June 11, 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane

I stood in the departure gate, trying not to appear too excited to be leaving for Europe for a year, as my family stood around me, sad to see me go. My first airplane flight! I was eighteen years old.

Each little thing that happened that day was totally new to me. I had only been in an airport once before, when my older brother went to Europe as a student ambassador. I heard a voice over the loudspeaker announce my flight. This was it!!! I was determined to appear as nonchalant about flying as all the other passengers in line seemed. But inside I was so scared, and trying like crazy to be calm, fearless, and as adult as my adventure required. As I handed the clerk my ticket, I glanced back one last time at my family. They were waving like crazy, my mom crying while trying to comfort my youngest sister Kate, only five years old and bawling that she'd miss me.

I blew kisses, turned, and started that long walk down the tunnel toward the entrance of the plane. It smelled musty like an old, damp locker room. I stared at the floor below me, wondering how stable this contraption could be, considering that there was nothing between it and the ground below. As I got near the door of the plane, I could see a fairly large gap (at least 2 inches!) between the tunnel and the plane. I took one very large step over that crack, trying to appear as if I wasn't worried about falling through.

I made my way toward my assigned seat, hoping against hope that I would be seated next to someone who wasn't scary. I lucked out. The woman who sat down next to me immediately began reading a book, and barely even glanced my way. Right away I put my seatbelt on, having noticed the lit seatbelt sign above my head. This plane was small, having only two seats together beside each window. I was fortunate to get a window seat. I hung on every word the stewardess said about safety and air masks, determined not to die of sheer ignorance about flying.

Soon the plane was moving. Finally! I was fascinated and enthralled at the view of the airport as we taxied away from it and maneuvered toward the runway. I felt the plane turn a tight turn, then all of a sudden I could hear a loud rumble steadily getting louder as the plane roared, shook, and moved forward.

As the dry August grasses beside the runway flew by me in a blur, I suddenly felt the front end lift from the ground, and I felt a dizziness in my head and stomach that I'd never felt before. It was amazing. I laid my head back on the seat while keeping a steady eye on my window, watching as the ground below me transformed from detailed trees, buildings, and cars into a large patchwork quilt of beauty unlike anything I'd ever seen.

I thought the Montana sky was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen before, but that was when I had seen it from the ground. Now I had seen it from ABOVE! I felt like I was suddenly IN that painting of Jesus, the pastel one in which he is standing on a cloud with his arms outstretched, with scores of angels on either side of him blowing their mighty trumpets of glory.

Before too long, we were landing in Denver, and I got to experience a layover that is too damn short. I had only 40 minutes to make my connecting flight, only it was with a different airline, which meant different buildings. I ran to catch the right bus, and ended up running the entire way to my departure gate. I barely made my flight in time! But this airport was full of so many people! Even in my haste, I stared at the people around me, drinking them in like a person who's been in the desert for days without water. I discovered I could be happy just watching people walk by me forever. Each face was a thing of beauty, and I marveled at the stories each one told.

A voice overhead, and I was back in line, handing my ticket to the clerk, certain that this time they'd all know that this was not my first flight, not any more. This time I knew what to expect, and I even shared a knowing glance with the person beside me in the tunnel, giving a look that (I hoped) said, "Here we go again. If you've seen one flight ramp, you've seen 'em all, huh?" What my look most likely said was, "I hope you can't tell I'm just a small-town girl from Montana, excited as hell to be headed to New York City!!!"

This plane was much bigger than my first. This time I didn't get the window seat, but instead I got something even better. A handsome, dark haired stranger who chatted comfortably with me all the way to New York. He was an art student at Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, the very school I always wanted to attend. I was simply thrilled to be talking with him. All I remember now about our discussion was the debate we had. We talked about the Disney movie "The Little Mermaid," which was fairly new at that time. We both agreed it was fabulous from an artists' standpoint. He told me about the controversial phallic symbol to be found on the cover of the video. He asked me if I knew the name of the sea witch, and I said, "Yeah, I do!" but then I couldn't come up with her name no matter how hard I tried. Finally, he told me: "It's Wella."

