As the ship coasted through the air, the cabin lights dimmed and Ms. Elena came through, asking everyone to sit down and strap in. We were landing at an emergency strip, as we had inadvertently drifted too close to a net battle, which could compromise our digital tail routing. Of course none of us had any idea what that really meant, but we tried to be reassured by Ms. E. Most of us took advantage of the free wine and beer, which lightened the mood even more. The windows were quietly glossed over like butterfly wings, and soon our little room was warm and cheery like an Irish tavern.
I took that opportunity to introduce myself to Chef Robert, who had indeed been on one of the cooking shows in my hometown of Lonelyville.( Lonelyville - always hated it until I couldn’t go back anymore. Now it tums in my imagination on a daily basis.) Robert has worked in kitchens since he was 15 and has been a chef since he was 20. Now in his mid 30s’ he still have a very boyish look. His hair was long and floppy, and he wore the same kind of tee shirt and bell-bottomed blue jeans that my nephews did. He spent 6 months living in Lonelyville, and we exchanged names of people we knew, but neither of us had a mutual acquaintance.
So we sat and traded scathing stories about the low down and dirty grubs who made up the majority of people living there now. We got to talking about Ohio, and it turned out that he had also gone to college there - to the once-again defunct Antioch College. This was well after he had started his own chain of truckstop restaurants. Now they’re all over the place, but when he built his first one, no one dreamed they’d become the next best thing. Robert told me he was considering opening some sort of food venue at Tar Sands. The only hitch being the lack of edible local foods. Bexxon was suppoed to have put in new soil and planted local plants, but they’d not done a very thorough job, and so the soil had mostly washed away, leaving the pits and canals filled with toxic water and other debris that was also supposedly gotten rid of in a highly Green fashion. Oh yeah, like they cared about being Green! I was starting to get my old anger fused up, so I changed the subject, as it wasn’t the place to start a rant. Robert took my cue, and decided to go up to the starboard cabin and see how his partner was doing. I sat there, trying to calm down by breathing slowly and deeply.
The Marine across from me nodded and gave me a slight smile. For some reason, that made me feel better, and the rush of red left my head. I turned to the window and smiled at Robert’s seatmate. She was an older woman who hadn’t looked up from her screen for hours. She had wild red hair done up in rastas, and was wearing an astronaut-type designer suit. She looked like someone out of a sci-fi movie. In order not to seem snobby I went over and sat down on the sofa next to her. She looked up from her paper and gave me a shimmering smile. It totally transformed her, and I immediately forgot my first impression. Her name was Sally Piejack, which she said was her stage name. She wasn’t an actor though, but a mid-level writer of graphic novels. She’d dropped out of school as a teenager, and gone to a steampunk atelier in Lyons, where she’d learned to write and draw cartoons. One of her first books, “So-called Youthful Gangs” was an early e-book success for the Atelier, and she’d worked for them for many years. Now she was retired and wanted to spend time back in the Americas. She wasn’t all that clear about what exactly she meant by that, and why Tar Sands would have been a first choice. She too was staying at the Tundra Inn. Her daughter from her first marriage had told her that she shouldn’t miss seeing it, so like a good mama, she was meeting her there. They were going to take one of the 3 day trail hikes and she asked me lots of questions about the area, of which I knew next to nothing. But her charming smile and sea-green eyes helped me to make up information as I went along. Always been one of my better talents, although Janine would just call me a liar.
Turns out she’d been drawing on her pad the whole time. After a brief hesitation, she showed me her pages. She’d done quick, oh-so-perfect sketches of all of us in the cabin. Whene she showed me the one of me, I was flattered; she made me look sort of handsome, and definitely a lot younger. When I thanked her, she grimaced and took up her pencil and added some wrinkles. Now it really looked like me. I sort of liked it better, and I told her so. With that, it seemed there was something of a friendship starting. I passed her my book and she confessed to preferring the heavy load to the digital stuff. So we were similar old chucks, beating back the waves of the future as hard as we could. Sally took notice of my 20s look and gave a kidding joke, whereupon I mentioned that rastas had been out of fashion with us whites for almost a millenium. She grinned and I could tell she knew that I liked it anyway.
So we continued chatting, ignoring the slivers of talk from the pilots’ cabin that came out from time to time. It was hard to tell where we were, and where we were going, what with the windows shut down. Ms. Elena wasn’t in our cabin anymore, but as head steward she was probably making her way through the other three cabins, making sure that everyone was calm and that the panicked ones weren’t getting too drunk. The only person in ours that seemed upset was the Marine. Sally had spoken with him at dinner, and she told me he was indeed a former marine, probably special forces, as he was reluctant to say where and when he’d been deployed. She said he had flight fear, and used meditation to counteract it. Now I understood the look he’d given me before. I used meditation to keep my temper down. Sometimes I needed it in negotiations, so I was reluctant to use meds, as I never knew when I needed to pump up the fires inside.
