Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nobody's Angel, Nobody's Passenger

As some of you might know, I love the song of the open road, always preferring it to flying. Long before flying became a bit of a security check nightmare, I chose the road for its quiet, the ability to stop when and where I liked, not having to chat with someone who was talking too loud and asking intrusive questions nor tolerating the sometimes interminable wait either in the airport or on the plane. While others wait I drive, even if I won't arrive until the next day.

I didn't set foot on a plane until I was in my mid-20's. I was on my way to Nashville with appointments at various music producers and publishing houses. I was a sometime songwriter and, no, I didn't meet with much success but I sure had fun trying. I had a songwriting and business partner who would meet me there. That was the flight where a boorish man insisted on talking to me in a loud voice, as my worst fear of flying was being realized. I also discovered that my problem with motion sickness was kicking into high gear and it was going to require my full concentration not to fill the barf bag tucked into the pocket in front of me. They might have been related.

Several flights later, I was traveling on a musician friend's bus across the vast expanse known as Montana and, despite my love of the open road, I was coming to the realization that riding in the back of a bus, no matter how well appointed, was not going to be my life any more than flying in airplanes would be. Other choices would have to be made. I'd watched old farms that I would have loved to photograph disappear in the distance as we kept rolling. And although it was offered to me, I didn't feel I could hold up the show, so I declined. Watching the real world go by mile after mile without being able to stop on a whim just didn't seem like a good choice. I knew that if I continued on that bus I would ride into the future with no control over my own life and just up ahead lay the point of no return. The farther west we went, the closer to California we got, the more certain I was of it.

So, somewhere in Montana, I told my friend that I had to return home, my real life was waiting. We had a long-term friendship that seemed to transcend any possible expectations, so, two hours later, I was sitting in the Bozeman airport on my way to Fargo, ND, where my car was patiently waiting for me. It probably knew I would come to my senses. The flight on a small plane was the only thing that stood between me and my drive home.

The small plane had about twenty passengers. I was somewhere near the rear. We went through a storm about midway, hitting turbulence unlike any I'd known previously. To say I was scared would be an understatement. It was tossing and turning like something out of a grade B movie. Looking back now, I realize it may well have been a reflection of my own thoughts and the emotional turbulence I was feeling over the decision I had just made. I prayed, continually, until we had descended and were on terra firma once again. 

I had to fly several times over the years, mostly back and forth between Santa Fe and Minnesota when time was of the essence, but a few years ago I decided I would never fly again unless it was overseas where it's pretty much required. And that doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. I am not good at waiting and I am not good at being crammed into small spaces with many people and I am especially not good at having security wands circling around inside my skirt. 

I have recently seen more than one reference to flying and how it feels to be amongst strangers with whom you're sharing this experience. It took me to a poem I recalled by Billy Collins, in which he talks about just this thing. I'm a big Billy Collins fan and it seems to fit. Plus, you know, I have this thing about poetry.


At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats
with the possible company of my death,
this sprawling miscellany of people -
carry-on bags and paperbacks -

that could be gathered in a flash
into a band of pilgrims on the last open road.
Not that I think
if our plane crumpled into the mountain

we would all ascend together,
holding hands like a ring of skydivers,
into a sudden gasp of brightness,
or that there would be some common spot

for us to reunite to jubilize the moment,
some spaceless, pillarless Greece
where we could, at the count of three,
toss our ashes into the sunny air.

It's just that the way that man has his briefcase
so carefully arranged,
the way that girl is cooling her tea,
and the flow of the comb that woman

passes through her daughter's hair...
and when you consider the altitude,
the secret parts of the engines,
and all the hard water and the deep canyons below...

well, I just think it would be good if one of us
maybe stood up and said a few words,
or, so as not to involve the police,
as least quietly wrote something down.

~ Billy Collins

Edward Hopper   "Outer Cape Gas Station"

B & W image from Tumblr


  1. Best blog line EVER: "...and I am especially not good at having security wands circling around inside my skirt." Made me literally laugh out loud.

    I'm with you Teresa. I'd take the car over the plane any day. Though these days, with gas prices what they are, that's hardly an affordable option.

