Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why Are Planes Full Of Boring American Guys?

I hate to deal in stereotypes, but there’s a certain kind of white-skinned, white-haired American gentleman of a certain age (55 and upwards) that I strive to avoid if at all possible. He’s a BAG (Boring American Guy), and he wants to talk to you because…well, just because he can and he’s nothing better to do. To exercise his tongue and fill the air with the kind of questions that make you stretch for the strychnine as a happier alternative to heaving your vocal chords into a quasi-courteous response.

I was on a plane from Frankfurt to Washington DC at the weekend, and I was thankful to be two seats away from a classic BAG. In between us was a bloke who’s my kind of air passenger – one who clearly doesn’t want to talk, at all. He had his headphones in, and his magazine open, right from take-off. We reached an unspoken No Small Talk pact right at the point of our initial curt, barely grunted greeting.

But the BAG two seats away didn’t get the message. My neighbour was reading Modified Mustangs magazine (“The Performance Magazine For Mustang Enthusiasts”). The BAG tapped him on the arm, and my neighbour turned off his music.

“You got a Mustang?”


“A friend of mine’s got a Mustang! Not sure how many horse power it is though.”

Silence. My neighbour turned his music back on, closed his eyes, and pulled his hood down over his head. About an hour later, the persevering BAG tried again.

“How many horsepower’s your Mustang?”

My own answer would have been, “About one, I think, not that it’s any of your fucking business,” but Mustang guy managed to dredge out a few answers until the conversation shortly after died a second painful death, the BAG now nursing his new knowledge about the power of a car he’s never seen, belonging to a man he’ll never know.

Around this time a meal was served, and across the aisle my youngest daughter duly ate her portion. When I leaned across to talk to her, the ominously perky voice of a male retiree came from the seat directly behind me.

“Say, is that you daughter?”

Oh Christ. Another one, but louder and smilier. “Erm, yes.”

“She’s a real good eater. She ate that whole meal up. Does she always eat that well?”

“Erm, not always.”

“Where you from?”

It’s hard to have a conversation with your back to someone, strapped into a seat, when you’re trying to read a book. Every time I thought we’d finished and put my head back down, the BAG chimed in with a new query. I know now that the Boring American Guy sitting behind me on the plane on Sunday was once stationed at a Royal Air Force base somewhere I’ve never heard of near Portsmouth, and that he now lives in Frederick, Maryland because his wife does something or other there. Once we’d exchanged that and a whole load more astonishing information, our new friendship petered out.

I know airlines are all cutting costs nowadays, but now that everyone knows there’s no smoking on board planes, can’t they just modify the No Smoking lights to read No Small Talk? Yes, and we’d still need to keep them on for the whole flight. In an emergency you could press a button that would make the light blink, and then a stewardess could come and issue a BAG-gagging order. Any persistent offenders would be arrested upon landing (preferably bundled to the ground and then silenced with a secure muzzle) and given a lifetime flying ban.

Soon there’d only be Miserable British Gits flying. There’d be peace at last above the clouds, just like in heaven.


Dave Lifton said...

My answer to "You got a Mustang?" would be "Take a wild fucking guess."

Kenneth said...

After watching John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles I decided to be nicer to those characters (well...some of them). Conversation might be a dying art. Emails, text messages and blogs have taken over. Pubs are full of TV's. I'm getting old.

No Good Boyo said...

I'm largely with Kenneth on this, especially as talking to BAGs etc gives you primo blog material and perhaps the old boy will remember you in his will.

Best BAG I ever knew was Rimmer de Vries (I kid you not), a New York banker with Morgan Guaranty who regularly came over to Britain for chats on East European economic matters with me when I was acting as an imposter at a consultancy company.

"Mardy, where's Mardy? Hey Mardy, whad's goin' aaaan in Mos-Cow?" he'd bellow cordially from 6'5" in the sky, before dragging me off to some sandwich bar to shuffle endlessly through his pack of random thoughts on Poland-land.

I retained a soft spot for him, though. We were queuing in an Oxford sandwich bar, and I asked the Spanish girl for a chicken ciabatta as indicted on the board.

Rimmer yelled merrily "I'll take pastrami on rye, extra pickle, hold the 'slaw, miss", thereby listing a set of ingredients that appeared nowhere on the menu. The girl gawped at him, so he added "That's New Yawk style!" by way of explanation.

A purse-lipped, greyhaired, clogwearer of the North Oxford Guardian-clipping club behind him decided to join in. "This is Oxford, actually," she squeaked.

I leave what Rimmer said and did next to your imagination, but it was one of those moments I'll relish - "and that's onion relish, ma'am!" - for the rest of my non-senile life.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

The genial and garrulous small-talker is tolerable in minor doses, provided you're in the mood (which is admittedly rare in my case). But the feeling of entrapment engendered by a flying capsule 30,000 feet above the earth makes a special case for the small-talk ban within the confines of an aircraft with stringently assigned seating. Kenneth and no good boyo are merely reaching an age when they feel themselves starting to morph into (wind)BAGs themselves, thus their need to offer a lukewarm defense of the chummily mind-numbing greyheads.

No Good Boyo said...

You may have a point there, Pop, especially as I just used your blog as an opening to post a tedious story from my distant youth, BAG style.

The only way to deal with air travel is to load up on Bloody Marys and read Bukowski through the flight. The only people who'll speak to you are ones who are either paid to do so or married to you, unless they themselves are Beats manqués.