How Did I Miss This Was A Thing?
Charles Joseph Albert
I hadn’t taken the NY-DC flight since 2029. That last time, the air traffic seemed impossibly heavy. So, I was not looking forward to this trip. I had just had time to buy the ticket in the Spend-Mart as I was picking up my hydrogen and a few Wi-Fi cartridges.
“You know, we sell a senior citizen discount pass,” squeaked a pimply-faced scarecrow overseeing the 10-second-or-less registers. “Do you take this flight much?”
“Actually, this is my first time in ten years.” I smiled at the kid, who was amiable enough. “I bet it’s even more crowded than ever, huh?”
“I used to fly it twice a week when I was an influencer. Of course, that was a couple years ago,” he said. “That skyway they put in was pretty cool. I hear they’re letting cars on it now, though.”
“Influencer?” I repeated. I couldn’t place him, but then, there used to be so many. “Wait a minute!” I exclaimed. “You’re Dead-Eye Donut!” I flashed on a memory of a cherubic twelve-year-old on TikTok who my grandkids watched last year. To find him here, a retail cashier!
Well, those child flashbangs had to go somewhere when the craze fizzled out.
I felt embarrassed for the poor kid, and the line behind me was grumbling about the ten-second rule. Which is why I didn’t pay attention to what he’d said about the skyway.
I boarded the plane an hour later. I was in the middle of my row: the old lady on the aisle had to get up to let me in. A Silkie sat on my right, at the window seat, even though I’ve specifically told Google many times not to put me next to trans-species people on flights. It was bad enough when people started paying plastic surgeons to give them goat horns and tails. But this young woman looked—and smelled—more like a sea otter than she did a person.
I think Google is trying to phobia-shame me.
She was engrossed in a tearful video call with some fox-eared creep who was trying to dump her. Every time she sobbed, the stench of old fish overwhelmed me. I opened one of my hydrogen cans and flipped on my seat’s screen. After the pre-flight crap, a pay-to-stop-viewing piece started up about the Trumpettes and the Kardashcams. Meanwhile, we taxied around every tarmac in the airport. Finally, we began that rapid acceleration up in the air.
All was fine until I noticed that we seemed to level off at two-hundred feet. I looked out the window, past the sea otter snout, and saw treetops and tall buildings whizzing past just below us. It seemed odd, but I ascribed that to extremely tight flight patterns in this congested area.
I also couldn’t understand why the planes coming the other way were so close to us. Looking out the windows on the left side of the aircraft, it really seemed like they were passing within fifty feet. Close enough that I almost screamed out in terror the first time. Heart palpitating, I soon realized there were lots of them. Like, one every minute or two. Moving in such a regular straight line, it eventually sank in we didn’t need to worry about collisions. I watched them for a while in wonder. Until I noticed something else.
“Where are the wings?” I asked the old grandma to my left. The airplanes around us had only vestigial stubs at their sides. I peered up along our own plane’s side. Same thing: they stuck out from the aircraft maybe ten feet.
“What do we need wings for?” She was smirking, and she poked me with her finger. Then she pointed out the window and down. “We never left the ground.”
“Scusa mia,” I said as I craned my head over the lap of the Silkie through the window on the right side. I looked down as well as I could below us. That’s when I saw we were rolling along on a concrete ribbon.
“What the hell?” I muttered.
“Ain’t you never ridden the DC Skyway before?” the Silkie asked. “It’s been open for months!”
“It’s quite a ride, lemme tell you,” Grandma put in. She was probably only a few years older than me, maybe five feet tall, if she could still stand up straight. “They put too much weight in these planes for them to get up in the air, anyway. Didn’t you notice all the carry-ons everyone was loaded up with while we were boarding?”
I shrugged and tried not to glance at the suitcase at my feet or think about the gigantic wheelie I’d stuffed into the overhead bin.
We plodded along at maybe 150 miles an hour. I plugged in a Wi-Fi cartridge and looked it up: this wasn’t really an airplane at all. It was a jet-powered bus, about as aerodynamic as a penguin. And we weren’t flying. We were riding on an enormous freeway overpass. I gawked at it again; it must have been three-hundred feet wide. How did I miss that this was a thing?
I opened my GPS app and clicked on “view traffic.” The skyway was a perfectly straight line, one lane in each direction, and the “planes” kept at a very regular spacing, presumably by ground-traffic controllers. There were dozens and dozens of fat, overloaded jets whizzing along on my screen. But these flightless jets weren’t the only blips on the skyway. I noticed something smaller creeping up on us, and as it pulled up alongside, I could see out the window that it was a giant Ferrari SUV zipping past, loaded with guys in suits.
“I don’t get why they hadda build this instead of high-speed rail,” the Silkie sulked, snapping the anchovy-flavored gum she was chewing.
“Goodness, dearie!” Grandma cackled. “Haven’t you heard? Elon Musk says those are a waste of money!”
We slowed noticeably. On my screen, I could see something moving slowly in front of us: a Porsche bus. Probably carrying some basketball team or something. My phone said they were only doing about 120, which was why our pilot had to brake.
“Folks,” he said over the intercom, “this is your pilot bot. We seem to be stuck behind some slow traffic here; it looks like our arrival at the gate may be delayed by as much as an hour. It’s pretty much the same story every day ever since they opened up the skyway to ground vehicles. So, this is a good time to chat with your congressperson if you don’t like the delay.”
The unending erosion of air travel! When I was a kid, flying was a luxury. By the 90s, airlines started shrinking seats and cutting back on in-flight services. When they all teetered on bankruptcy after 9-11, they slipped even further, charging for carry-ons, drinks of water, and all those amenities that used to be free. Now they apparently sank to a new low: duking it out with German SUVs.
Determined to put it out of my mind, I unbuckled my seatbelt and stood up.
“What are you doing, dearie?” Grandma asked.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
She burst into laughter. “Goodness, you are behind the times,” she managed to chortle out.
“What? You’re not going to tell me—”
“Sir? Would you please sit down?” a flight attendant bot asked me, buzzing angrily from the aisle.
“I have to go to the restroom,” I snapped.
“Didn’t you read the re-flight EULA?” The bot said. “There are no restrooms on this flight. You had the option of a toilet seat for an additional hundred dollars or wearing our United American diaper for fifty. You didn’t choose either when you bought your ticket.”
“I hope you can hold it for another two hours,” the old lady smiled. “It’s a bit late to buy a diaper.”