Velocity, Bridges, and Escaping (pre)Destination
“What is mind but motion in the intellectual sphere?” – Oscar Wilde
It’s like riding a bike. Balance is difficult to maintain at a standstill. To not move, or even to move slowly is to risk falling. Stability comes with velocity: see bicycle dynamics and classical mechanics. Yet soon speed itself, not balance, becomes the goal of the whole damn endeavor and we find ourselves in a state that, to the best of my knowledge, is currently unlabeled but can best be described as having a real opposite in kinetophobia, or the fear of motion. It is a fear of stagnation. A fear of being paralyzed in time and place, being unable to flow in life. It is the scummy sidewalk puddle in contrast to the crisp, mountain stream. The feeling of not going anywhere. There is nothing surprising in this. You all know the feeling. But more on it later.
This morning I was awoken by the sound of plastic roller bag wheels scurrying across tile. Out of one slightly opened (right) eye I watched someone watch me peel the slightly sweaty (left) downside of my face from the black rubber-plastic vinyl of the airport chair. After three days and two nights in airport terminals the immovable, inescapable hard plastic armrests were beginning to get the upper hand of my neck, back, and soul. I was trapped in transit. Travel isn’t nearly as much of an escape when you don’t actually go anywhere; I needed to escape this escape. And even leaving the airport was not an option since I had to stay close to the gates perchance a seat on a westbound airplane would become available. Given my predicament, a field trip across the terminal hallway to some TGIChilirucker’s for a $9 beer was the only available excursion. (And why does pretty much every airport bar serve 22 oz. Sam Adams drafts?… “Would you like a shot for only $3 more with that?”)
I also spent a lot of time browsing the “travel books” sections of the terminal bookstores. Luckily, I enjoy irony. But not tedium. I often succumb to the previously described fear of stagnation, so being stuck for three days here has been like one who fears crossing bridges – a gephyrophobe – being stuck for hours in traffic on…well… I really did once know a gephyrophobe, and did indeed get stuck in traffic with him on the Verrazano. However, we must set the tempting but tangential issue of the metaphorical implications of being afraid to cross bridges aside until a later date, so let’s just assume we were enroute to JFK Airport at the time, which is true, and also brings us nicely back to being stuck in an airport.
My hopes of escaping back to Utah (from henceforth on this blog: “Zion,” metonymically) depended on reserved passengers missing their flights, either through late or missed alarm clocks, late or missed connections, or perhaps just a simple traffic jam outside of the airport. Of course, due to practical and ethical constraints, I could do nothing from within to help my cause. I had no agency in my destiny, no ability to propel myself toward my destination. I was, in a sense predestined, stuck in some sort of air travel Calvinism, where my actions or inactions could hinder my chances of reaching my destination – by say not being at the right gate at the right time – but I could do nothing to actually further my chances of getting back home. Thus, I found myself doing what I was told, obeying commandments to be at the appropriate gates at the appropriate times, yet deeply troubling was the notion that even if I did everything right, I still may be predestined to stay here. I empathized with the plight of the predestination lot. At least I was only dealing with the temporary geographic location of, and not the eternal fate of, my soul.
Perhaps it was the lack of freewill, not the lack of motion that troubled me so. I suppose I could move. I could take excursions to the terminal bookstore, to the TGIChilrucker’s, or I could even go on a short ride around the airport tram. And yes, I did consider riding around the airport in the tram for fun. But I sought motion toward, or away, from some destiny. I hate treadmills. Speed but not velocity: mechanics, again.
Alas, a gate opens to Zion. All said, it will be three days before I finally arrive back home. It would have taken about the same amount of time to drive there from the East Coast, my origin. Surely driving would have cost me more in gas, but I would have been moving westward with much less unease in my soul. I would have been traveling with freewill, or at least with the illusion of it, and that would have made all of the difference.
It feels good to finally be moving again, and at five-hundred and fifty miles per hour. I feel much better. Stable, balanced. Sipping, I ponder the difference between an addiction to motion and a fear of stagnation, but can only conclude in my sleep but not alcohol deprived state that the difference, if discernible at all, is subtle. I do understand that the shortest distance away from any point is a straight line, so it is with great comfort that I finally find myself moving westward again, escaping the Central Time Zone approximately as the crow flies, except much faster and several miles higher. How can anyone fear flying at high speeds? Perhaps they are just moving too slowly. In the words of the late Dr. Thompson: “Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”
At the present moment, due to the need to maintain enough speed to maintain enough airflow to maintain lift, a strong inverse relationship conjoins velocity and death.
somewhere above Nebraskolorado (8/09)