TAoD tour, day 4

One of the frustrations of flying is seeing something from the air and having no one at hand to ask for an explanation. Which mountain is that? What are those weird circles? And over Texas, why has someone shaved the vegetation along perfectly straight lines, with no awareness of paved roads crossed and feed lots skirted? To fight brush fires, and perfectly straight because they were built by descendents of the ancient Romans?

Now if I could just figure out a) what is that huge area of nothing but dark gray sand and rock we flew over, and b) why there are cities plunked down in the middle of it.

The first time I flew was a trip, all by myself at the age of fifteen, to Sea/Tac from San Jose to spend some time with my father. I was sitting next to a soldier going back to Fort Lewis (where my son would be stationed, thirty-eight years in the future) who couldn’e2’80’99t have been more than nineteen himself, no doubt en route to Vietnam. Such romance, for a shy teenager.

Planes have transported me to London and Port Moresby, Easter Island and Jerusalem, Tonga and Barcelona. I have flown half a day in a plane that holds more people than some towns I’ve lived in, and I’ve flown an hour in a plane so small, a sack of potatos had to be offloaded to compensate. I’ve walked off into air-conditioned buildings and onto steaming tarmac, and once onto a grassy slope that, when time came to leave the mountaintop mission, meant that the plane reached take=off speed just by rolling, and then had to flip into a wingtip pirouette at the bottom of the hill lest it cross the chasm and smash into the opposite hillside–the larger (ie, unportable) scraps of previous airplanes served as a reminder to the pilot.

All you have to do is submit to the will of the airlines, turn over your life and luggage to the skill of a man with stripes on his arm, and walk out to’e2’80’94magic!

So why have the airlines permitted the romance of travel to fade from flight? Sure, plane travel is so commonplace even grandmothers climb on board, but surely the PR folk could have got some mileage out of making people THINK it was still exciting? Like, building airports that aren’e2’80’99t a nightmare to be stuck in, and where half the time a passenger can’e2’80’99t even see the planes taking off.

Because air travel really is a thrill, if you can step back and see it with new eyes. I’e2’80’99m sitting here in the Dallas/Fort Worth terminal, surrounded by tons of straining metal filled with human beings, with a lady to my left talking into the air about what her friend (who one assumes is not imaginary, but is on the other end of the phone that is sticking out of her ear) likes to read and how she really doesn’e2’80’99t like to be touched so she tensed up when the pedicurist tried to give her a massage, and to my right a gent from (I’e2’80’99d guess) Pakistan, in animated conversation with a friend in a language very like that of northern India, but intriguingly different. And here I am going to talk to people in Lexington, Kentucky about what I write, and all because the Wright brothers thought it would be ‘e2’80’98way cool to see if they could get that machine up in the air.

If that’e2’80’99s not romance, I don’e2’80’99t know what is.

See you in Lexington.

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  1. 2maple on June 5, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Have fun in Lexington. It’s beautiful there. I was just there with my husband on a “date weekend” for the Kentucky Derby and general tourism… escapism… away from the kids, home, job etc; mostly because we’d never been there before.

    And all this compliments of the airlines; we were taking adavtage of some over-booked flights and the freebies (like round trip tickets) they give away in desparation. Who says the romance has gone out of air travel! 🙂

  2. Erika on June 5, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    So very true, the romance of air travel. I fly fairly often, and still love it, if only for the experience of getting into a magic box, sitting there for awhile, and hopping out again – in a brand new place!

    Airports would be much less of a drag if one could watch the airplanes take off and land, that’s very true. I’m also constantly placed sitting next to someone who is terrified of flying, who closes his eyes during take-off, while my face is glued to the tiny window.

    Someday, perhaps, I’d like to learn how to pilot one of these flying hunks of metal.

  3. Erin on June 5, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    I think I’m a bit jaded by air travel having had to fly at least once every three months for the last few years to get home for holidays or between term breaks, and that is rather sad now that you mention it. I am so used to working/going to class all day and then catching a bus to the airport for a late flight home that I often find the joy of flight that others show rather irritating.

    The last time I flew there was an entire class of fourth graders seated behind me who cheered when the plane went up and again when we landed, with giggling and general effervescence in between. I, of course, just wanted to nap and thus found their merrymaking unbearably annoying at the time.

    Thinking back, though, I know why they were so excited; I remember feeling that too the first few times I flew. The awe I felt over a sea of puffy white clouds and my amazement when the sun went down revealing a beatiful city of lights where my own boring home usually stood.

    Flying still is magical. You just have to get through the security lines with your shoes off and jewelry in a bowl to be allowed to see it. 😉

  4. Jennifer Ice on June 6, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Dear Laurie,
    Flying is romantic and still as much an adventure as when people rattled through the air in Ford Tri-Motors and such. I always hope for a little turbulance so it feels like traveling and not just sitting in a stationary tube. In July, I’ll be winging off to England for the first time. Everyone tells me it is a long flight, but all I can think about is the adventure…and the romance of it.
    Good luck with your tour. Art of Dectection is one more gem in your literary crown.

  5. Julia on June 6, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    There is an airport where the outer walls are glass, so you can see the planes land and take off (and load, etc.) while you are waiting for your flight. It’s in Guatemala City, though.
    The airport also has a large room, two storeys high, between the luggage carousel and the exit, where travelers are greeted by enthusiastic shouting and waving from the crowd on a balcony that rings the room at the second storey. Once you have picked out your friends and relatives from the crowd, they rush downstairs to greet you at the exit.

  6. WDI on June 6, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    What a nice reminder, Laurie — thank you. I don’t remember when flying became more of a chore than an adventure, but I’ve got a trip next month and will work hard to find the romance again.

    I think it’s easier, though, when you can have window seats. I can still spend hours staring out an airplane window, except that persistent joint problems pretty much require that I stick to aisles these days.

    I also agree that it would be really much nicer to have someone telling us where we are every once in a while, and pointing out the cool landmarks. Few pilots do that these days, it seems.

    I did have one really cool flight-sight adventure a number of years ago. I had caught a connection in Atlanta and, not long into our jaunt up the East Coast, the pilot called our attention to the view out of the right side of the plane. One of the space shuttles was being ferried on the back of a Very Large Plane — too cool for words!

  7. Rebecca on June 7, 2006 at 2:06 am

    The circles, incidentally (if you’re talking about what I think you are), are from irrigation. They have these giant irrigation… er… thingies attached to a hub in the middle that go around in circles. Thus the circular fields.

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