Rangers And Strangers On A Plane


On a plane about to leave Los Angeles International for New York on Tuesday, (actor Alec) Baldwin declined to turn off his cellphone at the appropriate time, then stood up, took his phone into the restroom and slammed the door, the airline said. "He slammed the lavatory door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed, even with the cockpit door closed and locked," the statement said. "They immediately contacted the cabin crew to check on the situation. The passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language. Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding."

Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2011


My mother just filled me in on the latest doings of Alec Baldwin, hometown hero. I’m not all that interested in celebrity news— I prefer her True Crime stories– but there’s no getting around it, Massapequa produced quite a crew. Besides the Baldwin boys– Mom’s time-saving phrase– there’s been other actors, a few musicians, and a Family’s worth of mafiosi. There’s been a Secretary of Labor, famous for telling hardhats to beat up peaceniks, and a church secretary, famous for being seduced-and-abandoned by a TV evangelist.

America’s first man-who-became-woman shopped at the Bohack’s supermarket in town; my mother would see her there sometimes and said she didn’t look bad for her age. Joey Buttafuoco, with his trigger-happy girlfriend, lived on the other side of Sunrise Highway. Mr. Bevilaqua, the gym teacher memorable to Ron Kovic in Born On The Fourth of July and Jerry Seinfeld in a television show, lived across the street from us. Seinfeld was a Massapequa kid, too; my Uncle Jack ordered custom “Please Leave The Flowers For Others To Enjoy” placards from his father, Kal “Signfeld.”

There was a conservative business historian who served as mentor– unwittingly– to a student leftist who dropped out to become a park ranger. (Thanks, Dr. Sobel. I wish I could let you know I listened to all your advice years later, except the political bits.)

There were also a couple dozen cops and firemen who all died on the same day, but they deserve a separate post.

Now, about Alec Baldwin. From what I’m hearing, on a flight last week, he behaved abusively toward someone less powerful than himself, as seems to be his habit. (I base the latter on a lengthy summary from a trusted source.)

I despise celebrities who bully service workers. I’ve dealt with plenty of famous people in national parks, and at least half of them were easy to work with. Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose politics I detest, was gracious and considerate at a moment when there were no cameras around and not a constituent in miles.

Still, while I have no sympathy for Mr. Baldwin, I think I can understand some of the challenges celebrities face on airplanes: “National Park Service Ranger” is one of those job titles that attracts attention if one is indiscreet.

Conversations with seatmates usually take one of several predictable courses. In the best circumstance, your fellow passenger will share stories of his own visits to national parks. Sooner or later there will be mention of a bear. This is perfectly inoffensive, and more importantly, serves as a reminder of how much your fellow citizens value the work you do. It’s only a problem if you are trying to sleep.

Another common response is to inform you how lucky you are to have such a great job. The presumption that years of persistence and work could be dismissed as luck used to get under my nerves, but I eventually caught on that envy was implied, not condescension. Such remarks have long been answered with a sense of pride.

The only option that always remained challenging to grin and bear was the guy– always a guy– who would announce his own confident plans of becoming a ranger some day. I recall one physician who let me know that he was toying with the idea of becoming a park ranger after he retired, “in order to keep busy.” He didn’t seem to see any humor when I pointed out the coincidence that I was planning on doing dermatology in my spare time myself.

Now that I’m retired the issue is moot, though on one recent flight I found myself missing the icebreaker. With timing that was almost exactly forty years off, my seatmate was an attractive young lady reading a Nevada Barr mystery– the one about Mesa Verde, I recall. Her polite but cold reply to my nearly-suave, “Great book– I enjoyed it too,” was enough to convince me that Anna Pigeon was likely to be the only ranger she cared to know about. Not wanting my intentions misconstrued, I quickly plugged in the earbuds and took comfort in old-guy music.

These memories and more came flooding back a few weeks ago when I read the following advice-column exchange:

Dear Amy:

Here’s another suggestion for "Confused Spa-goer in VA," about how to avoid professional conversations while at a spa. Whenever I am in a situation where I don’t want to converse (for instance, on a plane) and I am asked what I do, I generally reply, "I’m a proctologist." That usually ends all conversation immediately.

Cornelius in North Carolina

Well played, sir. Very well played.



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