I love the hour before takeoff, that stretch of no time, no home but the gray vinyl seats linked like unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall be summoned to the gate, soon enough there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers and perforated stubs—but for now I can look at these ragtag nuclear families with their cooing and bickering or the heeled bachelorette trying to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s exhausted mother waiting to be called up early while the athlete, one monstrous hand asleep on his duffel bag, listens, perched like a seal trained for the plunge. Even the lone executive who has wandered this far into summer with his lasered itinerary, briefcase knocking his knees—even he has worked for the pleasure of bearing no more than a scrap of himself into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late, they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning —a little hope, a little whimsy before the loudspeaker blurts and we leap up to become Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.
Reprinted from On the Wing, published by the University of Iowa Press.