On Flying, On Airplanes


I am not exactly an avid proponent of big old jet airliners. I am not in any way afraid to fly, and certainly have caught a big bird more than enough times in my life to realize that they can whisk you away to places far off in a matter of hours, sometimes to new grand adventures, sometimes to the bland of boring business meetings. I know that they reunite those lucky soldiers who’ve made it through the atrocity of war back with their wives and children, and that they can get a particularly special package full of something wonderful enough to make a woman smile when she’s seven states away from her favorite coffee shop. However, I believe that life is lived more the more slowly that life is lived.

When you take a train, that slow and methodical ticking of tracks against train wheels provides the opportunity to see all of the in between from where you are and where you’re going, affords the ability to meet all of the pious priests and radical Republicans, fellow travelers on different paths, distributing the hippies and the stock brokers evenly among the seats of the lounge car. When you roadtrip in a car, you experience the thrill of radio across the nation (all too quickly becoming all too homogeneous), watching the countryside evolve from desert to snow peak to forest to coastline as you go. When you walk to your destination you’re gifted the sounds of the city surrounding your progression, you can try and force a smile from passersby or hang your head in the clouds to dream as you discard the obligations of life outside of your several block walk. The slower the method of travel, the more a trip is like a handwritten letter. It will take longer to get from drying ink to the recipients hands, there will be more chance of losing it in the mail, akin to the troubles possible when time is added to any equation, but there is no substitute for seeing the personalization of a letter: the handwriting of the person who sent it, the folds in the paper so deliberate, accidental bending and creasing of the corners and, if you’re lucky, the scent of the writer still lingering in the envelope.

But the airplane is as close to an email as modern day travel provides. You do it, it’s done. Airplanes take a coast to coast trip and, yes, you will be out of the snow of a Pennsylvania winter and into the shine of a SoCal shoreline in less time than it takes to bake a Thanksgiving turkey, but you will miss the golden bridges of Pittsburgh, the arch over St. Louis as its skyline is spectacular in the evening, the ribbony flow of Nebraskan fields, the climb over all that purple God chose to stuff in the Rockies and the cowboy-at-attention awe of seeing your first Arizona cacti forest. Airplanes, more than any other form of transportation, put us all closer together but create the least hospitable environment for meeting your fellow bon voyagers.

Perhaps worst of all, airplanes can take something you love and so quickly–stuffed first behind security gates that separate us an hour premature and then whisking away two, three, four hundred miles per hour–move it far, far away. Give me a thumb in the air on a two lane through the all too hot desert, give me the uncomfortable sleep and inability to smoke on an Amtrak for the holidays, give me a canoe down the Mississippi mud, but give me the time of my life, good or bad, I’ll take it any day over the rushing through of modern expedience.