water until one of the sharks approached, and in a hot second, slurped up the fish and went on its way. The guide got it all on video on my uncle’s underwater camera, but I’ve been unable to upload the footage (and I’ve been trying for two days, which is why this post is so delayed). If I can get it to work, I’ll share it with you.

2) Maho Beach, St. Maarten. We went to one of the most entertaining beaches ever in St. Maarten. It was a beautiful beach – not too big, and not too crowded:

What was unique about the beach was its location. It was directly across the street from the end of the St. Maarten airport runway.

Which meant that we got to sit on the beach and watch planes land, up close and personal. These are all real photographs – nothing’s been photoshopped:

Here’s Camille, Isabel and a plane:

And me, Isabel, and Mary… and a plane:

Even better than the planes landing were the planes that took off. When big ol’ jets take off, their thrusters are so powerful and so close that they would kick up sand and blow people and things into the water. People come from all over to see this happen, and the beach even puts up warning signs:

We saw a couple jets take off, including one that kicked up quite a sandstorm, but I wasn’t able to document it – thankfully, YouTube is full of Maho Beach videos, like this one. Check this out!

3) El Yunque Rain Forest. On the final day of the trip, I booked a tour of the El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico. I went by myself, because my family’s flight took off four or five hours before mine. It was a pleasant tour through a beautiful forest. We stopped at a gorgeous waterfall (this picture doesn’t do it justice):

The guide found some wild ginger, and plucked one of the flowers. I didn’t know the ginger plant had flowers, did you? Guess what it smelled like. Cumin! Haha, only kidding. It smelled like garlic.

Kidding again. It smelled like ginger. Duh.

4) Shopping. I didn’t pick up much in terms of souvenirs. I bought a couple bottles of fun and different foodstuffs in St. Maarten, which I’m sure I’ll blog about soon, and I also did a little clothes shopping. Our cruise had two formal nights, which I was woefully unprepared for. I had a pair of pants that would work, but no jacket, no fancy shirt, no shoes. I had a nice sweater that wouldn’t make me stand out like a sore thumb, but I really needed a nice shirt. If I had a nice shirt, I could tie it all together.

We stopped in St. Thomas before our first formal night, so shopping for a shirt and shoes became a priority. The shoes turned out to be an easy find, because guess what was in walking distance of our dock? A Payless. I found a pair of black loafers that I actually really like, and they were $25. Sold.

The shirt was a little harder, because downtown St. Thomas has mostly jewelry and souvenir stores. If you’re ever dangerously low on shot glasses or tanzanite, than St. Thomas is the place to be! But we did find the one clothing store with a men’s department that had dress shirts, and I tried a bunch on. There were a couple that fit great, but I didn’t love the color or pattern, and then there was this one, which was a little on the big side, but in a color I love. Plus, it was 50% off. So I paid $35, and voila! Something for formal night!

It occurred to me while shopping that had I been in this situation two years ago, I would have been royally screwed. Up shit creek without a paddle. I wouldn’t have fit into anything that store sold. What would I have done?

I borrowed ties from my uncle (different ones for each formal night, so I wasn’t wearing exactly the same thing both times), and while I still felt a little underdressed, I didn’t sweat it. Here I am with my cousin Olivia on the first formal night:

And all six of us on the second formal night, which was New Year’s Eve:

And that wraps up my 2012 cruise coverage! It was a tremendous trip, and one that I’ll remember for a long, long time. I’m so thankful that Philip and Mary invited me to join their family for the week – I was a blast hanging out with them and my cousins, and seeing a part of the world I’ve never seen before.

I have one final picture to share, taken on a beach in Curacao. Enjoy!