Photo by Douglas Bagg / Unsplash

Sixty-three years of flying. What I notice has changed in flying and in myself

"Have a good trip, Iowa." The tall blonde man with the tape, the fanny packs and equipment festooned all over him turned and waved, his half-face clear goggles glinting in the overhead lights. We had spoken while on line for United's checkin. These days if someone isn't on a phone I try hard to engage them, as I'm interested.

Not just interested. Sometimes I'm downright hungry for conversation in a world full of folks terrified of just that. The phone is such a fine place to hide.

Outside in the early morning pre-dawn, a sky full of ash from a massive fire along the California state line is getting ready to lighten. Sort of. A lineup of Alaska Airways jets, like sleeping silver orcas, sits quietly, the tail painted with the face of an Inuit. He smiles. I wonder if the original model was ever granted a free flight for his trouble.

I doubt it.

Those airbound orcas, sisters to a ocean-bound and dying breed thanks to our greed, will rise and fall through the liquid sky, a failing atmosphere hugged tightly to earth by unrelenting forces and a deeply unfriendly vacuum. Bordered, additionally, by millions of tons of space trash, an indication of a species incapable of vacuuming its own world of trash, much less vacuuming the once-pristine vaccuum of surrounding space.

As I have said before, as a species we are pigs.

In an hour I throw my backpack and a carryon over my seat and head to San Francisco. There I board for one of my favorite airports, Narita, in Japan, where the shops are chock full of gorgeous antique kimonos. Who knew such lovely pieces of cloth could go on forever? They hide all ills, all the cellulite and wobbly bits. I've had plenty of that to hide. The kimonos are works of art, deserving of their own walls.

In 1959,  my mother trundled me through the O'Hare Airport, at the time undergoing yet more expansions. It was raining, we got wet, and subsequently I graced my mother's perfect skirt with my childish vomit while the plane bucked and sawed on its way to Madison, Wisconsin. She wore a perfect suit, matching hat, gloves and painted pumps which ruined her feet. But she looked terrific. Not after I threw up in her lap, however.

Back then people dressed up, airlines barked about having the best food, and the rules for attendants were utterly ridiculous, as well as patently racist. And ageist. These days, not so much. That's good news.

Less good news: Now you pay a lot  more for much smaller seats, no food at all on most flights, you have to pay a LOT to get an aisle or window seat, for some airlines they ding you for having eyebrows if you raise them at having to pay for a carryon.


Am I pining for another time?

Not really. Just noticing. People march past me, most on headphones, few talking. Those who are talking are yapping into a phone and not paying any attention to their surroundings. I am so clumsy already that if I did that I'd do face plants every few yards.

I already do face plants every few yards.

We are isolated and lonely while trying to convince ourselves how connected we are. Nope.

Little lonely islands marching by, seems to me. Too many of us in terrible shape, if for no other reason than we feed our loneliness through our cell phones. I did it with food. Now I prefer to talk to people.

So I head off, one hand still wrapped in a cast, still a bit angry, but slowly improving. Because airlines did such a poor job managing themselves under Covid, they are now losing luggage right and left, so that leaves us to our own devices. Mine is to put my stuff into a backpack, and a carryon around the neck.

Late last night I tore it all apart after I hefted it. WAY too weighty. I can buy bug juice and sunscreen in Thailand. Liquids are evilly heavy. Carrying your stuff on your back and around your neck forces you to rethink all your priorities.

Rethinking priorities is precisely what's on my mind right now. So is cutting WAY back. Nalini MacNab has often spoken of this, as she has moved regularly and often. The habit of acquiring becomes deeply problematic as we move about, with each and every thing we buy one more rock in the backpack.

This is as much true of outmoded beliefs as it is of dumb souvenirs and impulse purchases.

As I get close to moving out, I moved all the last of my boxes into my garage. From where I began five or six years ago, boxes and shelves and storage and closets full of stuff I never used or saw, now all that I have could fit into a five by ten storage. That's a fraction of what I had when I arrived in 2020. I added a lot of furniture to that with my big new house. All that furniture  is now gone, or for sale.

Even what's left is too much. After so much letting go, even the remaining pile strikes me as too damned much. How many hiking boots does a girl need, anyway?

Penny Nelson admitted, after becoming a regular gym rat, that she wished she had started so much sooner. Had I been able to see how compulsive buying and all the other OCDs would ultimately affect me, would I have been able to stop? The key is in the word "compulsive."

As a society we are compulsive eaters, smokers, drinkers, achievers, consumers. Each time I've been able to corral a compulsion, the damned thing pops up again in another form like some kind of evil WhackaMole game. Now it's about writing a lot, a tradeoff I'll take any day. At least this doesn't empty the bank or result in overuse injuries.

Okay, sore fingers. Not as big a tradeoff as an empty bank account, but still.

People pad by. Idly I wonder if anyone else is battling compulsions. I know where mine got their start. These days I put more effort into noticing if I am doing something to excess; I didn't use to have that skill. I've not mastered it, but it's gotten a lot easier.

You can travel so much farther when you travel lighter in every sense of the word.

At the end of today's trip is an overnight in a smallish hotel very close to Bangkok's huge international airport. From there, a month of -with any luck-joyful exploration of temples, elephant sanctuaries, parks, beaches and mangrove forests rolls out like a glittering promise.  

It'll be hot. Humid. Rainy. I don't care. Eleven years ago I came to this country and within a few weeks ended a forty-year eating disorder. Literally got up from a desk and walked away from the desk and four decades of misery. That moment reminds me that such things are possible. Sometimes it requires that we move ourselves into completely different environments in one way  or another so that we can see ourselves differently.

I never ever know what I'm going to learn  when I head out. Always something.

Our jet slid into the cool skies over Eugene right at six am. I flew into the day, aboard a silver orca, splitting the dawn full of promise.

I have no idea how I will return. There is no guarantee that I will. That upon heading into the new day, any of us will. That's why the journey is so much more important than the destination.

And with that, it's time to board for Japan, and mysteries beyond.

I hope your day began with a wonderful journey.

The Journey Is On
Photo by Clemens van Lay / Unsplash

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