Thursday, September 21, 2006

On air travel...

This is probably just an extension of this August post, but I promised, so I shall deliver.

I think air travel is the best. Probably because it happens so rarely for me (this year a notable exception: trips to Indianapolis, Oregon, Idaho - in six hours - and possibly one to Las Vegas).

But like the destination cities on highway signs, there's so much possibility at hand. If our plane to Phoenix leaves from the same gate at Reagan National that it usually does, I'll pass several other gates to get to ours. Beyond each door, at the end of each jetway, is a new destination. Maybe it's as boring as Norfolk or as exciting as Los Angeles.

(I should note that the Indy trip was one of the worst air travel experiences I've had. Not because it was anyone's fault, but because of the fact that we flew from National to Atlanta - Atlanta! - and had a four-hour layover at Hartsfield. On the way back, we caught the last media shuttle from our hotel and wound up with a three-hour wait in Indy's airport.)

That bad time aside, just the experience of flying is a thrill. The jet is loud and commands attention. There's no cooler moment than when you make that final turn onto the main runway and the pilot puts the hammer down. The ride gets faster and bumpier and faster and bumpier and faster and bumpier. Then, all of a sudden, it's smooth - and by the time you realize that, your stomach seems plastered to the bottom of the seat.

Once you're in the air, you get to play a bit of a voyeuristic role, peering down at people's land and the random towns you fly over. Towns that look so small it looks like you could hold them in the palm of your hand - and have room to spare. (On our last trip out west, we flew into Vegas and I was afforded a beautiful, one-of-a-kind view of Hoover Dam. It was incredible to me how massive the thing looked, even from a few thousand feet in the air.)

The voyeuristic role only increases on descent and approach. It's just that the houses and the cities (suburbs) look bigger. Then usually you zip over a few highways, the ground gets closer and closer and suddenly it's all barren land. The runway comes into view and plunk! You're on the ground, and the jet announces its arrival with a thunderous roar of the engines.

But those are mostly the side benefits, as I see them, to air travel. Because for me, the biggest payoff is in knowing I'll be someplace different and unusual and imagining the possibilities of that.

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