Wednesday, December 13, 2023

US Open 2023 - The Flight and The Committee

[Composed 8/31/2023]

Whenever I fly a committee of voices in my head joins me. Despite this being an absurdly short flight to New York City, the gang was all there; everyone playing their part. The committee consists of a Business Man, Scientist, Artist, Terrified Teen and 10 Year Old boy. As soon as we arrive at the airport, the discussion among the members begin.

Business Man (in an important sounding voice): You know, we should have free Wi-Fi on this flight. That makes it the perfect opportunity to knock out some e-mail and get some coding done.

Scientist (ignoring the business man): Isn't air travel amazing? Just think, 115 years ago what we're doing today would have seemed like a fantastic fantasy. And now, air travel moves nearly 6 million people every day! We travel in a few hours what would have taken previous generations days, weeks or even months. Did you guys know, that first passenger flight took place just two miles from where we live?

Every else (groaning): Yes, we know.

Terrified Teen (because he can't resist): Don't forget, 10 days after the first passenger flight Wright crashed at that same spot, causing the first air fatality.

Everyone else (in unison): not helpful.

Artist (saying, brightly): I'm just excited to get some unique views of the landscape. Maybe this flight is the flight we'll capture the perfect views of DC and NYC?.

10 Year Old Boy (tentatively): Guys, do you think we'll get to watch some TV this flight?

Business Man (scoffing): TV? Not likely. We have important work to do.

Scientist (thoughtfully): Sorry buddy, I wouldn't count on it. Our Garmin Watch has some breathing exercises I've wanted to try out. Plus, we should really put in some time with Duolingo. Any remaining free time should really be spent getting caught up on podcasts.

Artist (exasperated): Consume, consume, consume. Is that all you guys can think about? Instead of consuming content, we should be creating! I mean we're going to take pictures, but why stop there? We've got a pen and paper, so we could definitely do some journaling and drawing. But why stop there? We've never written a screenplay. Why don't we try our hand at doing so on this flight? We can use the people around us as inspiration for the characters. Creative endeavors are so very worth their efforts!

Everyone else (even more exasperated): Ugh, this guy.

And so the chatter in my head goes as I made my way through security and to the gate. Once at the gate, I peered out the window at the plane waiting to take us to New York.

Terrified Teen (sarcastically): Oh great, it's a tiny plane. That means we'll feel every bit of turbulence. I hate this. This sucks.

Scientist (authoritatively): And what's so bad about turbulence? The pilot is obviously well trained and experienced. He--or she--would only take us up if the conditions were safe. Don't forget, nearly 1000 planes take-off and land at DCA everyday. This might be scary for us, but for the people who work here this is a humdrum job.

Terrified Teen (losing it): Yeah well...turbulence equals shaking...and shaking equals rivets loosening...and rivets loosening equals planes falling out of the sky!

Scientist (reassuringly): Uh, that's not how that works. Shall I Google how wings are attached to...

Artist (interrupting): Guys! Guys! Guys! Look! A plane is landing and you can see the Washington Monument in the background. I bet nobody has ever taken that photo before. Let's be the first!

Boarding our flight, the committee mostly falls silent. The artist pipes up now and then suggesting pictures that are just too important not to capture. The Scientist, at suggestion of both the safety briefing and a book I read nearly 13 years ago, thoroughly examines the safety briefing card. He looks around and finds the closest emergency exit, knowing full well it may be behind me and counts the rows to get to that exit. I immediately forget this number, but it makes the committee feel better to let the Scientist do his thing. Once buckled in, the Scientist makes a show of taking charge.

Scientist (calmy): OK, we've reviewed the safety instructions, found our nearest emergency exist, felt under the seat to confirm we have a life jacket and visualized where the oxygen masks are going to be deployed from. Remember, grab ours first and then help others with theirs. This is just a normal day at the office for the crew. They wouldn't be here if this was dangerous. We're fine.

Artist (distractedly): Huh? What did you say? The view out our window reveals remarkable cloud cover that combined with our extra wide angle lens is making for a breathtaking composition. How fortunate, we haven't even got off the ground and we're treated to a stunning visual display!

Terrified Teen (alarmed): Did you say cloud cover? That means a bumpy take off for sure!

Scientists (reassuringly): We don't know that. And if it is bumpy, it will just be for a moment or two. Relax. We got this.

As we taxi to the runway, the committee falls silent. They remain silent until we we start careening down the runway. At the moment of lift off, the Terrified Teen always chimes in.

Terrified Teen (in a panic): I DON'T LIKE THIS. CAN WE GO HOME NOW!

Scientist (firmly): Give it a second, we'll be fine. Count to 40 and the hard part will be over.

Artist (excitedly): Guys! Look out the window! This view is amazing. The monuments! The buildings! What a treat this is!

Terrified Teen (relaxing slightly): OK, maybe this isn't so bad.

