The First Leg

by Lisa on May 5, 2012

We tucked our bags in the overhead compartment and took our seats. Row 15, seat J. That was my seat. An aisle seat. I watched as people continued boarding. Old and young shuffled down the two aisles—one aisle on either side of the four middle seats in the center of the plane. Each person juggling as much paraphernalia as the airline would allow. Small rolling suitcases, soft duffle bags, backpacks, advertising-laden shopping bags stuffed to the brim, oversized purses, baby car seats. The gear, and the people, kept coming.

“Hello and welcome aboard KLM, flight number 6032, from Seattle to Amsterdam. As we prepare for departure, please securely fasten your seatbelt. Make sure the tray in front of you is closed and your seat is in the upright position. All electronic devices at this time must be turned off. Please pull out the safety card in front of you while our cabin crew demonstrates what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency.”

At age 43, sitting in a metal cigar tube with 251 other people, traveling thirty thousand plus feet above the earth, for over nine hours has lost the adventure it once held for me while still in my youth. I pulled out the safety card and began to study it. I located all the emergency exits and cinched down my seatbelt. Dad pulled out his iPhone to turn it off but I grabbed from him. “What are you doing?” “Smile,” I said and snapped our picture—leg one of our second European adventure together.

The plane started rolling backward away from the extended loading bridge. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My second flight of the day and I was no more at ease than I had been three and a half hours earlier. The backward momentum stopped and the plane started moving forward. Slowly inching its way down the runway toward the waiting line of other airplanes about to embark through the heavens to untold adventures and stories about to happen.

We slowly moved through the queue until it was our turn to take the departure tarmac. The engines road and the plane began to rumble and vibrate. As the plane picked up speed, the velocity pushed me into the back of my chair. I said a quick prayer and felt the weightless feeling as the tons of metal lifted off the ground and began to effortlessly move forward through the blue sky and sunshine.

I heard a voice behind me to the left. It sounded like rough gravel being crunched on by steel-toe work boots. Low. Raspy. Raw. Very uncouth. I turned to see who it belonged to. He had a mowhawky sort of do with geometric prints tattooed at the base of his neck. He wore a white wife-beater that exposed all the other colorful tattoos that decorated both his arms. He was asking about beer.

The two seats next to Mohawky-guy were empty but the fourth seat, near the other aisle, held a Christopher Walken doppelgänger. He wore a suit, but that did not disguise his pasty skin, light eyes, silver hair stacked a mile high, too large glasses—and overall creepy appearance. Maybe I’ve just seen too many movies with Walken as some kind of loser you want to avoid at all costs, and unfortunately, for me or for him depending on your perspective, I did not embrace seeing Walken’s twin sitting just a few seats away from me. I could just imagine he and Mohawky-guy getting into after a couple of drinks.

The man in front of me took out his neck-pillow while the woman next to him started reading. Dad begins rummaging around for the earphones the stewardess gave us earlier. He plugs them in and picks up the remote attached to his chair. In a few moments he’s cussing in frustration as he can’t figure out how to navigate the on-flight entertainment screen in front of him. I (try) to patiently walk him through how it works, and pretty soon Buddy Guy is blaring from the ear buds.

The stewardesses start pushing food cards up and down the aisles. “Would you care for a beverage?” our stewardess asks as she smiles down at me. She appears to be kind and good at her job. “Water and coffee with cream,” I reply. “I’ll have some orange juice, please.” shouts the Buddy Guy listener next to me. She hands us our drinks and continues on.

Mowhawky-guy asks for another beer. The stewardess obliges. “Great,” I think. “We’re going to have a crass, drunk, rudie sitting next to us.”The plane continues to climb toward the heavens. I close my eyes again and take another deep breath. The rhythmic motion and low rumbling of the giant aircraft puts me to sleep.

