Sunday, February 17, 2008

View from the window seat

I've loved flying ever since, at the innocent age of 5, my Dad took us to the airport to board a big plane to fly to Greece. I think I remember propellers, which means it must have been a very long flight, (we did a transfer in Rome) but I loved every minute of it--fighting for a view out the window, walking up & down the aisles, revelling in the knowledge that I was "walking" miles above the ground at very much higher speeds than I'd ever gone before. Mostly I remember the thrill of flying through the clouds, which seemed almost solid--or at least as solid as cotton candy.
And landing in Athens, and feeling that hot air blast as soon as we stepped off the plane, made me know--really know-- that I was somewhere way far away from Virginia. It had started some months before when my older brother Jim came upstairs while I was brushing my teeth and said in an excited voice, "Next summer we're painting the house, and then we're going to Greece! Being 5 years old, I had no idea where or exactly what this "Greece" was, but if Jim was excited about it, it must be something pretty good. And painting the house might be fun too.
Needless to say, I never got to help paint the house, but when we finally left for Greece, and I walked up those stairs into the plane (they did a lot of that back then) I knew this was going to be way better.
To this day I'm still fascinated by airplanes. When boarding nowadays, you almost always walk down those sterile mobile halls that connect to the plane, but there's always a little of the outside hull visible; I always feel the sleekness of it, amazed that soon the outer skin will be screaming through the frigid upper atmosphere at close to the speed of sound, while I will be safe and warm in a cozy seat inside.
Planes are incredible pieces of machinery. Everything fits snugly in its place. This is nowhere more apparent than in the bathrooms, where there might be up to a dozen little mysterious hatches that I sometimes explore. Behind them you might find perfectly-fitted cubbies for paper towels, trash, toilet paper, and those even more mysterious feminine products. There is usually also some tubing and wiring that you have no idea what would happen if you cut them, but are pretty sure it would be something bad.
I always try to get a window seat, for two reasons: when sleepy, it's nice to lean on the wall instead of some hydgienically-challenged stranger's shoulder, and mostly because I like to look out the window. Sometimes I think I'm the only one doing this; once when we were cruising just feet below a perfectly flat cloud ceiling that made the view incredibly dramatic, I looked around and everyone else was preoccupied with the video entertainment or in-flight shopping (a whole other subject for another day). That was the exception, though; usually the view consists of some houses at takeoff, quickly dissolving into fog, blank white clould cover the entire flight, then a few more houses right before landing.
There have been rare, exceptional treats now and then, however, like the time I looked down into the entire length of the Grand Canyon, or seeing Seattle's Puget Sound with its beautiful mix of water, woods and houses break through the clouds, with Mount Ranier nearby poking out of the mist. The most memorable was when I once flew into D.C.'s National Airport, where you usually approach from the south and see only generic suburbs, we came in from the north right over the Potomac River, and I was treated to a glorious bird's-eye view of Washington, including the Capitol and the Washington Monument, like I was hovering over it all on a magic carpet.
Which was pretty amazing considering that the first Cosmic Rule of Flying is that Dave Shalt be Seated on the Opposite Side of whatever interesting view is Out There. Every time I've flown into Denver, for example, I'm always on the side away from the Rockies. If you've ever seen Denver from the air, on one side is an incredible view (I presume) of the city nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and the other side is -- nothing. Not a building, road, barn, mailbox, telephone pole-- not even a mediocre field of soybeans--nothing but flat expanses of what appears to be brown dirt. This is the side that I am intimately familiar with. Flying in yesterday I was almost nostalgic to see my "Denver", or rather my non-Denver, the flat nothingness I have grown accustomed to seeing. And of course the mountains are nowhere in vew from the airport itself; somehow views in all directions revealed only desert. Flying out was sadly the same view, of course. I saw dirt, then clouds all the way to Seattle, and nary a single foothill between.
This is but one example of the Rule: wherever I am, the cool stuff is on the other side. Pilot to cabin: "If everyone will look out the left window, they'll get a fantastic glimpse of the Space Shuttle launching as we speak, along with the Queen Mary exploding from a terrorist bomb, and a naval and air battle between U.S. forces and alien spacecraft going on just beyond those erupting volcanoes. Those on the right side, including Dave, have a rare local fog bank screening the view, sorry about that."
Cosmic Rule of Flying #2: Whenever Dave gets a window seat, it Shalt be in the Exact Center of the Wing. As much as I love the view, someone Up There seems to think I like staring at plane wings. Flying here from Austin, my seat on the first leg to Denver was 15-F, which put me precisely over the wing, so I only caught a glimpse of firmament upon takeoff and landing. The next flight to Seattle promised to be better, as my seat was 19-F, which should have put me reasonably behind the wing. But as fate would have it, this was a larger plane, and 19-F was once again smack-dab in the middle of a vast expanse of featurless white metal. You'd think they could at least paint some interesting designs on the wings for us "wing men" to look at, perhaps even a bit of classical art or maybe even some Dilbert comics or something. (Although I must admit, once I had a window seat that wasn't over the wings: it was in the very last row back, and my "view" was of the gigantic engine six inches outside my window. So not only did I get to see an engine cowling the whole way, I was also treated to the delightfully pleasing whine of gigantic jet turbine blades about as far from my ear as your computer is to you now.)
And finally, Cosmic Rule #3, Whatever Dave drops on the floor during a flight Shalt forever be Out of Reach until Landing. On the last flight here this rule was enforced once again. I had about a foot of space in front of me, but when I dropped my Bag O' Pretzels, there was simply not enough room to bend over to reach them. in fact, I couldn't even get anything out of my own pockets, as it would have required contortions only Houdini in his prime could have accomplished. Next time I'll pay the $49 for an extra five inches-- it'll be worth every penny.
As I said, I just love flying.
Next: the Flat Featureless Shoebox School of Airport Architecture

1 comment:

MozzarElla said...

Maybe the airlines could use the great expanse of white metal of the wings to project silent movies or other video on. Although that particular Twilight Zone-- where Wm Shatner keeps seeing a strange figure on the wing-- should be avoided at all costs.

Regarding airplane WC's. They've really declined in quality and cleanliness over the years. I remember they used to keep (even in coach) after-shave near the soap and the water cups. Not that I ever would use after-shave; I simply liked taking a whiff of whatever that beloved standard scent was. It probably also helped to freshen up the olfactory sense after being cooped in the loo.