The Flight Line Commedia
Canto I: Stranded in Las Vegas
Halfway home I found myself astray.
A Friday journey out of RNO
To TUS became a life's dismay.
The tale is dark and strange, but even so,
The things I saw and lessons learned are those
That all who travel by the air should know.
A change at LAS began my woes.
My flight arrived on time, at noon, as planned,
But a delayed connection soon arose.
I was told, "Your jet's about to land.
Enjoy yourself. Remember where you are.
A town of fun, arisen from the sand."
This is fun? I thought. I saw that far
And near were blinking bandits seeking cash.
Their single limbs were perpendicular,
As if to say "Stop here!" I turned and asked,
"Do you really think my plane will show?"
"For sure," they said. "The time will quickly pass."
"Of course we have a saying you may know.
What takes place in Vegas does not leave."
They grinned. "But, that's a joke. We're sure you'll go."
I knew this tune. These words I should perceive
As soothing were not based on facts but hope.
To trust the schedule was, at best, naïve.
The nightmare came to be. I'll share its scope.
There were she-wolves wearing leotards
And lions dressed like Elvis, doing dope.
Inside this strange milieu my wait was marred
By almost endless queues, new gates, new times.
Our little group got mad. In came a guard.
He stared at us. His gun alert for crimes.
We glared back. "Enough of this!" We yelled.
"This plane will never leave. We know the signs."
At last, too late, the airline felt compelled
To tell us we would not depart this day.
"We are sorry. Your feet are tired and swelled,
But you must take the moving stairs. The way
You seek this night is Customer Relations."
I went up until I saw a ray
Of light, a sign of cheer, perhaps salvation.
Not so. This scene was even more distraught.
An endless line approached a single station.
I trudged into this queue feeling fraught
And worried for my fate. But then the lights
Went out. Could this get worse? I thought.
"It can. This station quits at ten tonight."
The voice was calm, right next to me it seemed.
Although its owner was outside my sight.
The voice went on. "No you haven't dreamed
This frightful trip. Your soul is clean and pure,
But fates have placed you here for me to lead."
Lead where? I thought. What more must I endure?
"I know your growing fears," replied the voice.
"You think your life looks dark, but I assure
Your soul and you will soon enough rejoice
In TUS and I will get you there."
"How?" I asked. "Is there another choice?"
"There is a different path. Don't despair.
I know the way." My eyes began to clear.
And through the eerie gloom and dreary air
I saw a pallid figure standing near.
I did not know the uniform he wore.
Yet, somehow his nametag eased my fear.
"You can call me Virgil, nothing more,"
The apparition smiled. "That's fine with me,"
I said. "But can we soon depart this floor?"
"Indeed we must," my guide replied. "We
Will first go down but then come up. Take heart;
My way will get you home. Can you agree?"
Canto II: Through Security
Virgil read my anxious mind. "Our goal's
Not just to find your flight. We also wish
To give you back the happiness they stole.
The angels know your trip has gone amiss.
Think back. Perhaps you might recall a name.
Can you remember one called Beatrice?"
He named an angel that I knew. This same
Beatrice had helped me through a ghastly
Trans-Atlantic trip when I became
Untimely ill. It started well but fastly
Failed. A migraine went from bad to worse.
Beatrice, a harried employee
Did all she could and moved me up to first.
I could not forget her kindly care.
She saved me once before when I was cursed.
"Very well. Though I am unaware
Of whom or what you are. If Beatrice
Says follow, then let's go and find the stair."
Down we went into a dark abyss,
Where I could barely see an endless line.
It seemed a queue of souls, if souls exist.
Through the distant gloom I glimpsed a sign.
The flaming letters read Security.
Beneath the word a gate, a sort of shrine,
Which the figures moved to by degree.
But as they reached their goal it seemed they turned
Away, trudging to the spot where we
Had just arrived. I asked my guide, "What earned
These shades or souls this fate? Is this for us?
You know I have a right to be concerned."
He spoke, "You have the right but not the cause.
You and I will pass this place tonight,
But ones you see must follow other laws.
Those above who seek to join their flight
Ahead of others and before their time,
Have their souls remanded to this plight.
"If the gate finds metal it will chime.
And if it sounds the souls must try again.
It's a fate that fits their owner's crime."
I watched each soul collect a plastic bin.
Into it went the jewelry and the shoes.
Although obedient, they could not win.
Above them little helicopters flew,
Dropping metal chaff on all below.
Thus adorned, the souls could not pass through.
