It was dark and early and Red Bull worthy and the flight was on time. At the gate I saw Sal. He works at the counter where announcements are made and was wearing a navy blue sweater-vest with a Delta Airlines pin. Sal is from El Salvador. He is proud of his job and thankful. He worked hard to obtain citizenship in the U.S. and claims the best move he made beyond immigrating from the hazardous culture of his native country was applying for General Educational Development. I met Sal not a week before at a father daughter “night out” at the school where our children attend. Salvador is forty and has already been subjected to three heart surgeries. After all that stress, it is easy to be thankful. I understand.
My travel-mate and fellow editor Tom was beginning to come unraveled. He was sitting across from me in the departure waiting area and just looked a mess. I said that I still could not believe he was a virgin flyer. He smiled nervously and scratched at his beard. I admittedly thought of toying with his fear of flying, like keeping a hooked fish in the water on purpose just to prolong the landing, but thought I’d first wait and see just how bad he got.
We integrated into the line to board and Sal nonchalantly passed us tickets with upgraded seat numbers. As it turns out, the seats were directly behind first-class and other than the veil-like curtain dividing us and them, our seats were just as roomy; and I smiled, thinking how much cash all the first-classers forked over for seats no better than ours. Withdrawing a notebook from my back pocket, I jotted a reminder to send Sal a thank you note, perhaps affixed to a bottle of Patron.
I looked over to Tom who had the window seat but was keeping the sliding shade cover down tight over the window. He was O.K. though—his prescribed Xanax was active.
Later during the flight, about the time I began to feel the sudden urge to perform jumping jacks, Tom raised the shade cover and after that left it raised and sounded off that he was officially just fine with flying. I said “see? Just like a roller coaster ride in slow motion.”
The aircraft oscillated and then leveled out and descended. Out the window we could see the snow-capped Cascade Mountain Range and all I could think of was Alaska even though I knew it was Washington, and soon we would be in a wilderness of fresh scenery.
We found a cab and headed out onto the highway. The hotel was not far and we were looking forward to quitting the passenger life and just breathing in the sea air. I looked at the half-stark trees that flanked the sides of the highway and, for a minute or two, thought that it looked very much like the high shoulders of the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia. “You know,” Tom said, “flying is actually a lot safer than driving.” I concurred, and so did the cab driver Ahmed with a nod before suddenly jerking the steering wheel and mashing the horn. A sedan had encroached into our lane and nearly sideswiped our cab. At once, Tom and I were like hostages in a fierce road rage battle. The sedan raced ahead of the cab and shifted in front. Ahmed depressed the gas pedal further, tailgating the unwieldy sedan so close that I could not even make out the snow-capped mountains on the Washington State license plate. Saying nothing—not even cursing—Ahmed swung around alongside the sedan and we all looked sideways. Through the passenger side window a young woman was aggressively staring, probably attractive but twisting her face up and showing clenched teeth and two of her best middle fingers. “Welcome to Seattle,” the cab driver said deadpan.