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Seat 10F

An exercise in descriptive writing

Karl Evans Henson

I look out my window. The rain is pouring over San Francisco. The sky is gray and
bleak. There are airplanes waiting to take off, giant beasts of the air, now tempered
and tame, and wet. I am on board a Continental Airlines Flight 1444, flying out of SFO
to George Bush International in Houston, TX (IAH). I am the passenger seated in 10F.

Looking out from my window seat I see the outer glass is wet, the water droplets
clinging stubbornly to the surface. By now, the rain has all but stopped. The
occasional droplet of water from the gray sky falls on one of these droplets on the
glass and together, they become a drop large enough to escape the hold of the
window pane and slide down. I can imagine the water molecules interacting with the
surface of the glass and I feel like a geek.

The plane starts moving.

Inside the cabin, it smells like stale air, air that has been in a switched-off air-
conditioner for too long. It reminds me of the smell and the air that’s blown on one’s
face when one rides the buses that plough Manila’s main thoroughfares. A baby girl, a
few rows in front of me, Seat 6F I think, cries incessantly as she sits on her father’s lap.
I am slightly annoyed and want to block the sound by plugging my ears with
earphones. But I don’t.

There is a man to my left, on Seat 10D. He is reading a tattered copy of USA Today. A
tall, caucasian man, he might be in his early or mid forties. Seems like the business-
guy type. His tan corduroys remind me of my blue ones back home. There is no one
in the seat between us, 10E. I then notice that the flight wasn’t full at all and there are
plenty of empty seats. It doesn’t matter as I got the seat I wanted, window and near
the front of the cabin. The man, finished with the editorial page, puts the paper down
on the seat between us, folds his hands over his belly, and closes his eyes.

After some taxiing, the plane is still again and we’re in the middle of a side runway.
Outside my window, on the tarmac, a yellow-and-white pick-up truck sits, its
headlights turned on and, by the looks of it, the engine running. There is probably a
driver inside, but I am not sure.

The pilot’s voice can be heard on the speakers. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he says,
“we’re flying out in five to ten minutes.” The delay is probably caused by the rain and
the poor visibility. We’re moving again, turning left then right then left again, onto what
I think is the main runway. The movement scares the little girl in 6F and she cries

I was wrong. The plane continues to taxi down the runway, not the main one. We turn
right. Another Continental aircraft speeds down the runway for take-off. We are
parallel to the main runway, apparently. This aircraft is closely followed by a gray
airplane, probably United Airlines. I’d describe the make of the plane (Boeing, Airbus,
etc.) but I am not familiar with those things as much as my father and brother are.

I can no longer see the airport building. There is only this expanse of concrete and
grass. The horizon is charcoal and vague. The rain has stopped.

The plane’s engines start to get noisy and I think we are about to take off. We make
another right, the last one I’m hoping.

I am clearly wrong. Again. We are slowing down and the plane finally stops its forward
motion. I am getting impatient. It is no joke to write without a table, using one’s lap for
that purpose. My consolation is that I am writing using an excellent pen: a black
Waterman Phileas fountain pen with blue ink. I also do not have proper paper and I am
presently writing on the empty back pages of the book I’m trying to finish: “A
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers.

The pilot is once again heard and he assures us that we’re flying out in five minutes.

But this time, he’s really right, I think. The engine is revving up again. Could this be it?

No. Another United Airlines plane will go first, followed by what appears to be a white
private plane. It’s been two minutes since the last announcement by the pilot.

We make a right turn and I realize that we’re finally on the main runway. The tarmac is
clear, a whole stretch of smooth gray concrete lined by little yellow lights. The plane’s
engine revs up, louder than what we heard earlier. The plane starts gathering speed,
runs down screaming through the runway. I notice that the wind wipes my window
clear of water droplets. I feel the nose of the plane rise from the ground. In an instant,
we are in the air, gliding up to several hundred feet. Finally.

I feel my ears pop.

03 March 2008
Original written in San Francisco, CA
Edited 3:30 PM, at the George Bush International Airport, Houston, TX

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