Let me warn you right up front - this is a post about nostalgia; about times gone by; about remembrances of things that probably aren’t as good as remembered; about why things might have been better long ago. I suppose I’m about to prove I’m old and have been working for too long. Get over it. (And while you’re at it, get off my lawn.)
To our story. I fly almost everywhere now. My travels take me to a lot of different places – major cities like Seattle and Orlando and Los Angeles and Las Vegas. You don’t drive to places like that, you fly. (Well, a friend of mine never flies to Los Angeles. It’s a one-hour flight from Phoenix, but he feels that waiting at the airport is not a good use of his time so he always makes the 5 to 6-hour drive. He is insane. He is probably worth discussing at some future date.)
But long ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth and auditors wore green eye-shades while bayoneting the wounded and I was a young cub-auditor, I put in a lot of windshield time. Just three states – Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. But, even when I flew, it was usually to get to a city that seemed only a little closer to the far-flung locales I needed to visit. Such esoteric locations as Roswell or Ely or Sierra Vista or Carlsbad or Winnemucca or Wickenburg or Elko or Truth or Consequences or Tucamcari or Chinle or Battle Mountain or Tonopah or…you get the idea. (And, if you don’t get the idea, look them up on a map. That is a lot of windshield time.)
Back to the present. I always read when I’m flying. I do not work. I do not open a computer. I do not write furiously on a pad of paper (unless it is something that doesn’t have to do with work). I do not read reports that are due. I do not work on the airplane (nor, come to think of it, in the airport). The habit started while flying in those good old days when you didn’t have a computer and it was a whole lot harder to work in a plane than it is now. Accordingly, I get a lot of reading done on planes.
On my most recent flight I was reading the excellent book State by State edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey. The book is a collection of 50 different essays about each of the 50 states written by 50 different authors (plus one for the District of Columbia). The idea actually originated from a WPA project of the thirties and forties where the Federal Writers Project commissioned 48 state guides/books for the then 48 states. Almost every essay is an interesting introspection of the state and the author.
While reading, I had one of my minor epiphanies. (This happens to me often when I’m flying and drinking rum and cokes). I realized I was reading about the country as I flew over it. (Remember, I said it was a minor epiphany.)
And that is when I realized just how much I missed experiencing the states I was flying over. That's when I realized how much I missed that windshield time. That’s when I realized I was losing the sense of “travel” that occurs when driving; a sense you cannot achieve in a plane.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love flying. I still insist on the window seat. I firmly believe that, when you stop wanting to look out the window when you fly, you should just quit flying. But you do not get the sense of “journey” that comes from driving from one locale to another.
Let us take the example of a recent trip to Santa Barbara.
We climb on a plane and leave behind that weird combination of desert and city that is Phoenix. One and one-half hours later, delivered via a climate controlled cabin, we’re knee-deep in the beaches and surf and palm trees and indescribable (or intolerable – depends who you are) “vibe” of California.
Now, the same trip, but let’s drive. There is an actual leaving of the city, there is the drive through desert and desert mountains, there is a major river crossed – a state line, there is a change in desert, there is a sudden climb past energy-generating windmills, there is city, there is more city, there is a lot more city, there is the subsidence of city, there is a beach, there is Santa Barbara. There is an actual journey. There is an actual sense of place.
Let’s get one thing straight, I enjoy travel of any kind. And, as I said, I really enjoy flying. But nothing can take the place of moving along the road. (And how ironic is it that, as I type this, I am hearing “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. I’m not making this up. My clichés aren’t that cliché-ridden.) And, while I’m not saying things were really that great in the good old days, I can say that I really miss that period when my job allowed me the opportunity to make those journeys.