  2. I've never had the chance to go on a "real" road trip that didn't in some way involve being a kid crammed in the jump seat of a pickup (all the way from CA to GA) or a moving van.

    Someday, because it sounds so lovely, the way you put it with being able to stop and take pictures of barns, I would like to do that. By the time it happens, there will probably be no more gas for personal cars... :-)

    I'll keep holding out for it though.

  3. Life is strange, allowing so many different ways to experience the world. I see air travel as being almost impossible these days, although in the old days it was really exciting. I love the poem, it is incredibly descriptive.

  4. My truth is in your post. I've had to fly and fly and fly in my life time and after my husband died, I said, "no more." I'll drive or I won't go. I took a ship twice to Europe and back. Not as a cruise, exactly, it used to be transportation. Heck, I'm showing my age again, guess it was before planes were the travel mode. LOL


  5. Teresa this is the best post ever & I loved the poem. I love road trips..."being able to stop and take pictures of barns." Perfect way to put it!

  6. I enjoy driving. It's like going to a movie and turn around way too many times. It's been a long time since I've flown and look forward to the next small plane ride. No balloon rides though. They say they can steer them but they lie. It's fun driving around. Good post.

  7. Hello Teresa:
    We can certainly identify with your reluctance to fly. Whenever possible, we choose an alternative, even being prepared to spend 27hours on a bus from Budapest to London which we do quite frequently.

    Although we know about the meticulous training of pilots, the back up systems if things go wrong, the safety of air travel etc. etc. we still prefer the open road!

  8. Kristy, The gas prices are going to put a dent in my road time, and I know it might be a good thing, it will change the way I've lived, but then, I guess that's the whole idea.

    Neighbor, In the jump seat of a pickup truck from CA to GA. sounds like torture. I hope the future holds a few road trips for you of stopping when you will.

    DJan. From what I understand, people used to dress up to fly. But that was when people didn't wear their pajamas to shop at Wal-Mart, either.

    Manazanita, I love that you've traveled the ocean in that way. It certainly was a slowed down version of travel, which seems like the appropriate approach anyway.

  9. Lynn, thank you so much. I hope a road trip is in your near future.

    One Fly, I know all about turning the car around. That's what I love. Being able to do just that. Nothing finer than just getting in the car and going...wherever. I do not care for small planes, and there's a reason, which will probably be another post. :)

    Jane and Lance, "27 hours on a bus from Budapest..." sounds like a great premise for a short story, or at least a blog post.

  10. The first time I flew I was 34 years old. I did not enjoy it. I have been on a plane 4 times altogether now. I still do not like it. Give me the open road ~ while it takes long to get where you are going ~ there's so much more to see!

    Excellent post Teresa!
    xo Catherine

  11. I have enjoyed train and plane travel, but as you pointed out you can't stop and smell the flowers.I have put tons of backroad miles on my vehicles and found so many hidden treasures.

  12. Catherine, Yes, much more to see. Thank You! Have a good day!

    Steve, Backroads are where it's at. Hidden treasures of all kinds.

  13. Riding the open road has a great allure for me Teresa. It puts me in a Kerouac state of mind ! :-)

  14. Just had to return for a brief moment. This morning, while waiting for Cody to come in (I gotta get a doggy door), your phrase, " security wands circling around inside my skirt,"came into my head and I couldn't stop giggling to myself. Thanks. That was fun. :)

  15. Paul, Yeah, it's kinda fun driving around and feeling all Kerouacy. :)

    Manzanita, It's good to laugh, even at those things that can be annoying at the time. I hope you and Cody are having a good day.

  16. Nobody's passenger...I like that theme. One feels kind of helpless in a plane, but then the open road....exhilarating. Metaphorically it says a lot about the choices we make in our lives.

  17. It does. Exactly. Thank you, Paul C.

  18. Art and I are on Day 9 of a three-week road trip. Last night we slept in a room in a barn in Iowa, on a dirt road four miles from town. Tonight we'll sleep in a room in a modern home in Nebraska, on a dirt road four miles from town. I've loved every mile of the 2,500 we've driven so far. I feel like I know these places now besides on a map. Also, as much as I complain about the weather at home, in the Pacific Northwest, I've experienced wind nearly every day of this trip, and I can now say I'm grateful we haven't got a lot of it where I live.