"No it isn't! No way."

"Sure it is! Remember when she sings, "They weren't kidding when they called me Wella Witch"?"

"She wasn't singing her name! She was singing "when they called me, well, a witch!""

"You don't know what you're talking about."

I said, "There's that one line in the movie, where King Triton has his pitchfork thingie and he points it at the sea witch, as she's about to do harm to Ariel. He roars out, "_______, Stop!" I just can't remember her name that he calls out."

He was not to be convinced. We reached New York City, and were still debating about it. I got him to promise me that he'd go home and watch it again, this time watching for the scene where the king yells her real name, and think of me and know that somewhere, out there, is Lisa who was right. He grinned as he promised. I can only imagine in hindsight how very irritating such a debate must have been to other passengers around us, but we didn't care.

As we circled in the air toward the airport, I was thrilled to see the Statue of Liberty clearly out the window. What a glorious thing to see with your own eyes instead of in pictures or on T.V.!!! I couldn't hide how very cool I thought it was to see her finally in real life.

Once inside the (very crowded. . .oh, the humanity!) airport, I found the exchange volunteers who were waiting for me at the baggage claim. Soon we discovered that my luggage was not there. We filed a claim for lost luggage and ventured out into the big city toward the college where I'd be staying overnight before heading off to Europe the next day. . .

To be continued. . .


hm-uk said...

What a memorable journey it must have been! I remember the first time I left the US, I had NAIVE written all over my forehead but there's nothing like seeing Europe through new, unclouded eyes! Did you ever make it to Pratt Institute, by the way?

wry catcher said...

URSULA, right? :-)

You make me wish I could remember my first flight - what an awesome post.

I'm tuned in - waiting for more...

CV Rick said...

I've been so jaded about air travel - having flown hundreds of times, maybe more. Your story brings out what an amazing thing air travel, airports, and fellow passengers can really be. Well done.

Eight Hour Lunch said...

Beautiful writing. I love airports and flying. Looking forward to the next post!

Robert said...

On my first flight, I looked around and asked where God was. I was four or five at the time. I do remember thinking the clouds looked amazing. I still think from time to time, that the clouds look like they'd be fun to walk on.

Taiko Tari said...

Ursula. That's the witch's name. :)

mark said...

Nice writing indeed Sister Mary Lisa. I enjoyed every word of it and I felt like I was with you on that flight as I read it. You have some serious writing talent. What a small world - my first flight was also to Denver.

Eric said...

Never underestimate the importance of BODY LANGUAGE!

you poor unfortunate souls

-Domokun- said...

Hey, I was accepted to Pratt Institute, and even got a very minimal scholarship. But it was still way more expensive than BYU, where I ended up going instead. I could kick myself about that decision now.

Cele said...

What is it about those yawning ramp gaps. It always seems that no matter how you are walking you have to readjust your step to not fall right into it.

I love to fly. My first flight was to San Fran then LA on a small Hughes aircraft it felt like begin shot from a sling shot. It doesn't fell the same anymore. Sad.

belaja said...

Wow, this piece was so evocative, Lisa. I took my first plane flight at 20 (well, technically, I took my first plane flight at the age of 8 weeks, but I was basically unconscious at the time). Your story made me think back to that flight (from SLC to Portland, coming home from the Y for my sister's high school graduation). I laughed when you talked about hanging on every word during the safety lecture. I remembered actually getting out the little plastic card with the pictures on it (which I found in the seatback in front of me). I followed along on the card very carefully and even looked at all the exits and the floor lighting which the flight attendant was now indicating.

I hadn't thought about that flight for years. And in fact, I'd forgotten all about what a good "student" I was--didn't even notice that nobody else bothered to pay any attention. Well, I was never a grade hound. In fact, you brought the memory of my first flight back in such detail and immediacy, that I think reading your post was the first time I ever realized WHAT A COMPLETE DWEEB I WAS!!!

So, um, thanks for that...