I board the plane at 5:00 am in Missoula, Montana on my way to New York City with my daughter to visit my son and his fiance. Hannah and I are in zone three. We are always in zone three. The butt of the plane. Always.
We walk through the first class people. The zone threes stare at them waiting for the line to progress as zone threes take a while to put their one and only free bag in the overhead compartment. The first class are settling into their big comfortable seats with pillows and blankets and drinks, laptops are out. We slowly move past the first class as the corridor to the rest of the plane narrows.
Recently there has been another class distinction in traveling by plane. You can get a cheaper ticket if you don’t want to get a seat assignment until you arrive at the airport. Which of course Hannah and I did. This means that you will be separated and in the dreaded middle seat of the six seats per row (three seats per side). The people seated next to us paid extra money to now be the pass people. “Will you pass this plastic spoon over to my mom?” “Could you pass my phone charger to my daughter?”
One leg of our flight we did sit together. In the very last row. The seats that don’t recline. Next to the bathrooms. And supposedly next to the engine as it is very loud back in the last row. Now the bathroom line people stare at us in our upright ridged position with the seat in front of us reclined in our face. The last to get a drink and peanuts. The last to get off the plane.
New York City was wonderful. Central Park was packed with families, strollers, dogs. People enjoying the sunshine, sitting on benches reading or talking to one another. Bikers and joggers and entertainers. It was a plethora of humanity at it’s finest in the middle of Manhattan. I would look people in the eye and smile and they would smile back. People would ask us directions to places. It was all very warm and friendly, as I believe that most of the world is.
The subways were a transportation miracle. Thousands of people descending into the underground of New York as thousands of people ascended from the underground. Weaving their way through the coming and going of millions of people, getting on trains getting off trains, constant movement. Above ground, the traffic was bumper to bumper with taxis and cars and big black Suburbans. Horns honking. Fire trucks and ambulances slowly squeezing through with their sirens on. And just when you think there couldn’t be any more people left, you see the sidewalks are full of pedestrians. Walking to school to work to the store to the subway. So much movement. And it all works. And people smile and say they are sorry when they bump you.
All the store employees are nice. We go to the vegan gluten-free bakery and buy dessert laughing and joking with the employee. We go to the corner market for beer and toilet paper and tell the cashier we have a wild night planned as I nod to the items we are purchasing. She laughs and says don’t get too carried away.
I tell my kids that I really expected there to be a lot more black people in New York City. Zach says there are in Queens and the Bronx. Zach and Taylor live in the upper east side not too far from Madonna. They live in an old apartment building that’s possibly on the list to be torn down and rebuilt soon. One bedroom, the smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen and was a steal at $2700 per month. Living in Manhatten for them means not having to own a car and they can walk to work. It’s a good trade-off as opposed to a cheaper apartment somewhere else with long expensive commutes.
Each neighborhood in Manhattan had its own social stratification. Like walking down the aisle of an airplane you walked through Manhattan, a rich borough, and see the distinct classes.
The United States prides itself on hard work lifting you up to another socioeconomic rung. Climbing the ladder. But that distinction also means that if you are not climbing that ladder it’s your own choice. But some people’s ladders start below ground level and other’s start more than halfway up their ladder the day they are born. Or maybe climbing a class ladder is not your intention. You like the adventure of finding a small affordable apartment in Manhattan that you will remember forever and laugh about or sitting the in middle seat of the plane. Is it a choice? If I suddenly had a lot of money would I buy a first-class plane ticket?
I think the thing that baffles me most about class distinction is that we associate ourselves with similar classes. Do we segregate consciously? If I suddenly had a lot of money would I have a new set of friends? Do you have to have money and social hierarchy to be a politician? My kids have never voted for a white male for president. Would they have if they had been born with lots of money? Who knows?
I just finished reading “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende. The book takes place over three generations in Chile. Lots of social stratification, political corruption, suppression of women, male dominance and an uncanny parallel of our current and ever-widening gap of socioeconomic class distinctions. But the underlying theme of the book is that the indomitable spirit of these suppressed groups trumps the corruption. Stay strong. Stay true to yourself. Smile at strangers. Ask for directions. Most people in all classes are nice and helpful. Don’t be afraid to mingle.
I highly recommend “The House of Spirits”. This and other great book selections can be found on the Wild About Books website.