Flying Covid Air

So, my brave mother decided to go through with her second hip replacement surgery in Royal Oak, Michigan, even as the virus was beginning to take off. I took a week off work at SFCC the week before our spring break and flew out to help her rehab. She did great! What a stubborn woman–that’s where I get it from. In the time back, I slept in my old room, which gives me the creeps, and found my dad’s old compass set. He was a mechanical engineer back in the day. Here’s a drawing I made using his set to get things going:

This all happened the middle two weeks of March. I was a little leery about flying out the 19th. It was really funny. The way this virus screws with your head. Flying out on the 7th, everyone was more talkative than usual. I had theorized that the young people weren’t getting sick because they were all cocooned in their headphones and barely looked at you. But I talked constantly on the plane to other olders. The planes and airports were full and that made you feel like everything was ok but we all had this feeling of mortality and wanted to talk in case we couldn’t do it any more. This virus knows us well.

To ensure a proper mask fit I shaved my full beard for the first time in over ten years. My wife back in Santa Fe was giddy with laughter on my Facetime reveal!

So, flying out on the 19th, my sister dropped me off at the airport and there were three people ahead of me at Detroit Metro waiting to get through security. An agoraphobic moment in an airport? Nobody in the corridors or on the walking sidewalks. I had a mask with me but I didn’t have it on. There were some youngsters taking selfies with their masks but it was all just for fun.

When it finally came time to board, I was the last one in the group 9 United Airlines. Plane, maybe one-third full. I held my mobile device under the scanner, the green light signaled me to proceed, but the phone at the desk rang and I was told the flight would be postponed two hours due to weather. I had a layover in Dallas of about an hour and it might be delayed as well, but no guarantees. I’ve heard horror stories of friends stuck at Dallas for days. Looking at my phone, a sign was revealed: my e-ticket on my camera roll was numbered 666.

I called mom and asked if she thought it ok for me to come back and reschedule for a departure two days later. She loved the idea. So, back I went and when Lisa, my sister, picked me up, REO Speedwagon was playing on the radio. A song we both remembered being on the time she picked me up a year prior. We have a thing for music. I must have made the right call.

Heading back two days later was slightly more painful. Five people ahead of me at security. In the time back I had seen on the news the partying spring breakers and knew that leaving on a Saturday would be a bit more treacherous. Again, I’m in group nine but this plane was about half full. Because of the class system, everyone was ushered to the back of the plane. Our assigned seats taking us past the fully dispersed first class, past 19 empty rows to the packed rear of the plane. I had a seat between two Mormons. Looking around, the entire rear of the plane was packed with Mormons. And me.

My next door neighbor introduced himself through his mask and I offered a bleach wipe that I had to spare so he could wipe down his tray table. He asked me a couple obligatory questions and then opened up about his life. He’d been on mission in Pontiac and told me about getting chased off people’s porches with baseball bats. Having dogs sicked on him and endless mockery of people from cars about his being on bicycle. They all got called back to Salt Lake City as going door to door seemed not to be such a good idea anymore.

We were sardine packed at the back of this plane and I kind of hesitated when the flight attendant announced we could feel free to move around the plane to an empty seat before takeoff. I got up and found a spot, a window seat so as to be away from the aisle, the view now a secondary reasoning. And, where I heard laughter and play from all those Mormons behind me, I heard coughing in front of me and behind. I couldn’t bring my dad’s old compass set on the plane but they’re letting anyone who’s coughing board without care and without having to wear a mask?

I didn’t eat the free peanuts for the first time in my life. I didn’t take a drink. The mask stayed on all the way to Dallas when I pulled it off for five minutes to guzzle some water and down a bag of mixed nuts away from the crowds. Drunken spring breakers on the light rail sideways glanced my N-95 as they teetered with the rail’s sway. Flight attendants, no gloves, no mask, walking up and down the aisle on the next leg, wondering why I won’t take the nuts as if my taking them would make them feel like everything was normal and they weren’t being needlessly exposed.

And I thought back to Elder. That was not his name, but that was his title. I tell people this story now and they just can’t get past the Mormon part. Everyone has a story, it seems, about a conversion attempt. Of misspent energy where it could have been put to use somewhere else. Fasten your seat belts folks: we’re flying in the time of Covid.

Hero journeying. Out of frame: coughing spring breaker in the row ahead!
Funny how, when you zoom out, there seems nothing wrong at all.