I love airplanes. Well, not really. The recycled air gives me a headache after a few hours, and sleeping at a 5-degree recline leaves me with a crick in my neck and drool on my shirt. There are the lines, the delays, the staggering fees to check music gear. And there’s the thorny problem of carbon footprint, with no low-emission sustainable jet fuel on the horizon, so it’s impossible for me to board a flight without some baggage on the conscience as well.But I love airplanes for the people I meet. I’ve sat next to a man who literally rolls out red carpets (he was on his way to New York Fashion Week, from the Golden Globes), an amateur poet who recently sold some lyrics to Elton John (his “real” job is a merchandising business, making those yellow LIVESTRONG wristbands among other things), an Air Force pilot wounded in Iraq going home to his beloved wine cellar, a homeschooling mother learning chemistry and physics alongside her daughters, and a woman who had a brain aneurysm in the middle of college, went into a coma, and woke up from it a few years later.On an early morning flight I’d originally designated for napping, my seatmate and I were shushed twice for talking too excitedly about
XKCD and Michael Pollan. He told me about growing up in rural Florida and dropping out of college after putting his fist through the registrar window; these days he runs his own software consulting firm, and uses a programming game (
Robocode) to teach trigonometry to his two children.Airport shuttles, too. One pre-dawn morning I rode with a seven-year-old martial arts champ and his dad, on their way to Vegas to represent the Philippines in an international tournament. Another time a lively discussion about globalization emerged between a Senegalese banker, a sociology PhD student and a businessman from India. The driver, an Iranian, said little but slammed the doors at each drop-off, once almost swerving into another car as the Indian man held forth on venture capital. Only when I was last passenger remaining did he speak up. “That man? The ‘big business’ guy? He used to drive airport shuttles! Same company! I sold him my old van, to get him started. He gave me the first payment, said the rest was coming. Well, you know the rest of the story!” He sighed. “Sorry, this is why I am so agitated. I cannot afford to take him to court. I have given up on the entire thing. But to have him sitting there, talking such a big talk…”Then there are the ones I never actually meet but can’t get out of my mind. Years ago I boarded a plane and passed a middle-aged woman and a young girl sitting in first class. The woman was sobbing openly, her tissues in shreds; the girl sat quietly holding her hand. I remembered the first time I saw my mother cry, how unsettling it was, but strangely calming too—when you’re a kid there’s nothing like witnessing a grown-up’s helplessness to jolt you into maturity, if only until the moment passes. Someone has to stay calm, you sense instinctively, or else the whole thing comes apart. Right now it’s got to be you. I still wonder who those two first-class passengers were, what they were leaving behind, if the woman still cries and the girl still sits quietly holding her hand, or whether they’d hardly recognize themselves on the plane that day.I think a little too much these days about significance, relevance, exposure, access, steep pyramids in a shrinking industry. If one is serious about having music as a career, one has to keep an eye on these things. But as for being an artist and storyteller, or being a person rooted in some kind of community, if not a single geographical place…that requires a different kind of focus. More about listening and being present, day after day, year after year. Trying to do more of that right now.[In tribute to the passengers of Air France Flight 447]
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