The Really Friendly Skies

Well, that was weird.

Last week, I was standing in LAX, holding a plastic champagne flute at Terminal 6’s Gate 68B, and Cisco Adler was standing next to me. Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads was there too — with his son. And rapper Schwayze, actor Lucas Haas, Virgin America CEO David Cush and a Richard Branson look-alike wearing a blond wig. There were balloons and many foxy stewardesses. Had someone shaken me awake at that moment I would have rolled over and laughed it off. But I’d lucked my way into a seat on Virgin America’s inaugural flight, celebrating the airline’s newest route, L.A. to Seattle, and the party was just getting started.

So Cush, who’s apparently competing with his boss for the Best Head of Hair at Virgin America title (think “windblown, flying like an eagle”), gets up on the makeshift stage, welcomes the crowd with a perfect Colgate smile and explains how excited he is to be connecting two great music towns. He then turns the mike over to two of Virgin America’s prettiest sky-waitresses, who in a Spinal Tap moment scream in unison, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Donnas!” The four Donnas jog out from “backstage” (the hallway connecting the plane and gate), grab their instruments and kick out some maiden jams, while we munch on cheese and crackers, sip Cran-pagnes and fumble to half-clap between songs. Harrison walks by. I say to him, “Longtime fan, love your stuff with the Modern Lovers.” He smiles and says, “Oh, thanks.” His son just looks at me.

When the Donnas finish, Cush produces the Big Scissors and cuts the Honorary Ribbon, signaling that it is time for the fully booked load of celebrities, media professionals and random baffled travelers to take their (soft, white-leather) seats.

If you haven’t been on a Virgin America plane, think “Miami dance club.” The inside of the fuselage is all-white, with spears of glowing purple neon. You half-expect the food trays to fold out into coke mirrors. Each seat faces a multimedia touchscreen monitor. You can listen to Amy Winehouse wrestle with rehab, watch Superbad, play chess, read a book (not a clumsy analog book, but a futuristic touchscreen one) and, perhaps most intriguingly, chat with anybody in any other seat on the airplane. You can even create a chatroom with your fellow travelers, and invite strangers throughout the plane to join. See a hottie in 24F? Invite her to chat. And if you’re especially lucky like me, you’ll be sitting next to Donnas bassist Maya Ford and her boyfriend, Gary, a couple I will tell you right now are totally awesome and buy a really nice gin and tonic.

A message appears on my touchscreen. “You have been invited to chat by a passenger in seat 18C. Would you like to accept?” Immediately, I’m launched into the middle of a conversation already at full throttle.

18C: we’re FLYING.

11B: i want to fuuuuck!

18C: FLYING!

13C: i want to fuck the ceos hair.

8B: i want to mousse his hair.

11B: FUCKFUCKFUCK

13C: no really I want to fuck his hair. its hottttt.

13A: schwayzzzzze. schwayzeschwayze.

18C: FLYING VIRGIN.

11B: FUCKFUCKFUCK.

13A: shwayzzzzzzzzzzeeeeeee.

And so on. Alas, the great American novel was not written in the air above the Oregon coast, but Adler and Schwayze did strut through the aisle, the former strumming on a guitar and the latter tossing in the kinds of happy-go-lucky raps you’d expect of the mouth of a man who’s getting paid to “work” this gig. (Overheard conversation: “Why is Cisco Adler wearing a jacket with ‘Stewart’ written on the back of it? Does he think we care?” Response: “Dude, that’s lame. He used to fuck Kimberly Stewart, and he’s wearing that jacket.”) Passengers aimed their cell cameras at the duo as they bounced past. Adler’s acoustic guitar barely squeezed down the walkway, and he nearly poked out a few eyes as he played.

Two or three other artists did the same thing, all lost to the fog of time. But I know we all erupted in a round of applause when the historic Virgin plane made its historic Virgin landing in Seattle, each proud of our own little contribution to the effort. That plane doesn’t fly itself, you know.