The beeping portal would not let them go.
The chaff fell off as they returned to line,
To wait their turn again with bins in tow.
My teacher turned and placed his hand on mine.
It had no weight. I listened as he said,
"This place is not their permanent confine.
Now and then those engines overhead
Will miss their aim, allowing some poor soul
To leave this line and board its plane instead.
Yet, still the TSA has met its goal.
The soul is quite delayed, but deemed secure.
And, of course, the gate has played its role.
My anxious comrade, since your soul is pure
There is another door. Please come this way."
He led and we continued on our tour.
We found this other gate without delay.
Strange foreign words were written on its stone.
Lasciate Ogni Speranza, Voi Ch'intrate.
He winked at me and said in soothing tone.
"It's Italian for 'enjoy your flight.'
But first, of course, you must turn off your phone."
I had scarce perceived these words, this sight,
When a guard appeared and grabbed my coat.
"Too late!" He hissed. "Your cell stays here tonight."
Virgil said, "We have to pay this goat.
He wants your phone. It's new and very chic."
He waved his hand and soothingly he spoke,
This Droid®, my friend, is not the one you seek."
And almost magically the guard agreed.
"Move on!" He said. "I don't have all week."
We crossed beyond the gate with goodly speed
While I wondered what had happened there.
Clearly Virgil was a different breed
Of guide. Perhaps he really could repair
My broken trip and maybe we would soon
Be done and finished with this strange affair.
Canto III: Down the Concourse
Once inside our path began to curve.
The way was dark; yet down and round it went.
Things were getting colder too. My nerve
Again grew weak. Yet, since I gave consent,
I followed on. Soon I'll tell you what I
Saw as we continued our descent.
But now I paused to ask my phantom ally,
"Virgil, I don't want to doubt your lead.
However, this is creepy. I won't deny
Your kindness, but I thought that we agreed
Your way would take me home. This bodes not well."
"My friend I do concur, I will concede
Your worries, which I hope I can dispel.
Give me just a minute to explain.
This only looks to be the road to hell;
In truth it is the concourse to your plane.
But you must tell the world what fates befall
Those selfish frequent flyers who disdain
The rights of others trapped within the walls
Of what we know as airline transportation.
You'll see departure points along these halls.
Each one is serving as a holding station,
Filled with souls whose Captain will decide
Their punishment and time of embarkation.
The fates of souls you'll see down here are tied
Completely to their owner's foolish ways.
They wait to know a judgment on their ride.
You are free to speak and to appraise
The why and wherefore of their destiny.
Take note of what you'll learn and seek to raise
Some sense in those above who cannot see
That more than just the overheads are shared,
They also share respect and privacy."
A chance to learn. No reason to be scared.
On we went. I'd walked such paths before,
Or so I thought. But I was ill-prepared
For what this road contained, what was in store
Around its curves. Each departure place
Was somehow worse and more inferior
Than the earlier preceding space.
I'll begin with number one and present
To you the facts on which my story's based.
Canto IV: The Parents
My guide had only barely finished speaking
When we arrived unto Departure One.
It was a noisy crowded spot with shrieking
Screaming parrots that were hanging on
The outside bars of countless little cages.
Each angry bird would castigate and dun
Whatever was inside the coops. Their rages
Never ended as they flapped and yelled.
If these angry psittacines were wages
Paid for sins of those the cages held,
Then I had to know what made this torment
Come to pass. Indeed, I was compelled
To learn what merited such punishment.
So with support and urging from my guide,
Over to the nearest cage I went.
I shooed the birds away and looked inside.
It held what seemed to be a family guy.
"What brings you here?" I asked. The soul replied,
"I'm a sport with twins who likes to fly.
I go with Bart and Homer everywhere.
They don't like their seats and nor do I.
I often let them run and play and share
Their youthful energy in every lane.
I will admit that they're a lively pair.
They love to yell, to stomp, and entertain
From bow to aft, from port to starboard side.
So could you find the Captain and explain
I need to catch my flight? You know I've tried
To leave this tiny room, but I can't
Because those stupid birds you see outside
Treat me like some sort of miscreant.
What's the problem? I've done nothing wrong.
I know that I have nothing to repent."
He was quite self-righteous and so headstrong
In the strength of his convictions that when
He finished speaking, I chose to move along.
I found a second parrot-covered pen
That held a female soul with naked breasts.
To her I asked, "What brings you to this den?"
Soon enough she answered; she confessed,
"Beats me. I don't know why I've been restrained.
