Monday, July 26, 2004

Flights home

Monday, July 26, 9:25 pm EDT and 30 minutes out of Manchester

The western sky is almost dark – just a faint band of twilight above dark clouds and below a blackening sky, with one planet brightly shining in the midst of the blackness. We’re flying along the tops of wispy clouds, with an occasional slight chop.

It was a beautiful morning flying out of Reno. I was seated at the window with a view to the west as we flew south. I saw Mount Rose and Slide Mountain, Washoe Valley, Lake Tahoe behind the front row of mountains, and Carson City with the blackened hills from the Waterfall fire. South of Genoa the plane turned westward over the Sierra and, somewhere below us, Yosemite.

The stop in San Jose was short. Most of the passengers left the plane, like my two seat-mates. The flight attendants counted those of us continuing on to LA and then boarded the new passengers. The flight from San Jose to LA, down the central valley of California, was uneventful. Off the plane in LA, I had a two hour layover, plenty of time for a Starbucks coffee, an energy bar for breakfast, and delving into the 9/11 Commission report. It was difficult finding a seat in the terminal, mobbed as it was by people, most seeming to fly Southwest. (There's a stock tip.)

My US Airways flight from LA to Charlotte was full except for one seat. They initially allowed one too many people on the plane and had to reopen the door to let off a man and woman, who must have been traveling together. I was lucky and upgraded to first class, so I had a comfortable seat for the four-hour flight, along with lunch. It consisted of a chicken and bacon salad (the former I ate, not the latter) and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert (which I resisted). But I did indulge in a glass of Chardonnay.

My layover in Charlotte lasted about an hour, sufficient time for a non-fat TCBY yogurt (my delayed dessert) and a bit more reading. On the flight to Manchester, I finished the power bar I had started in LA, with a hot tea. Now we’ve started our descent and are just about 10 minutes from the airport. We’ll arrive around 10:00, about 20 minutes early, and I’ll be home before 11:00.

Four flights in one day is too many. I’ve traced three sides of a rectangle around this country: Reno to LA, LA to Charlotte, and Charlotte to Manchester.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Uplifting signs

It seems that spring has had a hard time sustaining itself this year. We have warm days, then cold days. The weather hasn't been at all consistent. But there are a few encouraging signs: the rhododendrons are in full bloom.

Friday, May 28, 2004

One pea at a time

There's nothing quite like being cramped in a seat on an airplane for nearly seven hours. 31D. On a Boeing 777, that's one seat in from the aisle on the middle row of five. Not much space within which to squirm. No way to get up or out to stretch or go to the bathroom without disturbing the man next to me.

For someone used to the frequent flyer perks of preferred seating -- exit row aisles, if not first class -- it comes to feel as an entitlement. When having to compromise comfort when the airline cannot accommodate, it's easy to become irritated.

Rather than let my feelings go that way, though, I'm trying to maintain humility, retain a positive attitude, and treat this as an opportunity for spiritual development. After all, someone has to sit in the middle. This is a chance to live in the present, to let time pass without willing it to accelerate, to eat one pea at a time from my meal; a time to practice mindfulness, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist author.

It's easier said than done, as I watch the miles and time seem to crawl by.

1425 miles out of Boston, after reading an article about the D-Day invasion 60 years ago, I'm mindful of the Jews who were crammed into rail cars to travel for days without food or water, being sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. A seven hour plane flight leading to a reunion with my family makes me a pretty fortunate guy, in comparison.

As I ponder the various dimensions of this spiritual quest, I just can't understand how the guy next to me -- the one on the aisle -- can drink two Cokes and a cup of coffee and not have to go to the bathroom!

London morning

London -- You never know where life will lead you and what paths you will only travel once. As John McCain was quoted in a recent profile in the Washington Post, "This is all so transient. It could all end tomorrow. My philosophy is just to just go, go like hell. Like Teddy Roosevelt did it. Full bore.”

With something of that same spirit, although I suspect not the same intensity, I decided to get up and go running on this, my last morning in London, before flying back to the U.S. From my hotel, I set out for Hyde Park, adjacent to Green Park. The sun was barely up as I ran along one length of the park, facing Knightsbridge I believe. The London traffic was fairly sparse, yet starting to build to its morning intensity. I ran by the rose garden, with roses and other flowers in full bloom. It would have been nice to stop and savor the colors and smells, but I had a 7:30 cab to Heathrow to catch. I kept running. The park was pretty empty but for a few other souls out running and a couple of homeless, one whom I awakened as I ran by him.

I think the last time I ran in Hyde Park was sometime between 1992 and 1994, or perhaps it was even earlier, between 1987 and 1989. Who knows when I will be back, if ever. I'm sure glad I got up and ran.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

A break in the routine

London -- After our customer meeting today, we arrived back at the hotel with a good portion of the afternoon to ourselves. In my experience, free time is not normal on a business trip, so I decided to take advantage of this gift after quickly checking my e-mail and voicemail. Since I didn't run this morning -- opting for a 16 Pound Sterling continental breakfast instead -- I went out to jog through Green Park, which is across from the Park Lane hotel where we are staying.

Although my running was a bit lethargic, the day was glorious. The sun had emerged from the morning's gray clouds, warming the body in contrast to the cool breezes. London surrounded me, and the park was alive with people also savoring the afternoon.

The UK's Classic FM station was playing through my headphones, and I heard a debut of Hedwig's Song, the first track from the new John Williams soundtrack to the latest Harry Potter movie, Prisoner of Azkaban. The CD won't be in the stores until next week. Listening, while running, heightened my sense of being in a special place in the world.

Let me always be grateful for these simple gifts of life.

It's a small world

London -- Yesterday at around 9:00 am, my flight pulled away from the gate at Logan airport. Five hours and 40 minutes later, after two meals, we landed at Heathrow in London. Tomorrow I fly back to Boston. The return flight will take slightly longer, perhaps an hour, due to westerly head winds.

A three day trip to attend a business meeting with a potential customer in London. Such is the nature of the global world we live in. This so-called jet-setting has become routine.

But consider that it's only been 100 years since the first airplane demonstrated that powered flight is possible. 100 years before that, the journey from Boston to London or London to Boston relied solely on the trade winds, took months, and was no routine voyage.

Today we take for granted advances that took the human endeavor thousands of years to accomplish. As we go about our business, which quickly becomes routine, we shouldn't lose sight of the wonder of this modern age in which we live.