The View From Up Here

We have reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, and the flight attendant has announced that we can now turn on our laptops, our pda’s, our iPods, our personal electronics, our Sonicare toothbrushes, our electric shavers, and our stun guns. But our cell phones must remain off. No texting.

Texting on our cell phones in the air, I’ve been told, makes the plane turn right. It also wrecks havoc on international stock markets and affects the democratic election process in Iran. Oh, and it affects American Idol votes too.

So while I have four books (but no Kindle yet—my birthday’s in September if anyone’s wondering) to keep me occupied, I’m instead firing up my laptop to share my deep thoughts about air travel today.

Frankly, it’s hard to know whether I’m in an airplane or a food court. Passenger 6A is eating chicken teriyaki for lunch. 7D has a lime salsa burrito. Apparently all of us read the notice on our itineraries stating that “food will be available for purchase” on our flight. But we grew up watching Gillian’s Island, so we know a 3-hour tour might be a lifetime aboard an aircraft where food will be available for purchase. We aren’t taking any chances so we boarded with food and our 84” carry-on suitcases to avoid extra baggage fees.

Physical baggage. Emotional baggage. Traveling evokes all the possibilities out there. Enroute to Amsterdam, I was once asked out for dinner by a Greek guy who taught me how to make moussaka and explained the process of creating extra, extra virgin olive oil. On another trip, a guy in Dam Station asked if he could photograph me. Most prison mug shots look better than my best photos so I said no. I also suspected that the photo might turn up in prison or on the internet in a different form, so no thanks.

Then there was the dude on a previous flight to D.C. (half Dutch…what’s with the Netherlands connection?) with whom I had lunch with the next afternoon. So I was kinda thinking that in the plane seat lottery today, I might get seated next to some hot CIA agent who might want to whisper government secrets in my ear en route to our nation’s capitol. Alaska Airlines did me one better and placed me next to the one empty seat on our full flight. No date lined up for tomorrow, but I did have lots of elbow room.

When I’m traveling with my kids, they eagerly pull out the laminated safety cards illustrating what happens in the event of a water landing. “If we crash, will we get to slide down those big inflatable slides?”

My kids are still at the age where they strictly heed all safety guidelines and rules. They know, for instance, that they won’t be able to light up their cigarettes while the no smoking sign is illuminated. Katie wet her pants on our last flight. When I asked her why she didn’t get up to use the bathroom, she pointed to the seatbelt sign and told me she wasn’t allowed to take her seatbelt off.

“In the event that oxygen masks should drop down from the overhead compartment, please place your own mask on your face before assisting children.”

“Why do they want you to put your mask on first?” my kids asked.

“Because the other passengers are hoping that in the event of an emergency, you’ll all pass out and be very quiet,” I replied.

“Place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. The first minute of oxygen will cost you 45 cents and every minute thereafter will be charged at 10 cents a minute…”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

I’d write more but the books are a callin’ and I’m watching my elbows from those heavy carts wheeling down the center aisle. For all my vacationing friends hurtling through the somewhat friendly skies, traveling mercies!

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