Finding togetherness

I spent the last couple of hours of the flight to Melbourne conversing with an interesting type seated next to me. The first part of the flight had me keeping company with Alene — and then when she went to bed, I decided to sleep too. My seat companion had slept pretty much the entire way — but he woke around the same time I did — and we were very refreshed by coffee and a snack.

The inflight entertainment included a repeating newsreel. My companion, who was from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, was flabbergasted to hear about the hiker who was killed and partially eaten by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park — he couldn’t imagine such a thing happening in America. I told him most of the fifty states have bears; a few have wolves; many have big cats — and most major cities have rather bold raccoons who might strong-arm rob you of your groceries in your driveway. And then there’s the wolverine!! He admitted that his experience of America is limited to New York City and Los Angeles — usually from a taxicab.

As we descended over the Melbourne area and prepared to land, he marveled at the built environment. Large cities in sub-Saharan Africa, and other parts of the still-developing world, might have a few skyscrapers in the central business district — and some rather flimsy-looking elevated freeways — but many of the roads are still unpaved — and rush-hour traffic puts lots of dust and dirt into the air – so he told me.

Earlier, we had been discussing the migrant crisis in Europe. As we heard the landing gear lowered, he was reminded of a story he read of a migrant who stowed away in the landing gear of a plane — but not a passenger plane — a small private plane. I said I wasn’t sure I believed that. There isn’t really enough space for an adult person in the housing when the wheels are up. But my companion explained that the trick is to watch for the landing gear to move, and then get out of the housing before the wheels are stowed, grabbing hold of the gear as it’s raised — and then you hang on as best you can. Because small planes fly at a lower altitude, you’re less likely to pass out from lack of oxygen.

That must be really scary, I said. But he explained that you’d not be flying very far this way — so you might only have to hold on for an hour or so. The scariest part is landing — especially at a major airport that handles commercial passenger jets. I agreed that it’s unnerving landing a small plane at a major airport, because large jets literally come at you from nowhere! And there was this guy clinging to the underside of the plane!

I still wasn’t sure whether to believe the story — but given the desperation of migrants to reach Europe, I’m sure it’s been attempted.

Alene slept through this conversation — and it registered with her as a vivid dream in which she was flying low over a city with really bad air quality, looking down at an elevated freeway intersection that looked like it might topple at the slightest hint of a tremor. All of sudden, she was startling by the deafening noise of jet engines as a passenger plane flew close overhead — followed by a few more — and she was terrified to realize there was nothing but thing air between her and the ground. Oh, and approaching the city, she had been really surprised to see grizzly bears!

The time difference with Seattle may be a problem after all. Last night, Alene stayed up late with me and ended up sleeping until 1pm today — 6 am the next day in Melbourne. So we got up together — and enjoyed coffee and muffin together. But that will obviously not work on a weekday.

However, we got to enjoy rather similar weather for the first time in many months — mostly cloudy in both cities, but about 10 deg F warmer in Seattle.

Alene’s been happy today. It’s nice to see.

– Mark


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