Flying

I have arrived…

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After an hour and fifteen minute delay on the Tarmac, trapped in a seat so small I couldn’t cross my legs, the plane finally took off. Apparently there had been some “mechanical issues,” which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but gratefully they had been resolved. I turned on the in flight entertainment, practically cheered when I saw “Lego Movie” among the options, and reached for my earbuds, an ordeal that reinforced the necessity of yoga in my life. I thought of my friend James, the world’s happiest Production Assistant / posture nazi, and how proud he would be of my straight-backed, neutral-leg position. Everything is awesome!! Sigh.

As soon as dinner was served (a grueling decision between chicken or pasta, either of which I would inevitably feel I had made the wrong choice), I downed a little blue pill with a glass of Cabernet, my savior at 30,000 feet (see below: “Flying Lessons”). About 15 minutes later, right after Emmet and Wild Style had reached the Old West, I found myself feeling really warm and fuzzy. Pretty soon I was lassoing some horses of my own, only they were zebras with pink and blue stripes, and I wasn’t in the desert but rather on the planet Xanaxia, where everything is sparkly and beautiful and sleepy…

“Would you like some breakfast, miss?” I opened my eyes to find the flight attendant serving croissants and coffee. “Yes, please,” I smiled, thrilled by yet one more successful drug induced 8 hour plane sleep. I started back up where I had left off in “Lego Movie,” and finished it just as we began our descent. I could see England! Everything is awesome!! While I’d been to London as a baby with my parents and had enjoyed several layovers in Heathrow over the years, I’d never been to the city properly. I could feel the excitement simmering in my body (along with the coffee that was jolting me further and further from Xanaxia.)

Aside from the usual tedious customs line made better by free wifi (I loved England already!), navigating my way from the terminal to the Heathrow Connect was painless. The train took me right into the center, London Paddington, and when I exited I got that familiar yet foreign feeling I get every time I arrive in a new city. It’s a bit like waking up from a dream, or rather, waking up in a dream. Different air, different energy, different culture. But same language. That would make the next week decidedly easier to get around, in more ways than one (yes, that pun you are thinking is intentional.)

My first stop was my friend Mike’s work, the guy who I would be staying with the next week. On the way there, I practically cried as I passed centuries old buildings, regretting the fact that my entire adult life had been spent in Los Angeles. There were so many lives to lead, jobs to be had, ways to spend my 20s. I silently cursed my friend for having lived in both New York and London post LA, then rang up to his office. Any residual jealousy immediately disappeared upon seeing him, and I chose at that moment to be the person I wanted to be over the next few weeks: open, accessible, joyous.

We walked to his place, I dropped my bags, and within 40 minutes I was having a pint with one of my best friend’s sisters and her boyfriend. I live for moments like this. Practically strangers (we had met once before 4 years ago), and yet I felt so comfortable, so wonderfully at home with Izzy and James. They are the kind of couple that makes you want to be a better person. You can’t help but smile and laugh and be grateful in their presence, and I was all three. A few pints later, and I was ready to cancel my return flight to LA.

After leaving them (much to my chagrin) I met for dinner with Mike and his friend Ben. It was healthy, fairly inexpensive, and delicious – a rarity in London according to Mike. The company was excellent, and we continued the rapport at a hole in the wall. Literally. We knocked on a door, a server approved us through a sliding window, and we entered a speakeasy of sorts in the west end. My chocolate old fashioned did the trick, and pretty soon I was tearing up the dance floor to the Eagles. How funny to fly thousands of miles only to listen to a song about California. Small world indeed.

I got back to Mike’s flat at a reasonable hour, around 1am, and completed my usual evening routine. It’s amazing, I thought, I could be anywhere in the world, and I am still me. Same face wash, same toothbrush, same ritual. But a world away. A new perspective. That’s the beauty of travel. We recognize ourselves in another light, and we are transformed by it. I said a small blessing, prayed for sleep, and retired to the couch. What a trip this would be.

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Flying Lessons

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I hate flying. If my love for travel weren’t as deep as it is, I may be one of those trains, ships, and automobile girls. But alas, my heart breaks if I don’t touch down in a foreign country at least once a year (and quite frankly, who has time to participate in trans-oceanic cruises aside from the elderly and my parents?) Thus, in order to strengthen my 28 year marriage to traveling – yes, I began my adventures as an infant in Thailand – I have had to overcome my dreaded fear of airplanes. And oh, what a trip it’s been.

