The Flight of the Invisible Man

It doesn’t matter that you can’t see me–in fact, it helps ease the passage. We go together, silent partners, then we go our separate ways but the main thing is, we go.

Don’t act surprised. That’s the corporeality of life and time and especially jet flight: nobody goes backwards. Spindly hands sweep the clock face, blue-green waves crash on the beach then hiss away, aluminum egg crates ride the fire off into the blue until they’re just a dot and then gone.

The ever-forward urgency of flight masks the destination with the passage itself like the blindfold on a condemned man: best not to peek past the ledger of doing and done and yet to come. There’s sanctuary–at least for now–in the bustle that is the embarkation, the itinerary and finally the living-out of the route, waypoints like days on the calendar torn off and gone.

Who cares? The calendar still seems pretty weighty. So is the relentless tide of here-and-now washing up on the beach of there and gone, actually, but what the heck: we’re on our way. Meanwhile, there’s strength in numbers, which is good because the passage is a trial, isn’t it, starting with the mass inquisition.

Like the troll at the bridge: who shall pass?  And not just where to go, but how to get there. Myriad choices of routing and travel modes, never mind destinations and events and people and places that matter scattered to all points of the compass like mercury to the touch.

You can’t really see me there either, but I am, just masked from your perception by the elaborate costumes and the authentic set that allows those there to ease the passage to blend discretely into the scenery like a motionless owl treed in the dark, watching intently nonetheless. Gotta get you on board and on your way, right? We’ve got an airline to run and a schedule to keep: there are tons more passengers crowding in behind you, and there’s hardly room for everyone. And they’re all going somewhere in the world, or at least somewhere else.

So where in the wide, wide world of sports are you headed? Decide. At least for now–you can always change course later–but let’s aim you like a rifle, get your boarding pass and fire you off on your way. Can you even imagine who and what’s waiting for you “there?” Hope it’s everything you dreamed it would be but regardless, we’re going you and me.

Every moment en route is a crossroads of people more than places, because people are what move: young, old, single, families, alone, together you name it. Places have no life, only lives lived there, a stage acted upon and waiting for the next troupe of players. So many places to go, stages to act upon yet so little time and funding but mostly, the pesky pyramid-like quality of time: gets kind of tight at the top, you know?

Near the apex there seems to be less elbow room but at least you can finally see the point, if you you look. But one step at a time for now. The clockwork and moving parts mesh only slowly when you’re waiting, don’t they, as if they weren’t moving at all?

But pass they do like the scenery of which I’m a part, invisible as the nameless and faceless characters, extras they seem, on the set as you make your way through your travel scenes. We do all we can to smooth your passage because it’s our job, but also because we’re on the way, too. The last thing we do is count souls on board and we keep one total with no distinction between those in uniform or without, once you cross that little jet bridge and file aboard.

I keep that thought and that number in my head because I’m responsible for each, especially when we leave the planet. Which happens pretty quickly once we commit thrust to weight and lift overcomes drag and off we fly.

Unseen still, the Invisible Man, but no matter–in flight, everyone’s about the destination anyway. Pay no attention to the pilots behind that armored door, but do at least say “please” and “thank-you” to the cabin crew making you comfortable and most importantly, seeing to your safe passage. Once we’re cruising, seems like it goes without saying but somebody should, even at the risk of irritating the biz guy studiously avoiding recognition of the wonder unfolding below his window: look down.

He’s too travel savvy, but I’m not. The sun’s about to set, gathering the day and slinking away west. On your right is the “Big Ditch.” Here’s Bryce Canyon. Look, there’s most of Arizona trying to blow itself into New Mexico and beyond.

And there’s where centuries ago the Mississippi froze, then jumped its banks and cut a new path five miles wide another ten miles west. Check out cobalt blue Lake Tahoe looking looking like a puddle from five miles up.

And there are the northern lights and on the other side the constellation Orion our tireless friend and on and on are you listening at all? Anyway, you get the picture–if you look–without me saying a word. So much flying by so check it out, see everything and anything but your watch which will go neither slower nor faster for being looked at, but will go nonetheless. And that’s what makes all this tick.

What you don’t see is missed–gone one way or the other. And since you’re going anyway, might as well notice the passage.

But me you don’t need to notice, really. I’m on my way back before you do anyway, ready to ferry another shipload of precious souls on their way to wherever. Because air miles are my workday I’m invisible in this voyage. But this is your life–so you’re not.

Once we get “there,” we’ll go our separate ways, you on with your life, me back in the air. Silent partners no longer, but I’m glad nonetheless to have shared a calendar page and a passage in the sky with you. Safe travels, wherever you’re headed.


7 Responses to “The Flight of the Invisible Man”

  1. unexpectedtraveller Says:

    The unmentioned, often unthanked people behind the cockpit door owe you a lot. I love the way you talk about your job and your role in other people’s lives.

    I would love to be able to thank the captain in person but I fear that if I ask an FA if I can do so whilst in flight, I may raise a security flag or two in this day and age. Is there a “good” way to be able to thank the captain?

    • You’re right: everyone’s so edgy in these post-9/11 days that you never want to risk being misinterpreted. Not sure about most pilots, but I always say “good-bye” and thanks after every flight, after my post-flight duties, so that’s fine for face-to-face.

      In the design of this piece, I’d hoped to hide another unseen “Invisible Man:” time. That’s the one you really never see but who’s always there, moving everyone from here to “there.”

  2. Gerald Cagle Says:

    I enjoyed the comment. I traveled from New Zealand to Norway for thirty years and was appreciate the many good people and pilots and flight attendents that I met.

  3. Chris, Love the blog. I’m the 16 year frequent flyer who always asks for a window seat and is looking out the window every flight in amazement of how the earth looks from 35,000+ feet. Keep up the good work!

  4. Wow, reading this felt like one of my favorite Dr. Suess books. And that is a very good thing. Thanks Mr. invisible

    Happy trails

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