Saturday, April 4, 2009

Upright Position

I look out the window. The yellow "13R" sign outside has remained in the same position since I last checked. I sigh. It was supposed to be a 6:30 flight. I check my watch. The later 8:30 flight my father and I declined to take left the gate five minutes ago. Oh well. I check my watch again and run a quick mental calculation. It has been 31 hours since my grandfather passed away, two months shy of his ninetieth birthday. The funeral is in Los Angeles in 17 hours, assuming the plane takes off by then. We were on line for taking off when a passenger became seriously ill. Since the evening is a particularly busy time for an international airport, we spent 45 minutes finding and parking at a gate, while the ill passenger was unloaded and the lavatory was disinfected. It's also the week before Passover, so the plane is packed with Orthodox families trying to get to their holiday destinations ahead of the Orthodox families trying to get to their holiday destinations. Normally, the large numbers of young children clamoring for attention would be soothed by the draw of a seat-by-seat personal entertainment system, naturally assuming that the entertainment system was not experiencing technical difficulties. As I sit in my chair, the stewardess is trying for the fifth time to hard reboot the system, leading me to the pleasant discovery that Delta runs Linux. How about that?

Finally, we accelerate down the runway. As the jet engines under the wings increase the relative air speed over the wings, physics kicks in, and the force of the lift from teh wings negates and finally overcomes the weight of the aircraft. We're airborn. As we lift off, I'm treated to a view of a cross-section of the air and weather systems around JFK International Airport. We climb through 1000 feet of low-lying clouds. Outside my window, I watch how the fog distorts as it flows over the streamlined wings and how it forms a compact tail leading off the light on the edge of the wing. The time is now 8:55, and I'm staring out the window into the surprising brightness of the evening shy. Below us is the cloud cover we just passed through, and above us are the great rain clouds, which are only surpassed vertically by wispy cirrus clouds dusting the sky. The fog beneath us has an otherworldly glow to it, brought to you by the light pollution of tens of millions of light bulbs illuminating the Big Apple. Far off on the horizon, a distinctly warmer light is reflecting off of distant clouds basking in the light from their local sunset. Dozens of stars appear above the horizon as crisp points. Among them, another set of dots move, blink, rise, and fall: airplanes. In the daytime, the global network of air traffic remains invisible to those not in a cockpit or a control tower. By night, however, the airplanes' flashing lights reveal an intricate, three-dimensional network. Oh, and after the umpteenth or so hard reboot of the Penguin, the entertainment system is back online.


1 comment:

Gaell said...

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