The food carts are rolling by again. I wake up to the smell of some kind of tasty TV dinner-like thing. My stomach rumbles. “Chicken, beef, or vegetarian?” the KLM hostess asks. Dad leans over and tries to say in a whisper, “What did she say?” It comes out more like a loud bellow since he can’t hear himself over the music. I pull the plugs out of his ears. “You’re yelling.” I say. “Ooops” he grins his boy-like grin.

We eat an rest. We watch a movie. And, then we eat and rest. I suddenly realize I’m stiff.

Dad and I get up and make our way to the back of the plane to stretch. I kick my foot out a few times, reach toward the roof of the plane, roll my ankles around, and then grab an already-poured water sitting in the tray on the back counter. We don’t move back to our seats, but instead strike up conversations with the other loiters hanging out by the bucks in the sky (a la toilette).

First there is a group of women, running buddies, from a Seattle running club. They are all heading to Spain to participate in the Madrid marathon. There are 16 women in total partaking. They stretch and move along with us, but slowly, one by one, they take their seats.

A young woman takes their place. She’s on her way to Turkey to meet her brother, who is currently living and working for a software company in Kuwait. She and her brother have a two week hiking trip planned around the county side and then are spending a few days scouring the outdoor markets in Istanbul. Last year she met her brother in Egypt for another site-seeing vacation.

Next comes a steward. He joins two of his coworkers in the back and they start taking pictures of themselves with his phone. They talk about their schedules while he morphs their photos with an app on his phone. He shows the women and they all laugh. I ask him if he’s staying one night in Amsterdam and then heading back. He tells me that he’s on his fourth back to back trip and then he has five weeks off. “What do you mean by back to back?” I ask. He laughs and says, “I’ve been from Seattle to Tokyo and back. Then I left the next day from Seattle to Amsterdam and back. Then it was back to Asia—Hong Kong and back to Seattle, and now I’m on the last of four shifts aka Amsterdam and back.” The other KLM stewardess shake their head saying he is crazy. He smiles, “At least I’ll have five weeks off after this.”

We head back up the aisle to our seats. Mohawky-guy is awake again after stretching out in the fetal position across the two empty seats between him and the Walken look alike for the last couple of hours. I sit down and the gravel voice behind me crunches again.

“So…where are you going?” he asks. I turn and tell him an abbreviated version of our story—my host parents and four “sisters” to visit, three countries, one wedding, and two brand new babies to meet and fall in love with. He tells me he works for UPS and is on his way to vacation in Amsterdam. It’s his seventh trip there. He’s from Fresno and says it’s the (expletive) arm pit of America. He hates it there so he works hard all year so he can save his money and travel. He’s been all over Europe, but loves Amsterdam. He has favorite “hot-spots” he regularly visits. I ask him if he’s learned any Dutch in all his travels, but he says most of the other people he’s run into are also there on vacation like him.

We continue talking. Mohawky-guy is nice. I like him. He’s really no different that anyone else. He’s living one day at a time. The best he can. He is taking the joy out of what comes his direction and making the most of all his experiences.

I take out my journal and scribble the first words that come to mind:

  • Tapestry.
  • Colored threads woven together.
  • Lives intersected.

The food cart comes by again. Mohawky-guy tucks cookies in the seat pocket in front of him. Says he’s saving them for later when he’s really stoned in a few hours. I say a quick prayer for him. I pray that God will touch his heart in only a way that He can do. Give Mohawky-guy a hope and a promise—outside Fresno, outside traveling, beyond getting stoned out of his gourd for 10 days in a row, and munching on whatever he can get his hands on.

I glance down at my journal again. Tapestry. The first word, and developing theme, on the beginning of my journey.

Quietly I thank God for this opportunity and look forward to the other threads God will weave into this story as we, Dad & I, visit loved ones, meet new people, eat tasty foods, see things we have not see before, and continue on our two week Selah together in Europe.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Faye May 6, 2012 at 6:33 am

Thanks for sharing this…I love travel for these reasons too!

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