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Facts & Arguments

Aging at 30,000 feet

However dotty or drooling I become, I won't ever stop getting out to see the world, Doug Wallace writes

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There I was, settling in for a flight to Miami, my straw hat resting on my knee just like Grandpa, when I had a shudder-worthy moment of realization: Hell's bells! My straw hat is resting on my knee just like Grandpa.

There are few more sobering instances that underline the rapid onset of my own death than when I catch myself slowly turning into my father. First you're cursing the seniors under your breath to move to the side on the moving walkway, or to hurry up and stow their overhead bag already and then one day, it's you requiring assistance to do the same. (To be fair, my wrist was broken.)

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It all started with the bright orange, conversation-stopping earplugs. I used to squeeze them into my head just for an inflight nap, but now, they're in from gate to gate, blessedly filtering out the noisy TVs in the lounge, the attention-ladies-and-gentlemen announcements, the loud talkers and the screaming children (I ask you: which is worse?), and my newest pet peeve, the flight attendants who seem to be yelling at the top of their lungs into the loudspeaker, often in three languages. When did I become such a delicate sparrow?

The increase of my sensitivity to noise coincided with my now equally heightened germaphobia and the painstaking methods I employ to placate it. Thanks to the internet, I can now confirm that airplanes are the germiest places on Earth. I bring disinfecting towelettes to wipe down everything in the vicinity upon taking my seat, convinced that no one ever washes anything – arm rests, table trays, air-vent knobs, nothing. I'm not really that paranoid, I'm just cautious. I tell this to myself when my fuss-budgeting produces stares from other passengers.

If I've learned anything over my years of hopping on planes, it's never, ever touch your face. I even have a song to hum quietly as I do the wipe down, called Don't Put Your Fingers In Your Eyes or in Your Nose, sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine. They don't wash the seatbelts either, just saying. Don't get me started on the carpeted flooring. (Yes, filthy beyond belief.) Airplane grime is also the reason I carry a small bottle of disinfecting gel for my hands. My Invisalign braces are to blame for that. I'm not yanking them out of my face with dirty hands. It's bad enough that I have to do it in public.

It doesn't stop there. My glasses are on a string around my neck now, which, when I travel, become loaded with crumbs and flecks of shiny chicken gravy. It's no wonder I can't read foreign landing cards without holding them at arm's length, squinting at the four-point type. Four-point type! I've taken to carrying a pair of super-magnifying drugstore readers so I can fill out the forms to be allowed entry into places such as Panama and Cuba and Ecuador.

Advance seat selection, which never used to be a concern, now includes a thought as to how far I'm sitting from the toilet and whether or not I can get an aisle seat. Those little green diarrhea pills – you know the ones – are now a carry-on staple. Water intake? Drastically down when flying. It's as if I'm shrivelling up like a prune before my very eyes. No more beer before takeoff, either. I had to put a stop to that long ago.

The list of accoutrements I now have to travel with gets longer each time I pack a suitcase, which, happily, is often. For example, on longer jaunts, I've actually started packing the battery-operated nose trimmer. Two different kinds of stain remover are also a standard shaving-kit item. I also take a homemade medicine kit, thanks to my doctor, who feels that no one needs to pay $500 to have a doctor in Australia tell you you've sprained your ankle. He's right, of course. I've also started to carry my blood-pressure prescriptions in my passport wallet, paranoid that less-informed government officials will dangle them in front of my nose with a "what have we here" look.

And now, sigh, it's the CPAP machine I take on the road for sleep apnea. It goes through security in the same bin as the laptop. I can feel the stares on the back of my neck. It's the smaller and prettier version of this particular model, too, so it's all white and dolled up with a leafy motif. I wish it looked a bit cooler. I've already started fretting about where I'm going to find distilled water to fill it with on the other end.

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"Hi, room service? Could you send up a bottle of distilled water, please?" I will say in my kindly old man voice. "Sure, homemade is fine."

Before too long, even though I have my father's agility, I'll be part of the senior crowd that gets a lift to the gate via those beeping people movers (again, why are they super, super-loud?) to then sit right beside the gate in the senior's seats, next to the passengers waiting to board in wheelchairs. I may very well even be one of them one day, but I will still be going to the airport. However dotty or drooling I become, I won't ever stop travelling.

So, in the meantime, I'll just have to roll with my "seasoned traveller" ways and how they affect my travel habits.

I can't wait to start trying to stuff a cane into the overhead bin, though. Bet my fellow travellers will be treated to some of father's more colourful language then.

Doug Wallace lives in Toronto.

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