I'm back… from the west coast.
Yes, I finally took the plunge and after twenty-one years of not flying, I got on an airplane with my wife, flew out to Los Angeles a little over a week ago and came back this Tuesday.
As some of you may know, years ago -- twenty-one years, to be exact -- I decided to stop flying. The reason I had at that time was that my daughter had recently been born, and I started to imagine the thoughts that might go through my head if I was in a airplane which was about to crash… namely, that in those least few seconds I would have the horrible thought that I would never see my daughter grow up. The thought was so obnoxious to me that then and there I decided that I would not fly again.
It was a decision which, for many years, I could pretty easily live with. Business didn't require that I fly, and most of our Turtle business partners were willing to come to Northampton for important meetings (and my thanks go out to all of them). I did manage to get to the San Diego Comic Con when my daughter was two, but that was because Jim Lawson was going to ride his motorcycle across the country, and I joined him and several friends for that journey.
But as the years passed, I started to feel how that decision had circumscribed my life to a great degree. I'd missed out on a lot of traveling with Jeannine and Emily. And that initial decision transmogrified over the years into a fear of flying. No, that's not really true -- it really became a fear of the fear of flying.
What, then, happened to bring me to take the flights to and from California this past week? Well, a big part of it was the "epiphany" from a few months back that I've discussed in past posts here. I am still feeling the reverberations of that event, and one major part was that I had decided to ease my way back into flying, beginning with a few short-range flights of an hour or two duration, accompanied by Jeannine. But then something unexpected happened…
Jeannine had gone away for three nights on a long-planned writers' retreat in upstate New York, and -- as I'd expected -- I was missing her terribly. As the days wore on, I started thinking about the fact that when she returned, she'd only be home for three days, then off again, this time to California to visit our daughter, for a week. I realized that I was dreading this absence even more than I had been in the previous weeks -- probably because the reality of her writers' retreat trip had finally arrived, and I wasn't dealing with it too well.
I recall that I was sitting on the swing we have on our front porch, not too long after noon on the third day of Jeannine's sojourn at her writers' retreat, moodily contemplating the day and pondering some of the questionable things I'd done in my life. One of those was the decision to stop flying, and as I sat there thinking about it, something started to shift inside me. Something clicked inside my head as I suddenly realized that I could do it… that I could get on an airplane with Jeannine and fly to the west coast. Part of it was simply realizing that millions of people do this daily as a matter of course… that it is (as the old saying goes) a statistically safe mode of travel.
But the biggest part of it was something that I think I knew but wasn't able to consciously articulate until I got back and yesterday was chatting with Gary Richardson, who summed it up quite pithily. "You know, Pete, for years you've had this fear of dying in a plane crash", he said (I'm paraphrasing here), "and even though you know it is realistically unlikely, that fear has held you back from flying. But with the stuff you've been going through recently, the self-realizations and revelations about what is really important in life and so on, it's suddenly become clear to you that if Jeannine flies by herself to California (or anywhere), she runs the same risk of perishing in a plane crash as you would… and if that ever happened, you would lose her for the rest of your life. And that thought is now scarier to you than the idea of your dying in a plane crash."
And he was right. Somewhere in the back of my mind, sitting on our front porch swing that day, I had realized this, even though I was not yet fully conscious of it.
I leaped out of the swing and ran to my computer, dashing off an email to Jeannine, laying out my thoughts and asking her opinion as to whether or not I could be added to her trip at this late date. I decided to go swimming while I waited for her reply, but I was too excited and anxious to hear what she had to say that when I got home from the lake and didn't find an email from her yet, I decided to call her (something I was very hesitant to do, as this was a RETREAT she was on, not to be interrupted lightly… and while I felt a great urgency to get her answer, it was not a true emergency per se). I did manage to reach her, and we had a short conversation. She was cautiously optimistic, but certain details still needed to be worked out, among them whether Emily -- who had only been expecting her mother to visit -- could deal with the addition of her father as well.
I managed to contact Em within minutes, and although she was very surprised to hear of my decision, she seemed open to having me join her mom for this visit.
When Jeannine got home the following day, we talked some more and started the process of changing the flight arrangements. For various reasons, this wasn't completed until the following day. I went out and bought a real suitcase (up 'til this point I'd always traveled with a kind of floppy duffel bag thing) and an accompanying backpack to serve as my carry-on luggage.
Through all this, my excitement hadn't flagged -- if anything, now that I'd made the decision, I found it hard to wait until Tuesday, the day of our departure. My brother Bruce agreed to house-sit and take care of the pets while we were away, which was a big load off my mind. I checked with my doctor to see if he could prescribe me anything stronger than my current anti-anxiety medication for the flight, but he said I could just take two instead of the one I usually take.
So I was ready.
When Tuesday rolled around, we packed up our stuff and headed off to Bradley International Airport in Hartford, CT. We got through security with no problems, found our gate, and sat down to wait to board. It was at this moment that I realized I'd left my iPad at home, which was a drag as I had specifically charged it up and left it out so I could pack it in my carry-on. For some reason, I spaced it out. But while that was kind of a bummer, it still didn't dent my level of excitement.
We boarded the plane shortly thereafter, and found our first-class seats. I was a little surprised by them -- I was expecting something really cushy, not just a slightly wider seat in the front rows of the passenger compartment. But at least Jeannine and I were sitting next to each other in our own row.
The one thing that I had been most anxious about -- that I would get on the airplane, realize that I was in a confined space and would be there for the next six hours with no chance of getting out, and my claustrophobia would kick in big time -- never happened. I didn't even experience a touch of it, as I recall. And the flight was pretty much as I'd remembered from my last one over twenty-one years ago -- mostly boring.
(Here's a view of some cool clouds from Jeannine's window seat.)
I slept part of the way, very often holding on to Jeannine's hand. And then it was over, and we were landing at LAX and trying to find a shuttle to the rental car agency.
The next seven days were a lot of fun. Among other things, I got to see Emily at her workplace as well as her apartment. Jeannine and I visited the La Brea tarpits, a place I'd wanted to see since I was a kid. I served as designated driver for Em, her roommate Colleen, and Jeannine on a wine-tasting expedition to vineyards around Santa Barbara. (Here's a photo of them at the first wine tasting we went to.)
We visited the beautiful Huntington Library museum and gardens in Pasadena. Em booked us on a tour of the Warner Brothers studio lot, and we came away from that with some fun photos, including one of the three of us on the "Central Perk" couch from the "Friends" tv series. And we capped our visit with a three-day stay at a lovely oceanside resort near Santa Barbara (truth be told, I wouldn't have minded another few days there).
Then it was time to say our goodbyes and head home. And the flight back was essentially a replay of the flight out, although we took a "red-eye" and got back to Massachusetts early in the morning, and had to go through the typical day or so of disorientation as we readjusted to a normal schedule.
But the most salient fact was this -- that I had broken the hold of the fear that had kept me literally grounded for twenty-one years. I look forward now to further adventures, traveling with Jeannine. We're talking about another trip to California, perhaps to San Francisco, and then maybe even to Hawaii. But not right away. -- PL
P.S. Yes, I know the San Diego Con was happening while I was out in California (although I didn't know it until I'd told the guys at Mirage about my unexpected upcoming trip and Mike Dooney had mentioned SDCC, which he would be attending), but except for wanting to see some old friends, particularly Stan Sakai, I had no interest in dealing with con madness on this trip. Maybe next year… maybe not.