It’s that time again. Back-to-school drop-offs, last-minute Labor Day getaways, and now the advent of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ensure that the next few weeks will be among the year’s most jam-packed for travelers.
Take a train, if you like. Book a bus or a plane. One thing is certain: You will be rubbing elbows with fellow journeyers.
In truth, as we frequent travelers know, it’s extremely likely these days that you’ll be sharing your row — 38 D, E, and F — with at least one nut.
Did you read that correctly? You did. I said “nut.” And I am not sorry about this old-style word. I happen to know nutty passengers particularly well.
I’ve sat near a guy who made me scroll through the frequently dialed numbers on his cellphone just to prove he was a personal pal of a U.S. ambassador. Nice, very nice, was all I could think to reply. And then there was the woman who hummed for five hours on a red-eye from Seattle to Boston. Not show tunes, not classic hits, not notes at all. Just a sound like a dishwasher, minus the rinse.
For years, I thought I could discourage fellow passengers from sitting near me by faking sleep, opening my mouth, and firing off exaggerated snores. It didn’t work. I got seatmates who snored, too.
I tried to cut off conversation by burying my nose on takeoff inside a dull-looking 600-page hardcover book. No dice. Most seatmates, I found, viewed this as an invitation to lean over and read along.
Reading a volume on Artesian wells? You’ll find you’ve plopped down next to a very talkative water engineer. Is it a guide to the world’s rock doves? Meet your new pal: An ornithologist who keeps pigeons (and has one along in a pet-carrier under his seat).
Finally, with another long trip on tap, I went to work on a plan. It involved some trial and error. It required refinement.
But, at last, I’ve perfected a patented system that works on buses, trains— even flights like Southwest’s that have open seating — and lets you travel in perfect peace and comfort.
Here is what you must do: Slap on your cheesiest grin, arch those eyebrows, and pat the empty seat next to you. That’s right: Pat, arch and grin.
You’ve got to invite each stranger you see to select the seat next to you. Right now!
You have lots to say, you tell them, it’s got to do with rock doves, or Artesian wells, or bundt cake recipes!
This, I promise you, will do the trick. You’ll enjoy trip after blissful trip with acres of extra elbow and leg room. You may even find yourself in empty rows.
The more you beckon, the more you’ll benefit, forcing wary passengers to the farthest corners of your fuselage or car.
Of course there is a minuscule chance of complications. It’s extremely rare, but I must offer this warning: One traveler in a thousand may be thrilled to accept your offer. If this happens, I cannot guarantee your safety. It means your seatmate may be even more of a nut than you.
Peter Mandel is a travel journalist and author of children’s books.