I am not superstitious.
Flight 569, a Boeing 737-900, sits on the end of runway 24R at LAX and I stare out the port side Plexiglas next to seat 7A. My reward for being a loyal Alaska Airlines flyer; seats near the front and almost always a window. The unlucky gent next to me in the middle seat folds his arms and stares straight, on the verge of what seems to be a needed nap. A shrill whine fills the fuselage, accompanied by a two year-old’s random blatherings, as thrust is applied and breaks are released.
This is the point at which, on every one of the 150+ flights I have taken in the past five years, I start to sing, in my head, two bars of a Beastie Boys song. It gives no reference to flying or hurtling down a tarmac at 50, 100, 200MPH before taking off.
I tell you I am not superstitious. And I’ll tell you of my hypocrisy if you buy me a drink.
Rumble, rumble, rumble and the kid in back oblivious. The nose of my jet peels front wheels from the concrete and our elevation begins to change as I feel the familiar pull of gravity holding me into my seat. The rumble stops as the rear wheels lift off, our speed still increasing. As a treat, out my window, I can see an US Air 757 from runway 24L mimicking our moves in near perfect choreography. Wheels store then landing gear doors close. Climb.
This is the point where I usually close my eyes. That moment soon after take off, before I feel confident that the pilots know what the hell they are doing. Until now, even a 10 year-old could rocket a plane down the runway with decent accuracy. But that moment after take-off always holds tension for me. Do they really have control?
It’s at this same moment, eyes closed, head back, fingers of both hands interlaced in some attempt at Zen practice, which I remind myself I am not in control. A fraction of a second later I open my eyes to make sure my internal sense of up and down hasn’t gone haywire. The US Air plane is still there and the ground is still down, quickly switching to breaking waves then open ocean. All the way to Asia.
Eyes close again, searching for calm inside. Eyes open. To experience the marvel of modern flight, the beauty of the water and life in general. The other plane banks slightly to the left, South. It is a graceful maneuver at this distance, as all air travel seems from the outside. I have sat watching planes land at an airport, each one apparently gliding in on an unseen slide made of soft pillows, comforting the plane back to Earth.
I have sat inside planes bucking like a wild boar, tipping wings within 400 feet of the ground and pushing me to the brink of throwing up. From the outside every smooth-gliding, harmlessly-approaching airliner has a different story to tell on the inside. So it is with take-off. So it is with people.
Today the ride into the skies is smooth. Within a minute of take-off we are banking right, saying goodbye to our take-off companion, and heading back toward land while the business traveler in jeans and a gray polo shirt next to me starts to snore. I start to calm.
I love to fly. And at the same time, flying makes me nervous. Irrational to the point of mediocre superstition. 75,000 miles flown this year and about 20,000 more to go.
All of it will be experienced with awe at the ability of large heavy things to fly. And a little trepidation, despite the joy.
With special thanks to the Beastie Boys for being with me on every take-off. You guys really help, even though I don’t think you should.