Look up from that screen; it’s amazing

I stood at the threshold of Gate B1 at the Portland airport and looked down the line of passengers. Every single one was staring at a cell phone. Around the room, people stared at phones, tablets or laptop computers. As I joined the row, I itched to look at my own “electronic devices,” but I pulled out my notebook and my pen instead.

I had over an hour to kill. Flying these days is a matter of hurry up and wait. Having made it through security, I was now free to eat, drink, and stare at my phone. Or surreptitiously watch other passengers.

Across the room in a square of sunlight by the window, a little girl about 5 sat on the floor with her mother. I assume it was her mother. What happened later made me wonder.

The girl stared at a tablet while the mom combed her long blonde hair. I could hear a cartoon voice coming from the machine. Look up, I thought. Look around. Each stroke of the mother’s comb seemed like a devotion. Outside, planes warmed up on the tarmac. The Portland sky was a mass of clouds forever changing shape. Soon we would be flying above those clouds. Look up, little girl.

At least the mother wasn’t staring at a screen. As I watched, she divided her daughter’s hair into sections and braided it into a long thin braid that hung nearly to the girl’s waist.

I looked down at my notebook for a minute. When I looked up, the mother had put the comb away and was staring at her phone. Mother and daughter sat in perfect parallel, both cross-legged on the floor, all attention on the devices in their hands.

No! I don’t have children or grandchildren, but I imagine if I were the grandmother, I’d be arguing with my daughter about taking away the screens. My daughter would probably respond, “Oh Mom, she’s fine.”

Maybe it’s not so bad. After all, I grew up always staring at a book. I still don’t go anywhere without something to read. Maybe it’s just a different form of distraction. Sometimes reality is just too hard. But I worry about what all these screens are doing to our minds.

Just before we were called to board, the mother and daughter got up, approached the gate, and talked to the attendant. To my surprise, the girl ran toward the jetway onto the plane by herself. The mother gathered her things and walked away. The child was going to fly alone. Off to see her divorced dad? Visiting the grandparents? My youngest stepson traveled on his own between parents when he was young. It’s a sad thing. The flight attendants take good care of the unaccompanied children, but he was always sick with stress when he arrived.

At the end of the trip, as I got off the plane, I saw the girl again. The plane-cleaning staff were already at work as she waited for her escort off the plane. She looked so alone in her pink leggings, white top, and braid coming undone in front.

Four days later, at Gate 29 in San Jose, I waited with people of all nationalities and races. Plenty stared at their phones, but this time I noticed the man across from me was reading a book while his wife typed on her laptop. Two teens nearby carried fat paperback books. Two Asian boys huddled over what I assumed was a phone or tablet. But no, it was a Rubik’s cube.

Here and there among the gates, I saw tables and play areas set up for kids with books, games, and coloring supplies. That gave me hope. Kids get bored and cranky. Hell, I get bored and cranky. But let’s all look up. There’s so much to see.

***

My dad turned 96 on Tuesday. I had to be there. It was a quick trip boxed in by my church job obligations. My father and I sat in the sun watching the squirrels and robins. We talked and talked, and we ate so much cake—five times in three days. We also ate tamales, raviolis, and Yankee pot roast. Hand me my stretchy pants and my stomach pills. I felt my heart rip open as I climbed into the taxi to go back to the airport, leaving Dad watching from the door. But it was worth it for the time we had together.

I realize if you’re reading this, you’re looking at an electronic device. When you finish, put that device down. Look around. If there’s someone else nearby, give them a hug. Who knows when you’ll get another chance?

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All airplane flights are not created equal

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After my last plane trip to San Jose, I swore I wouldn’t do it again. I’d go by car, train, boat or on a donkey, but not in an airplane. Ha. Last week, I was up in the air again. Same flight, same plane, same cheesy cracker snacks. But all flights are not created equal.

