A few days ago I took my small, single-engine airplane on a very short flight from Santa Paula to Santa Monica. I am realizing now, as I write this, that on my way back I probably hit two LA area airports in alphabetical order. You didn’t need to know that, and I didn’t need to say it, but I just did and you read it, so it’s done now and behind you. Just let it go.
If I flew direct, at the speed my airplane is capable of, I could have made the flight in 18 minutes from point to point. But one rarely if ever truly flies direct, unless you are flying in a helicopter, because airplanes need to depart and arrive in a fixed direction, often requiring flying a pattern. All told, the flight took me a half hour in each direction, which beats the 2 hours or more it would have taken me if I attempted to make the trip via LA freeways.
The reason I am bringing this up is because of the contrast between flying a couple of days ago and what I am doing at this very moment, which is flying as a passenger in the cabin of a United flight to Frankfurt, on my way to a conference in Krakow, Poland. The view at 35,000 feet out the window is not that different than the view at 5500 feet, especially nowadays where humans are used to zooming in and out with the pinch of their fingers. Up here, where the air is minus 62 degrees Fahrenheit, travelling with the help of the jet stream at 640 miles per hour over the ground, I had the strange sensation that all I had to do was sit back and pinch my fingers for the world to become a miniature moving map beneath me.
It’s daytime right now at this point on earth, and it’s quite cloudy out there, mostly cumulous clouds, but the earth below occasionally reveals itself, a built environment of concrete, steel and lumber. It is remarkable what these human beavers have crafted onto the plains, nestled in the mountains and hung over the cliffs. How industrious we critters are, how unashamed of what we have done to the miraculous topography of this planet.
I am on the second of three flights needed to get me to Krakow. I could have done it in two flights, but adding a leg made it less demanding on the bank account. This flight will last about 10½ hours in the air, and all three, with layovers, will take about 18 hours. That’s a lot of sitting, but I have done the long haul often enough that I have mastered seat yoga, or chair yoga as they call it in senior homes. It’s amazing what kind of a workout one can get while sitting and watching fuzzy movies you intentionally missed at your local theater.
I am now on Boeing’s triple-7, which for me is the equivalent of her majesty’s yacht, after rowing my little aeronautical kayak the 36 miles from Santa Paula to Santa Monica. It’s really quite a thrill each time I do either one of them; I can’t help but marvel at the engineering masterpieces that emanate from the cortexes of wily dreamers intent on stretching human capabilities to its conceivable limits. I suspect I will not live long enough, or have enough lives, to get to ever fly one of these big birds, and sitting back here in the cabin is the best I will ever do. That’s okay, because I kind of kicked the bucket list a few years back, and my stores of vitality have been nearly depleted by a few too many slings and arrows.
I have many challenges ahead of me in my little aeronautical kayak, and while I will be occupying a lot less square footage, at least I will be at the helm. It’s a lot easier back here, being chauffeured and all, but when I get to where I am going I will have had little to do with it. God willing, I will be home in a week or so, where my little airplane awaits me. I will wrap my fist firmly and gently around the stick, tilt into the wind, slowly and confidently push the throttle to its limit, and nudge its nose into the blue. I don’t know yet where I will be headed, maybe just take her for a spin around the neighborhood. There will be no pinching of my fingers to make the trees bigger or smaller, but I will use the stick to make the elevator do that. The movie flickering out the windscreen may not be nearly as exciting as “Mission: Impossible” or “Kingsman”, but it will be a whole lot more realistic. And while I won’t be landing in Europe, I will be landing just a stone’s throw from home. It’s all about the contrast, and that’s what makes it good.