Yesterday I flew on Jet Blue from Boston to Los Angeles.
For me this involves not enough sleep the night before as I pack and suddenly realize in the wee hours of the morning that I can’t take half of what I’d planned to, and that even the remaining half is way too much. It also involves a lengthy drive to Boston itself, and the need to be there an hour or two ahead of time to deal with security; a stop in New York to change planes; and then the cross-country flight to a place that is about as different from New England as you can get and still speak the same language and be part of the same country.
In my youth I often used to do the cross-country drive—with companion, of course. Many, many times. So I know what it’s like to drive through the plains, to traverse the mountains and the deserts, to go the northern route and the southern route and the in-between route, back when motels cost about twenty-five dollars and many of them were one-of-a-kind rather than chains.
I even remember traveling with my family before some of the major highways were built. With great regularity, our car’s progress was slowed by the need to pass through a town. Many of them had a main street called “Main Street,” which amazed me at the time; I’d never seen that in New York.
And even those meandering journeys were stupendously quick compared to the way it was back when the western part of the nation was first settled. Covered wagons and real danger. And, before that, there were Lewis and Clark and earlier explorers. And before that….
But back to Jet Blue. They’ve got a system whereby they don’t serve those little airplane meals on board. Instead, the airport waiting areas have been turned into food courts worthy of the most upscale malls. Organic? Kosher? Soba with seaweed? Imported chocolate bar? Wasabi peas? Or chicken sandwich with apples and brie, my somewhat more pedestrian selection? You can get it all at the counters at Kennedy Airport while you wait.
My plane left Kennedy about forty five minutes late. This was cause for concern because I had a car rental waiting for me in Burbank, and the counter was due to close only a few minutes after my flight was scheduled to arrive there.
Once on the plane, time flies as the plane flies, thanks to those little TVs Jet Blue has kindly provided. I settle in with “American Idol” (the first time I’d watched it this season; it seems the women are much stronger than the men). On another channel, Jet Blue has a screen whereby you can simply watch a map of the US, showing where the plane is at the moment, as well as its speed and altitude. This graphic demonstration of the way airplane travel has collapsed the extraordinary distances involved continues to astonish me; we have barely left Kennedy and we are looking at Philadelphia, and then halfway across Pennsylvania.
It’s nighttime and dark now. We fly over cities near where friends I hardly ever get to see anymore live—Cincinnati, Wichita—and I have to repress the urge to wave to them below. We fly over places I’ve never been—Hoover Dam, for example. We fly over places I have, both from the ground and the air—the Grand Canyon. It’s invisible, nothing like the spectacular view that was spread out under me once on a clear day from another airplane in another time, a view that showed the vast extent of that wondrous cleft in the world and actually brought tears to my eyes.
But now it’s pitch black; the Grand Canyon I pass over is a Canyon of imagination and memory only. But I know it’s there.
And soon—much sooner than expected—we are in Los Angeles. And, wonder of wonders (although not a wonder on the scale of the Grand Canyon), the pilot has made up all the time in the air and the Alamo rental counter is still open. I’m given the keys to a shiny new car and I drive off in a soft night rain, onto the well-lit freeways that only moments before had sparkled below me.