UP IN THE AIR, not to be confused with the animated film UP! with the old guy and the helium balloons that I always thought we should have attached to Dick Cheney’s Inaugural wheelchair when we had the chance, is an unsettling film for a frequent, fellow traveler.
Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, averages 350 days per year in transit as a professional axe-man hired by companies too chicken to fire their own employees. My twenty-five years of work-related travel have been as a stand-up comic, so at this time allow me to apologize for the unseemly ruckus in the testosterone zone of late night comedy. It threatens to nullify one of my profession’s proudest moments: the election of Al Franken, an openly Comic-American to the US Senate. Oh, other comics serve, but none so intentionally. All the red hair pulling and jawing have not been pretty and apparently threaten the very survival of television, which is great.
To fill that scheduling void and the looming lacuna of an Oprah-less TV Guide, I do have a programming suggestion: SO YOU THINK YOU CAN FLY? – a combo Great Race/Survivor reality show. Contestants book their own paperless ticket itinerary through ten pre-selected American cities, several accessible only by regional air carriers. At the starting muffled announcement, players leap out of the black belted gates through their first security checkpoint. “Oh no! She’s behind the woman in this year’s fashion statement –knee-high leather riding boots. She. Could. Not. Go. All. The. Way.”
In addition to completing the full itinerary, style points are awarded for disrobing and re-robing, number of gray Rubbermaid bins used, total caloric intake of foraged food court food, and most accrued frequent flier miles. In the event of a tie, a scavenger hunt in the Atlanta airport decides the winner who receives free tickets they are too tired to use. It’s a surefire, mega-hit replacement.
After the movie, as I got up to leave the theater, I almost reached to unfasten my seatbelt. I had a lot of personal i.d. I know Bingham’s smug final zip-up of a minimalist, but well-stocked bag. I know how to strap a personal carry-on item to a roller-bag, for a near weightless, resistance-free luggage pull. I know how to pick the fastest security line at JFK for a Florida-bound JetBlue flight crammed with excited families on February pilgrimage to the Magic Kingdom. Hint: avoid tiny pink Hello Kitty carry-ons.
Bingham is good at his job. Critics speculate about his sangfroid. Is it existential detachment? From personal experience, I’d bet it’s the jet lag. But Bingham never seems to get that. Or H1N1. He never overshoots the Minneapolis airport, never sits next to the crotch bomber, never lands on the Hudson and never has to go through the full-body scan machine that, in the ditched health insurance reform bill, would have doubled as mammogram, sonogram and virtual colonoscopy machines.
Bingham is able to dissociate from his job as a professional remote-control drone by secretly pursuing his personal goal of racking up ten million frequent flier miles. I was able to detach from his pleasant lethality by thinking, “It’s George Clooney – he’s a UN messenger for peace; he’s been to Darfur; he’s producing a celebrity telethon for Haitian earthquake victims.” At a little more than 365 days on Obama Air we have to go in to get out, lose in order to win and 60 is the new 50. I am trying to remain grounded.