The drink cart slams into my elbow. I wince in pain, pulling my arm in and grabbing the offended bones.
"Coming through," drones the flight attendant, 10 seconds too late and oblivious to my agony. In my headphones, I hear a fairytale klaxon sound. I reach to the seatback in front of me, surveying the sickly-green imaginary poker felt displayed on the touchscreen. I'm holding garbage cards — 8-4 unsuited. But I caught a lucky break, not having been raised off the big blind, and getting an 8-4-K of hearts on the flop. Two pair. But TommyG is raising, suggesting he might be holding kings, or worse, the flush.
TommyG's in a middle seat 5 rows ahead of me. I eyeballed him when I ran to the bathroom during a bad hand. He's maybe 19, wearing a red cowboy hat which deforms when his head leans back into his seat. He's not a math player, he's just goofing off 30,000 feet above Central America. I re-raise, and the two of us chase out the hangers-on. My two pair wins the pot.
"Crap!" exclaims TommyG, breaking the quiet of the unwritten airplane compact. Nowhere is silence more sacrosanct than on an airplane deep in the throws of post-dinner inflight entertainment. Several people look up at the bobbing red cowboy hat. "Sumbitch!" he continues, with a deep southern drawl. Short stacked, he drops.
The game we're playing is an inflight poker tournament made inexpertly by a company called eFlyte. The stakes are non-existent — the opportunity for bragging rights with 7 complete strangers scattered throughout the cabin. The software is terrible. The interface is unnecessarily arcane. The touchscreen controls are reminiscent of 1980s-era ATMs.
Under the seat in front of me sit no fewer than 4 superior gaming platforms: Sony PSP, Nintendo DSi, iPhone, laptop. And yet the opportunity to play games with complete strangers overwhelmed superior game design and technology.
The irony of travel is that one is often completely alone while surrounded by people. By comparison, on an average workday in the basement, I am in fact entirely alone, yet feel completely surrounded by the starfield of constant internet contact.
That human connection, no matter how banal — and regardless of the red cowboy hat — trumps it all.