Feb 16

Death Valley Day One – Mr. Gupta

Category: Death Valley

This post is as long as our flight to Las Vegas, en route to Death Valley.

At a stop in Columbus, an extremely drunk guy staggered on to the plane. As the wasted often do, he sized us up as pushovers. Despite the unfilled plane he fell heavily into the seat next to us and, like an abandoned puppet, flopped forward and passed out. “Thank god,” I thought, “If we have to be next to this guy, at least he’s asleep”. He was in the aisle seat, myself at the window and Holly in the middle.

Time until landing: 4.5 hours.

But we weren’t about to get out of this situation quite so easily. During the safety announcements he jerked upright and began babbling to me in a thick Hindu accent. I soon discovered that we had been paired with a friendly drunk – it could have been worse. He insisted on telling us why he had been in Columbus – the untimely death of a family member – and began to cry.

Constitutionally unable to be mean, we were nice to him in a restrained way. Because of this meager sympathy, he recognized in us the spark of universal love and brotherhood. “Ve bill vecome von!” he crooned, unfocused eyes struggling to accomodate. Mr. Gupta (as he shall now be called) made us beneficiaries of his pickled largesse, praising us in every way possible and offering to buy us anything we wanted. We gratefully demurred. Then he began to praise our extreme American-ness. “Yourra hairdah! (your hair!)” he blurted out to Holly (remember, she was next to him). “Yer Hairdah iz szoo Ay-merdican!” Unable to make his point verbally, or perhaps on its own accord, his arm clumsily reached out and pawed at Holly’s long ash-blond hair. “Aymerdican! Wonderful! I vill never be like thzees! I am from Eyndia! Yoo maybe see my dark skin and know I am not from here?” He smiled expansively, hopefully.

At this point I suggested to Holly that she might prefer the window seat, as “the view was much better”. We switched while Mr. Gupta goggled at us uncomprehendingly, like a dog watching a grandfather clock. This left me next to him, where I could fully appreciate his alcohol stench.

Time until landing: 4 hours.

Our sudden decision to rearrange ourselves confused Mr. Gupta. In his mind, lumps of drunken thought slapped togther like the buttocks of a morbidly obese acrobat. “Ahh, yvoo vdish to spend time vish yer vife! I loff my vife, her very much. Eet is soo hart to spend time, the time apart! Iey vill be respectdful and leaf zyou a-lone, but let me tdell you, ven you haf a minute, I am hearde for zoo. Vwhee vill be goot frends!”

Time until landing: 3.5 hours.

Mr. Gupta developed an urgent need for the bathroom, creating an interval which I used to inform the cabin crew that this guy was four sheets down; bringing him more alcohol would violate my human rights under the U.N. accords. They seemed to understand.

Soon, Mr. Gupta clawed his way up the aisle, moving like a dismounted and exhausted kayaker clawing his way up an unstable riverbank. I had hoped that in the bathroom, Mr. Gupta would splash his face with water and became a little more sober. This fantasy was dispelled when he started hugging me and trying to kiss me, all while proclaiming the oneness of humanity, the indelible bond of our friendship, and lamenting the state of his alienation in the US. I suppose that when drunk people sit on airplanes, the alcohol-saturated blood in their legs functions as a reservoir, so when they start moving around they get drunker.

Holly whispered “We’re sitting with Mahir!” I fended Mr. Gupta off and intercepted his hands as they attempted to wander across me and touch Holly’s hair or drape around my shoulders.

Time until landing: 3 hours. No – actually, now we went back in time, and the flight became 1 billion hours long.

gupta

The next several hours consisted of Mr. Gupta nodding off and springing awake, ready to talk. When I got testy he didn’t catch my drift, and the conversation I was forced to have drifted aimlessly. Mr Gupta had some unresolved issues about not being fully American and never being “on the same level” as paragons of white America such as Holly and myself. I asked him if he was a citizen – he was – and tried to reassure him that this made him as American as I. This wasn’t a bright move because it only increased his ardor for me. Insisting that I was the best person he had ever met – a regular Nelson Mandela – he persistently attempted to buy me drinks, tell me about his past, and advise me about the future of civil engineering in southern California. Naturally, this interested me more than my movie or book.

When the plane landed, Mr. Gupta rose numbly and without a word or backward glance navigated out of the aircraft, vanishing into the airport. At the baggage claim, a fellow passenger and witness to the debacle introduced herself. “I too am from India,” she said, “and I just want you to know that I’m embarrassed for my country.”

We got a good night’s sleep in the Summerlin courtyard (free stay b/c of points). The next day, we headed of to REI and the supermarket to get water, camping food, camping gas etc. When you’re going into the desert, you have to have a lot of supplies, because you never know what will happen. I suppose this is true in a lot of outdoor trips, but D.V. is BIG and you can easily find yourself stuck in a place too far to walk out quickly. So we got ourselves a real 4WD vehicle (Toyota 4runner) and packed it with water and food.

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