Archive for August 5th, 2010

“Welcome aboard this Continental flight to Newark International Airport. We will be cruising at 23,000 ft…”

This is my first flight in almost ten years and I face it with some degree of trepidation. Only a year ago, another flight had crashed in Buffalo. Was it a Continental flight? I cannot recall. As my pulse quickens and my stomach reels, I remind myself that the odds of something like that happening were very, very low. I had a greater chance of being in a catastrophic car crash; and I was not too frightened of driving. The numbers, which usually keep me in a cool, rational state of mind, have little effect on the what-ifs racing through my mind.

At least I know that my luggage is on the right plane: I saw my bag on the conveyor belt going into the cargo hold. Losing control of anything causes me consternation. Losing control of essentially everything I owned and needed for a month in the rain forest of Costa Rica was no exception. At least I could push the harrowing thought of me going to Newark and my luggage flying to Russia out of my mind. Until tomorrow anyway.

The plane begins to move. The propeller roars into action. To calm my nerves, I try to remember the physics of flight: Bernoulli principle, fluid velocity…yeah, I am a nerd. Slowly we lumber forward on the tarmac. Now, our plane must wait its turn to take off. Suddenly, we pick up speed. I watch the wheels as they race by paint marks on the ground. In a moment, they lose contact with the tarmac and we are flying. As we gain altitude, I take one last look at Buffalo before the pilot banks sharply and begins the plane’s eastward journey to New York city.

Seeing the homes, farms, and roads below reminds me that the world is a big place. This is an easy fact to forget. Flying reminds you just how small we really are.

Oddly enough, my fears of flying fall away as we rise. Perhaps they weighed too heavy and remained earthbound as we cruise above the clouds. Now I see the Finger Lakes below. Now, if I had taken a Greyhound…well, let’s not think about that.

Greyhound is not a fun way to travel. I speak from experience. I have racked up about 2x350x2x3=4200 miles on a Greyhound bus. It is a low, boring, plodding, uncomfortable mode of travel. In the plane, the seats are more comfortable, the workers friendlier, the passengers prettier, and the experience more enjoyable. It seems that Greyhound is the mode of travel for the unwanted; the “Other America.” I chastise myself for my snobbery, but is snobbery against snobbery snobbery of its own kind? At any rate, there is no hacking coughing or loud obnoxious cell phone conversations next to me.

I look down at another one of the Finger Lakes, sparkling aqua marine in the afternoon sunlight as ships scuttle along the water’s surface like water striders. It is an alien world up here, above the clouds. Here, cloud islands float in a sea of blue sky. The roar of the motors lull me to sleep.

After only an hour, we land in Newark. I take my baggage and ride to the hotel. When I get there, I discover that there is no one else from my party present. I check to make sure that I came on the right day. Fortunately, that was not my error, and I am simply forced to wait outside. Later, the group arrives with Prof. Andrus leading the way. We meet and try to learn names with everyone in the class. There are 19 students and 2 instructors.

Before I go to sleep, I am given one more surprise. When I open my bag, I notice that either soap or shampoo has covered my new pack. Apparently my shampoo bottle cracked in the cargo hold. I quickly try to clean and dry it, with little success. At least it will not stain.

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