Flew to Chicago yesterday for a quick springtime check-in with the family. It was good flying weather, at least at 39,000 feet, and I was surprised on our descent across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois how green it is already. The trees have already leafed out, and the forests are rolling canopies of translucent green.
At one point on the flight yesterday, I started thinking about the last time I was here, and the time before that, and the time before that–all the ping-ponging I’ve done on family visits, work trips, and other adventures. I’ve often thought about trying to remember and write down every airplane trip I’ve taken, just to get a sense of how often and how far I’ve gone. That thought came to me again on the flight yesterday while I was standing at the rear of the plane, stretching my legs. I thought I’d go back to my seat, pull out a notebook, and write down all those flights. I’d do it and have it done with. But when I went and sat down, I discovered I didn’t have a pen, and I went back to the book I’m reading.
Today, I started to try to list all the flights, 37 years’ worth, starting with the first time I flew, with my friends Gerry and Dan, on the beginning leg of our trip to Ireland. I still remember the exhilaration of leaving the runway and how the first banking turn felt like a roller-coaster ride; I actually whooped as we took off.
So that’s Flight Number One. And Flight Number Two was memorable because the airline we’d taken to Ireland, TWA, had gone on strike and we had to get back to Chicago on Aer Lingus a couple days before Christmas. Gerry and I (Dan had returned home earlier) were determined to surprise everyone at home, so we took trains from O’Hare to the south suburbs. Then we did what we’d been doing for a good three months: put on our backpacks and started walking the two or three miles to our homes. It was snowy and dark, and a half-mile before I got home, my brother John and his then-girlfriend drove past me on their way to the nearby drive-in theater. They rolled past, then stopped, then turned around and drove me to the house. That’s a whole other story.
Listing all the flights? You can see the problem already. Remembering one reveals a little thread of memory. When you tug on it, a whole skein of other memories follows. In the summer of 1982, a trip to Chicago involved a 17-inning Cubs game called because of darkness–that’s worth a whole chapter in the travelogue. In the summer of 1988, John and I wound up at the Antietam battlefield with my son Eamon and could barely tear ourselves away though I had a family engagement awaiting me in New Jersey.
And of course, when you start listing flights, you start remembering the trips that included an overland leg: like the time I started hitch-hiking from Chicago to Berkeley on the day after Christmas and somehow made it in just over 48 hours (no mystery: a guy headed to Oakland stopped for me near the Continental Divide in Grants, New Mexico and delivered me to the front door of my friends’ house).
I think the reason that list has never been undertaken before is that there’s no end to it once you start.