The Least Amazing Miracle

You are waiting in line to check your bag, and then you’re waiting in line to go through the TSA checkpoint. Twenty people in front of you have to remove their shoes, slip their laptops out of their bags, find their Ziploc bag of three-ounce self-care products, and shove the whole thing through the scanner at the end of the conveyor belt. The person in front of you walked away before pushing the plastic bins holding their belongings onto the conveyor belt, so you Superman-push a train of six bins ahead. Oops, forgot about the belt buckle. Sorry.

You glance over at the trash can and see someone pouring half a quart of water into it, forgot about that full water bottle in their carryon until just now. That trash can must weigh 50 pounds, you think, and imagine someone trying to pull the bag out of it. Everyone forgets liquids before the TSA check. What would work better? Install sinks adjacent to the scanners? The Sinks of the Neglected and Forgotten Beverages. Your turn.

You move through the scanner without incident, find your shoes, put them on, return all your items to their appropriate pockets. Slight sigh of relief, then waiting, and it is not miraculous and it is not amazing.

You wait for your flight to board, walking past the people in the airport bars, drinking at 9:30 a.m. but no one’s smiling because no matter what you do in this building it’s just this side of fun, a kind of purgatory, a place filled with things to make the time pass by just a little more quickly, magazines, snacks at prices double what they cost at a 7-Eleven a mile away but healthier than what you could get at the baseball stadium, people selling you these things, who smile as you imagine how much more tedious their commute to work is with the thought of going through TSA every single morning.

The time of Waiting To Board draws near, and 20 minutes prior to the Boarding Time stamped on your boarding pass, people start to stand up, antsy. A few, then a couple dozen, then so many they block the aisle, waiting waiting waiting, maybe they’re worried if they don’t get on the plane at the soonest possible moment, all the overhead compartment space will be filled and their carryon bag will have to be stowed six, 12, 20 rows away from their seat. Maybe they’re just tired of waiting sitting down and it’s more comfortable to wait standing up before you sit on a plane for two or three hours.

Then it’s time, and the line moves, and the airline person scans your boarding pass and you wait more on the jetway, inching ahead, inching onto the plane, and your seat is in the way back, 15 rows behind this guy who cannot seem to cram his rectangular rolling bag into the overhead compartment. He pushes, he pounds with the heel of his hand, he slams the door on the end of the bag in vain and you wonder how securely attached the hinge on the door is like maybe on some flight somewhere the thing just exploded midair, shooting luggage into the aisle like a piñata. He pushes, sweating, desperately, holy shit man this is like segment of a CrossFit workout in business casual clothing, you know what, I’ll give you the 25 bucks or whatever you’re saving by not checking that bag just let me go to my goddamn seat now please, me and all of us stacking up behind you. Do they have some sort of language for this up in the air traffic control tower, UA971 we’re just waiting for you to taxi out onto Runway 3, Roger that, we just got a rolly-bag we’re having a slight issue with, we’re gonna get a couple flight attendants and maybe an Air Marshal to all team up and shove this thing in and we’ll be on our way, it’s a big one, looks like maybe a couple bars of hotel soap pushed it over the edge, guy says it fit just fine on his flight out here, not sure why it won’t fit now.

You plop down in your seat, finally, and finally finally the plane starts taxiing back, and even though you are seated in 24E between two Aggressive Armrest Users in 24D and 24F, one male, one female, if you hunch your shoulders just right, you can type on your laptop keyboard, and hey, at least the flight took off on time, or whatever, I guess 14 minutes late, but that’s pretty much on time I’m sure. This is traffic, not car traffic, but the slowing of personal progress, three seconds’ delay in someone getting into their seat on the plane, times 200 people, is 600 seconds, is 10 minutes if you add it all up, no wonder this always feels like it takes forever.

Then you are in the air, aboard a steel tube flying across the sky at 500 mph, and there is nothing left to wait for except for the flight to be over, when you will finally BE THERE, wherever it is. You are 8,000 feet higher than the top of Mt. Everest, and it is not amazing, it is no big deal, do you want to connect to the in-flight wifi, holy shit how does that even work, satellites or something, only $7.99, sounds great, yes.

A nice landing, current time is five minutes before your scheduled landing, current temperature is 72, before you manage to get your seat belt unclipped the aisle next to your seat is filled with those people running up from the back of the plane to try to be first off, why do they always do that, are these the same people who drive up the shoulder of the freeway and try to merge at the last possible second or what. Seems a little slow, is the plane door even open yet, yes, you peek over the seats, oh yeah, we’re waiting for Just A Tad Too Big Carryon Guy to extract that behemoth from the overhead compartment at Row 10 or thereabouts.