I think the Captain is a bit repressed
And does not want me flying on his plane."
"That seems odd," I said. "Is there more
To this, perhaps some facts that might pertain
To the reason why you're on this floor?"
I ventured, "Do you like to feed by breast?"
"Of course," The soul replied. "That's what they're for."
I played a hunch and made another guess.
"Thus you always move your blouse aside
Whenever baby issues his request?
Then, with all your energy and pride,
Put naked boob to mouth, no matter where?"
"Certainly! What would you decide?"
"Perhaps, if I were travelling by air,
And the trip were short, I think I might
Try pumping them and take the bottle there."
"Well," she answered, "I'm sure I have the right
To feed the way I choose. If others mind
This act, it's not my fault that they're uptight."
"So let me guess, if at some other time
You make a diaper change, is this a use
For which your little seatback tray's designed?"
"Yes, it's perfect for his rank caboose."
I thought on what she said and then I knew
It's not the kids, but parents who abuse
The patience of the passengers and crew.
Turning to my guide I said, "Can we
Resume our journey to Departure Two?"
Canto V: The Party Animals
My guide agreed, "You seem to understand
Just how this concourse works. Let's continue
With our trip. You shall see first hand
The admonishments that ensue
To the souls of inconsiderates,
Those who make us wish we never flew.
Such souls are lost and travel here to wait.
These souls cannot depart this frightful spot
Until their owners make their crimes abate
And seek forgiveness. I suppose you thought
That a loss of soul was permanent?
Not so. Until one dies he has a shot
To fix his wrongs and cure the discontent
He's sown. If he (or she) can make things right
While still alive, his soul begins ascent
And soon the soul and owner reunite.
But if the owner does not make amends
The soul is trapped and never finds its flight."
Hearing, I began to comprehend.
I asked, "If the owner stays unwise
What happens to his soul, is this the end?"
My leader said, "Once the owner dies
Any soul remaining here's dismissed
And ferried to a terminal that lies
Across the way and further down than this.
It's a nasty place. The airline code
For the terminal is DIS."
We continued 'til my teacher slowed
As we approached the next departure spot.
He paused, and sweeping out his hand he showed
Me countless rows of sculpted plants in pots.
The little trees and bushes standing still,
It seemed to be a topiary plot.
It was plain to see the Gardener's skill.
Each plant appeared to be a living beast,
With a smiling face or snout or bill.
From one nearby I pulled and then released
A twig. Odd enough, it seemed to care
And shouted out, "Hey you stupid piece
Of excrement, stop tugging at my hair!"
I was startled by these talking plants.
I did not know that trees and shrubs could swear.
Virgil, pointing to the broad expanse
Of potted creatures, said "What you see
Are those who love to chat, to drink, and dance.
A plane is part of their festivity;
But not now. These souls are rooted here
In unending inactivity."
I have seen such passengers appear
In the narrow aisles, on flights long
And short, full of spirits and good cheer.
Ever willing to break into song,
With scant concern that those around them might
Not want to join their noisy, happy throng.
To be honest, I confess the sight
Of those immobile grinning plants gave me
Only slight remorse about their plight.
"If you understand and agree,"
Said my teacher, picking up the pace
We'll continue to Departure Three."
Canto VI: The Talking Heads
As we moved beyond the grinning grove,
Once again I asked about our trip.
"Teacher, when we met before, above,
You said the way was down, we'd take a dip
Then come back up. I don't mean to fret
And certainly don't doubt your leadership,
But how much further downward would you bet
We'll go before we come to my departure
Gate?" Virgil spoke, "It's Vegas, yet
I never gamble here. Rest assured,
Your destination's Number Seven. You
Have four more downward stations to endure."
Just then Departure Three came into view.
The place appeared to be a reptile farm.
But dissimilar from any zoo
I'd ever seen. This serpentarium
Was quite orderly. Each snake was wrapped
Around a single soul from foot to arm.
And so encircled, every soul was trapped.
They could not move an inch but they could speak.
All had little cell phone headsets strapped
Aside their skulls and using this technique
They engaged in constant give and take.
Curious, I found myself a sleek
But somewhat less intimidating snake
That seemed intent on squeezing out the air
Inside a talker who would not forsake
His chance to chat. "No, it isn't fair,"
He gasped. "This situation makes no freaking
Sense. I'm not really sure of where
My plane is now. But listen, while we're speaking
Did you see that football game last night?"
It seemed this soul was quite intent on eking
Out a lengthy dialogue despite
His little serpent's efforts at compression.
