My wife and I traveled on a C141 across the Pacific once. I was in the Air Force and we were stationed at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan. For vacation, we chose to fly to Hawaii. Why not? Hawaii is a lovely place and the military has a hotel and many hotels and places offer military discounts.
We traveled 'Space A', that is, Space Available. Essentially, once the aircraft has been configured and its load plan set up for its cargo, the miltary looks at lists of people who have signed up to travel and their associated priorities. Mission essential active duty go first, of course, but after they're taken care of and people with emergency leave needs are processed, they come to military members and their dependents traveling for leisure. For ten dollars, we get a seat. Traveling on a commercial airline the military leased is preferred but after that, you jump on any cargo aircraft available. In this way, my wife and I traveled to Korea, the Phillippines, Hong Kong, 'mainland' Japan, Guam, and Hawaii, stopping at places like Midway along the way.
But this C141 flight was my wife's first. There were twelve passengers, all traveling for fun. The aircraft was configured with troop seats and there we were, a line of people facing a few pallets of cargo. There are few windows in those aircraft so we sat in a small circles of dim, yellow light.
She loved it. She called it 'sky-camping'. We paid $2 for 'box meals'. You never knew what you were getting in a box meal, which made it fun to open and explore, but you always got your money's worth, usually some cupcakes, candy bars, gum, fried chicken, a sandwich, and apple. This was back in 1982. She was still an omnivore (not the vegetarian she is now), we were young, and diet was less of a concern. Onboard the aircraft, the crew had its own provisions - Ho-Ho's, sodas, cans of juice, coffee.
We landed in Midway. The small military contingent was excited to have visitors. We were on the ground for two hours and toured the small terminal and facilities with the commander who told us how the tide often covered the runway, affecting flight schedules.
All that returned to me today as I hunched over in my seat. My tray was down, my laptop open, the battery running out (damn aircraft didn't have power outlets available because it was 'an older plane') (see how spoiled I am?). I had a book, a cup of coffee and a small snack. I read, wrote, ate and drank, cramped in that space, getting food an crumbs on my poor book, creasing pages by accident.
Around me, others did the same. Many wore headphones and watched movies, either on the overhead monitors or on their personal electric devices (which some people call iPads and 'computers', 'notebooks', 'netbooks' and 'laptops'). We each had our stretch of territory and were careful not to intrude on one another. It's a part of air travel that still imbues me with wonder and even romance.
thinking about my 'bio-ships' that I design to conquer other galaxies and worlds, I'd always made them well designed and slightly antiseptic. My bio-ships, basically domed worlds hurtling through space, are populated with farms, villages, mountains, lakes and valleys. Traveling today, an urge to introduce other elements creep in.
My poor book is "Pyramid". I'm on the last story, "Pyramid." Wallander must go to Egypt because his father was arrested for attempting to climb Cheops. That section of story deals with being there and seeing the pyramids.
I related. I'd been there a few times. We used to go stay in the desert in tent cities playing war games and handling other matters. For a break from the sand and heat, we'd go stay at a Cairo hotel, eat decent meals, have a few drinks. Our rooms always had views of the pyramids. I loved going out and looking at them as dawn broke. one morning as I did so, a pair of US F16s circled one pyramid and then headed back out over the desert. The impact of that moment - ancient wonder, and modern technology, against the Sahara, gaining light as the sun rose - stays with me, reminding me of all the ways the world is always changing.
Nothing is eternal. It came home again as we turned to make our approach into Boston Logan. I looked out across the Atlantic as far as I could see. I love looking at the oceans. They have a sense of infinite mystery. What my eye can't see, my mind tries to see but even it is myopic.
Don't get me started about looking up at the stars. They're calling me for my next flight, the final leg back home.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com