Mark R. Twombly is a Cessna Citation charter pilot who lives and writes from southwestern Florida.
I’m hoping that by the time this column appears in print, all of the streets, Main to Wall, will be clear. Not of winter snow and ice, but of the fear,
confusion, and chaos described in the headlines I woke up to this morning, and yesterday morning, and every morning for days and weeks before that. The news of the day, of every day, concerns another potential insertion of a federal finger in a very leaky financial dike. Another galactic-size corporation that a few months ago was rated as blue chip now concedes that it has almost no chips left. To keep the poker game going, the company seeks a house loan of, oh, say, 25 large. Large as in billions, which, as someone pointed out, is not that large by current rescue standards. If there is one thing this current economic crisis has taught us, it is that bad economic news that is reported, analyzed, punditized, and re-reported all day every day is a very effective form of torture.
This morning’s cheerless news did it for me. Put me over the edge. After reading the paper and listening to the radio, I concluded that doing something, anything, was better than listening to more news, enduring more torture. So I decided to join the newsmakers and engineer my own bailout. Unlike the usual bailees, however, I devised a plan that is simple, effective, and attractively priced. And, as a bonus, I will do the bailing on my own. I will extricate myself from the crushing weight of unending bad news by temporarily leaving the world behind. I’m going flying.
Flying has always been a way for its practitioners to evade the physical and emotional gravity that weighs on the world. Flying is a temporary gift, a brief reprieve from the dull routine, the meaningless conflicts, the enormous responsibilities that we wear on the ground like lead-lined boots. And I can’t think of a better reason to go flying than a worldwide economic crisis.
It’s not that flying is a total escape from the surface world. Rather, it puts that world in context. It removes the stressful immediacy of headlines and the messy detail of proximity, and gives us a longer, more rational, more objective perspective. Here’s how William Langewiesche describes it in his 1998 book Inside the Sky, A Meditation on Flight: “The aerial view…strips the facades from our constructions, and by raising us above the constraints of the treeline and the highway it imposes a brutal honesty on our perceptions. It lets us see ourselves in context, as creatures struggling through life on the face of a planet, not separate from nature, but its most expressive agents. It lets us see that our struggles form patterns on the land, that these patterns repeat to an extent which before we had not known, and that there is a sense to them.”
I’d like to say that I went to work on my bailout plan right away by going out to the airport and hopping in something that specializes in low, slow, uncomplicated flight. Something that, once it’s in the air and in its element, demands little attention from me. I’m free to contemplate the extraordinary beauty and privilege of being suspended in space while observing the world rotating slowly beneath those wings.
But, no, nothing like that. No low-and-slow flyer at my disposal this day. Instead, I’m headed to the airport to ready the Piper Aztec for a company flight from southwest Florida to the Miami area. An early morning, coast-to-coast dash. After landing I will wait at the FBO until my passengers finish their business and return to the airport so we can head back home.
That will be my day. A 45-minute flight followed by hours of hurry up and wait, with lunch being the big event. Then, finally, another 45-minute flight back west, chasing the waning light of day. But before I can tuck the airplane away for the night there is a cabin to tidy, bug smudges to remove from the leading edges, and general fiddling around to prepare for the next trip.
Transportation flying. It sounds a bit dreary; it is anything but. On our 45-minute trip we cross the watery Everglades and the wild Big Cypress Preserve. We can see the curvature of the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, and the Ten Thousand Islands area on the lower west coast. Halfway across the state, cruising at 7,000 feet msl I can see the sheen from the surface of the Atlantic Ocean out ahead and the Gulf of Mexico behind. The problems of the day tend to shrink in importance when you can look across an entire state at two oceans, and Florida Bay to boot.
It hardly matters what we fly, or where; the effect is the same, even when flying is work. “I had learned a craft and had worked hard learning it,” writes Beryl Markham in West With the Night, first published in 1942. “My hands had been taught to seek the controls of a plane. Usage had taught them. They were at ease clinging to a stick, as a cobbler’s fingers are in repose grasping an awl. No human pursuit achieves dignity until it can be called work, and when you can experience a physical loneliness for the tools of your trade, you see that the other things—the experiments, the irrelevant vocations, the vanities you used to hold—were false to you.”
A physical loneliness. Maybe that’s the irresistible pull that flying exerts, the reason we keep coming back for yet another bailout.
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