She turned to face me and glanced at her paper through her red-framed glasses. Ms. Flight Attendant (FA) was a tall German woman whose blonde ponytail and efficiency of both manner and movement revealed that she was the master of this domain. Her eyes switched from me, to the paper, back to me, then the paper. She had yet to say a word to me.
“Yes, that’s my name.”, I said.
She looked at me with a mixture of “Does not compute”, “How did you hear what was in my head?”, and “You must be in the wrong cabin.”
“No, it’s not.” She looked up at the seat number placard on the overhead compartment, glanced at me, then down at the paper, and back at me.
“What is your name?”
“Tony Wiederhold :-)”
“Ah! VEE-dairhold.” She repeated it again. I could see the wheels turning in her mind.
“I understand many Americans have German names, but…” She paused.
“My face doesn’t look the part. 🙂 You’re not the first!” We shared a laugh. She brought me water in a little stemmed glass.
The seat shimmied from the spin of the engine turbines. A faint whiff of jet exhaust hung in the air. The air in the cabin moved gently across my face. Bits of words from soft conversations rode on the air. The engines crescendoed and the 747 lurched forward and onto the taxiway. My window offered me a clear view of the red-purple-blue sunset light show at the western horizon. The giant plane lumbered and tumbled over a bridge over an interstate. Cars and trucks zipped underneath. I saw a constellation of inbound planes, their bright lights hanging in the sky.
The engines crescendoed again and sang an octave higher. It felt as if a boulder were nudged down a gentle slope. The plane rolled effortlessly down the runway until we floated off the ground. The flow of car and truck traffic seemed to slow as we climbed and accelerated, as if time itself were slowing down. The plane banked to the north and east, giving me an unobstructed sunset view from the sky. Sunsets from a plane look different than they do from the ground. The reds are deeper and more intense, like blood or Cabernet or beetroot, the sort of reds you wouldn’t want near a white carpet. Colors like that aren’t adequately captured by an iPhone.
After around 15 minutes, Lake Michigan was behind us. While tapping this out on my phone I glance every so often at the map on my monitor. It is displayed from the perspective of the cockpit. It pans as if you’re looking out the windows, then as if you had jumped out the windshield (do they call them windshields on airplanes?) and were suspended outside the cockpit according to the laws of cartoon physics. Cities appeared on the satellite-view map, accentuated with bright yellow bullseyes. Sheboygan. Alma. Midland. Then, as if you were falling off of an orbiting platform in reverse, the map zooms out. The small cities vanish and big ones appear as you are pulled into the stratosphere. Detroit. Toronto. London. Havana. Warsaw. Niamey, Washington. Finally, as you enter orbit, the only cities visible are the origin and destination, in this case Chicago and Frankfurt, two dots connected by a thick, straight yellow line, ignoring the curve of the earth.
Ms. FA brought me an apfelschorle and a crucible of cold cashews. Germans and Austrians always giggle a bit and smile when I ask for apfelschorle. The younger they are, the gigglier. Ms. FA’s giggle lasted less than a second. “Apfelschorle, okay. <giggle> :-)” It’s not a mean giggle. Quite the opposite. It’s a joyous, excited, surprised giggle, a little bit sweet and effervescent, like apfelschorle itself. See #9 in this link to understand apfelschorle.
For dinner, I chose a cold ratatouille starter and tortelloni entree. I was paying attention to my cravings and choices. Earlier in the day, as I tucked into a big burger in the lounge, my colleague Anne looked at me with squinted eyes and a cocked head. “I’m confused. I thought you were a vegetarian.” I went on to explain that I started eating meat again and that I was a fairly strict vegetarian for two one year periods in my life. When the inevitable “Why?” came, I felt myself reflexively recite the narrative of rationales, including the environmental impact of mass farming of animals, heavy water use where it is scarce, the killing of the animals, the living conditions, and ethics of raising an animal to kill it and eat it. That killed the discussion on the subject as Bill and Anne looked down at their burgers and carpaccio. As I ate the burger, and noticed what I liked about it, what was most delicious was the combination of slightly sweet, gently sour pickled onions and a buttered, griddled bun with a perfectly crisp face and a thin coating of mayonnaise. There was a fried egg and cheese also on it, which both brought creaminess and salt. The meat patty itself brought little to the party but chew. The sandwich would have been delicious without it. The meat was boring.
The ratatouille was delicious and exciting, a melange of flavors and textures from the different vegetables overlaying a satisfying sweet, vinegary tartness. I was apprehensive because I was afraid it would be boring, meaning not savory, which is a conditioned expectation.
I don’t remember what I was dreaming about when the plane began to shake. I used an eye mask and earplugs to block out the world. As the turbulence intensified, it felt as if I were spinning slowly on a turntable while the plane jostled about. I drifted back to sleep.
I rose to the tinkling of forks on plates and the unintelligible sounds recognizable as words that made it through my earplugs. A different Ms. FA, Ms. FA-2, hovered a polite distance away while got my bearings. The time at home was 11:49pm. In Frankfurt it was 5:49am. In Hyderabad, my ultimate destination on this leg, it was 10:19am. Why India has a time zone that contains a fraction of an hour is a question I’ll google once I have internet access. (1) We were over Ireland, moving fast on a vector that would take us over London, where I would look down at the lights and think of my friend Sarah, a colleague I met in Kenya who joins my Monday Meditation sessions sometimes over Skype, and then think about how I could have flown to Hyderabad nonstop from LHR. “Hastings” appeared on the map. My brain reacted with the number 1066.
Ms. FA-2, who might giggle a fraction of a second less than Ms. FA if I were to ask for apfelschole, tilted her head to her left when I smiled and declined breakfast, then coffee, then tea, then orange juice. She gave up. A few minutes later, Ms. FA approaches.
“Are you sure you don’t want any breakfast?”
“Yes, I’m still full from dinner and I am happy with this bottle of water and my orange.”
“How about coffee or tea?”
“No, thank you! :-)”
“I have green tea… :-)”
I wondered for a moment how she knew that I like green tea. I think that experienced flight attendants must be experts of human behavior and tastes, having observed and tended to so many individuals at close range for hours at a time. Then I wondered if it is because I have an Asian face, or my dark blue t-shirt with El Capitan printed on it, or my brown adventure pants and sneakers. Occasionally people make assumptions about me based on my appearance. Maybe I’ll ask her on the way out. (2)
When I politely refused even the green tea, Ms. FA also tilted her head to her left for a moment. Perhaps that is how they collect their data on human behaviors and tastes.
We landed in Frankfurt on a dark, stormy morning. It was about 50 degrees F warmer than home. The sun rose around 8:30am local time. I await the next flight.
(1) I did. It’s complicated.
(2) I didn’t.