Flying was the only way I could get down there on a Monday night and be back in Oregon on Wednesday night, spending two whole days with my father in-between. Tuesday was his big meeting with the orthopedic surgeon that would determine whether he could start trying to walk again—or not. At 95, a broken leg heals mighty slowly. The doctor said yes, “go for it.” What the bones won’t do, the metal plate and screws holding his leg together will. So, at the moment you read this, he may be roaming the halls of Somerset Senior Living with his walker. He says people there were surprised that he was so tall; they had only seen him sitting in a wheelchair. They probably look short to him now.

So, cautious optimism for Dad. The doctor also said he could go home as soon as he’s comfortable walking. That’s a lot of motivation for laps around the complex (And a lot of worry for his kids).

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From above, Oregon is all green fields and trees
Back to the plane. Having done the same route before, I knew where to go and what to expect. It’s a long journey, even by airplane. I left home at 10:21 a.m. to take Annie to the Alsea River kennel in Tidewater on Highway 34 because, less than three weeks after her knee surgery, she needed to be restricted, medicated and watched over just like Dad. I ate lunch in Florence, where I discovered Clawson’s Wheelhouse. Good food, good people. Killer French dip. Then it was over the river and through the woods via Highway 126 to Eugene to check in at 2 p.m. for a 4 p.m. flight.

Locals fly out of the Eugene airport if they can because it’s smaller than the average big-city airport. You can park in a lot just outside the terminal. It only takes a few minutes to get through security and to the gate. At the gate, there’s a lounge area where you can plug in your laptop or relax in a rocking chair watching the action on the tarmac through the big windows.

The actual flight from Eugene to San Jose was not so mellow for me. I have this condition called Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease. Essentially it’s a feeling of needing to move one’s legs or die. I get crawling sensations and involuntary spasms. It doesn’t happen all the time, but put me in a confined space with no way to get out, and boom, I’m miserable. Thus it was on the way to San Jose. Alaska Airlines assigned me a window seat in the second to last row. The views were spectacular, but I was wedged in by a non-communicative man wearing sunglasses and reading the Bible. Mark, Chapter 6. Beside him, I squirmed the whole trip, my left leg spasming about once a minute. I tried to distract myself by reading, writing, and taking pictures. I drank the complimentary beer. No good. I even started praying the Rosary without the actual beads. I quickly lost track of my Hail Marys. I was never so glad to see San Francisco Bay down below.

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San Francisco Bay was a welcome sight. Note  fog creeping in.
The temperature was near 100 in San Jose, and Dad’s house was no cooler. But I was so glad to be walking out of that plane. Free at last! I dreaded the return trip two days later.

 

This time, Alaska assigned me a window seat in the very last row. When I saw it, I thought I was doomed. But God was with me big-time. The flight was half empty, and nobody sat in the other seat. I had the best plane ride ever. The back seat felt cushy and comfortable. I had room to spread out. I read and wrote and enjoyed the view. I guzzled a glass of pinot grigio. I was surprised when the flight attendant told me to put my computer away because we were beginning our descent into Eugene. Already? By the time we landed, I felt so mellow I wanted to hug all those pale-skinned Oregonians.

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San Jose’s freeways look like a carnival ride from above
It was the day after the summer solstice. Getting off the plane at 9:30 p.m., I towed my suitcase toward the sunset, delighted to be up and walking on my two strong legs. I promptly got lost on my way to the motel where I was spending the night before the long drive home, but who cares? I was on the ground.

I wonder if it would be kosher to buy two seats so I don’t get penned in. Nah. Next time, I’m driving.

***

I don’t usually talk about my restless legs (RLS). It’s embarrassing. Does anybody else have this problem? I’m working on an article about it. How does it affect you, and how do you deal with it?

I should have ridden the toaster to San Jose

Honda_Element WikipicI had so much fun flying to and from San Jose last week that I’m driving when I go back next week.

It’s not the fact that I’m 25,000 feet above the ground and will die if we crash. I don’t understand what keeps the plane in the air, but I put myself in God’s hands and try not to think about it. I love looking down at the landscape below, picking out the landmarks and enjoying the cloud patterns. I love that I can get from one place to another so quickly.