  19. Linda, It sounds like you're having a great trip. I've never been fond of wind, either. Sometimes traveling tells us what we like about home.

  20. Wonderful post. The freedom of the open road is always to be preferred to the enclosure in a tin can. And driving alone and free to stop wherever - maybe, just maybe, a kindred spirit might be allowed to join one - is sheer bliss.

    Until things go wrong.

    Here's hoping your road will always take you where you want to go safely, happily and at your own speed.

  21. In general terms I do share your views on flying : but some times there are no alternatives. So, in a few week, I will be taking to the sky again. Fingers crossed.

  22. Friko, Oh yes, a kindred spirit might be allowed. Things shared can multiply the fun.

    Alan, May your flight to the Big Apple be incident free and shared with happy fellow-flyers.

  23. Thank you for the comment on my post and I'm so glad you can relate... Mom's always seem to connect heart to heart - we feel the pull as women who have held children in our arms and had them gaze into our eyes with such trust. Truly blessed. Jenn

  24. Your post is just lovely and I'm so glad we "met." Thank you for stopping by.

  25. Oh boy, I do not like flying either and recently when I saw on the news a child was stripped searched, I was mortified, so the wand would be minor compared to that. Give me the train, a car, a bus, a motorhome, no planes for me. And then there is the fact that often folks get ill after flights due recirculated air. As you say being about to stop when you want has such appeal.

  26. Hi Linda, Flying has become a ghastly example of how we are being taught to live in fear, that the world is a place to be feared. I'm not buying it, but I still prefer to travel by other modes.

  27. Teresa, your prose is flat out elegant. It is essentially prose/poetry and that, my multi-talented friend, is hard to do right. Also, your reservoir of literary gems comes in real handy. Then, your art....

  28. Wow. Thank you, Cletis. You are too kind, for which I'm very grateful. :)

  29. oh woaw...I have nothing to add,/marie

  30. Thanks for visiting my blog, Marie.

  31. Enjoyed reading your blog - great choice of pictures esp the Hopper gas station

  32. Thank you, Mister D. I'm so glad you dropped by....

  33. What a wonderful piece of writing. I'm not much of a fan of flying either although I do fly occasionally.

    The songwriting, the flying, the riding in the back of the bus while everything disappeared into the distance, the car faithfully waiting for your return......all wonderful experiences that you portrayed to all of us readers beautifully.

    You have had a marvelous life thus far Teresa and I suspect in many ways it is just beginning. Hoping you have the time of your live in AK!

  34. Hi Bill, It has been a wonderful and very interesting life, thus far. I believe the best may well be yet to come, and why not?

    And although I'm pretty far north, not quite to AK. Minnesota will do, for now.... :)

    Thanks so much for all your kind comments.

  35. theresa,
    I truly love your innate sense of adventure...I wish some of that spirit would wear off on me :)

  36. Tracy, I believe I may have picked that up from my parents, to some extent. Perhaps your sense of adventure shows itself in other ways... Happy Mother's Day!

  37. I completely identify with your love of the road...not hurried. People think I am nuts for actually enjoying driving back and forth between Missoula, MT and Minneapolis when I was in college, across eastern MT, the Dakotas...but it was then that I felt free and without limitations, and I find vast open spaces stir something lost and remembered deep in my psyche...whether the Mojave, the ocean, or my new favorite, the Snake River valley through Arco, ID and the Mountains of the Moon...my Mom said it was "a lot of "nothing"" when my parents drove up to visit. That Nothing is beautiful to me...and calming.

  38. Tom, I could not agree more, that "nothing" is beautiful and yes, it stirs something deep within me as well. "Free and without limitations," is another fine phrase that speaks to my love of the open road. Thank you for your response. Much appreciated.

  39. hey teresa. i've missed you--been busy with other projects the past two weeks.
    this is a funny post. most of us can relate. i actually don't mind flying--i'm afraid of airports. they've become like prisons--like a sentencing to delays, pat-downs, curious scanners, and terrible food.

  40. Hi Michelle! I think that is so true; airports themselves have become not very good places to be. Thanks for reading!