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Adventures on the Time Machine

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You have to admit that flying is magic.

First of all, there’s the ability to launch a mega-ton object made of metal, plastic, and faux leather, chock full of jet fuel, into the air and sustain its position. That alone is pretty damned amazing.

Flying is also a time machine, right up there with contraptions like the transporter on the Starship Enterprise. Where else can you start off in one place at one time, and end up a couple thousand miles away – or more – in another time?

Unlike some people, I love flying. I love the takeoffs, the landings, and flying over familiar monuments and cities. I love the airport ambiance. I love escaping from Rust Belt Detroit. I love watching the green of the Midwest fade into the golden plains and then rise to the Rockies, fading back to the Pacific. In fact, I loved flying so much I spent my youth trying to secure a position as a flight attendant.

I don’t know what the application process is like now, but back then the “interview” was a cattle call. You had roughly two minutes to sell yourself in a room full of 200 other wannabes trying to impress a half dozen airline recruiters. It was a thrilling, mind-blowing, and frustrating exercise. I made it to the second interview twice, once for Northwest and then for Frontier.

However, modern day flying is a drag. You can’t bring your own water, the peanuts cost much more than peanuts and sometimes the staff is unhelpful or downright surly. Being trapped in a metal tube for five hours – or more – is beyond uncomfortable. There is the pat-down at security, now amplified thanks to a certain failed underwear bomber (yes, Virginia, underwire bras do set off the metal detector and I picked today to wear a bra). Let’s see, back in August I made it successfully through the metal detector even though I had a contraband cell phone in my jeans pocket. (So sue me. I forgot.)

Road trips…yeah, they hold a special place in my heart. You can miss a lot by taking the fly road: small towns, the smell of stockyards, the ever-changing facilities at rest areas in different states, and such entertainments as Wall Drug and Prairie Dog City. Since I drive like an antiquarian snail, in a Prius, no less, it would take me a week to get from Michigan to California. I don’t have that kind of time to spare.

Train travel is an option, but takes even longer than driving. Except for the profitable Northeast corridor, don’t take an Amtrak if you want to get somewhere on time. I’ve taken plenty of trains over the years, and only once has one been on time.

The merger of Delta and Northworst – I mean Northwest – did nothing to improve the airline's spotty service. I plan on cashing in my hoard of frequent flyer miles on a splurge trip to Hawaii, then am determined to take my business elsewhere. After the molasses-like movements of the Detroit ticket counter and the screens and re-screens by the TSA, my plane was a full hour late in departing.

There was the interminable wait at the gate in Minneapolis, thankfully making that extra hour on the tarmac in Detroit worth my while. The computer terminals at the Minneapolis gate weren’t working, causing a near free-for-all with those without a boarding pass on their way to Honolulu via San Francisco. More waiting was to be had in the Mini-Apple because an engine wouldn’t turn over and it was blizzarding. Note to the uninformed: you want to travel through the Twin Cities during a blizzard. Minnesotans know how snow is done. In the eleven years I lived there, the airport was shut down only once, and that was during the hellish winters of the mid-‘70s through the mid-‘80s.

Yes, I’ve endured all of this, and all in just one day. In fact, I am still experiencing my travel woes even as I hunt and peck on this tiny tray table where there is no room for my ginger ale. There are a few things I have noticed since taking off on my trek some six hours ago. I should have been on the ground in San Francisco by now, but as they say, better safe than sorry. Go ahead and check out that sleepy engine, because I hear you actually need both of them, and while you’re at it, de-ice the plane too. If you want to re-screen me, I’m for it, but there’s nothing worth stealing in my bag. My luggage tag says so.

I travel by plane two or three times a year, and I have noticed with alarm that the seats are getting much smaller and are crammed much closer together. Ordinarily, small spaces do not bother me. You see, at 5’ 3” tall, I am a virtual pygmy. I used to fit quite nicely in my high school locker. However, even with my skinny short legs, I am cramped in coach.

Back in the olden days when I was a young pup, I could fly in coach with my guitar case in front of my knees. For "safety reasons," I couldn't get away with that today. Plus, there isn't any room, even for this midget. I can't even cross my legs without morphing into a pretzel. I don't fly with musical instruments anymore, since I can barely get my violin case in the overhead.

Making the seats smaller flies in the face of logic. Human beings these days are much bigger than they were 100 years ago – heck, they are bigger than they were 20 years ago. I am sad to report even I am much bigger than I was 20 years ago. We Americans are fat and lazy.

Wouldn’t you think the airlines would make the seats bigger?

I don’t dislike babies, having had two of my own, and I am sympathetic to mothers traveling alone with their offspring, especially if such children are clothed in Pampers, can’t eat with a fork or spoon, and cannot speak. I was there in that mom’s shoes, many times. However, I am thinking that an airline that creates a rumpus room, say in the back of the plane, complete with toys and jungle gym would win over some parents and ex-parents I know.

I’m still partial to the idea of cots. If it worked for train travel, it would work in a 757. Make the drawers sliding while you’re at it, something like they have at the morgue. If I am to be cramped in an airplane, I would prefer to suffer in the prone position. I can’t afford the snacks and the $7 cocktails anyway, so I might as well sleep. By my calculations, there would be room for an extra dozen people, if horizontal travel were positioned correctly.

That way the descendant of Paul Bunyan in the seat ahead of me would not be lying in my lap when he reclines. His head snoring in my space really interrupts my stream of consciousness when I’m trying to write.

I don't know why, but every time I fly, there is a medical emergency requiring the paging of medical staff. Usually the call buttons light up like a Christmas tree, leaving me feeling comforted knowing I will be surrounded by flying doctors should I have a heart attack.

And of course, there's that ever-present terrorist threat, be it real, imagined, or exaggerated. Now I not only look for the nearest emergency exit and restrooms, I am wondering how to pole vault over three rows of seats or to crunch myself into a tiny ball so some other hero can save the day. I find myself scanning men for literal crotch rockets designed to send the innocent to Hell.

Oops. As a married woman, I shouldn't admit that my eyes sometimes settle in that direction.

Still, for all its warts, flying is the way to go.

It’s still a remarkable time machine, and until they come up with a transporter, I’ll sign on.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.