I tapped him on the head with hope I might
Converse with him and seek to ask a question.
He would not stop his talking so I poked
Another time. With annoyed expression,
He turned my way, took a breath, and spoke,
"Look here my friend, I can tell you're new.
You see me on my cell, so don't provoke
My wrath with further interruptions seeking to
Disturb my diatribe. There is no chance
I'll speak with you or change my point of view."
Though more breathless as his snake advanced
Each loop, I could see he really was
Still full of air and quite adamant
That constant talking was his right because
He owned a phone and had someone to call.
He was not concerned for what this does
To those around who do not care at all
About his dog, his cat, how well he slept.
Hearing him, I felt no need to stall
Or force myself upon this soul. I stepped
Around the coiling reptile that he wore
And left Departure Three to intercept
My guide. "I gather when you've seen one bore,
You've seen them all," he said. "Very well,
Let's keep moving to Departure Four."
Canto VII: The Fetids and the Corpulents
We continued on but soon we smelled
A mix of putrid odors. I could scarcely
Guess at what the next departure held.
This olfactory anomaly
Led us to a place with souls in chairs.
Each soul was belted in its seat and squarely
Fitted to a little tank of air.
It seemed the tanks were customized to each
And every user that was seated there.
I went across to one and beseeched
The soul to share her story. But, her face
Mask blocked her mouth and muddled up her speech.
I pulled her mask away and had to brace
Myself against a mighty blast of perfume,
A potent force that stung my eyes like mace.
I asked this soul, "My dear, can I assume
You like this fragrance?" "Yes, of course I do,"
She said. "I use quarts of it to groom."
I reaffixed her mask and went on to
An adolescent soul with buds astride
The ears. His aroma smelled like shoe.
I pulled a bud and moved his mask aside.
It gave a stench I wished I'd never faced.
I asked him, "Do you take a certain pride
In avoiding water? Are baths a waste
Of time?" "You bet," he said. "I like my clothes
To stand all by themselves." I replaced
His mask and buds. It seemed the smells arose
Within the tanks these souls were forced to breathe.
There are passengers who hurt our nose,
The single sense that one cannot relieve
By closing off the body from the source.
I moved away in order to retrieve
My guide. Finding him along the concourse,
I assumed that we would soon arrive
To another place, which, perforce,
Would surely have to be Departure Five.
As I guessed, we shortly came to find
A site whose meaning I could not derive
From what I saw. A baggage room was lined
With little cubic boxes, nothing more.
To him I said, "Virgil would you mind?
I'm even more bewildered than before.
I see no souls in here. Where can they be?"
He said, "Each enclosure has a door."
When you unlock a box's door you'll see
The souls inside and come to know their fate."
A label on each box read "QED."
Another sticker said, "Overweight."
I pulled a door and opened a container
That clearly was designed for airline freight.
A jam-packed place, it held two small complainers,
Pudgy souls who pushed and poked each other.
"This space is mine, nothing could be plainer!"
Said the one. "Move your butt, you smother
Everything in sight," the second yelled.
I closed the door and felt I needn't bother
Learning what the other boxes held.
"As you may surmise," my guide allowed,
"Those who need two seats but feel compelled
To purchase only one and overcrowd
Their neighbor's chair must have their souls await
The day that they become less well endowed
Or decide to pay the going rate
For the cubic footage they require."
I said, "Just for purpose of debate,
Might it not be better if the flyer
Simply had a somewhat larger seat?
Then more could have the room that they desire."
He replied, "Such thoughts are obsolete.
I will show you more on this and when
I do, your trip down here will be complete."
Canto VIII: The Managers
The path grew cold and I began to think,
Were we arriving at Departure Six,
Or coming to a skating rink?
Then I heard a distant sound of sticks
And bodies slamming into ice. Indeed,
We shortly came upon a raucous mix
Of bull-like hockey players in stampede.
Up and down a frozen course they rushed.
It was clear that nothing could impede
This herd. Closer to the riotous
Affair, we could better view the players'
Backs, their jerseys read "Team Cocytus."
It was no name of which I was aware.
Perplexed again, I sought my guide's advice.
He pointed to the rink, down some stairs.
"Once you take yourself on to the ice
You will learn about the souls awaiting
Here." Virgil's guidance was concise;
Go downward to the rink and dodge the skating
Bulls. I wasn't sure I understood,
But after just a little hesitating,
I followed his commands the best I could.
