I’m traveling this week. Yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t written my blog entry for today. What to do? Time is too short now to wax poetic. I could skip it all together this time. No, a few people might die or something without hearing from me. So, I’m compromising. I will write about the traveling. Next week’s entry is going to be weighty, though. I hope you’ll come back to read a piece near and dear to me.
Anyway, the alarm went off at three in the morning so I could leave by four to catch a five-thirty flight. I remember when we were little and flew from California to Boston on an old prop plane that took ten hours to get there. We wore our best outfits. My mother wore gloves and a hat and stockings with heels. This trip, I wore baggy lime green shorts, a shirt that didn’t match and flip flops. I decided to hold off washing my hair till I got there.
Boarding took forever as we waited in the aisle while people stuffed things into the overhead. I mean it was like Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to get their feet into the glass slipper: duffle bags, major suitcases, canvas bags meant for dorm move-in day. One guy had a trunk. A woman stood up on the armrest and grunted and groaned as she worked to get something in that was clearly too big in every dimension. She all but took her foot and gave the thing a shove. Finally, a guy from the back of the line yelled, “Lady, it doesn’t fit.”
My seat was at the window. The guy next to me was too big for his seat, so he just lifted the armrest between us and spilled over into my space. Now that he was rubbing up against me, I noticed he had forgotten his deodorant that morning.
The pilot came over the speaker to tell us they were working on a ‘minor mechanical problem’ but we would be underway in just a few minutes. I’m sorry, when I’m going to wing along at thirty thousand feet, I’d prefer the mechanics give the plane a thorough once over when trouble develops. These quick fix-it jobs just don’t cut it. It wasn’t ten minutes before we pushed off from the gate and headed for the runway. They’d barely had time to get out their screw drivers, but somehow we were good to go.
The flight attendant snapped us all to attention to give her safety spiel. In light of the broken engine, or whatever it was, I paid attention this time. The woman obviously read from a script, but there mustn’t have been any punctuation in it because she didn’t so much as pause—ever—even to suggest the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. She garbled her words as though she had a lozenge (maybe 3 or 4) in her mouth. And because there wasn’t the slightest hint of inflection, we couldn’t gather meaning from emphasis. She said something about some piece of equipment at the window exits. In case of a water landing we were supposed to do one thing and to be very careful not to do this other thing. It sounded important. Did she say step over or into? Roll it out to the left or to the right? I just knew this would be the one piece of information that would save my life, and I’d missed it.
As I looked over at the window exit, I couldn’t help but notice the teenage girl across the aisle texting as we gathered speed for lift-off. What was she thinking? I remember my days as a flight attendant. At the training academy they drilled it into us: plus three, minus eight. The first three minutes of the flight and the last eight are the most dangerous. I imagined the girl’s texts jamming the signals and everything going haywire. The cockpit dashboard would flash nonsense, or maybe nothing at all. Alarms would sound and air masks would drop in front of us. The plane would stall, then nosedive into one of those careening spins straight for the ground. I thought I might brace myself, but then realized something like that calls for sheer terror accompanied by hysterical screaming and no amount of preparation will make a difference.
Somehow we made it to cruising altitude without blowing up, so I relaxed a little. Meanwhile, my seat mate had missed the whole thing. We weren’t off the ground before he’d slumped over in my direction and started snoring. I’m not talking about a little snort now and again. If the guy hadn’t also been drooling, I would have thought he was trying to be funny. It was better than cartoon snoring. It was the kind you can’t imitate without hurting yourself.
A little later, the flight attendant came around with those tiny packs of peanuts that now cost four dollars each. Fortunately, I’d brought my own snacks. My pleasure in eating them was somewhat diminished, though, by the hungry staring of other passengers. It was as if they resented me for having brought good food and, although they could have brought their own food, they’d neglected to do so and all they could think about was that they wanted mine.
I downplayed my goodies and tried to read, but a dog started yapping from a couple rows back. At first, he sounded cute. Fifteen minutes later, the cuteness had given way to a desire to put my hands around his snout. Was it just me, or was this shaping up to be one of the worst travel experiences ever? I still had another two flights to go before I got to Boston. I would have to say it was likely better than bouncing around in the back of a covered wagon with Indians shooting arrows at you but, other than that, it occurred to me that I might be on the flight from Hell.
I stared out the window until we landed in Charlotte at 6:30. The layover would be two hours. I found a little corner and sat down, but couldn’t get comfortable. Pretty soon, I surrendered all manner of pride and stretched out on the floor. There I was, one of those people I usually look at with disdain, all sprawled out in public. I wondered from behind my closed eyes if I had a stupid expression on my face. I didn’t care. Then it occurred to me that someone I know might see me. That almost did it, but by then I was drifting off and just resigned myself to be a laughing stock. There’s a kind of freedom in letting go like that.
The next leg took me to Pittsburgh and then another one to Boston. A bus brought me to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from where I drove with my brother up to Lake Winnipesaukee. It was after five when we pulled into the cove. I’d been traveling for twelve hours by then.
Down on my mother’s dock, I looked out across the lake. The water danced along and lapped against the shore, making that lovely sound lapping water makes. The sun was setting beneath an orange sky that stretched from behind shadowed hills already settling into their evening slumber. A west-blowing breeze rustled against my face as it carried clouds from one place to another with no apparent purpose but to travel a day’s journey, and then to go from there. Behind them was a vast expanse, without shape or definition. It was a space in which everything we dare to dream might exist. It was limitless, like each of us would hope to be.
While the loons in the cove sang muted melodies from their place in the reeds, my day of petty gripes slipped away. I, too, had traveled a day’s journey and would harvest experiences to treasure, the first of which was mingling with nature at one of its finest moments.