The Missouri River just south of Chamberlain, South Dakota (about 150 miles west of Sioux Falls).

In some part of my mind, I pleasurably anticipate travel. But I don’t like planning for an airline trip or packing for it. I don’t enjoy dealing with the virtual and physical gauntlet air travel forces us to run. I don’t relish facing the group unhappiness that greets you at the gate and accompanies you as long as you’re in the isolated world of your flight. No, I’m not enamored of any of that.

But from the moment the plane leaves the ground to the moment it touches down, it’s hours of visual poetry (assuming of course I have the window seat I want).


The approach to O’Hare, just west of the airport.

Westering Twilight


Flew back home last night, a flight that lifted off on O’Hare’s eastbound runway 9R at 6:35 p.m. CDT, circled north, then climbed into a long westering sunset and twilight. We had cloud cover most of the way, but got glimpses of the Fox River, the Rock River, and the Mississippi. More gliimpses: Iowa farms, the North Platte River, Interstate 25 north of Denver. Further west, saw Utah Lake and the cities of Provo and Orem in the dusk. Then mostly blank, dark countryside until we crested the Sierra Nevada, where the lights of the foothills and Central Valley, the Livermore Valley and the Bay Area, all shone.

My seven Chicago days went fast. My dad is prone to what I might euphemistically call confusion about some day-to-day events (a confusion that does not extend to all things, though. When we drive around Chicago, he’s generally pretty quick to answer requests for navigation help). I had told him I was leaving Thursday and reminded him of that a couple times before yesterday. I kept him abreast of my preparations to go yesterday. Still, he twice expressed surprise when I appeared with my suitcase and satchel and said I was heading out. “You are?” he said. “When are you coming back?”

“When would you like me to come back?” I asked. “Tomorrow!” he said. Soon, I hope. But today, here I sit, 1,836 air miles away.

Traveling with Status

Sitting in Terminal 3, Concourse L, waiting for my American Airlines flight back to San Francisco. Mission accomplished, mostly. My dad’s out of his rehab hospital, safely ensconced back in his North Side apartment (thanks to the heroic efforts of my sister Ann and brother-in-law Dan). Wish I was staying longer or lived much closer so that my visits didn’t require absenting myself from the rest of my life. And I wish I could have gotten out of town without starting a family fight, taking my dad’s keys with me, and forgetting my camera.

So, just about to board the plane. Flying in the economy cabin, which is really the “you’ll take whatever we dish out” Greyhound section of the plane. Fine. I did manage a moment of first-class treatment coming and going.

Flying out of San Francisco, I was very late getting to the airport. The person who checked in my baggage directed me to get in the nearest line through the security checkpoint. She actually said “hurry!” Densely, all I noted when I first got in line was that it was a lot shorter than the other one I could see. “Why don’t some of those people come over here?” I wondered. Then I saw a big sign that I had missed: VIP/First Class Security Check, or something like that. I thought for a millisecond, just out of a sense of heeding the ordained order of things, about getting out of the line and going to the one for serfs, helots and general unfortunates. But I stayed put. I figured I’d tell the TSA officer checking boarding passes and IDs that I’d been told to hustle my way to the gate and that I needed to be in this line.

And, after rehearsal, that’s the short speech I gave. I girded for a scowl or raised eyebrow. Instead, I got a smile. “I don’t care,” the officer said. “Just have a good trip.”


So fast-forward to this afternoon. I was in a long security line in the American terminal, and for some reason one of the carrier’s line minders asked to see my boarding pass. I showed it to her, and she said, “Sir, please go down there and go through that line.” “Why?” I asked, with more than a trace of suspicion, bordering on resistance. “It’s closer to your gate,” she said.

So I went down the terminal a ways and stood in the next line, which was much, much shorter. “Thanks, line minder,” I thought to myself.

Then a woman behind me began complaining about O’Hare and all the long lines and about what a nightmare it would be if she had been traveling “without status.” It was then I noticed the sign that said I was standing in the line reserved for elite passengers. No wonder it was short.

But glancing around, I realized the TSA people inspecting documents weren’t looking to see whether any non-million-mile flyers were trying to sneak through. So I stayed in the line and avoided a good 30- or 45-minute wait with the serfs, helots, etc.

Which all goes to show — what, exactly? Don’t put too much stock in those VIP signs. And if you want to enjoy VIP perks without the headaches of actually being a VIP — paparazzi, congressional inquiries, rehab and the like — I highly recommend the special security check-in line. (Meantime, back in serfworld, American has just announced our flight is delayed indefinitely.)

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Sky Antlers in Flight

Researching a randonneuring trip to Portland and what airlines will charge for flying my bike as luggage, I checked the American Airlines site for details. I remember from a couple years ago that they charged $80 for the bike. That’s still true.

But American’s list of “sports equipment” it will fly is unexpectedly entertaining. It includes antlers (“must be as free of residue as possible; the skull must be wrapped and tips protected”), bowling balls (bowling ball cleaning fluids may be dangerous cargo), javelins ($80 each), “pole vaults” (I assume they’re talking about the poles, and they’re not allowed).