The First Flight

  • Author: Jim Toner
  • Date: Jul 21, 2013
  • Location: Los Angeles

on planeInstead of heading east, and east, and east–our wild journey began in an unexpected and auspicious way. We volunteered to get bumped off our flight (for a mere $450 each in flight vouchers: yes! ) but that meant a 5-hour layover in the Sacramento Airport, then flying south to LA for another 5-hour layover, ending with an overnight flight to Cleveland, arriving 6am.

Of course we said “yes” because our greed is bottomless. But it also was a good test for us right away: How to amuse ourselves for vast stretches of time in an airport, or later in a train station in Jakarta at 3am, or waiting for a ferry from Italy to Greece that won’t be leaving for 6 hours.

No problem, at least in the Sacramento Airport and its vast stretches of carpet and no one else around. Perfect for hacky-sack baseball, where I throw to Liam everything in my arsenal–sharp grounders, bunts, line shots, towering fly balls–to pass the time.

And then the flight, the first of many flights that’ll hop us around the globe. Instead of heading east to Chicago, instead of the symbolism of flying toward the rising sun in the east one step at a time, we flew in a direction that returned us–no joke!–right over Sonora, right down there: Melones, the dome, the high school football field, maybe that’s even our house with the kitchen light still on. I imagined all of our friends looking up at our jet and saying the same thing they’ve been saying for awhile now: “Haven’t you left yet?” No, not yet, this absurd Italian goodbye that lingers, and lingers, and…

Flying overhead, though, brought to me in a rush all the people who are helping us, in one way or another, on this journey. There’s Alan and Karen, watching over our two cars (and replacing all the bumper stickers with “Jeb Bush 2016” and “Meat: It’s What’s for Dinner Tonight). There’s Andrea scrubbing out the bathtub and overseeing the bills in her manic efficient way. There’s our neighbor Lee making sure the house doesn’t burst into flames. There’s all those parents who watched Liam this past month while we scrambled to check off item after item on our list–our Sisyphean list, or better, the checking off one item only to see three more sprout in its place (Gorgon? I need to brush up on my Greek myths.)

So many down there in Sonora who helped us in concrete ways, and so many dozens more–those at the pool party, all my students, Bruno at farmer’s market, gramma Peggy–all wishing us safe travels. Like so many of you, I have a conflicted relationship with my hometown, but it’s in a situation like this, in moments like at Sonora pool where I glance around at all these very cool people, that I know it’s my home.

That’s what this flight evoked in me: an opportunity to reflect on who you are down there, what you mean to my family and me. I’ve been so consumed with the shots and the right pair of pants and the visas for India that I hadn’t yet stood back to think big thoughts: What am I doing? Why are we going where we’re going? What is America, what is home, what is family? What do I want out of this adventure? What are the questions I want to ask each culture?

I needed a dose of serendipity to remove me from one world and, before entering other far flung places, to pause and to reflect on home and friends. I needed a plane so full in Sacramento that we’d get bumped, get forced to hang out for four hours, get put on a plane going in the wrong direction, get that plane to fly directly over my driveway so that I’d finally–finally!–think about something other than which raincoat to buy.

asleep in LAX

Finding sleep in LAX

Who’s running this show? Which impish spirit–my dad, my mom, Aunt Loretta, Charlie–orchestrated that change of planes and directions? Who blew on the plane to drift it directly over the pool where we were sent off by our friends about 40 hours ago? And who tossed us $1350 in vouchers to cover our final flight home in June 2014–money from the beyond to help us return… home.


It is now official: We are now in the field of serendipity. We are now in the field of ritual–a field where invisible fingers will nudge us toward places and people who have been waiting for us. It’s up to us to go with that flow, and to stay alert.











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