After months or even years of planning, an endless parade of pop-up ads, television commercials and endorsements from friends, co-workers and family about the most wonderfullest and amazing time that I'll ever have, the big day arrives. I've said good-bye to classmates, co-workers and friends in the neighborhood, some of whom gather for the big send off as my things are finally loaded in to the car and we leave for the airport. I can barely contain myself as each minute brings me closer to the exotic world of the airport, flag airlines from all over the world cooling their heels before the next day-at-the-office departure to some destination that until then was only words on a page.
My enthusiasm infuses even the most hardened airport worker as they see the "glamour" of travel in my wide-eyed excitement and, if only for that moment with me, get caught up in the magic once more as they move me through the system to get to my departure gate. Such strange and wonderful machines that crank out paper documents, baggage tracing tags, or whistle, wheeze, bing and pop as they x-ray my possessions and I, sometimes with Star Wars wands, sometimes with puffs of air, all part of some elaborate initiation dance in to the exclusive world of the world traveler.
The plane appears to be smiling in the sun thanks to the curve of the nose and the style of the corporate paint. A burst of sun on one of the cockpit windows winks at me knowingly: Dude, this flight is gonna rock! The smell of old coffee and lavatory "blue juice" attacking the senses as if it were "new car" smell as I find my window seat and do my best not to rock back and forth in barely contained anticipation. I feel as if riding piggy-back on a great motorcycle, my arms the wings themselves flung gracefully in to the air as we kings of the world surge in to the sunlit afternoon sky. Drinks and food for hundreds from a kitchen even a small apartment would find inadequate for the job? How do they DO it?
Three hours of perfect stillness. The slow crawl of the land below dulls the senses, not even a bit of turbulence to shake things up a bit. I'd seen the movie and couldn't read another page of my book without falling dead asleep. I'd asked for as many sodas as I dared without upsetting the flight attendants, disturbing my neighbors with constant trips to the bathroom or worrying what Mom would say to all that sugar. Bored but still pent up with energy to burn, I fidget, unable to get comfortable because I, well, want something to happen! We're flying, I want to scream; there's got to be more to it than this?
The descent. The ears pop. Things outside begin to return to their normal size. A familiar landmark passes underneath announcing we have made it to our destination. The wings discombobulate themselves - air brakes deploy, flaps extend, ailerons bounce up and down and finally, the shudder and thud of unseen landing gear dropping in to position to reunite us with terra firma. I can hardly see out for the smudge of my nose against the window and the fog of my breath but I'm glued to the doings outside as the runway slips beneath us. Toes curled, cheeks clenched, we kiss the asphalt and roll smoothly to the nearest off-ramp for the parade to our arrival gate. I'm exhausted but sated. After perfunctory but profuse thanks from the crew every step of the way to baggage claim the outside world is waiting, happy to see me and that I made it safely.
After months or even years of planning, after the build-up towards the great day, the grand farewells and the day of travel itself, it's over. Curbside. I look back over my shoulder, wondering despite the evidence of my new surroundings if it all actually happened. Where is the fanfare for the end of the trip? I want to wave at some overworked and in a hurry employee as if to say hey, don't you remember me? We just ... flew together.
Driving away from the airport I look in to the sky as another airplane roars in to the setting sun. I close my eyes and smile. Whoever is on that plane is having their own king-of-the-world moment right then and, be it a one hour commute or a 14 hour haul across endless seas, I can't wait to do it again.