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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Only Way to Fly

There’s a great new way to fly these days. True, the Concord is gone, and First Class is out of my price range, but I have discovered a greater way to go: unconscious.

Some people take books, portable DVD players or laptop computers for in-flight amusement and to pass the time. Me, I take Valium.

I usually have quite a high tolerance for pain medications, muscle relaxers, and the normal maintenance dose of Atavan. But give me one little Valium, and it’s Good Night, Nurse for the rest of the day.

I'm not the only one who has adopted this tactic. Watch the passengers with the bottled water. They'll pop a pill as soon as they're seated. And they always look hungry. You get an extra kick if you take it on an empty stomach.

I tell my doctor I need “a little something” each time before I go on an extended flight. And by extended flight, I mean beyond the county line. The last three trips to San Francisco have been paradise for me. Even if we have to stop for an hour and change flights, the minute the second plane lifts off, my face is in my soup. Or it would be, had I brought a bowl on board. When the flights were over, the drug seemed to have run its course, and I woke up feeling very refreshed and mellow. For me, jet lag is a thing of the past.

I no longer miss my free beverage or $2 headphones. I always make sure I pin my Do Not Resuscitate order to my shirt so the air nurse won’t wake me up. I learned this trick from my mother, who for the last few years of her life, slept under her DNR order that was taped to the wall (which she had brusquely attacked with a fluorescent highlighter and scribbled in her own addenda). When Rescue came, they ignored it anyway, but air nurses tend to be much more sympathetic. They’re thinking, “Hey, that’s just one more jerk I don’t have to wait on.”

No longer do I have to be worried about being cramped or uncomfortable in those sardine-can coach seats. When you’re as out of it as I am while under the influence of one little Valium, you can fold yourself into a pretzel shape and still be dreaming away as if you were stretched out on a king-sized Tempur-Pedic mattress.

This trip, I slept for two hours with a starlight mint in my mouth. During hour 1, I had woken up, and in order to alleviate my sleeper’s breath, popped one into my mouth. Twenty seconds later, I was back asleep, and it was still there two hours later, staining my tongue and teeth cherry red as we began our descent into Dallas.

This medication trick is not for everyone. Other Bill will Pop a Chocks before takeoff and will still be vigorously reading his book about Joni Mitchell as we prepare for landing. Frankly, I could probably read the Joni Mitchell book instead of taking the Valium, but the drugs take much less effort. Moving your eyes and comprehending can be so taxing.

I am pleased to have Other Bill in the waking world so that he can nudge me when I snore or soak up my drool with a cocktail napkin. He says he does that frequently during the flight, but I remember none of it. He could probably put me in clown makeup and pull my pants down to my knees, and I wouldn’t discover it until the captain pulled up to the gate and turned off the fasten-seatbelt sign. That's how out of it I am.

I am not saying that drugs are cool or that this method of flight will help others, but it's right for me. What I don’t understand is how people function while taking this medication. And by function, I mean simply staying awake. I’m beginning to think that Valley of the Dolls was fiction.

I am pretty certain I could have open-heart surgery while taking this medication.
All the misery of air travel can completely disappear if you pair that pill with a couple of good foam earplugs. Screaming babies? Never heard ’em. Sloppy, loud drunks molesting the air nurses? Where? On this flight?

The first time I tried this was on a 14-hour, nonstop flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Kennedy in 1983. It was on a big-belly 747 that held extra fuel for extended flights. It was during some Moslem holiday when some hypocritical Saudis, the kind who drink, gamble, and play with prostitutes, flee the country for destinations where those things are easy to do.
Unfortunately, they tend to bring along their herds of Saudi toddlers and pre-schoolers, who, once the fasten-seatbelt light is turned off, are more than free to roam about the cabin. They run up and down the aisles shrieking and speaking in tongues while their parents, all five of each of them, peruse the duty free liquor magazines.

Valium, in Saudi Arabia at that time, did not require a prescription. Unfortunately, I never knew that until the day before my repatriation flight took off. I could have had a much better time there that year. I should have networked more.

So at the first sign of unruly children, I popped a 5 mg. tablet. In no time their disturbing ways stopped irritating me, and I felt really happy. I slept until the first meal came, which was after the first movie. Disturbingly, I did not at the time have a DNR order that was written in hieroglyphics from right to left, so the air nurse set food down in front of me and woke me up. I ate half of the beef, or maybe it was lamb. Whatever; dark meat in gravy, and a mouthful of baba ganoush, which I’m not fond of but love the name. It quickly led to my singing in my head a modified Beach Boys song: “Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ganoush; Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ganoush.” Like just about everything else, except for the black-haired babies going berserk up and down both aisles of the plane, I found that song interminably funny, and I figured I could stop my giggling and make those kids disappear with another ten milligrams. Hey, I was 26. What did I care about a slight overdose? I was going to live forever.

Two unseen movies, a skipped breakfast and eleven hours later, I woke up just as we were making our descent into New York. The captain had already illuminated the fasten-seatbelt sign, and I hadn’t peed in over fifteen hours, so I couldn't run to the back to relieve myself. Needless to say I had busting-at-the-zipper happy pants, but it also felt like I had half a dozen ice picks stabbing me in the bladder. I could only find relief by leaning forward, as if I was bracing for impact. When we docked at the gate, I couldn’t stand up until everyone had left the plane. I fled as fast as I could, bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I made it to a sit-down toilet. (I couldn’t stand at a urinal, or I would have poked myself in the eye with the now-extinct flush handle.)

Later that afternoon, Customs officials wanted to know why I had taken so long to get to them. I told them I’d taken Valium and fallen asleep. They bought it.

But as I said earlier, don't assume this in-flight medication will help you. I do feel, for the sake of the safety of others, that I should put in one of those prescription medication warnings here.

Valium is not for everyone. Ask your doctor if taking Valium on a jet is right for you. In some cases, Valium may make you miss your connection, cause drooling that will stain your garments, make you fall in your soup, or lie in the lap of an unknown adjacent passenger. Don't take Valium while traveling alone or without a willing passenger who will nudge you when snoring and mop your face when drooling. Valium can be habit forming among frequent travelers. Side effects of Valium include erections lasting over four hours, euphoria, and fiery bladder pain. Stop using Valium if you experience death. For more information and a discount on your first prescription, visit

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