I could tell you about the time that my family and I had to make an emergency landing in Colorado, amidst silver-suited firefighters and then had to suffer through a series of flights back and forth across the Rockies in a prop plane that swayed and bounced with every air current, tossing our stomachs into our throats before we would finally land in California late that night. I could tell you about the many flights I made from Pennsylvania to Washington as an unaccompanied minor and was led through the back corridors of Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul by people in red blazers. I could tell you about the time my flight was delayed out of Spokane, Washington, because a man traveling with his family to Mexico somehow forgot that he had a loaded handgun in his briefcase, and how he had supposedly hidden it there because his wife, heavily medicated, had a tendency to get into their safe; how he now owed the flight security company over $40,000; how I know all of this because his three daughters talked about it the entire trip; have a great vacation.
But everyone has those stories. The stories about the kind stranger, the glances exchanged with the attractive person in the row across that leads into something, or nothing. Everyone has lost their baggage (or if you’re the person who never has and your obnoxious floral bag comes down the baggage carousel first every time, damn you).
But there’s more to flying than that. I’ve met interesting people. The old Italian lady who was coming to America for the first time after the death of her husband to visit her son. The drunken middle-aged man in the terminal who noticed that I had a northwestern accent. The man who tried to feel me up while I was wedged between him and the window (not the best experience but hey, it is an interesting story). The man who politely handed me a bag after I tried to throw up in my cup all so very politely shortly after landing. The other accompanied minor who insisted that I listen to his Cradle of Filth cd.
What is more interesting is how the heavy, humid air in Philadelphia hits you square in the face if you land there in summer. How there is a spirit of togetherness that arises when the pilot announces you have to make an emergency landing. The woman next to you squeezes your hand. How if you fly over the Midwest during the day, you can see the crops planted in spiraling circles, a polka dotted ream of fabric spread across what is truly the flattest region. How nighttime flying has a magical quality. The earth is black below you, pure darkness. Then comes a light or two, then more. Then there is a grid of lights leading you to the center of the city. How man grids himself away from the wild dark wilderness surrounding him, in a lighted square that could contain more danger than that wilderness ever could. And what would happen if all the lights turned off?
But even that isn’t the point. Everyone has looked out their window or across their slumbering seatmate covered in peanut dust and felt a shiver go up their spine that isn’t from the air spitting down at them.
But I choose to keep some things a mystery to you, seatmate, reader, friend, and only tell you that takeoff still makes my stomach float up to my throat like the suspension between two realities: earth and air, point a and point b, home and away, PHL and GEG. And I just have to add that I hate when people eat cheese next to me, and that I still wonder what happened to that old, sweet, Italian lady.