First class


I learned early on in this life that some go first class while the rest of us simply go coach. Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, we went coach. The rich folks who lived over on the Duke of Gloucester always went first class.

Forty years later things haven’t changed much; I’m still sitting firmly in coach. And the rich folks still sit in first class. The difference is instead of being separated by a thick grove of trees, like Flamingo and The Duke, we’re separated by a black mesh curtain. Confused? Well, welcome to my world. Keep reading, dear reader, it’ll all make sense at the end.

For years The Wife has tried to convince me to take a five-hour plane flight to San Diego. After her first visit, she couldn’t stop telling me that the food, the weather, and the people are some of the best in the country. Last weekend it finally happened, we boarded the plane and left the Southeast, and sweet tea, bound for sunny California. Here are but a few things I learned during our trip and visit to the West Coast.

First and foremost, I must lose another 20 pounds. Those airline seats are really tight in coach. They say the strongest memories of childhood are smells. That’s the reason why every time I go to the dump I think of my twin brother Mark. Well, it seems screaming babies that need their diapers changed are only allowed in coach. Either that or twin brother Mark actually was sitting in the back of the plane making all that noise.

Second, the small carry-on you carefully packed to be courteous of the limited overhead space available can and will be crushed by some inconsiderate bozo’s gigantic luggage crammed into the tiny space. It’s this same bozo who is the only one on the entire flight that ignores the instructions to shut off all personal electronic devices, reclines his seat, squishes the person behind him, and has a nasty cough.

Third, the folks in first class have additional space, better food, and a private flight attendant. Kinda like the kids on The Duke. They lived in a bigger house and had maids. I don’t know if they ate better food; I never was invited for dinner, but I assumed that they did.

Lastly, the plane was much louder over the wing, there was less seat and leg space, and the bathrooms were really, really small. Not so in first class. Far away from the wing, there was much less noise. The seats were so large that The Wife and I could sit in the same one, just like our loveseat at home. It even reclined out into a bed. Just like the recliner I hope to get for Father’s Day (subtle hint to The Boy). The bathrooms even had an attendant, or at least I thought it was an attendant. I really didn’t have much time to talk to him. We were kicked out of first class and banished to the loud, smelly side of the mesh curtain as soon as it was discovered that we had escaped steerage.

Once we landed, we took a short van ride and checked into our hotel. Our room located on the sixth floor had a first class view of the Pacific Ocean and the USS Midway aircraft carrier, a floating museum. After a short nap and a glass of California’s finest, we bought tickets to the Midway and soon were walking, climbing, and ducking our way through the massive ship. I learned after denting the third low hanging pipe with my skull why none of my relatives ever served in the Navy.

After our three-hour tour, I came away with a sore head, a better appreciation of the sacrifices so many had made for our country, and a healthy dose of humility. The hallways and doorways on the massive ship were impossibly small, and three people slept in a space the size of my closet. Not to mention the bathrooms had absolutely no privacy.

Not that I tried like I had in first class, mind you, but I did mention it was a three-hour tour. I only thought the conditions on our flight were cramped. Compared to the living conditions the sailors endured, I understood that The Wife and I really did travel in first class after all.

The Wife was sad because for the next two days it was raining, windy, and cold. In a city that boasts some of the best weather in the entire nation, it was indeed a highly unusual event. It made the news just like snow in Georgia. Seems we had picked the two days out of the year that ugly weather visited San Diego.

I gave her a kiss and said, “Don’t worry, my love. Any vacation that we have three days all to ourselves, as far as I’m concerned, is first class all the way.”

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is]