Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

We’ve finally leveled off at 35,000 feet and it’s been a bit choppy so far–that’s the bad news, but the good news is we’re going to arrive into Los Angeles 15 or 20 minutes early–late afternoon, Pacific time, the day before Sammy’s birthday.

Yes, we’re traveling again. After a summer that started with Sammy working in Mexico for a month and a half, we took a nice jaunt up north–it seems like just the other day–in early September, to visit Nancy, Alan, and Kate–and Anne, Bill, and family–in Ann Arbor, then on to the Upper Peninsula, then west to the Keewanau peninsula extending out into Lake Superior to visit Sammy’s field school instructor (and archaeocolleague), then down through Wisconsin, stopping for a quick hello to the Mulveys in Milwaukee, an after-dinner chat in Chicago with newly-minted rootless camper-wanderers Robert and Mary Jo (and Robert’s parents), and stopped off for a day at Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana before getting the little white Civic back into our driveway.

Then, there was the 72 hour trip with all my immediate Atlanta family winging westward to San Diego, for the wedding of Leslie and Christopher, performed by a captain in San Diego harbor. That was two weekends ago.

Last weekend, well, all Sam and I did was drive up on Sunday into the northwest corner of the state–actually, we poked up into Tennessee and took a hard left and came down into Alabama, to see an archaeological site–Russell Cave National Monument nestled right there where the three states joined. Two huge caves going back into a hillside, and plenty of evidence that this is where a good number of folks lived several hundred years ago. And in one of the caves, a river runs through it…and when you have a rain-filled spring as we did in the southeast this year, the waters rush through, rise instantly, and fill up the sunken areas around the caves…and eventually drain out to the Tennessee River a dozen miles or so away.

But that was last weekend. Now, we’re fairly comfortable in exit row seats on a westbound 757, heading for a state that is voting today–right now!–on whether to recall their governor and possibly replace him with an action film star. It’s the start of an eleven day trip that’ll take us up to Seattle to see Sammy’s brother, parents, and family, and down to San Diego to see Leslie and Christopher once more, and we’ll toss Portland, the Oregon coast, and a coast drive from LA down to SD in for good measure.

Tonight, we’ll end up, I hope, in a nice room in Santa Monica, not far from the ocean, an easy walk to a sushi dinner and a chance to sync up with Pacific time, and the state of mind that goes with that.

And right now, at 4 pm eastern, the bumps and chops continue, intensifying a bit, making me glad that we gobbled a quick lunch on the way out the door instead of opting to pay (pay!) eight bucks for a lunch–the new face of a Delta coach cross-country flight. (“It’s a test,” the flight attendant told me, encouraging me to fill out the comment card so that Delta management will know what I think. Can’t I just send them a link to my blog?) Eight bucks for lunch, five bucks for the movie…miscellanous junk fees tacked on to our $175 roundtrip tickets, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. On the other hand, the sandwiches (made by Atlanta Bread Company) look like a real cut above air fare. And I can see the business travelers–and there are a lot of ’em on this flight–don’t blink at shelling out eight bucks.

And I didn’t blink at shelling out $4.30 (airport prices) for a large Mocha Frappuccino at le Starbucks.

But we’re in a crammed narrowbody plane being shown a movie on painfully misadjusted TV screens (low enough, by the way, for me to whack my head on at least once per flight), in seats that twenty years ago would have been substantially wider. And yes, the tickets would have probably cost more than $175. And there would have been food. Not necessarily great food, but free food.

I guess I’ve been thinking about costs and distances and what is “fast” at a certain point in our shared history. Last night we watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the first cross-continent drive, a 1903 muddy, dusty, mechanically cantankerous ordeal that followed two guys (and later, a dog) 67 days or so to get from San Francisco to New York in an open 2-cylinder automobile–a Winton? a Wilton?–that was made in Cleveland. (Ah, proud Ohio auto builders.) Now we’re leaping across the mountains again (having done this same trip, essentially, just two weeks ago) in four hours and change. Fast. Cheap (certainly by 1903 standards.) And there’s a movie, and if you have five bucks in your wallet, you can hear it.