Have you ever flown across America? I have. Way too many times, really. Every week I fly from Wisconsin to California, California to Wisconsin. Before that, life on the road regularly transported me to New York, Atlanta, Portland, Los Angeles, and countless cities in between. I’ve logged a frog’s lifetime up in the air.
I enjoyed air travel much more in the days before Wi-Fi became ubiquitous, even way up in the clouds. It forced people to disconnect, be alone with their thoughts, read actual books, chat with complete strangers randomly seated next to them; to entertain themselves without the help of their internet crutch. Facebook, Instagram, work emails, text messages, Snapchat, Tinder…they would have to wait. In an era where uninterrupted think time is on the endangered species list for so many of us, that’s a privilege, not a punishment. Even today, I defy airplane Wi-Fi, choosing instead to enjoy the luxurious chunk of time reading or writing, listening to queued up podcasts, perusing a new travel magazine, devouring the latest issue of The Week, and yes, sometimes falling asleep. But sometimes, I open the tiny plastic oval window shade, look down at the vastness below, and just…think.
How is it possible to be barreling through the air at this tremendous speed? What’s that smell? How do I make it alive every time (so far)? What’s down there? Seriously, who farted? WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE GOING TO OHIO? (I’m a Wisconsinite, I can say that with genuine curiosity and not as an insult.)
I marvel at the clouds, the many different shapes and sizes and textures with which they can layer the sky. I search the horizon, mesmerized by the color palate, how it bleeds together to paint the dawn, dusk, defying time as we travel ahead, or back in time. I gaze down at the mountains, the desert, the tiny squares of farmland, vast valleys, monumental canyons, gaps in the earth, cracks in the land, the endless ocean. You can almost see how Earth took shape over time from up here, the long ridge lines, the open crevices, rugged mountain sides. It’s incredible. America truly is a beautiful sight to behold from 10,000 feet above.
Sometimes (/always) I picture myself down there, a tiny little human, standing on the edge of a giant canyon. I wonder what it would be like to walk across that land, how long it would take me to hike over each kind of terrain that presents itself to me as the plane mechanically swipes right with its powerful engine. I visualize myself trekking along, one foot after another, climbing, scrambling, struggling, no one around for miles, not a soul in sight.
Surveying the landscape below, I question how long I could walk before encountering another living, breathing person. Occasionally the cold metal bird flies over tiny remote communities, their little lights twinkling in the sun, a sort of weird version of hide and seek, Hey! You found us! But just so you know…we weren’t hiding. You just couldn’t see us. Flying a redeye is less…everything. You can’t see the beauty of the land, the cracks, the time, the life, the non-life. Just… darkness. Sometimes I stare blindly into the abyss and count the aeronautical time that flies by between twinkling lights of life.
My favorite state in the whole world of The United States is Montana. Why? Because for as large as it is, practically no one lives there. It is as it was. People haven’t totally ruined it (yet) with their concrete jungles and Uber filled streets. It’s magical, like literal magic, basically Hogwarts. Everyone I’ve met is top-notch pleasant, the food tastes like miracles and the beer flows like a rainbow, the pot of gold being the toilet. Moments within stepping foot into the promised land during winter, it almost immediately begins to snow, powder for everyone! And shoot, everything just sort of works out, pretty much always. Montana is amazing. Montana is the best. But Montana doesn’t represent all of America. I mean, I go there to get away from America.
The problem with our country (which is also sort of the awesomest part), in case you haven’t noticed, WE’RE GINORMOUS. Like, really, really big. With a lot of people. A lot of different people. All doing our own thing in many ways, but in other ways, well…we’re united. The twinkling lights across the inner-lands have no less (or more) heartbeat than the throbbing pulse of the coasts. No ONE area is the heartbeat of America. We all contribute, we all work to keep it alive. Your job is not more or less important than mine, no matter what our titles, our roles, how much we’re paid. We work together, we help each other. I exist because you exist. Some bleed red, some bleed blue, but we all bleed, so the saying goes.
But Red and Blue on a color map of the United States does not represent the number of heartbeats, the number of minds, the number of souls. It simply represents geographical space on a map. If you truly believe your piece of the pie represents the heart of America, I respect that. But a heart can only get so far without a brain, without the major veins and arteries pumping the blood, without the liver and kidneys to detoxify and filter, lungs to breathe and motor skills to keep us moving forward. Our country is like the human body. It functions best running on all cylinders. No one thinks about the kidney until they’re in desperate need of one.
And if you ask me, red and blue weren’t randomly chosen to represent political mindsets in America. Both are primary colors. No other color can exist without them. They are the foundation of all the colors (aside from black and white, yada, yada). These days, we constantly hear about living in bubbles and echo chambers. I often roam the space between chambers, one of those weird conjoined bubbles you blow out of your bubble stick and you’re all like, COOL! Sometimes I feel I am wandering the hallways of the country, cupping my ear to every door, listening to the same tired words bounce off like minds, listening as they rapidly snowball down to the black abyss. All I want to do is tear off down the center of the hallway, wildly throwing open door after door, forcing the voices into the unknown, into the undiscovered, like the Pied Piper, leading his rats (not that we’re rats…we’re not rats, right?) I want to barrel through the country with my rooftop tent truck, leaning out the window to pop all the bubbles, big and small, watching as the reds and blues spill out past their flimsy invisible borders to blend together with yellow, the color of the land we all feed on, to make all of the remarkable colors I know exist, the colors I see in my dreams.
Inevitably, the airplane lands, I snap back to reality and prepare myself for the Red or Blue awaiting me on the other end of the jetway, dragging my feet, longing for the colors of my mind.