When I was 7 years old, my family made the considerable move from Sewanee, Tennessee, to Turin, Italy. Among the vague memories I've retained from that journey is the image of clouds outside the window of our airplane. Clouds that didn't seem to be moving. When I asked my dad if, in fact, we were moving, he chuckled at me and said, "You have no idea."
Television and the personal computer have changed the way we humans live immeasurably, but I'd argue nothing has impacted civilization in quite the way the Wright Brothers' brainchild has. What was once days (or weeks) in a car from New York City to San Francisco — even with Henry Ford's brainchild — is now merely a few hours of flying through clouds. And those pesky oceans that flank our vast country? Boeing, among other descendants of Orville and Wilbur, has reduced a boat ride that would threaten the strongest of stomachs to a journey where reading material, cocktails, even feature films are part of the bargain.
Alas, gas prices today are hitting an air traveler's wallet in much the same way it impacts those who choose four tires as their mode of adventure. But it's no excuse not to fly when you can. (Just select those destinations — and traveling partners — with great care. A plane ticket has turned into an investment for the wandering soul.)
I love the moment when an airplane's entry door is sealed, when all passengers are on board, seats buckled, carry-ons in place. Air travel is a team venture unlike many strangers will ever make. But it's also an endeavor that lends itself to imagination and wonder. If you can ignore the snoring row-mate and put your book down long enough, you'll discover your mind reboots at 30,000 feet. Whether traveling somewhere you've never been before or returning home after a holiday visit, any flight longer than an hour should be considered transitional therapy.
No one likes the security lines. Food is way too expensive. And the delays induce teeth-grinding, if not grown-up tantrums. But we have to consider this part of the deal mankind made with those bike-shop-owning brothers over a century ago. Flying is safer than driving. It's quicker, smoother, and best of all, naps are encouraged.
— Frank Murtaugh
Back in the Fifties, I remember piling into my parents' Pontiac with five siblings and heading to visit family at the far end of the state. We'd sail down the highway, windows wide open, elbows jabbing, sweaty limbs sticking, giggling, whining, napping. Those were the days . . . before, of course, the staggering cost of gas.
Yet today, even at nearly four bucks a pop for that liquid gold, I still prefer the motoring mode of travel over the headaches of traveling by plane.
I load the trunk and get behind the wheel. I'm on my way, and I'm in charge. No long lines await me. No one orders removal of shoes. No one rifles through my purse. No one cancels my flight and looks smug about it. While others are sitting for hours at the airport — stupefied with boredom or irritated by the glut of folks chatting on their cell phones or text-messaging their knuckles to nubs — I'm movin' on down the road. I rock along with Aretha as loud as I want to. I croon Cole Porter classics.
Or I simply listen to the hum of tires on asphalt, while my eyes drift now and then to a bright summer sky, or a thick stand of pines, or wildflowers dancing on a sunwashed hill. Or I wave to a child in the car in front of me or slow down for a driver pulling a horse in a trailer. The road is rich with details and I try not to miss a one.
Often my husband is with me on these trips. We take turns at the wheel. We stop for gas at our leisure. We munch on trail mix and sip coffee, without waiting for the flight attendant's cart. With the car in cruise control, we delight in the open road — occasionally easing around a pokey farmer. We see the mile markers slip past, vanity plates that make us smile, bumper stickers that make us sigh, placid cows under a spreading oak.
We stop when we want to, and we get out of the car without crawling over a seatmate who is hogging the armrest with his laptop. We stretch our limbs. We breathe fresh air. We gaze at a valley from an overlook. We count our blessings — and these include a miraculous highway system and the genius that produced an automobile. And we rejoice in seeing the U.S.A. in our Chevrolet. Or Nissan. Or Honda. Or Chrysler. And when we reach our destination, our bags lie unmolested in the trunk.
— Marilyn Sadler