And suddenly, you are in another airport, with similar but slightly different foods and drinks for sale, but you never once have stopped in the destination airport, you have that nagging just-get-me-out-of-here feeling and you know that a sandwich served to you outside the gates of the airport will taste 50 percent better than the exact same sandwich inside the airport, must be something in the air or something like that. You leave the airport in your rental car or Uber or shuttle and exhale, and that was pretty much a miracle. Not counting all that waiting and the security checks, you just covered the 1,000 miles from Seattle to Denver in less than three hours, or the 1,800 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles in four and a half hours, along with 200 other people. And thousands, literally thousands, of people did something similar at the exact same time, between cities all over the world. Some of them went 5,000 miles in a single leap, and ate sandwiches and drank wine and took naps on the way there, and it was not miraculous and it was not amazing at all, was it?

Yes it was. That burger someone can cook you in 90 seconds for $1.99, that is fast, but that is not a miracle, and video calling your mom a thousand miles away like they did on the Jetsons, that is pretty cool too, but this is still a miracle, the closest any of us will ever get to time travel.

-Brendan

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17 Comments

  • I travel a lot for work, and was able to envision every step of this journey. I think about what you said constantly. How the fact that we are in a steel tube travelling 500MPH through the sky, and the one thing we have to worry about most is getting there in our car, and leaving the next airport in a different car, while all the more likely to be in danger in the vehicle on the ground. Well said, and inspiring. Thanks.

  • Brendan,
    Your words never cease to put a smile on my face! You always write what others are thinking. You always write what others are dreaming about some day. You always write it like it is. Thank you for being you.

  • A thought has occurred to me the last couple times I was waiting in a TSA line: why don’t they put some potted plants next to the line for people to dump water into? It would do a lot to spruce up the drab-unpleasantness of a TSA line and probably save the the folks who take out the trash a lot of headaches and wet shoes.
    Thanks for the post and making Thursday mornings something to look forward to!

  • Well articulated amigo.

    Flying is bloody awesome!

    I’ve flown a ton in my life, always economy. Sometimes I get a sympathy exit row seat for being a 6’7″ behemoth. Sometimes I get middle seats and my knees are crushed by the reclined seat back in front of me, but I have always been excited and amazed to take off and fly through the freaking air around the world.

    Love your work mate,

    Thank you.

  • Nice post Brendan,

    I love flying and my eyes are constantly looking out the window. I wish others were excited too, but
    our minds always adapt to our surroundings no matter how absurd. What one day is inconceivable slowly becomes mundane. We should train our minds to appreciate the underlying beauty no matter how muted. The nuisance of today is yesterday’s miracle.

    That and those tubes are aluminum or plastic/carbon fiber, not steel 😉

  • Really enjoyed this, thanks for writing it. Sounds/feels like you’ve been reading a little DFW lately…

  • Brendan,

    Been flying all over this wonderful world for close to 25 years. Still amazed that I can step into an apartment sized room, take a seat, and six hours later I am in Iceland or Alaska or Peru. Damn near the most miraculous thing in my daily life.

  • Flying straddles the line between excitement and restlessness, which usually results in exhaustion. One way I like to entertain myself in airports is by walking past all the gates in my terminal and seeing if the group of people waiting to board match the stereotypes of their destination. New York and Dallas are usually pretty good.

  • i’ve flown between san francisco and denver more times than i can count, and every time, i always try to snag a window seat on the side of the plane that will face south. why? the flight path goes directly over yosemite valley and you can see all the way to mt whitney. i have such wonder for the sierra and this view always makes me thankful for the incredible time i get to spend in those mountains.

  • Great write my friend.
    Flying on a regular basis between Anchorage and wherever I last left the van for the past several years, yea- I get that. All of it. Time spent in the airports I have almost gotten used to. I look for the art, which there is always a lot of, and do some people watching. Ironically in an airport is one of the settings that inspires me to write as well.

    You want to up your amazement and bewilderment factors? Try getting on a plane with a bunch of Alaskans. Or people going to AK for the first time, and watch them try to get all their belongings in the overhead bin…. One just has to laugh, because sitting there repeatedly punching yourself in the face would only delay the take off.

    And then I walk out of the airport somewhere new and another adventure begins…

  • Reading this on an airplane on the tarmac, having gone through most of what you describe. Awaiting a quick 8-hour flight back to the States. Flying is amazeballs… just too bad about all the pollution.

    My wife an I have the whole 4-seat middle row to ourselves. That’s another special kind of travel miracle. See you on the other side mang 🙂

  • If we met, you and I would either be best friends, or we would hate each other with the fury of 1000 suns.

  • What a great stream of consciousness. Did I forget a Beat’s birthday, guess not. Just a great, rambling discourse on our timely travel in the air.

  • Best miracle of all: Flying between LA and Hong Kong, and for whatever reason, coach was half empty. Sprawling out on three seats, I slept like a baby and no knots in my back or legs. THAT is a miracle not likely to be repeated.

  • Once, upon reaching my destination on a Southwest flight. The flight attendant got on the intercom for the “welcome to such and such, the time is such and such” and followed it with ” Now feel free to jump up out of your seat and go absolutely nowhere”… Greatest Airline Moment in History.

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