Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Spring 2007

Whole new attitude comes with title of exit-row captain

By Steve Eaton

I was recently elected exit-row captain. I know, I know. You’re thinking, how could Steve Eaton be an exit-row captain? The exit-row captain is the guy who has to personally save everyone once the plane crashes.

Believe me, I was as surprised as anyone because, truth be known, I am not an experienced flier.

It might be because that day I used my wife’s modern, sophisticated luggage like other business people have, instead of the Snapple gym bag I usually use. My wife’s carry-on is the type of luggage that comes with a pop-out handgrip so you can pull it behind you on two rollers.

I really doubt that made the difference, however, because for some reason, when I walked, the suitcase did, too. It tilted from wheel to wheel, slowly gaining momentum, back and forth. No one else seemed to have that problem, so I tried to ignore it. It looked like I was in the middle of my own personal earthquake.

It couldn’t be because I was wearing big-boy pants instead of my usual blue jeans. There were lots of businessmen on the airplane, and they were all wearing big-boy pants. Some even wore suit jackets and ties.


I know it wasn’t because I impressed anyone going through the security checkpoint. No matter how composed and experienced I try to look, I lose that air of projected confidence once they take all my gadgets away from me and make me take off my shoes, belt, coat, watch, glasses and even my dentures.

(That really bugs me because I don’t wear dentures.)

I go in one side proud and strong in my big-boy pants and end up blocking traffic on the other side holding up my pants with one hand as I try desperately to round up all my stuff with the other hand as it goes by on the conveyor belt. Meanwhile the experienced travelers pass right on by me like I’m just this minor irritation.

And when it comes to the actual flying part, I still raise my feet slightly off the floor to give the plane added lift as we hurtle down the runway. (It works. The airplane hardly ever crashes when I’m on it.)

And I sometimes take out the emergency safety card that shows all the happy plane crash people floating on their seat cushions and follow along as instructed by the flight attendants. So, I don’t look like an experienced traveler.

Despite all that, it was on a recent flight that I heard "the call." When they started describing the responsibilities of the exit-row captain, I realized that I was the only one sitting in the exit row.

Did I panic? No. I had this inner sense of knowing that this was my time. Later, the flight attendant questioned me directly about whether or not I was ready to assume my important responsibilities. I looked her in the eyes and said I was ready.

I was not afraid, but she, despite her years of experience, did look a little frightened. (That may be because I was sitting there with my shoes, belt and cell phone on my lap.)

I didn’t look back, but I could feel the silent, quiet support and prayers of my co-passengers. And I just knew - I just knew - that my time had come.

I have a friend, Tony, who still has hope even though he is really old. He believes that because we are turning 50 this year, that this must be our "breakout year." I didn’t tell him that I’ve already started my breakout year by being elected exit-row captain. I didn’t want him to feel bad.

He did know however, that George, a generous friend of ours who has real job skills, has given me his two-seater sports car. It’s a silver sports car, with dual overhead camcorders, that looks exactly like a DeLorean except that it has no garbage disposal on top of it and I can’t fly in it back to the future. It has a T-roof, which is like a convertible unless it’s raining, in which case it is like a car with a leaky roof.

George has always been ahead of the curve, and he went through his midlife crisis long ago. He also hates whining, and when I lost my car to my crafty and devious son, he got tired of hearing me complain.

The car he gave me is not new, and it looks better at night than it does in the day. But it makes that wop, wop, wop sound that cars make in the movies when you start them. And when I first heard it and saw all the lights and gadgets in it, I felt like George was going to show me where the hidden machine guns were mounted and say, "Now James, please be careful with this one."

However, I think the biggest reason that George gave me the car is that he, too, sensed that this is about to be my breakout year. I can feel the changes inside of me. And it’s not just this strange desire I keep getting to hitch my pants up over my navel, either. I feel it when I rev my new car at a stoplight. I felt it when perfect strangers threw their support behind me as their exit-row captain.

So next time you see a happy, peaceful man wandering through the airport holding his shoes and belt with one hand and holding up his pants with the other hand, show some respect. It could be me, just another humble but proud exit-row captain.

Editor’s note: Steve Eaton, our new director of communications, recently moved to Logan from Washington state. There the Tacoma newspaper, the News Tribune, has been running the monthly humor column he has been writing for four years. The following is one of his columns that is being used with the permission of the News Tribune. It is being included because Steve is the BottomLine editor and was able to slip it in without anyone noticing. (Other examples of Steve’s off-the-wall humor can be read at