I'm on the wing again. It's got some of the qualities of being on the road; a sense of momentum, adventure, novelty. It's hard on the body, but obviously faster — less work, less grit than a long road journey — and also interesting as a customer-service experience. You're a passenger. It's climate controlled, and though you don't have a lot of personal space and have to do what the authority figures say, they're generally nice people who bring you drinks and snacks, and they let you watch TV.
I've never been one for camaraderie in air travel, rarely say more than a few courtesies to my isle-mates. Sometimes I wonder about this reticence, as it's arguably one of the last best places to have a good chance encounter. Absent random mixers like school, life is increasingly confined to the realms of the known, people who know people I already know. Sure, luck of the draw might pull up a loser — a crashing boor or wet blanket next door — but there are ways of navigating out of such human cul-de-sacs. Just smile and reach for your headset.
But honestly when I'm flying I don't want to make friends. It's a personal experience for me. Being a passenger lets me enter a unique psychological space. I think it goes back to being a kid and shuttling to and from my father's.
When I was really young my mom used to drive me from the hippy commune in Hood River to a McDonalds outside Portland, where my dad would be waiting, or arriving shortly. He'd take be down I-5 to Pleasant Hill, the country town outside Eugene where he had a house with some acres and a couple horses.
I was always pretty silent in those car rides, coming or going. Even later when we all lived in the Eugene/Springfield area and it was a 15 minute shot across town I'd clam up and stare out the window. I think it creeped my parents out, but for me it was important. There was a sort of a changing of the guard going on, internally.
It would be a stretch to say I was different people in different households, but there was certainly a shift in identity, expectations, expressions. I don't see how there couldn't have been, really, and twenty five years on, I count this as a kind of blessing: my adult life has been favorably impacted by my ability to interact in very different ways with different communities, and still somehow tie it all together. I'm an inveterate straddler of gaps, and I can't help but think this was a pattern I began learning very early.
And so air travel has some of those same features. Rarely do I take flight without context switching, and being a passenger creates that meditative chrysalis state. I can slip back down into my self and stew a bit, let the old form flow away and prepare myself bit by bit for the new.