Being a full-time traveler requires, as you can probably guess, lots of travel. I have developed a love/hate relationship with travel days: on one hand, I love the excitement and anticipation of arriving somewhere new; on the other hand, the act of traveling is exhausting and more often than not requires being shoehorned into buses, planes, trains, or boats with dozens of your closest strangers.
I’ve had plenty of travel neighbors on those buses, planes, trains, and boats and I like to think that I have developed some kind of zen-like acceptance for whomever I find myself sitting next to. I’ve sat next to sneezers, farters, coughers, talkers, eaters-of-smelly-things, and once woke on a bus to find a stranger using my shoulder as a pillow. I’ve come to accept that there are all kinds of people in the world, and we all have to get around for our various reasons, so let’s work together to make it as pleasant as possible.
That was, until I found the Worst Travel Neighbor (WTN) ever.
I found my WTN on a recent flight from Hanoi to Saigon, when he was sitting in Kim’s window seat. (I had the middle seat and WTN was supposed to have the aisle). I’m normally a stickler for small rules like this, but having already entered my zen travel state of mind, I thought to myself we’ll just swap the window seat for the aisle seat, no big deal. As I sat down, I found WTN not only hogging the arm rest (doesn’t the middle seat always get arm rest preference?), but also with his legs spread about as far as they could, grossly invading my leg space.
For whatever reason, those simple acts caused my mental travel-zen to unravel and in doing so, the battle for leg room and arm rest dominance had begun.
Now, WTN was on his cell phone when we sat down – a classic rookie mistake. Before we could take off, he would have to turn off his phone – something that would require both of his hands on his smartphone. When he made a move to turn off his phone, I not-so-subtly reclaimed my right to the arm rest. Wandering Sasquatch: 1, WTN: 0.
As if in response to this, WTN made another classic rookie move: the leg cross. Thinking that once his crossed-leg was resting atop my leg that I would hastily move it to avoid contact, thus giving up precious inches of leg room. Didn’t I tell him that I’ve let strangers use my shoulder as a pillow? Hmm, I must have forgotten. Not wasting any time, my leg quickly occupied the space where his was just a moment ago. Wandering Sasquatch: 2, WTN: 0.
Little did I know that I was walking into a trap. My leg had little time to adjust to its newfound space before WTN showed his hand: the shoe removal. Yes, I fell for the age-old cross-leg fakeout, only to be sucker punched by the shoe removal tactic. Only, WTN seemed to up the ante by removing not only the shoes, but the socks as well. As soon as he made the second cross-leg maneuver, my leg made a hasty retreat back to its prior position, not wanting to soil my clean-ish jeans with someone else’s foot funk. Point: WTN, -1 to WS.
We seemed to be at a stalemate. Elbows were banged together and knees collided as we fought small skirmishes, but no real ground was won or lost. And for those of you keeping score at home, we were tied at 1 point apiece. After about 45 minutes, I figured this would be a stalemate.
Oh, how I underestimated my opponent.
After fully removing his elbow from the arm rest, thus giving up all rights to the resting of his arm, I snatched it up as fast as I could. Then, he pulled out his big gun: the snot rocket.
Yes, his elbow removal tactic was yet another clever two-part move. I watched in stunned silence as he lifted his hand to his face, closed one nostril with his thumb, and blew the contents of his nose into his hand. Then, as if reveling in knowing that the battle is now his, he held out his hand to inspect the contents, and in doing so, displaying said contents to his opponent (me). I watched in horror as his hand made its way to the leg next to mine and he wiped his hand on the side of his pants – yes, the side facing me.
Check and mate.
With the battle decidedly over, I was in full retreat now. I had no defense for the two-pronged bare-foot-funk and snotty-khaki attack that I was facing. I pulled both my arm and leg back, thus giving up all claim to any and all leg space and elbow room. I spent the rest of the flight doing everything I could to avoid contact at all costs.
Well played, Worst Travel Neighbor, well played.