I flew Alaska Airlines from Eugene, Oregon to San Jose, California. Alaska is fine. They do their best. But there’s a lot about the flying experience I could do without.

Flying isn’t what it used to be. I used to enjoy airplane food with all those cute little packages. Now they toss you a bag of Cheetos or pretzels and a glass of something. They don’t let you bring your own food and drink through security, so you have to buy something in the terminal or go without. I hate the luggage restrictions. I’m constantly worried about being caught with something I’m not allowed to have on the plane. I have to pay $25 extra to check a suitcase which will be X-rayed and possibly searched?

The planes that fly short distances are getting so small you can’t walk down the aisle without raising your arms and scooting sideways. You can’t count on free movies or music anymore. Instead you can rent a tablet-type device. People sitting side by side don’t talk to each other. They turn on their phones, tablets or laptops, plug in their earplugs and tune out everything.

And I can’t imagine having sex in the bathroom. This one was so small they didn’t even have a sink, just a plastic bottle of hand sanitizer.

Flying anywhere from the Oregon coast means driving two or three hours to an airport in Eugene or Portland. Add that to the extra time needed for check-in and security, plus getting something to eat and drink, and it’s a whole-day adventure for an hour, forty-minute flight.

Then there’s security. If I’m lucky, I get the older woman who always goes to the same place treatment and can bypass taking off my shoes and jacket and unloading my laptop. It’s unnerving to be getting a half-dressed full-body X-ray in one place while my purse and computer are rolling off the conveyor belt somewhere else.

Things went all right with security this trip. The line in San Jose was long, but I didn’t have the problem I had last time I flew out of there. I was so rattled that when they asked for my ID, I handed them my debit card. Oh-oh, go straight to the problem-passenger line.

No, the trouble started when I decided to eat dinner at the sports bar near Gate 28 in the B terminal. It was 5:30, and the place was jammed. Tattooed waitresses in black kept passing by me instead of finding me a table. When I did get seated at a tiny table for one amid other tiny tables for one, nobody came. I watched the servers bring second and third beers to the guys at nearby tables, but I didn’t even have a glass of water. I was afraid I would run out of time if I tried somewhere else. After 25 minutes, I got up, chased a waitress down and threw a loud hissy fit while people stared at me. I am embarrassed to think about it now, but I got my food and drink in three minutes. It wasn’t very good, but this squeaky wheel got the grease.

When we boarded the plane, I found myself in the aisle seat next to an immense woman whose flubber took up half of my seat as well as all of her own. I felt sorry for her, but I’m not used to being so intimate with a stranger. She didn’t want to talk, just listened to her music and looked at stuff on her phone. Her husband, equally large, sat across the aisle. When the plane finally landed, he immediately stood, placing his rear end in my face. Nobody was moving, but there he was, a wall of man-flesh in blue jeans.

As I mentioned earlier, the aisle was narrow. Our two flight attendants were unusually wide people. They banged my arm every time they passed by. My restless legs went crazy. It was dark in the plane, and my seatmate didn’t enjoy my turning the light on to read, but I had to do something. I couldn’t see out the windows at all.

A little before 10 p.m., we landed. I rolled my suitcase out to the far end of the long-term parking lot, surrounded by groups of people all glad to see each other. I shed a tear when I saw my Honda Element/aka The Toaster waiting patiently to take me home.

It will be me and The Toaster next time.

***

My father, who broke his upper leg in March, moved to an assisted living facility last week. It’s a pretty place, a former convent with a chapel, crosses etched into the fences, and a lush rose garden. He will stay there while he continues to heal. With luck, the doctor will let him start putting weight on the leg in a couple weeks and then he can work on walking until he can walk himself out of there and go home. He’s healthy otherwise. Today is his 95th birthday, and he’d rather be spending it anywhere but there.

The last plane he flew on was an Army Air Corps plane during World War II.

[Photo courtesy Wikipedia]