Contrary to everything you may have heard, getting there is almost never half the fun, at least if you’re traveling by plane. I recently started working in Seattle. I had been off the road for several months and getting back in the swing of things actually wasn’t as hard as I expected, but there were some things I hadn’t missed. Getting up at 3 AM on Monday morning to catch my flight. I did not miss that a bit. Worrying that I might miss my connection because my first flight is late and rushing through the airport to get to my next flight as it’s boarding. Trying to sleep on an overnight flight home. I really hadn’t missed any of these. Come to think of it, sleeping through 3 AM is probably one of my favorite things. In spite of all this, there are a lot of things I’ve missed about being on the road. If I couldn’t think of anything I’ve missed about traveling, I’m probably in the wrong line of work.
I did experience a wonderful looking-out-the-window moment a few weeks ago. There are of course advantages and disadvantages to both aisle and window seats, but when I have a window seat, I generally take a few peaks out the window. Some of you who don’t fly often may be saying, “Well, what else would you use it for?” but a whole lot of people simply close the shade and use it as the world’s most uncomfortable pillow. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see much point in staring down at a blanket of clouds for hours on end. At the other end of the scale, when the pilot tells everybody to “Look out on the left side of the plane for a great view of Mount Rainier” it’s certainly nice, but somehow that’s just not as special as when I make my own private discovery of an extraordinary view or interesting event that everybody around me is completely unaware of.
Once several years ago, PJ and I were coming home from Europe. As is typical, the plane crossed the Atlantic on a northerly route and flew down the coast of Canada. I noticed on the “This flight” monitor that we’d be flying over land soon after hours over water, so, being me, I looked out the window. The air was crystal clear; I continued to watch and in a few minutes, I was rewarded by seeing the first bit of North America below. We were so far north that it was solid white. I was fascinated and continued to stare out the window and, in a surprisingly short time, I saw the first signs of civilization, some sort of outpost presumably inhabited by crazy people.
Cities at night are terrific, especially if you’re landing or taking off and are close enough to see some detail. Taking off from LaGuardia once after dark, I was able to pick out the lights of Times Square. I once saw a miniature display of fireworks below and wondered with fellow passengers what they had been celebrating in the absence of a conspicuous holiday or ball field. And, of course, I always look for the lights of Birmingham, my own home airport, when I fly in at night. I know the cityscape like no other.
Sunsets and sunrises can be spectacular from the windows of a plane. Descents can bring especially beautiful cloud formations. Put the two together—a descent at sunrise—and it can, for a few minutes, make you joyful that you got up at 3 AM. That was my wonderful looking-out-the-window moment a few weeks ago. I’m sharing a picture which I hope may convince others to try raising the shade once in a while.
Before I close, on a totally unrelated topic, I think I may have been a witness recently to the next step in the devolution of the human brain, as technology takes over more and more functions for us. I was, in fact, a participant, though I didn’t exactly have a choice. There was no elevator button to push when I wanted to go up in an office building. Instead there was a box on the wall beside the bank of elevators where I punched the number of the floor I needed to go to. Once I told it the floor, it told me in a section at the top of the box which elevator was coming to fetch me, and when the door opened, the button for my floor was already pressed so I wouldn’t have to do it myself. I find this just a little disturbing. I’ve always considered myself to be an adequate, if not exceptional, elevator button presser.