I drew closer and approached the floe,
When Virgil shouted out, "Now you should
Be sure to listen and quite soon you'll know
What happens here." Cautiously I found
The rink's periphery. I felt, although
There were crashing bodies all around,
That I could hear some icy lamentations.
It seemed the rink itself was making sounds.
With care I sought an out-of-way location
To avoid the chance of getting whacked.
I squinted down into the rink's foundation.
And saw a thousand souls staring back.
Neatly groomed and also finely dressed,
These souls were facing up with noses packed
Against the ice. As the game progressed
I understood the sources of the moans
I heard. It seemed that when the skaters pressed
The rink they cut into the nasal bones
Of these tormented souls. So every time
A player passed a nose, it led to groans
And anguish from the soul below. What crime,
What passenger offense or misbehavior
Could send a soul to this departure line?
I climbed back up the stairs and found my mentor.
"I understand the what, but not the why,"
I said. "This place is worse than all before.
Do you know what sins might underlie
The tortures here or know this Captain's name?"
"Yes, I do to both," came his reply.
"Although, if you are planning to complain
Please do not. The Captain is Lew Siffer.
He's quite respected down in this domain."
Fine, I thought, it's not my place to differ
With or question any captain's plan.
I hoped to learn what actions would deliver
Someone's soul into this icy land.
"Teacher, as you know, since I cannot
Directly question those that have been banned
To here. I hope you'll tell me what has brought
These souls into this painful interface."
"I will explain," He said. "What acts begot
This fate. Those souls you see encased
Within the rink are not from passengers.
They belong to bureaucrats who chased
Down every cent. Those airline managers
Who let you sit on runways for all day,
Caring not for you but for their ledgers.
Their empty souls are sent down here to pay,
To watch the hockey from below and freeze.
There are also those who take away
The pillows and the small amenities.
There are specialists in seating pitch
Who do not care a whit about your knees.
Those who pass the cost of every glitch
Back to the paying customer are here.
As are the souls of those who would enrich
Their take by obfuscation of the fare.
I assume by now you get my gist?
If the owners of these souls foreswear
Their crimes, perhaps their souls may be dismissed
And leave." He sighed, "But this has never happened."
He turned to go and I did not resist.
Canto IX: The Road to Seven
Past the hockey place our concourse took
An upward twist. Now the walls had windows.
Wearily, I paused to take a look.
To my surprise, I saw the morning's glow.
Virgil sensed my thoughts, "We have gone,"
He said to me, "Much further than you know.
The light you see outside is Sunday's dawn.
My friend, it's time for you to cash your chips.
We are coming to the denouement
Where Lucky Seven holds your homeward trip."
"I cannot believe I've lost a day,"
Was my reply. "But your stewardship
Has taught me things that many others may
Not know. I'll do all I can to share
The sights I've seen and words I've heard you say."
"I wish success." He said. "I do despair
That some will ever understand at all.
I fear they will continue unaware
To the heart of darkness that we call
DIS. But enough. Do you
See the terraces along this hall?
Each terrace has a crowd of souls in queues.
They are also going to Departure
Seven; but they wait. Can you construe
The reason? Take a moment to be sure.
These waiting souls have passed the previous
Departure stations, but are premature
For Seven. Their owners aren't injurious
To others, or they'd be detained elsewhere.
Why would the Captain have them coalesce
So close to Seven when it's right up there?
Maybe you can get this riddle solved."
And as I looked into the sunlit air,
The answer came. There were no crimes involved.
However, minor sins and peccadillos
Had to be acknowledged and absolved.
Consider this example. Just suppose
You and spouse have had a fight. You take
Your anger to the plane where you expose
The crew to your frustration and forsake
Your normal state of even temperament.
Soon you realize your mistake.
You vow to change your acts and you repent.
But, you need to pass the message on.
Once you help some other malcontent,
Your record's purged. It's cleansed of any wrong.
The stretch between the sin and its correction
Is the time the Captain will prolong
Your soul's postponement here in this location.
"Yes, Dear Guide," I said. "I would guess
These honest souls will make connection
There at Seven's gate and progress
To home when owners deal with any awkward
Acts outside their norm or in excess
Of those you should expect to see on board."
"My friend," the Teacher said, "You have it right.
Congratulations. Let's keep heading upward;
We are now arriving at your flight."
We walked on past the terraces and shortly
Beatrice and crew came into sight.
Was my airplane waiting here for me?
Beatrice was smiling, "All aboard,
For Paradiso Airlines, Number Three."