Saturday, April 7, 2007
Flights of distraction
I am an aviation junkie. There. I've said it. "Stricken airliners" litter my dreamscape. "Under the flightpath" is a rental property imperative. The unmistakable smell of an airport sets my nerves and senses alight ... and in the days when I used to have a car, I would often spontaneously drive down to Botany Bay, park my car, and walk along the sandy path to my precious 'plane spotting enclosure' - only metres from runway 16R/34L (Kingsford Smith's main north-south runway). And here, I would spend hours and hours happily high on aviation-fuelled distraction.
There is something utterly compelling about the sight of a Boeing 747 powering up the runway, heavy with fuel, cargo, passengers and crew. It is a majestic and awe-inspiring event. Every time. One jaw-dropping thrill after another. O Fortuna invariably sweeps through my internal stereo system as the gigantic conglomeration of man's mastery of aerodynamics, chemistry, science and design thunders down the runway. The front wheels lift off ... and there is that moment where that peculiar little angle of an aircraft's tail suddenly displays its truth of purpose - gliding, only ever a few thrillingly exact few feet it seems, perfectly parallel to the runway. And then the ultimate show of strength and vision ... the conquest of the point of no return ... as the aircraft leaves the ground, heaving itself with laborious thrust and utter determination into the sky. I always hold my breath. The landing gear folds neatly away into the hold. It's better than sex. I have never been known to wish for it to end. And the experience is always punctuated by a little tinge of sadness and regret when the glittering object of my affection - and undivided attention - is but a speck in the distance. Unlike almost every film I've ever seen, I always want to see it again. I was paying attention but I might have missed something of this utterly hypnotic display. Theatre has rarely been this good ... but unlike Theatre, I have absolutely no idea how this happens. It defies my comprehension, each and every single time.
Plane spotting is a fixation - a hobby that, unlike stamp collecting, gives something back. Absolutely. Even just waiting for an airplane to put in an appearance on the tarmac and taxi past us invokes the rare thrill of anticipation ... and I am rarely alone in my cyclone fenced Utopia. People come with their children, cameras, tripods, and ladders ... and if I am really lucky, radios locked on to the Air Traffic Control Tower frequency are clipped to the fence for the intimate, private pleasure of our merry band of worshippers. It's so much fun I'm surprised there's not a law against it. Or a tax. Or, at the very least, an entry fee.
If plane spotting is my addiction, then actually flying is - surely - a fix as close to heaven as I'm ever going to get ... a silent, illicit thrill that triggers an almost unbearable manifestation of fear, apprehension, delight, and wonder. On my most recent flight to Melbourne, I was sitting behind a father and his two very young daughters, one of whom, like me, had managed to secure the First Prize - A Window Seat. Our push back from the terminal was late. Our wait on the tarmac was interminable. The Pilot informed us, wryly, that it was always like this at Kingsford Smith on a Friday night. His voice immediately went through some kind of internal filter I think we all share in some small, but incredibly significant way: does this sound like the voice of a man who knows what he's doing? Am I prepared to trust this man with my life? Have I done the right thing accepting a window seat at the rear of the aircraft? I did have a choice ... 23C (aisle) or 47A (window) ... I can't get Jane Froman out of my head.
We were running late. Our taxi to take-off is a jolly affair ... and fast ... an added treat! I strain in my seat to glimpse behind us.
"Look Daddy!" the little girl in front of me exclaims. "Look at all the other planes behind us!"
I thought the very words I was thinking had inadvertently escaped. Had I really just shouted? Was my delinquent, internal dialogue unable to help itself? I glanced quickly around to make sure no-one was looking at me ... nervously ... the way I'm sure we all do, almost innately these days, to reassure ourselves that our fellow passengers reveal a complete lack of visible 'hijack' or 'random act of sharpened chop-stick wielding terrorism' potential.
Our 737 turns on her heels and settles at the end of the runway.
Power. A shift ... my new girlfriend gives me a sexy little shimmy ... and here we go into the sequence that always, for me anyway, more than entirely justifies the cost of a seat on a plane. Every last cent.
"Wow! Daddy! We're going so fast!"
For some reason, it's a longer than anticipated race.
"Get up, get up" I urge, soundlessly.
"When are we going to take-off Daddy?
Shut up little girl.
... and then yes! The magical tilt. I can see what it looks like from inside and I know what we look like from outside. My heart sings.
"Oh Daddy! The buildings are so small ... look at the lights! They are so beautiful! They're beautiful Daddy! Look!"
I'm looking. I'm smiling ... fuck it, beaming. And right there in front of me, the very articulation of my own delight. My odious, adult and silenced joy.
We bank to the right ... and I wonder when it happens, this adult imperative to suppress our innermost squeals of joy and wonder. And when do we learn to accept it? When did silent observance become an acceptable form of expression? Who determined that rule? Certainly not, I would suggest, the people who dreamed that a mass of heaving metal could fly.