4. Airplanes

December 9, 2007. Filed under writing 31

The movies they show on airplanes always seem awful. Realistically though, I've flown enough that if it was merely a problem of selection, I would have run into a few decent movies by now. But not a single one. My first straw-man to blame is Sandra Bullock. No it wasn't Speed, and not even Speed 2, it was far worse: Hope Floats. Pity the child who excitedly placed their bookmark into the unabridged Three Musketeers when they saw the projector screen magically lowering itself, and with confusion noticed looks of distain and disinterest upon his parents' faces, and then--with a sad and determined certainty--grew to understand the forlorn expressions of those around him.

It is perhaps unfair to put all the blame on Sandra. I think I just get into a mood when I travel on airplanes. You're flying faster than anyone had ever moved a hundred years ago, and you're higher off the ground than any living thing has ever propelled itself under its own power. But what are you thinking about? You're thinking about the obese and obnoxious person beside you who has already drilled her life into your unreceptive right ear. This should be an awesome--in the inspiring the fear of God sense--experience, but instead you're wondering why the woman next you thinks its important that you know she is married, adopted, plays online computer games, loves Japanese animation, and is a Jew. Well damn. At least one of those is somewhat relevant to why I am on this plane.

Which, in the most literal of senses, is to cross the Pacific Ocean. To be a bit more explicit, it is to depart from Los Angeles and--to fourteen hours later--arrive in the outskirts of Tokyo. At that point there is apparently an orchestrated militia who will happily guide us from one the subterranean depths of the Narita airport towards fresh air... and then immediately back into busses to be carted off to our hotels.

But really, I'm not that focused on my future right now. I'm not even that focused on the the over-talkative woman to my right, or on the friendly chap to my left. I'm not even replaying my conversations with an intriguingly cute girl I met in the airport and who is now cloistered some dozen rows behind me. No, I'm thinking about something a bit more abstract. Something more useless, unanswerable, and pressing.

It is related to the earlier thought about how we forget that airplanes are genuinely amazing things, but my mind has swerved into a slightly different direction this time. Somewhere below me, miles down, is a vast ocean. Well, the view panel infront of me corrects my belief in bright blues and greens depicting Siberia beneath its thin metal walls. I am tempted to pursue the motivations behind the first humans to theoretically cross the land bridge in the last ice age. But no, I can't imagined their progress now, I have something important to pin down.

I pull out a pad of Mariott Inn branded paper and the pen I've been using for the last couple of years (although I promise not to get sidetracked again, it and its mechanical pencil twin are my two longest possessions). Sometimes watching ink float onto the page is soothing. I recommend it the next time you're trying to work through something in your head, but--yes--I promise to get on with my point.

What I want to talk about now is crossing oceans.

I remember reading an article about modern scientists who believe that the first humans to come to North America may have not crossed the Bering Straight, but may have instead sailed across the ocean with their "more advanced than previously thought navigational and ship building technologies." Sitting here on an airplane, accomplishing in a day what would have taken these hypothetic boatpeople weeks or months, I am plagued by variants of one question: Why?

Why does anyone set off into unknowable distance? Who would leave their entire past behind them and cross an ocean? Did they know what they were doing when the embarked? If they did cross the ocean, was their first reaction joy, and their second reaction the beginning of a lifelong desire to erase their voyage and return home?

I suspect I'll whittle away some hours pondering my relationship with these ancient ocean crossers. Today I join them among the ranks of those who have looked at oceans, but only seen memories beneath the waves.

Should I be ashamed that I long ago abandoned the helm, and willingly surveyed any view except forward? I have smiled and spoken about my bright future, but I have thrown myself into a current that makes my strokes look feeble.

I've never liked oceans. I am so much smaller.