Too Far, Too Fast

June 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

I left for Oregon on a mid-day flight, scheduled so that I might have a few hours around the place before wedging myself into the canned air of a metal tube as it catapulted through the sky. This turned out to be a wise decision, as haying had gone better than expected, and we’d pulled into the barnyard with yet another wagon load at 8:00 the evening before. We threw a tarp over the whole damn thing, drank about a gallon of water each, and collapsed. The next morning, with my departure imminent, we unloaded the final 120 or so bales, moved the cows, moved the pigs, and fed the chickens. I clipped a section of pasture, splashed cold water on my face, and bolted for the airport.

I don’t much like air travel. It’s not so much the expected hassles: Cancelled flights, lost luggage, and middle seats. Rather, every time I fly, I am left feeling slightly stunned and wholly disheartened by the experience. Part of it, I think, is the sensation of having traveled too far, too fast. Air travel feels unnatural to me; what, possibly, could I have done to have earned the right to wing over the entirety of this nation in only six hours, peering through the window at the distant patchwork of land 35,000-feet below me, to a place where gravity still works just fine? I suppose travel by car is equally unnatural, but the frequency of my trips by car and truck have numbed me to this truth.

And there’s this: Flying carries with it an attendant view of airport culture which, frankly, strikes me as a particularly sad vista of contemporary America. If the offerings of the 21st century American airport are truly indicative of what we desire as traveling consumers, then… well. It’s not just the food and drink, which tells its sorry tale with every crowd gathered around every airport McDonald’s in our land. And it’s not just the proliferation of smartphones, a phenomenon that seems to have largely missed Vermont (or maybe I’m just sheltered and naive. Scratch that: I know I’m sheltered and naive), but has clearly captured the hearts, minds, and overworked thumbs of the vast majority of my fellow countrymen and women. Do strangers still talk to one another anymore? If so, only between long bouts of text messaging and whatever else one does on those things. The whole airport scene feels to me like some hollowed out version of prosperity: Everyone is wealthy and well-fed, even as everyone is poor and starving.

I know I’m being entirely unfair and overly snarky; I know that planes and airports are full of good people who lead fully realized lives. Lives that, on occasion, necessitate air travel. Perhaps the smoothed-over, salty-sweet environment of the modern airport is merely the salve we all need to help us survive the strange, almost out-of-body experience of 600-mph winged travel. Perhaps my cravings, in the Chicago O’Hare airport, for a chocolate milkshake and a large order of fries (no, I did not succumb) were the common cravings of a man set adrift, untethered and uncertain, too far beyond the boundaries of his humanness.

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§ 3 Responses to Too Far, Too Fast

  • BB says:

    ‘Part of it, I think, is the sensation of having traveled too far, too fast.’

    Which is exactly why I resolutely stick to bicycles and trains! (I know this isn’t practical for everyone and I feel very lucky being able to make this choice).

    The older I get the more I realise I only have one gear . . . civilised!

  • E. Baron says:

    Until recently, I traveled several times a year (by air) for my job. Traveling—airports and hotels, specifically—always felt very other-worldly to me. Separated so completely from any sense of the outdoors, and surrounded by strangers, I felt anonymous and adrift. I had to remind myself that my fellow travelers were all people, too, with stories of their own. And I’d find comfort in little things when I’d notice them, like someone reading a real book and eating a real apple. The closest I came to real human connections were during very unusual situations, like being stranded in a blizzard. At times like that, we remember that we really do need each other.

  • Wow – I can so relate to this! I don’t have to travel by air very often, but when I do – yes, you’ve said it very well!

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