Flight

Except for flying dreams, Jim and I had not traveled by air since 1992. This holiday season, our kids convinced us to fly. They said it’s amazingly easy these days. However, I have a knack for making an easy task hard. For me, this century’s techno lingo is unwieldy. The only word I understand is “baggage.”

With coaching from a neighbor, I manage to correct invalid flight number, invalid airline code, invalid E-ticket confirmation and unrealistic plans for baggage. I don’t know what to do with a QR code.

Neighbors loan us nifty backpacks so we could have free hands for hanging onto escalator railings.

Jim hefts the pack and decides it’s too heavy even when it’s empty. I’m imagining we are gearing up for a trek through hustling crowds in enormous terminals. I pack early and consider the weight of each item the way I used to do when prepping for a long hike.

Even though Santa Rosa’s airport is small, I am nervous. My eyeballs feel like this:

At baggage check-in, I think I have the IPhone boarding pass cued up and ready.

But my hand trembles and the IPhone screen is blank. The friendly baggage lady alleviates my mini-panic by magically producing our e-tickets simply with our DL ID. She checks our two large bags and directs us to TSA. I ask, what is TSA? She laughs and says she doesn’t know, but it means Security.

The TDC (Transportation Document Checker) behind a window (I’m sure it is bullet-proof) makes us remove our KN65 masks to reassure himself that we are who we purport to be on our DLs.

Next, the bin gal orders us to dump all belongings– wallets, tickets , hats, coats, scarf, carry on bag full of tangerine and carrot bar snacks plus more stuff into the bin. (Of course, the IPhone camera is inside the bin so I couldn’t document our mountain of stuff. Well, I wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to do it anyway. –So I’m swiping this oversimplified shot of a bin from a TSA website.)

“Gloved hands of an airport security person examining the contents of a bin with a traveler’s fanny pack, shoes, sweater, and allowable liquids.Click below for others in this series and all my airport related images:”

I learn about dangerous items detected: a guitar case full of cattle prods, Skittles wrappers full of fentanyl, hair scrunchies hiding drugs, guns inside a raw chicken, guns inside peanutbutter, a knife inside a laptop, and an inert hand grenade.* In our case, when the bin gal asks what’s in Jim’s pockets, he reveals his favorite one and only pocketknife.

The bin lady proposes trashing Jim’s knife. Then she graciously gives Jim the option of stashing it inside my backpack, which we would then check in back at baggage. Our brains pivot and we immediately gather our mountain of belongings, then run, run back to the end of the line that eventually leads to the friendly baggage lady. She quickly agrees to check in my backpack. Jim pops and zips his knife inside my pack pocket.

We run, run to the back of the TSA line, which is much longer now. The TDC guy behind the window makes us remove our KN65 masks so he can again be assured we are truly who we seem to be on our DLs. The bin lady remembers us and finally blesses our mountain of stuff.

I’m surprised my two titanium hips don’t set alarms off inside the metal detector.

BTW, the x-ray detectors no longer expose naked bodies. Human detectives see what they need to see through abstract designs.

Next, we manage to pass the personal pat down. TSA has now shuffled us through four inspections, and we search for our bins on the conveyor belt. I have another mini-panic when I don’t see our wallets, boarding passes, or car keys. Drinking some water would have calmed my nerves, but the bin gal had made me throw it away. Ironically, with so many people near our important papers in the bin I feel less secure within the TSA system than without it.I’m relieved when our important items bin eventually arrives.**

Even though we had arrived at the airport two hours early (at the airport’s request) the plane is full by the time we squeeze aboard. Jim is delighted with his designated window seat in front of the wing.

As the engine begins to rumble, I close my eyes and breathe. The engine power ramps up, then we taxi down the bumpy runway. My tensions begin their release with heavy breath exhalations. More, more engine VROOOM power propels us into the ascent.The lift-off is scary-exciting high drama laden with memories. Fortunately, the engine’s roar surrounds us and blots out my unexpected sobs.

My life-long air travel history rises up. More than once I have kissed the ground upon safe landings. One summer my first lifetime husband and I flew a 2-seater cargo Stinson to ferry doctors and medicine in the mountains of Honduras.

Photo of a Stinson stationwagon courtesy of Larry Westin

Another summer we were DC-8 plane passengers with friends who worked for CARE in Ecuador. A different flight fraught with tension was to Lima during the time of cholera and the Shining Path terrorists. This was a high school graduation promise kept to my daughter– one second after I rashly said I’d take her anywhere in the world, she named Machu Picchu. (We had no troubles on this magical journey.)

