04 July 2009

Strangers At 33,000 Feet; Where Friends Are

Today, on Flight 745 from La Guardia to Denver International, I wrote the following in the notebook I keep in my purse:

Today I am on a plane, in a window seat. A young couple who are lovers of some sort but complete strangers to me are dozing off to my right.

This plane is full of strangers. It's flying over country where I've never set foot, and possibly never will. We're about two hours into a four-and-a-half-hour flight, so I'm guessing that I'm somewhere around Chicago, or more precisely, 33,000 feet over somewhere arouond Chicago.

When this plane lands, I will be in Denver: another place in which I've never set foot. I will scarcely know anything more about it than I know now, for I will not leave the airport. About an hour after this plane lands, I will take another flight in a much smaller plane to a much smaller town--where I have also never set foot.

About Colorado Springs, my destination for today, I know the following: It is the home of the US Air Force Academy. It's also the home of a couple of military bases, the US Olympic training facility, a few right-wing Christian organizations and Colorado Cyclist.

About Colorado Cyclist: I've never been there, but I've ordred from them, on-line ond over the phone. There was a time, about ten years ago, when it seemed that any time I ordered from them, I was buying French bike parts: Mavic wheels, Michelin tires, Look pedals. Colorado Cyclist always seemed to have the best deals on the previous year's models, which may not have been practically different from the current year's models. In fact, the previous year's models always seemed to come in some color or have some other feature that made me prefer it to the newer version.

Then there was the Air Force Academy: My father wanted so much for me to go there. In fact, it was just about the last place where I wanted to go to school. First of all, as angry and hostile as I was, I wanted no part of the military. And I had no interest in flying: I think I may have been the only one in my school who felt that way.

It's ironic that now, I am on the flight my father hoped I would take shortly after I graduated from high school. Of course, my purpose for taking this flight isn't what he had in mind.

Even if I'd taken this flight all of those years ago, one outcome would have been the same: I would have been flying with people I never knew and never would know to a place in which I'd never set foot and knew no-one. And, of course, I'd be over a country I'd never seen, thirty thousand feet over it.

I won't get to know Colorado Springs much better than I'll get to know Denver. I'll spend tonight in Colorado Springs; tomorrow, Robin--Dr. Bowers' office manager--will pick me up there. Then I'll be on my way to Trinidad for the very thing I've wanted for as long as I can remember.

Had I taken this trip upon my high-school graduation, as my father wanted, a bunch of guys would have tried to transform me. Into what? A guy like them: A guy who's convinced that he can transform anyone who walks through the gates of the Academy--by invitation, by acceptance, of course--into someone just like him.

I wonder whether they could have suceeded with me. After all, I was young and certainly more malleable--though I thought myself more immutable and incorrigible--than I am now. And I was a good student and something of an athlete.

Had I gone to the Air Force Academy, I suspect thatin one way, my life would have been exactly the same as it was until a few years ago: I would have been around lots and lots of people, but I would have come away knowing none, or very, very few of them. And they wouldn't have known me.

Now I am going to embrace my self, as I am, by doing something I've always wanted and needed to do. Last night, I joked with Millie, John and Lisa that I'm going to meet the love of my life, and that person will be from China, South America or some other far-away place.

Why not? I suspect that most of the people who go to Dr. Bowers are going for reasons like mine. At least we'll have something in common: what we've always wanted from our lives.

Pike's Peak Behind The Clouds

"If thtose clouds would get out of the way, you could see Pike's Peak."

So said the cab driver who brought me to the hotel in which I'm staying tonight. It had been raining heavily just before I arrived here in Colorado Springs, and from the window of the cab, I could see some of the lower peaks that surrounded Pike's.

The highway on which he drove me stood over 6000 feet above sea level, he told me. "If you start to feel winded when you walk up a flight of stairs, that's normal," he advised me. "And, be sure to drink a lot of water: It's drier here."

At that moment, I don't think he knew where I came from; he knew only that I'm not from this place, or any near or like it. He told me he was originally from Alaska: "another beautiful place," he said.

He was responding to my query as to whether he came from this place. I guessed that he had; if I had to pick any other place as his native land; I probably would have chosen, if not Alaska, another part of the Rocky Mountains. Or some other mountainous and relatively wild area: Somehow I could not imagine him having grown up in a city or a coastal region, or just about anywhere in the US that's east of the Mississippi River.

It wasn't only his rather gaunt body and face or his beard that clung to his face as it hung from it that said "mountain man." Nor was it only the way he wore his tatoos: Somehow it seemed as if he always had them, and that he didn't have them burnished on his forearms to rebel, or to seem as if he were rebelling, against whatever it is the trust-fund anarchists or the ones who get tatooed at the local mall want to seem to be rebelling against. I say that as someone who for so many years rebelled but didn't know what I was rebelling against.

The chief reason why he struck me as someone who belongs in this place, or some place like it, is that he got me to where I was going quickly and efficiently without seeming to rush to it. He was not fighting time; it was moving him--and me, as he drove me in his cab--exactly as it should have.

Now, I don't mean to criticize all those immigrant cab drivers one finds in most cities, including New York. They, like the one who took me to LaGuardia Airport this morning, often work very long hours and make not a lot of money. However, some of them could spend the rest of their lives in the cities (or nations) to which they've emigrated and never be integrated into them. Some have to learn languages very different from their own; most have to adopt a way of life that is completely different from the one they left. Some of them, perhaps, were neither born into the environment nor were inculcated with the rhythms that were best suited to them. Perhaps some will never find those things; all they can do is to find whatever way has the best chance of ensuring their survival. If they're lucky, they find ways to turn their survival into life and can ascend from merely making a living to living.

Somehow I suspect the cab driver who drove me past the clouds that shrouded Pike's Peak has, in some way, done the latter. He seemed very intelligent and articulate, yet he didn't seem to yearn for some other life. I would be happy for him if he were come to New York or go to Paris, if he really wanted to see those places. But I wouldn't try to goad him into it--because, interestingly enough, I didn't envy him for seeming to have happened into his element without having to search, yearn or fight for it.

However, I still can't help but to wonder how he saw me. I don't mean what he "thought" of me; to wonder what someone thinks of you is to assume that someone has made judgments--which is, in fact, a way of judging that person.

He was, in fact, very polite without being obsequious, helpful without being condescending. In other words, he acted in a way a considerate man would act toward a middle-aged woman who's in a place she's never before seen. I honestly don't know what more I could ask of any man who's a stranger in a similar situation.

In spite of my tiredness and the headache that seems to have been a result of eating a strudel and a piece of chocolate on an empty stomach, I am happy about this day. I can even say that, even though I spend most of it in airplanes and airports, it's one of the best birthdays I've had. After all, how can a day go wrong when it begins with Tami, my choreographer friend-neighbor paying me a surprise visit and giving me a couple of suprise gifts. Or when it's followed by a visit from Millie, who saw me off, or when I have my mother's encouragement at the end of the day.

Tomorrow morning I will get to see Pike's Peak. At least I know it's there, behind those clouds.