Gratitude In Flights Of Solace

Before I ever flew on an airplane, as a kid, I’d ride my bike to plane spot next to Portland International Airport’s runway 28 L. Twenty years later after traveling to Iceland, Manchester UK, and Oslo Norway in 2015, it became a milestone from the days I envisioned doing so on my bike. The solo trip overseas broadened my perspective on the world. Although I’d been to Japan, Mexico, Jamaica, and Canada, the fear I faced was journeying overseas without anyone’s help. And on the many flights after my first takeoff in TWA’s MD-80 aircraft, I’d yearn to relive the moment in trance ascending into the skies over Portland. Not only because it was fun and I like to go fast, but the air up there doesn’t give a shit about problems down here. So I thought…

Photo taken on descent into Keflavic Int’t Airport (Iceland)

November 15, 2015

I’ll go back to Manhattan…” sings Nora Jones.

Her ballad is soothing to the ear at 37,000 feet above sea level—over the Davis Strait to be specific. En route to the northwest regions of Europe on Icelandair’s finest 757-300, I could’ve paid the unnecessary fee for an aisle or window seat, but middle I sat.

To my left an elder lady, and right a middle-aged woman watching Jada Pinkett-Smith display her years of acting in full fruition. While a marathon of Gotham plays behind seat C, my two drops of melatonin puts me into deep rest above seat B. Soon to awaken in this pretty Icelandair bird on its final approach into Keflavik International Airport, I’m coming upon 29 years of age and all I can say is we’re not in a perfect world. Yet. Why? Because in a perfect world I’d be reminiscing the last time I flew overseas, and eager for my journey below to begin.

What was on my mind?

She’s not coming back. Boo-hoo….and heartbreaks don’t always get better over time. The decisions we make in life, we must ‘adult’ with daily.

There were three hours on that flight where I reflected on stupid stuff like that. It was boring, but I was at ease to say the least. Thanks to the melatonin.

Top: TWA MD-80 Bottom: MD-80 Cabin
Top: TWA MD-80 Bottom: MD-80 Cabin

My first time flying was in 1996, from PDX to STL on a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft. On July 17th, 1996, at approximately 1730 PDT, TWA flight 800 explodes and crashes into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, NY. Meanwhile in Portland, Oregon, I’m gearing up for my first flight on a TWA aircraft. As a nine-year-old boy I’m excited, getting ready for my first flight and CNN‘s breaking news segment is flashing the tune of 230 passengers killed in a tragic TWA flight explosion.

TWA at the time was the world’s most recognized inter-continental airline, alongside Pan American World Airways. Despite 71 years of successful operations, TWA went bankrupt in 1992. In 2001, they were bought out by American Airlines.

I like getting sidetracked with history sometimes…

Months leading up to midnight, July 18th 1996, TWA was becoming my bridge to a dream come true. During that summer, I frequently watched movies with a theme of travel or flight; from North, Radio Flyer, Fly Home With Me, you name it I watched it. Often studying the aircrafts, aeronautical, and aerospace section of my dad’s 1976 World Book Encyclopedia collection, I got a comprehensive understanding of flying, travel, and that Up In The Air type stuff.

Of course that movie comes out years later…

It grew my infatuation with airplanes. So much I even experimented with building an aircraft in our backyard that summer. But it was destroyed by my dad. I got as far as the wings before the ill-advised production was halted. All for the better—I couldn’t imagine where I would’ve found a runway to fly my Honda (lawnmower) engine sponsored aircraft.

Although that creative journey ended, what began at PDX 15 minutes following my first steps into TWA’s MD-80 aircraft, and after tightening my seat-belt every two minutes, was the first-captain announcing a moment of silence for the 230 lives lost in flight 800’s crash six hours prior to our take off. I remember being sad, maybe nervous, but naive to flying. Even though I could explain flight at the time, I barely understood the turbulent take off I was about to experience from 28L.

Pratt & Whitney JT8D-17A
Pratt & Whitney JT8D-17A

Considering my comprehension on how an aircraft flew, I was oblivious to how an aircraft actually took off into the air. When the Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofan engines fired up after the longest 14 minutes of taxi time, my whole world shifted. My back being pressed against seat B, feeling my internal organs lighten up as we lifted off, and I remember peeking over my dad out the window to view Portland’s beautiful landscape of scattered lights—it was like flight simulator over a computer’s motherboard.

Sounds beautiful, don’t you agree?

Now, regarding my love for speed. Not the amphetamine I got tricked into trying back in college, but the motion a vehicle puts you in—I was hooked at first flight. From my very first Honda Accord, to the 300 horse power BMW I drive now, I love picking up speed on freeway entry ramps. It’s nothing close to the Pratt & Whitney jets, but I guess we’re all required to let up at 78 knots or else the cops get offended.

After my first wheels up and the first captain engaging auto-pilot, the universe introduced me to a new level of solitude. From there I wanted to do it again, and again. Fortunately, we had to layover before our final destination in Shreveport, Louisiana.

So yeah, we did it again.

Fast forwarding to 2010 while flying on Allegiant Airlines from Las Vegas to Eugene Oregon, I was going through some things, man… All I recall was hell on earth, but heaven in the skies. Whatever I was going through on the ground was irrelevant above 30,000 feet.

After wheels down I hated life again. Yearning an M5, or some type of high torque Euro-sport beast, all I wanted to do was cruise I-5 back home. Although I was a fiend for the speeding moments in trance, back then I couldn’t afford a BMW, hell, I barely could afford that plane ticket…

But what else was financial aid for?

Perspective vs facts:

First perspective, in terms of depicting volumes in space, changing a vision or an emotion, and rearranging a story for a beneficial purpose.

It’s why I appreciate changing my reality in the moment; to compartmentalize what was, and create what will be. Think as if you’re watching a movie and you start to cry during a scene. For me, Toy Story 3, Interstellar, Furious 7, all which took me into an extended reality. Even when the black and white credits ascend up the screen, you’re gravitated toward the emotional state a performance brought you to believe was real.

Maybe it’s magic in the non-diegetic music, or the cinematic skills of film producers. At some point you forget about it and it’s back to reality.

Oh yeah, the actors too…

Every take off since TWA, I’m taken back to the moment in trance of my first flight above 30,000 feet. And grateful that no moment of silence is requested by the first-captain. In hope that everyone experiences a safe wheels down, I embrace each moment en route to an altitude up high where my worldly problems can’t confide.

I’m sounding like my preaching father, who wasn’t a poet.

He frequently provided me a fact in his worldly lessons, saying, “when it rains, everyone gets wet…” During my teens I didn’t get it, in my twenties I sure got rained on partying, but the saying never made sense until after he passed.

From those of us with covered areas, hooded jackets, a car, or a home to avoid the rain, even if you have it all, the reality is, you must deal with the rain.

“Comparison is the thief of joy…”

-Someone else said this.

He compared the statement to acquiring money, meaning, we’re all going to have money, and at some point, not have money. How you spend it, react to it, and live with it is up to you. Material things in life come in waves, and so do emotions.

Planes go up, and they often come down safe. And me being heart broken on the ground is no different than a heartache in the skies.

Like a movie, so was my life. If I could change above, I could change below. As above, so below…

Not sure how, just remember my three reasons for choosing to unfeel earthly pains in the sky. One, it’s my choice. Two, it broadens perspective because you can do so on the ground and enjoy both.

And three, once upon a time there were 230 passengers anticipating a safe wheels down during take off.

“That’s all I have today, it’s all I have to say…”


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