Sunday, March 28, 2010

Checked Baggage

Dear Readers -- It's been a crazy week and I've got lines to learn for a short film I'm shooting tomorrow, so instead of the usual "Parts and Labor" entry, I'd like to offer you the POV column I wrote for this month's Travel edition of Metrosource Magazine. I'll be back next week with more fun tales from Hollywood. -- D.

I hate to admit it, but I’m not a great traveler. It’s not that I don’t like seeing fabulous new places, I just don’t like the process of getting there. I tend to over-pack; thinking that I might actually need seven changes of clothes for a three-day trip. Airports, which I never liked much to begin with, have now become nightmarish with all the new security precautions. Plus being a bit of a hermit, I’m not a big fan of mingling with the general public.

Adding to the anxiety is my somewhat unlucky track record as a traveler. I’m the only person I know who has been in both a train derailment and an emergency aircraft landing. The first instance happened when I was a college student. A bunch of us had gone on a hell-raising trip to New Orleans and after 24 hours of non-stop drinking, we boarded a train back to school. Around 4:00 AM, just outside of Memphis, I was standing in the aisle chatting up some cute sophomore, when suddenly, the train jumped the tracks. Having been blessed with long, monkey-like arms, I grabbed the two luggage racks and swung back and forth until the car finally embedded itself in a patch of swampy ground. It was scary, but at age eighteen, the idea that we all might be about to die, never occurred to me. It felt more like a ride at Six Flags that had ended too soon.

Ten years later, I was aboard an airliner that flew into a violent storm. When the flight attendants strapped themselves in, I knew we were done for. Turning to the utterly silent Asian woman next to me, I launched into a lengthy monologue in an effort to assure her (and myself) that everything would be alright. As I yammering on non-stop for about an hour, I was comforted by my travelling companion’s steady gaze and occasional sympathetic nods. It was only after we touched down that I realized she spoke no English and hadn’t understood a word I’d said.

Despite these experiences, I continued to travel as needed. But the truth is that every time I boarded a commercial aircraft, I was fighting hard to suppress thoughts about death -- Horrible fiery death complete with charred debris scattered over some cornfield. I thought I had conquered my fear until about five years ago when a new complication appeared.

The sun was shining as I boarded my fight from Regan National headed back to L.A. Settling into my aisle seat, I cracked open my copy of People magazine. I felt perfectly relaxed until the flight attendants closed the cabin door. Out of nowhere, my chest tightened. I couldn’t breathe. All I could think about was how there couldn’t possibly be enough oxygen in here to last for the next five hours! I struggled to reason with my panicking brain. I had been on a great many flights. Sure, they sometimes ran out of peanuts, but they had never run out of air.

Forcing deep breathes into my lungs; I held them for a count of three before slowly releasing them. My life began to flash before my eyes. And happily, it had been a very good life indeed. I’d had loving parents and a good education. I’d blazed a trail for myself in a very tough profession and had, over the years, managed to make a good many people laugh. I’d volunteered for charities, made wonderful friends, eaten delicious food and had more than my share of sweaty, mattress-pounding sex. What else was there to life? If this was the end, I’d at least spent it well. Finally, after about 45 excruciating minutes, my breathing began to return to normal; fueled by a flimsy promise that if I got off this plane alive, I’d never fly again.

I, of course, did fly again. I’m flying home next week to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday; something I wouldn’t miss for the world. I’d be lying if I said I no longer get nervous about it. Like many, I do occasionally think about mechanical failures, wind shears and if perhaps the guy next to me is wearing exploding underpants. However, the metaphor of leaving the ground is not lost on me. We all need to relinquish control at times and remember that fear (rational or irrational) is something every human being walks through from time to time. Victory lies in the deep breath and the knowledge that most of the situations we face in our journeys are quite survivable. Let’s face it. In the end, to withdraw from life is a fate much worse than death.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at

Come see L.A.’s newest underground comedy sensation, STREEP TEASE: An Evening of Meryl Streep monologues performed by an all-male company.” Saturday nights @ 8 PM. Bang Comedy Theater, Los Angeles. Cast: David Dean Bottrell, Roy Cruz, Drew Droege, Steve Hasley, Ron Morehouse, Taylor Negron, Mike Rose, & Trent Walker. Tickets:


KarenH said...

Your last line said it all!

Sandra said...

I remember those days in New York when you were just starting out and sending people loads of information about what you were up to. I LOVED reading this post because it reminded me of, truly, how diligent and committed you have always been with regard to making a success of yourself in the entertainment business. Also, I admire (and am a bit jealous of) how much you have always believed in yourself. I have never learned how to believe in myself much. Also, your post reflects how you have changed in terms of developing more self-acceptance and that you don't have to try so hard to get people's attention.