It's unnatural to fly in a plane for sixteen hours. Highly. Pun. But true.
When I'm asked, "How was your flight?" I say, "Good. We didn't die."
I don't understand planes. The laws of aerodynamics have been explained to me many times in great detail, but it remains an impossible conundrum how a 427 ton steel sarcophagus with wings rises 35 thousand feet and zooms 516 miles per hour across 8 thousand miles, carrying 250 people stuffed inside. 250 people with suitcases and laptops and coats and hats and babies and children and books and magazines and iPods and the worst food ever invented, food no one should eat but we eat it, just like no one should fly but we fly, losing or gaining whole days at a time and feeling like we've been stuffed in a dryer and spun around for sixteen hours like a pile of laundry.
Monday, after arriving in San Francisco from Copenhagen, I had lived two days in one day. It was surreal. I had been up for twenty-four hours, but it was only six pm on the same day, a very long day.
I'm glad to be home, and in one piece. Flying across the Atlantic, peering down through the clouds and imagining the deep deep wide wide ocean for miles and miles and miles, I think about the plane burning up its engines and plummeting into the water. I think about what that would feel like. I imagine it in great detail. Then I close my eyes and order another Corona. Thank God, this flight had Corona. I can't drink the bad wine and I don't like hard alcohol and many domestic beers. But Corona, yeah. Even without the lime. Unfortunately, two beers is my limit. They make me too full. I got a mild forgetful buzz on for an hour of the sixteen hours and watched a really dumb movie, Diminished Capacity. That is exactly how a plane ride makes me feel, so it was appropriate.
But planes are useful in getting from California to Europe. Or New York. On the way to Copenhagen, I stopped in New York for two days so I could see some family and friends. I stayed at the Hyatt on the Hudson in New Jersey for a change of pace and because it was cheaper. For two hundred and seventeen dollars, I had a beautiful hotel room with a view of the Manhattan skyline. It takes four minutes by Path Train to get to Manhattan or you can take a ferry ride. The first thing I did was settle in at the Hyatt Bar and order a glass of wine that was drinkable. I talked with my sister (who lives in Connecticut) on the phone and sipped delicious chardonnay while gazing out at the water and the Statue of Liberty. The next day, I took the train and subway to Central Park and met my friend, Darryl, in front of the Natural History Museum. Darryl was my roommate in college. We met in the dorm. We have been friends for thirty some years, and whenever we meet again after a long time away, it's as if the conversation has never ended; we just pick up where we left off as if we see each other every day. We hugged, and I loved looking at her sweet freckled face. I took her out to lunch at a place on Columbus called The Ocean Grill. We sat outside on the Upper West Side at a café table. Darryl said, "You tell me everything, and then I'll tell you everything."
And that's what we did. There was a lot to catch up on.
Then we walked through Central Park to the Boathouse and watched the kids and adults sail their little boats. It wasn't quite autumn weather in New York, many of the trees still summer green. But a bit of a nip in the air, sure. We walked and talked and talked all the way to Grand Central Station. There we parted, Darryl to New Haven and me to Greenwich Village. Darryl was meeting her husband at the train station in New Haven so they could drive to JFK Airport and pick up their daughter and new son-in-law, who were returning home from a Paris honeymoon.
I must have walked six or seven miles that day. The blocks are long in New York, but I love to wander and look at life spilling out everywhere, the diversity of buildings and streets and neighborhoods and people. I walked from East 14th Street to West 14th and Greenwich, much farther than I thought, and met another friend, Kathleen, at a dark and lively pub called The Spotted Pig. Kathleen was my student twenty years ago. I met her when she was nineteen and I was teaching in the London Program for my college. She came to class late, wearing a bowler hat and a black velvet cape. We knew the moment we looked at each other, adventures were in store. We traveled to Ireland together, celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Galway. We are both half Irish (isn't everyone on St. Patrick's Day?) and had a great time exploring the land of Joyce and Beckett and Yeats and O'Brien, and too many more incredible writers to list.
So here we were in New York together, and Kathleen took me out to dinner at The Cluny Café, in celebration of her book. It will be published next year. She said I was the reason for her success, and that isn't true, but sure, I enjoyed the fine dinner. Kathleen started a website where people write an obituary for their relationships:
And now Harper Collins is publishing a book of the obituaries. Kathleen Horan is the author's name. I will post more about this book as the publication time comes closer.
After dinner, we had coffee and a glass of port at, yes, The Dublin pub. Somehow we ended up in an Irish Bar. It was Saturday night, the place packed with talk and laughter, and downstairs, a dance club. But I was flying to Copenhagen the next morning, so we didn't stay out too late. Kathleen and I hailed a cab, and the driver dropped me off at the Path Train and took Kathleen on to Brooklyn where she was meeting up with her boyfriend for an Obama Fundraiser that started at 10pm. It was close to 11, and I said, "You're going to a party now?" "Of course," Kathleen said. "The night's just beginning!"
It was wonderful to see my two friends in New York. They are both thriving. In my hotel room, I looked out over the Hudson River, the mighty lights of Manhattan sparkling on the water. I couldn't help but think of Walt Whitman, and so here's part of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry to end this part of the journey:
Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west--sun there half an hour high--I see you also face
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious
you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning
home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more
to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme, myself disintegrated, every
one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on
the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.
Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the
heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half
an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others
will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the
falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society