That last 1992 flight with my 2nd life-time husband, Jim, opened the portal for Ecuadorian jungle adventures.

The jam-packed techno-color memory lane thrills me. We were undaunted! How did I become such a wimpy worry-wart?

Now, returning to the present moment 30,000 feet high, I’m comfy, easy in my mind, and enjoy an amazing cloud show. Soon we’ll begin descending to LAX, where my daughter will pick us up. All is well.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Looking back, this micro-drama seems ridiculous. Since I’m more familiar with flight routines, future flying should be much easier. However, I wouldn’t be pleased to forgo concerns about jet contributions to heating up the planet.

The main point of this story, though, is an experiential upload to my consciousness. May I have patience and compassion for anyone grappling with a new endeavor, anyone scrambling to make sense of a new situation, anyone stumbling on a new path during this new year and beyond.

*FYI See TSA’s video Top Ten Catches in 2022

**FYI TSA (Transportation Security Administration) chief John S. Pistole describes the current security routine as “risk-based.” Airlines are reporting significant losses due to fraudulent boarding passes, which are easily created with new technology. TSA’s response to this is to install CAT/BPSS. Translation: Homeland Security’s Credential Authority Technology/Boarding Pass Scanning System. Thousands of these systems in U.S. airports would cost $100,000 each. –For more info, see Robert Longley’s article in ThoughtCo, July 13, 2022 issue.

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14 thoughts on “Flight

  1. Oh Gretchen! I’m glad you survived modern travel. Even though I don’t travel much, I do tend to get somewhat nervous about all the details one must go thru to reach a final destination! Love you and my white-haired brother!!

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  2. One time I forgot that my trusty pocket knife was in my carry on, which had just gone through the X-ray “security” and all. I “discovered” it just as we were walking up to the gate to board the aircraft. I felt pretty unsure about what to do. I just left it in its safe little spot, and all was good.
    Really makes you wonder about the TSA security system.
    You can now get a TSA pre-check. This allows you to just walk through the lines without removing your shoes and your dignity.

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  3. Wonderfully descriptive newsletter! I felt like I was right beside you, experiencing everything first hand. ❤️

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  4. What a great story! In the last year, a number of things have frightened me to the core, and that alone made me wonder who I have grown to be. Have we all lost our marbles, our ability to adapt, our secure familiarity with the world? Being alone during Co-Vid was much more taxing for me than I realized ….. until I finally got what depression looks like. And I’m now on the mend.

    Thanks, as always, for your humanity which so naturally links to my own. Have a great visit with your daughter and give my love to Southern California! I was thrilled to see Ben Harper on CBS the other night! They had photos of the Folk Music Center and Ben’s parents; I felt so lucky to be reminded of that great place, where I found my drum that now rests quietly in my home.

    Happy New Year to both of you! Do keep me posted on your plans …..

    Love, Margaret

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  5. Love this! More thoughts later, but I just wanted to check and make sure you and Jim are doing okay in this crazy storm. We’ve been without power all day but we’re all right, A neighbor has invited us over if we get too chilly. We’re sitting out in our car to charge phones, and discovered that we have a signal out here. I just saw that the Russian River is expected to flood and there are evacuation orders from Healdsburg to Jenner! Take care and let me know how things are in Cazadero, if you have power and a signal.

    Ruth

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  6. I love you both so very much—glad I introduced you to each other! Thanks, as always, Gretchen, for your word art and material art and living a life of color and verbal richness. I am a better human because of you and Jim!

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  7. Loved, loved, loved reading your travel-by-air journal and seeing pics of you both! So glad your adventure was a success and that Jim’s favorite pocket knife was saved. I was once stopped by TSA because they saw something amiss in my backpack; They poked around and, voila! out came Julie’s 10″ bread knife which I completely forgot was stowed in the frame of the pack during our last hiking adventure. I assume some TSA agent is slicing bread as I type. Your next flight will be to Boston or Providence, yes?! We’ll be waiting at the arrivals gate for you 🙂

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  8. Love all your life musings, photos and art!
    Flying traumatizes me too! Glad you trooped thru.
    Love to you both. Hope we can hug soon🥰

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  9. I find that I am content to stay close to home after years of air travel, driving to Central America, and cross country moves. I have unpacked boxes that have not been open for decades, and found photos of a vaguely recognizable me! You are both intrepid and I salute you in your travels and adventures!

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