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Planes, Pains & Automobiles
By Tonya Kong

My mother has gone Hollywood.

Not by taking acting lessons, or dressing inappropriately for her age or commissioning frightening plastic surgery or anything like that. Worse. Mom just gave me notes.

It happens when the folks and I are road tripping from their current home in Torrance to check out the retirement community of Temecula. I can't imagine how Temecula could be more retired than Torrance, but that's beside the point. I naively believed this would be an excellent opportunity for me to power-nap in the car while my dad drove. Nothing gets me more excited then someone else offering to drive in L.A. I do my best sleeping in cars. And I totally intended to perform my daughterly duty and rustle up the mandatory excitement for the floor plans at the Sunny Days Senior Experience Condos when we arrived there.

What I should've remembered is that in my family, parental ambushes are launched when the unsuspecting kid is confined to a moving vehicle.

I ride in the backseat of Dad's '90s-era Accord, oblivious, picking dog hairs off myself. Sir Gus Ippotamus, ("Gus" for short), is the usual guest of honor in the Honda. This special Shar-Pei is the love of my parents' life, their favorite child, and as his full registered name correctly implies, the world's most high-maintenance and pretentious dog. I catch the dirty look my father shoots me over his sunglasses in the rear-view mirror. Maybe it was a bad idea, moving the "Wrinkles Are Sexy!" blankie so I could sit on the actual upholstery. Dad slams on the brakes just as I'm about to pluck a hair from my tongue, grinning as I nearly bite my thumb and index finger off. Yep, I'm definitely in the dog house.

Anyway, back to my mom going Hollywood. She's been quietly riding shotgun in the Gus-mobile for the last hour when she turns suddenly and fires an exploding round in my face: "It's nice you sold a story to that show Medium, but I think you should write something about AIRPLANES!"

Now this might not seem like all that shocking of a statement. I've gotten notes before. Airplanes aren't in and of themselves controversial. It's just…this is the first time in two years my passive-aggressive, Republican, "the entertainment industry is evil" mother has acknowledged I quit practicing law to write. As far as career choices go, Lawyer = parents' wet dream. Writer = parents' worst nightmare.

When I broke the news I was giving up my high-paying, respectable law job for the scandalous, artistic unknown, it was treated like a death in the family. First came denial -- the topic was ignored. Then came anger -- holiday party plans were canceled, because…what would my parents tell their friends? If the pretending was working for them, I assumed it would work on their dear pals. I, the destroyer of my parents' social life, assumed wrong. Bargaining and depression came as a package deal. My dad sent me newspaper classifieds for job openings at prestigious firms such as Ambulance, Chasers & You, with attached post-its begging me to apply so my mom would stop crying. When I politely informed him this was not the usual employment route people who graduate from accredited law schools take, there was reversion to anger. How dare I throw away my career after he put me through school!? When I gently reminded him it was I who took out the seventy grand in student loans to pay for law school, well, let's just say there was severe backsliding in their grief cycle. All the way back to denial. Until now.

"It's nice you sold a story to that show Medium, but I think you should write something about AIRPLANES!"

I'm too stunned to respond. Dad joins the pitch, "You know….with mix-ups at the control tower, and jets almost crashing and stuff!"

Mom nods vigorously and squeals, "Exactly!"

Who do these people think they are? Sherry Lansing and Jerry Bruckheimer? Sherry and Jerry, who up 'til now have refused to recognize my decision to write, are now telling me what to write! This is SO NOT the form their acceptance was supposed to take.

An inkling of insight comes when I remember my mom is obsessed with '70s disaster films. Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure. And then there are her all-time faves, the airline thriller trilogy that is Airport, Airport '75 and Airport '77. (She doesn't count the fourth installment, Concorde: Airport '79, because "that one was crap." So weird, yet so wise.) I don't know why she loves these movies so much. I suppose it spices up the monotony of suburban life, watching mass destruction from an Ethan Allen couch. Come to think of it, between Mom's bad hearing and Dad's aversion to movie candy prices, these could very well have been the last films my parents saw in an actual theater.

And that's when I realize my mother is reaching out, inciting me to write about something she likes so she can find some common ground and understand me. She's waiting at the gate, hoping I'll make my connection so we can fly together. But first, a few mechanical difficulties on my part.

"Those airport movies you love are a tough act to follow, Mom. Especially these days. Between Flightplan, Red Eye and Snakes on a Plane, I'm not sure I have anything fresh to add to the air peril genre."

My mom's head whips around. "Snakes on a Plane? What's that about?"

"It's about snakes. On a plane."

Mom rolls her eyes, disgusted with me and my no can do attitude. "Really Tonya, like I give a damn about snakes, Jodie Foster or Rachel McAdams. Something scary must have happened to you at some point on an airplane."

Little does she know, I'm way more frightened that she just name-dropped Rachel McAdams than I've ever been on any 747.

But I miss my mommy and I'm desperate to win back her approval. "Well…it was more funny than scary, but a thing did happen on a flight a few years ago."

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