But now is tyme to yow for to telle
How that we baren us that ilke nyght
As the ship coasted through the air, the cabin became quieter. The initial flight was almost 5 hours long, and I took a pill and rocked my chair back, and put black coverlets over my eyes. Nigera and the brothers were sitting in the lounge area, talking and drinking tea. The other six passengers were either reading on their mobiles or sleeping. I noticed that one of them was the chef who’d been hosting the dinner were had been at. At least, I assumed that was his role. Now it appeared that he’d just helped out the terminal cooks. The more I looked at him, the more familiar he seemed, but it I couldn’t place him at the moment. I decided against going over and introducing myself. Plenty of time to do that once we were on the second leg of our trip.
While I waited for the pill to kick in, I picked up my book and tried to read it, but too many images kept popping in my brain. I recalled the Chef Magic show on cable, and the Cook’s Warehouse reality show that had taken place in my home town. That thought took me to Janine, my high school lover. I hadn’t been in touch with her for years, and I wondered where she was now. Last I’d heard online, she’d married a enviro farmer, and was squatting on some corporate company’s farm land in Maine. She was always a bigger risk taker than me, and I figured that’s why she’d dumped me - I preferred going to college instead of sneaking off illegally to Pakistan and joining their Green Men. I was scared I’d be killed, and sure enough her new boyfriend was never heard from again. Course, that wasn’t necisarrily J’s fault. I made a mental note to log onto her site and say hello.
A sudden dip of the ship woke me up around an hour later. Solarships rarely were bothered by air turburlance, as they flew so high. When I glanced out the window I wa shocked to see we were only a few hundred feet above an endless forest. I looked around the cabin; everyone was awake and peering out the nearest window also. Nigera came over and sat down next to me. Her tan skin was ashen and her eyes were wide with fear. “Oh, Isamael, do you know what’s going on?” She gave me a look that insprired me to pretend I knew the answer. “I believe we’ve dipped down to avoid a possible air skirmish. The route we’re taking skirts the edge of the Cold War field.” This was a random guess - I’d spent a bit of time prior to leaving checking out the local news and there seemed to be a new offensive by the Okalokala Wolves against the RCMP. Although I was pretty sure I had no idea if this was correct, Nigera sighed and settled back in her seat, obviously more relaxed.
We both simultaneously put our earpeices in and pulled out our books - her’s of course a mobile that bloomed out of her wrist like a paper flower. Before she pushed on the pictures, she turned to me and said: “I hope we can continue to be seat mates as the trip continues. I feel much safer being next to you. The brothers are very sweet, but it’s clear they have no idea where we’re going, or what it will be like there.” She smiles at me with her sparkly eyes, and turns back to her book. I do the same, and hope she’s right.
Wel tenne in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle . . .
So anyway, my seat mate was Nigera Orlova. She was a student of the quiet musician I’d met at dinner. Nigera was from Lithuania, and had been in the States for year or so. She was eager to spend as much time traveling as studying. As she rattled off the list of places she’d visited, I was impressed by how few well-known tourist spots she’d seen. For instance, she’d spent her winter break staying with friends in Columbus, Ohio, traveling around the state to such unknown towns as North Canton and Chillicothe. She’ spent a night camping on the old Antioch College campus and had helped townsfolk rebuild their houses in the earthquake zone near the Pennsylvania border. She was a prolific English speaker, and her accent only made her stories more interesting. She had heard many occult stories about Tar Sands, especially those told by former soldiers and frackers. She promised to send the best of them to me, once our net was up.
Across from us sat two brothers, Sam and Suilmann Morphean. They were from New Orleans and had made a fortune after the Second Katrina Crisis, by setting up fashionable buildings that could be moved at a moments notice. Despite their huge height and massive chests, they were calm and polite as pet dogs, not the capitalist wolves you’d imagine. Turns out their mother was a Syrian refugee, who wholeheartedly embraced our feminist culture, and trained her sons to be the gentlemen she’d imagined all American men were. They introduced themselves to Nigera and me and asked us where we were staying in Tar Sands. Turns out we were all staying at the Tundra Lodge.
It’s a small, rather dowdy inn that is a left-over from early fracking days. After the war the Gates Foundation bought the whole village (or what was left of it) and started the resort. Tundra was the first inn, and isn’t very popular now, which is exactly why I was staying there. It made me feel that much more comfortable with the Morpheans. I could see that they were both attracted to Nigera; I was just the old uncle, but that didn’t surprise me a bit.
About then, our steward came into the room, carrying a tray of water glasses and nut mixes. Thank the lord, this one wasn’t a robo or the idiot at the boarding dock. She was tall, thin and very hospitable. Turns out she was the head steward of the ship. Ms. Elena, as she preferred to be called, was from Cape Town and had met the Morpheans on another flight. She slowly and graciously made her way around the room, chatting with each of us and making even my cynical self feel important, almost loved, for the few minutes I was the only being in her world.
“Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all”
I’d taken a few trips on a SolarShip, but never one that was going so far. I’d been a bit nervous the first time, as who doesn’t have that vision of the Hindenburg? No reason to believe these planes were anything like that, but still . . .
The waiting area was filled with all 40 passengers. The steward was a youngish guy who wore his security suit like it was a Dior design. His hair was typically long, and braided with red ribbons, each with a little iron logo on the end. He tended to shake his head often, so that they rattled like windchimes. I was already exceedinly annoyed by him, and hoped he wasn’t one of the flight crew. Just then a robo secuirty guard opened the door to the flight path, and everyone lined up with their passports turned on. A small worker came down, plucking up our bags and putting them on the screen conveyer. A soft voice came over the speakers, telling us to take off our glasses and look directly into the camera as we came up. So much security, so little real safety; at least that was my thought as I stared into the ocular recognition device, wondering exactly what sort of software could tell if I was wearing contact lenses.
The cabin wasn’t particularly big or clean, but it’s amazing how much more comfortable you are in a plane that has so few people on it. You start to feel like you’re in a new classroom, or an exercise class. This particular one was divided into 4 sections; all the same - no “First Class” not really used anymore, or even the Luxe label on the seats. The Fair Transportation Act had pretty much done away with rich business wolves getting the best seats. Now you paid by your income, and got your seat selection via a lottery. So imagine the CEO of Smith-Sanders sitting next to a Friday afternoon cleaner. I guess my parents would have been somewhat appalled, but that’s life now.
“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote . . . Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages”
Springtime brings a sigh of relief to us Eastern folks. What with climate change making our winters harsher and colder, and our summers hotter, we love that brief bit of warm and soothing weather, when flowers sparkle, birds stop by on their way up north, and the grass stays green. It was on such a day that I decided to take a trip to the famous Tar Sands in K..... It was a well-known retreat, one of the first places where the enviro-soldiers won their battle against Bexxon, and their fracking fighters. When I arrived at the airport, the sign said the flight was delayed - bad weather somewhere. Didn’t matter if it was 3,000 miles away, one big storm could bring the whole country to a halt these days. At one point the theory had been that smaller planes would be safer riding through the storms that came all year round. Turns out the storms just kept getting fiercer, so it didn’t matter all that much. Still, it was nice not to be on a plane with 400 other people. Never my style.
So I checked my bags at the kiosk and ambled down the mall to the waiting lounge. It sure paid off to have that luxury. When I got there, the concierge directed me to a private room, where people on my flight were being wined and dined while we waited for our plane to arrive. I sat myself at the table and introduced myself to the two people on either side. I figured we’d be together for a long while, so it paid to start off on the polite foot. Mary Elise was a musician, probably around 35 or so. Hard to tell anymore, what with the clear water systems taking years off our faces. Anyway, she was attractive in a quiet way. The guy to my left was called Roger. Didn’t get his last name til much, much later. He was a union organizer for construction artisans. This I knew from the small metal insignia on his coat. Other than that he could have been a financial advisor or bank patrolman. He had been to Tar Sands several times, and was wildly enthusiastic about the place. He claimed his great-uncle had been one of the original soldiers. He had mucho stories to tell about the wars. As it turns out, we all would have stories to tell, and plenty of time to tell them.
As we sat, eating and chatting with our neighbors, an air of quiet festivity came over the room. Several of the guests plugged in their mobiles, and showed us their pictures from other Spring trips. One adventuresome family had been to Antarctica - during it’s Spring - and had brought home two of their dogs. Turns out this wasn’t the smartest thing, as the dogs had to stay inside half the year, as they couldn’t tolerate any sort of heat or humidity. Still, they were quite handsome and smart as most humans. Even their whines sounded like words.
Suddenly the lights dimmed and the screen darkened. After a minute, the airline robo came on and said our plane had landed and we were to finish our dinner and proceed to the boarding lounge (again, another advantage of being a Luxe passenger), where a steward would check us onto the plane. Immediately, we became plane passengers, gathering up flight bags, shutting down mobiles, making last calls to home, etc. This particular flight would let us mobilize, once we were at 20,000 feet. Or so they claimed. I happened to know this sometimes just didn’t happen so I’d brought my old-fashioned paperback murder mystery. I never could sleep on those long flights.
So, I'm finished (more or less) with my family project. I have to finish making the books, but the creative part is over, and I'm itchy to start something new. I spent a number of hours looking at all my old sketchbooks; going back to my senior year in college! Interesting to find that way before I got involved with making books, and writing stories, I was trying to somehow get the back story into my paintings. Truly, taking a book arts class changed my life! So I discovered that it was often some sort of road trip that inspired me. Not anything unusual or even very interesting. Still, it seems getting out of the house, and going some place unknown seems to inspire me.