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Mind over matter

Our flight leaving Paris was held at the gate for an hour when 30 passengers were late arriving for the 10:15 p.m. departure. We were happy to see lunch when it was served about 3 p.m. Maybe I read the travel info incorrectly, but I was surprised to learn it would be 10+ hours to Madagascar. It ended up being more like 12, so my plan to stay awake in anticipation of a good night’s sleep in Antananarivo lasted all of 10 minutes. With no knee or elbow room nor knowledge of when the next meal would be served, it was back to catnapping for the Men in Our Row. The in-flight movie going to Paris didn’t work, but Air France had individual touch-screen monitors on the back of each seat on this one to view movies, listen to music, watch news programming and follow the flight’s progress on some kind of GPS tracker that informed passengers of the plane’s elevation, air speed, distance from the airport of departure and arrival, and the air temperature (down to -56 degrees, if you really want to know). That’s great, but when you have 5,438 miles to traverse, it tends to be a case of too much information after the first couple hundred kilometers. Think about it: worrisome souls (I can be one) begin to wonder why the pilot walked from the cockpit to the rear of the plane about the same time we lost 10,000 feet of altitude, just before a soothing French woman’s voice announced that everyone needed to return to their seats and secure any loose items in the cabin. Maybe the pilot needed a toilette break and had to stand in line with everyone else, but hey, shouldn’t you be flying this plane, monsieur? Why did the pilot change course over one particular ZIP code over Kenya, making what amounted to a hard left turn on the GPS tracker? Turbulence on this flight was more pronounced than the others, and one’s mind tended to wander as we flew over places such as Kartoum and the Nile River, over the vast deserts and inpenetrable forests I have only read about in National Geographic or seen on the Discovery Channel. But when you’re flying several miles up in the sky over the largest stretches of wilderness south of the equator, and the plane starts to shake, you are tempted to look around the cabin and wonder if this is an episode of Survivor looking for a place to happen, and if so, what would this assortment of humanity bring to the table? Would this be a remake of The Flight of the Phoenix, with Jerry Strader’s scouting and piloting background saving the day, the provost patching broken plane parts to help him fly a makeshift aircraft away from the burning sands? Would Joyce Voss sew animal skin outfits for us in the rainforest when our tattered Sunday church clothes became threadbare? Would Jack Rich lead an expedition down from Mount Kilimanjaro to safety? Would the episodes of the Bear Grylls TV show about wilderness survival pay off, especially the one about skinning a dead camel and sleeping in its body cavity to survive the cold desert nights and ward off jackals? I have an active imagination, I know, and it’s a writer’s curse. I also had too much time on my hands. After a while, a fellow runs out of things to dream about while napping, as I surely did.