(the plane continues it's impossibly steep rise, banking sharply and shaking with the smallest bit of turbulence)


Everyone else: (silence)

Scientist (panickily): I know, let's all grip the arm rest for dear life. That should help.

Everyone but the 10 Year Old Boy (enthusiastically): Yes, yes. Let's do that.

10 Year Old Boy (curiously): Why are we holding on to the arm rest? If the plane plummets from the sky, how does holding on to the plane itself help?

Everyone else (loudly): Shut up, kid. You literally know nothing.

10 Year Old Boy (sheepishly): Can we maybe watch TV now?

Everyone else (exuberantly): Yes! Yes, let's watch TV. TV good.

And so we rise to our cruising altitude, alternating between capturing photos of the views and watching Heart of Stone on Netflix. The photos and movie keep the committee occupied, leaving a surprisingly small amount of bandwidth to panic.

After our impossibly steep ascent (thank you DCA and your crazy flight patterns), we soon level off and things smooth out for bit. At this point, the Business Man makes a great show of taking the helm.

Business Man (pretending he wasn't just scared): OK, now that we're at crusing altitude, it's time to turn off this drivel and get to work.

This, of course, is all for show. The Business Man is hoping against hope that Wi-Fi will be down. In that case, he can make a large show of disappointment and get back to watching the movie.

Alas, this flight the Wi-Fi is functional. E-mail is read and responded to. Though, the artist is pretty relentless.

Arist (eagerly): Guys! Look out there - it's some sort of air field! Check it out. (Zooms in digitally, snaps pics). I bet that's an airforce base and those are planes ready for quick deployment. That's so cool.

Scientist (apprecatively): I think you're right! That is cool. I wonder which base it is. I wonder what type of planes those are. I wonder what role they play? I wonder how long it takes for them to be airborne. So much to research and learn about. I can't wait.

10 Year Old Boy (impatiently): the planes are cool, but can we get back the movie?

Everyone else (unguardedly): oh yeah, for sure, defintely.

After a mere 25 minutes, the plane begins to descend. That's how short this flight is. A flight attendant announces that it's time to pack up, and the the Business Man groans, giving off a "well, I would have done more work, but you know, rules are rules" vibe. It's all for show, he's as eager as the rest of the committee to get back to watching the movie.

As we approach New York City, the committee's chatter starts to intrude on the movie.

Artist (breathlessly): GUYS! Look! The sun is catching those container ships so beautifully. And look, I think we can capture the sillouhete of that bridge! The light is amazing!

Everyone else (annoyed): Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can we get back to our movie?

Artist (equally annoyed): In a minute! You can watch that movie anytime, but this moment we are experiencing is special. We're literally flying, an activity that for thousands of year was considered the stuff of Science Fiction. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves for burying your heads in a screen when you're participating in one of the great privileges of our age.

Scientist (timidly): OK...take your pictures. It's just that I'm finding this film so riddled with plot holes that mustering the imagination needed to accept its premises is offering an interesting thought exercise.

Business Man (confidently): And Gal Gadot is HOT!

Terrified Teen (momentarily dropping his guard): Heck yeah! (They high five)

Artist (miffed): You guys are impossible. Oh wait, more buildings! These lines should form quite the composition, don't you all agree? I wonder how this would look using one of the black and white filters on Google photo. Who's excited to find out?

Terrified Teen (troubled): GUYS. We are accelerating. Should we be accelerating? I mean, we're going awfully fast, even for an airplane. And the ground is getting very close to us. How sure are we that the runway will actually be there? I mean, it doesn't look like there's a runway anywhere around here, does there? Would it help if we screamed in panic? I think that would help. Let's scream. Let's scream for our lives.

Everyone else: Chill out and watch the damn movie.

All: (movie is put back on, everyone momentarily forgets their mortality)

And so the banter about watching the movie, snapping skyline pics and panicking continues until we finally, and far from gently, land. As we taxi to the terminal, the committee does one more round of discussions.

Scientist (a bit too confidently): See, I told you we had nothing to worry about. Air travel is impressively safe.

Terrified Teen (reluctantly): OK, that wasn't too bad. I guess I was wrong when I said that we were absolutely going to plumet to our deaths.

Business Man (scoldingly): Next time, we really should come better prepared to get work done. When Wi-Fi is no longer available, we should have other tasks we can complete. After all, this is precious time to put to use.

Scientist (agreeing): Agreed. And really, we must try the Garmin Breathwork app. Perhaps the breathing exercises could help us fly more calmly. And we didn't even open Dulingo. C'mon guys, we can do better.

Arists (exicitedly): Ooh, the Manhattan skyline. Isn't it magnficent? Better get another round of pics of it.

By the time we deplane, the committee has disbanded. I know that in a few days, when we head back to DC, they'll be back. While the chatter will remainly largely the same, I know with absolute certainty that the only activity that will be done on the flight home is to watch Gal Gadot smash bad guys and I can't wait.

New York and the US Open, here we come!

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