March 21st, 2007

Crossing the country: night flight

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.

15 Responses to “Crossing the country: night flight”

  1. Judith L Says:

    Welcome to Southern California!

  2. Al Fin Says:

    Something that moved me more than the Grand Canyon from the air, was the meteor crater seen from the air. The Grand Canyon took millions of years to carve. The meteor crater was made in mere seconds. And there are plenty more where that one came from.

  3. Bob Gilkison Says:

    My daughters have driven across the country several times. My older grand-son drove round trip between Northern California and Virginia last summer accompanined only by his faithful dog.

    I wish my younger grand-children could experienece this, but they probably never will. Parents are much too busy. They flit across by Jet (ususally Jet Blue) and have no concept of the enormity and majesty of their native land.

    But happily they will flit east next week. The jet-age taketh and the jet-age giveth.

  4. West Says:

    What a nice post. A pleasure to read.

  5. camojack Says:

    My last night flight was returning from Kona a few weeks ago.

    I actually slept on that one, an 11:59 PM departure…

  6. ice weasel Says:

    I once flew across the country at night. It was dark.

    There’s metaphor there somewhere.

    Great writing. Have you published a book? You should. I would love to hear more about how fear has shaped your political thought. I think it would be enlightening.

  7. Fausta Says:

    Beautiful post, Neo!

  8. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    Very nice indeed, Neo!

    I agree with the Ice Weasel — you should think about a book. How about “The Best of Neo-Neocon”? (Okay, lousy title, but you get the idea.) Say, two hundred pages or so of your favorite thought-provoking blog posts. I’d buy it.

    On a more pedestrian note: you probably got an excellent deal on JetBlue — but you had to fly out of Logan! Personally, I prefer to use Manchester NH or Providence (both small airports, both serviced by Southwest). As always, your mileage may vary.

    respectfully,
    Daniel in Brookline

  9. EJ Smith Says:

    Nice post.
    Welcome to SOCAL.

    Lovely day today.
    In the desert anyway.

    I was drawn to your blog by the name.

    Have a good day.

  10. mary Says:

    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 did the cross country route with the kids many times in the last decade. A room at a Comfort Inn in the midwest can still be had for around $35 (With a free breakfast donut, often chocolate with jimmies)

    The drive is fun, but it does take a lot of time, and sitting, and food that can often range from bland to inedible. Flying is usually the better choice.

    Enjoy SoCal – and congrats on your escape from the mud and melting snow!

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    ice weasel: it’s a common misconception that it was fear that shaped my thinking post-9/11. It was not. I have, however, written about half of the story of the change so far, in my series “A mind is a difficult thing to change.” Links to all the posts written so far in the series are on the right sidebar under the category of that name.

  12. Thomas Says:

    Neo,

    I stumbled across you blog by accident and I’m glad I did. This was a moving picture of air travel, though I normally don’t find flying very thought-provoking. To me, being stuffed into what amounts to a flying aluminum can next to a snoring seat-mate does not invoke deep thoughts in me.

    I particularly like your reflections on the Grand Canyon, that “wondrous cleft in the world”. That’s a very good description.

    Cheers!

  13. Yehudit Says:

    “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.”

    Yup. I’m glad I’m not the only one with trip packing disability.

    I flew British Air to Israel and they also had the little TVs on the back of the seats.

  14. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I’m the snoring seatmate. I just learned I can bring my C-PAP onboard on the way to Romania this summer for a wedding. Rejoice.

    Though I have a great fear of falling and heights, and flying provokes imaginings I will not share for fear of suggesting new worries to others, I have always found night flights romantic. I like to try and discern where we are, and like you, wonder about friends below. This is in great contrast to night driving for distance. Every interstate is the same at night, with the same food, hotel, and gas stations listed on the blue signs. Day: drive. Night: flight.

  15. saintknowitall Says:

    WICHITA!!! That is where I live. Small world. Wonder if I know your friends there. Probably not, with close to 500k people in the metro area, probably not possible.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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