Column: Snakes on plane less scary than restrooms


It was shortly after 11 p.m. when I locked myself in the stall.

I was in an airport bathroom, operating on Mountain Standard Time, with my wife and without any of our children, so this whole experience was bizarre enough even before the man on the john next door began screaming.

The monologue — because, really, who has a dialogue while stationed on a toilet? — began with grunting. Having just eaten a burrito myself, I surmised the man had likewise encountered a long-lost battle of the Mexican-American War in his stomach.

Then I heard tapping, as if he was clicking a pen. A few taps. Then more. Then a rush of pitter-patter, as if a flood of cloggers had overtaken a tin roof. When you’re in an airport, everybody looks (or sounds) suspicious. Count this guy in. Was he loading a gun? Sharpening a knife? Playing Battleship? My presumption of indigestion turned to fear of insurrection.

If he was planning to destroy Sky Harbor International with the contents of his bladder (or worse, his intestines), he wasn’t being quiet about it. He began his commands in an angry crescendo that began with “You get in there! You get in your cage and stay! Stay in your cage!” and reached the pinnacle with the volatile blasting of a curse word that starts with a “B” and rhymes with pitch.
I jumped from the seat. Had I been wearing pants, I would have peed them.

The creatures ordered to their cages did not reply, and as he again demanded they report to confinement, I didn’t say anything either. I instead stumbled for the toilet paper, rushed to zip my pants and considered bypassing the sink because the crazy man in the third stall was far more lethal than whatever bacteria idled on my commode-touching hands. But I was with my wife and two of her nursing peers and medical professionals notice when men exit the restroom with dry hands, so I paused long enough for a rinse. There was a man beside me. He’d just used the urinal. Buddy, I thought, this guy is surely going to take multiple hostages in a few minutes, so does it really matter if our hands are clean?

“Get in your cage!” the wild man repeated. “Stay! Stay there!”

I looked toward the man at the sink like a child yearning for a pat on the head. Everything will be OK, right? Right? He said nothing. My God, I worried, he’s in on the plot.

I wiped my hands on my jeans and bolted back toward Gate 18, where I found my wife. I whispered to her about the Twilight Zone moment but encountered difficulty when trying to emphatically whisper the bad word that starts with a “B” and rhymes with ditch.

“Shhhh,” my wife insisted before targeting her eyes on an altogether new man who’d just turned the corner.

“Does he look weird to you?” she asked.

Because he’s wearing a hat backward? Or because he’s wearing a bad sweater?

Well, fabulous. Now I’m fearful our peers in the Delta cabin might include the wacko in the bathroom and she’s almost certain every person who wanders through the terminal is out to get us.

We have flown before, but the first time I tried it, there was what the pilot termed a “precautionary” landing. That trip also involved a cab driver named Salvador, too much tequila and the temporary misplacement of at least two friends. That’s a column best saved for never. On our honeymoon, we escaped the Bermuda Triangle. Two summers ago, we survived what I’m fairly certain was a mainland hurricane at 30,000 feet.

Now this.

None of it, I’m sure, alarmed our first-class company on Flight 5016. Just another day for the well-traveled, sophisticated executives in shiny oxfords.

We were shaking in our Asics.

We are so meant for life in the mild Midwest.

I will get in my cage now. Promise to stay there. When I do fly again, I’ll just hold it.

Jason Recker is the news editor at The Herald. He always picks cookies over peanuts and pretzels. His email is

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