I took these two months and a week ago, on the first and last legs of my trip back home to the US from Indonesia. The first frame I took on the red-eye from San Francisco to Boston, the second (next post) at the end of the flight from Kupang to Surabaya.
Commercial air travel, exhausting as it can be, is endlessly fascinating to me. I love airports and wandering around inside of them. I love riding the conveyor belts in the long hallways between terminals, listening to final boarding calls delivered in a rapid succession of languages, people-watching at both the busy and not-so-busy gates, sipping coffee or beer at the cafe or the bar, guessing who will and won’t make it off the standby list. I love how big, international hubs end up feeling a bit like pockets of no-man’s land (yet decidedly situated in the middle of somebody’s land), where a hundred different cultures and nationalities are brushing elbows, charging phones and scarfing snacks and nodding off right next to each other. I’m especially taken by IATA location identifiers—those three-letter geocodes that are supposed to differentiate the world’s airports, but somehow end up equating them all and flattening the surface of the globe itself. KOE. SUB. SFO. BOS. What’s in that code? What do they mean to, say, a pilot or a flight attendant who spends a lifetime zooming from one to another? Do you all remember that scene in Fight Club, where the unnamed protagonist/Tyler Durden is on the road for work, deadpanning in the background about single-serving bars of soap? It’s kind of a ridiculous scene, but I still like the question he asks at the end: “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”
Because any time I do set out on a trip that involves flying somewhere, from the moment I load my bags into a trunk in one city and pull them out in another, I do sort of feel like I’m in between realities—like there’s literally a universe where I never left where I’m starting from and another where I was always at where I’m going, like I’m not sure if those two me’s are the same person, like there’s yet a third universe between the two in which the planet collapses in on itself and cities all have three-letter names and we travel among them by sitting inside oblong, dimly lit capsules for several hours at a time while a few specially-trained magicians recite certain, specific incantations like “standby for cross-check and all-call” and “return your seat back to its upright position” that allow the capsule and its occupants to materialize at their final destination.
And no matter how many of those hours in the third universe I actually spend awake or asleep, the whole thing always feels fuzzy and surreal, like something out of a dream.