Like many sufferers of pteromerhanophobia, I didn’t always picture horrific scenes of airplane shrapnel piercing my liver while my left arm was on fire the second I stepped into the aisle. No, there was a time back in the early 90s when I actually enjoyed being up in the clouds, viewing the world as a red-tailed hawk or Superman. “Daddy, daddy, look! There’s a McDonald’s!” my excited 7 year-old self would proclaim from 2,000 feet as we ascended into the heavens. Back then, I somehow could trust that the wheels would always touch down on the other side of the planet, that our odds of winning the airplane crash lottery were a slim 11 million to one. My greatest fear as we crossed the ocean in a Cathay Pacific 747 was a dearth of honey roasted peanuts. Those were the days.

I still remember the flight where everything changed. It was a dark and stormy night in Southeast Portland, the perfect night (pregnant pause) for a plane crash! That’s actually not true at all. It was a sunny morning in Northeast Portland, and I was awoken at 6 am by a camera crew, ready to escort me to PDX. At 16 years old, I had been cast in a reality show for ABC Family (one of the first of its kind), and I was being shuttled across the country to switch lives with a girl in Pennsylvania. I kissed my mom and dad goodbye on cable TV, and boarded that flight alone. That’s right, you heard me, ALONE. It was the first time I’d ever done such a thing, and the second we took off my mind could thing of nothing else except dying in the comfort of two hundred strangers.

Reflecting on it now, I find it quite ridiculous that this solitary flight birthed my crippling fear of flying. For one thing, how selfish of me to want my friends and family to die with me in a fiery crash. Isn’t it actually better if I go down with strangers, my loved ones spared the horrific demise? I guess not; misery loves familiar company, as they say. Secondly, and this is getting a bit more philosophical, we all technically die alone, so with or without my mother present, the fear should have been the same. Again, the irrational wins the day, and even now my fear of flying is exponentially increased when I’m traveling solo.

But enough of all that psychobabble, I know what you’re really wondering – “Amy, how have you been able to overcome such a dehabilitating condition as pteromerhanophobia?” Well, I’ll tell you, dear reader, and it’s really very simple: Xanax.

I came across this miracle airplane drug a blessed three years ago, on a return flight from Dusseldorf. Until this point, my tried and true weapon of defense were those mini wine bottles they serve free of charge on international flights. Lots and lots of them. For several years, I had found that a drunken stupor greatly decreased my sense of panic, and also significantly improved the quality of film programming (I don’t know what rottentomatoes was talking about, “Good Luck Chuck” was hilarious!) But as any alcoholic can tell you, the buzz eventually wears off, and on my flight to Paris a month B.X. (Before Xanax), I had succumbed to a full blown panic attack halfway through The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. What makes this incident all the more surprising is the fact that I had also consumed a Tylenol PM, and the combination of the two had caused me to conk out. But do not underestimate my sensitivity to turbulence, because the second that plane started to tremble, I came to with a jolt, and my pulse went off the charts. (In retrospect, I wonder if the red wine and sleeping aid may have been the real cause of the panic attack. Who will ever know.)

Needless to say, after that terrifying experience over the Atlantic, I knew I required something much more potent than the poison of Dionysus to return me safely to Los Angeles. Luckily, my friend Zoe, an ex-pat living in that oh-so seedy arrondisement of Montmartre, prescribed just the thing. She gave me three little white tablets, and suggested I take one based on my slender frame. Knowing she was incapable of truly grasping the gravity of my condition, I took two before boarding AirBerlin Flight 790 to LAX. As I settled into my seat next to a 20-something Brit, I crossed my fingers and said a short prayer – “God save us.”

Twenty minutes later, suspended in a 400 ton piece of metal 10,000 feet above sea level, I was in heaven. I’d never felt so weightless, so content! The Brit could have told me he was secretly Al Qaeda and I would have smiled- “Bloody wonderful, good chap!” Every fear I’d ever had – spiders, ghosts, those pink flamingo yard ornaments – just evaporated into the oxygen deprived air of the stratosphere. “Life is beautiful! I’m on Xanax!” I proclaimed joyfully to my seatmate. “Do you have anymore?” he inquired, and I handed him my final pill. Wonderful! I thought, if this plane is to fall out of the sky, I will not be alone!

As chance would have it, a mere 12 hours later we arrived at the Tom Bradley terminal, as intact as two Xanax induced travelers could be. I retrieved my luggage from the baggage claim, phoned my friend who was circling the airport, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I’d found my cure.

(Now off to London!!!)