I am winging my way west above New York, heading into the setting sun. I love flying. No. To put that more accurately, I love the anonymity of flying.
I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life, much of it alone. There’s something exhilarating about solo travel. Something almost risqué. The conversations you strike up with the man sitting next to you at the airport bar or the woman with her arms folded firmly in front of her in the aisle seat. It’s not a flirtation, exactly. At least not of the romantic variety. It’s more the feeling of being whoever you want to me, for a few short moments or hours before you go your separate ways, never to meet again.
I don’t make up things about myself, that’s not my style. But when I’m flying I can act on whatever impulse I’m feeling. I can have a coarser laugh, or a sentimental side, or affect an academic, serious air–whatever I feel I am I can be. It’s intoxicating.
Ironically, perhaps, I actually feel most true to myself when I’m traveling. I think it’s precisely because I can go with my gut in these situations. Who I am is exactly who I present myself as. I am not the accumulation of all the thousands of interactions I have had with someone over the years. There is no history, no future. Just now.
Most days I pass by the Burlington “International” (=Canada) Airport on my way to work. A fluttering, private thrill comes over me whenever I time it correctly to pass underneath a landing jetcraft. My earliest memories of airports are not of flying. My parents used to take me, occasionally, to watch the single engine planes take off and land at the tiny Middlebury airport near our house. I’m sure it was the exasperation of having to entertain a couple of whiny kids that made this activity appealing to my parents, rather than some love of planes or flying they were trying to instill. My abiding memory of that airport is of the time my mother tricked me into letting her pull one of my loose baby teeth before I thought it was ready.
But now I think those visits to the landing strip left more of an imprint than first glance would suggest. Sometimes, when I was lonely living in Los Angeles, I would drive a couple of hours north to a small airport in the desert, serving private pilots. There was a little restaurant/bar there. It had some outdoor tables with uncomfortable metal chairs. I’d take a magazine or a book and reaffirm a res hours in my sunglasses, watching the planes come in and feeling anonymous and conspicuous at the same time. Somehow it made me less lonely.
I haven’t had much occasion to fly in the last few years. I finally live close enough to most of my family to drive. Generally, that makes life much easier. But on nights like tonight, when I’ve got these precious few hours between Vermont and Buffalo to be free of all ties to my “regular” life, I’m reminded of the thrill of traveling and reconnect with my inner self.