Travel Time

Dear J-

It turns out that I write best when in motion, so with nothing else palatable on the flight (as I’m not about to drag out my books and begin, horrors, studying) here I am. For some reason I always find airports immensely lonely places, even when you’re traveling with folks you know: you’re in a kind of geographical limbo, neither here nor there yet, and waiting for something, for the flight to be over, for the flight to depart, to get your bags, to get out of there, to get there, for the restroom to open up, for a space for your feet, to turn on your gadgets, for the seatbelt sign, to land, to taxi, to take off, to park, to pay, to check-in. But these are all solitary activities, and you end up having to wait a little longer.when it’s just you.

The flight attendants are going about their duties with typical steely-eyed efficiency, doling out food and drinks to the passengers and not really making any kind of human contact. The people you sit with are wrapped up (as am I, as though I wasn’t the biggest hypocritical fraud you could hope to meet) in their reading and gadgets as though they contained the secrets of life. Perhaps they do. Yet it’s hard to muster any real interest in strangers you might know for another few hours at the outside, and I’m sure that as hardened as some flyers are, the staff have seen it all by now. Better to stick with what you know, that space between your eyes and ears; you’ve trod those floorboards a thousand times already knowing you’ll have nothing but to entertain yourself. There are things I like to bring on a trip, but I wish I’d remembered cards right now — there’s something in the way that you mesh them together at a crisp ripple, feats of manual dexterity that keep your hands busy and your mind clean.

This paricular flight is equipped with individual headrest monitors: we’re not stuck watching the same programs, and seeing them all lit up and sending information down the way is entertainment on its own. We’ve transformed, so they say, into a society of browsers, where everyone knows a little about everything and, if not, we can look that stuff up on-line in moments. Anyone with a connection can find hard-core trivia that was hard-won in the past, gleaned from tireless (or expensive, or both) research into dusty shelves and obscure conclusions. But it’s both symptomatic and causal: the more we pursue our echo chambers of knowledge, the more we want to know, and so we keep spinning our electronic cocoons of silence throughout the air, punching tubes of silence between us all.



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