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On A Plane

The lady beside me nods out to the closely packed plane. “Tight squeeze” I smile. “Sure is. Like a sardine can.” I crawl into my seat and we don’t say anything else to each other for the duration of the flight. I think about her though. She seems like a Midwestern business lady, flying back home to Chicago from a family tragedy or a somber business merger. I read a book about the discovery of America: the saga of Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish conquistador who wandered lonely and mad without any clothes, like some kind of proto-Christ-hippie centuries before Lewis and Clark crossed on their carefully planned, sober expedition. After having his ship stranded off the coast of Florida, Cabeza and his crew got lost in the Florida wilderness near Talahassee and were left behind by a Spanish legion of ships, who assumed they had met their end. Cabeza wandered across the Gulf Coats with a small gang, stopping in Indian villages along the way and convincing the Indian tribes he was a mystic in exchange for food—in this way he gathered followers until his company crossing the desolate Southwestern landscape on foot numbered in the thousands. The merry band shed their clothes, grew out their hair, and became stark raving mad for lack of food and water and possible consumption of peyote and other hallucionagens. While reading about Cabeza, I couldn’t help but periodically glance at my seatmeate, imagining what it might be like to be lost and hungry in a strange land, Christ-like wandering across a new continent, and then see a familiar person, like a font, a spring in the desert. Then the plane landed and the spell was broken. My seatmate pulled out her smartphone which blinked with a barrage of new messages, many of them containing the word “hedge funds”—our two hour flight with no cell phone reception had put her sadly out of touch. The old couple in front of us, obviously from the South, called home on their cell phones, the gray woman shaking her head after the short call. “They’re more paranoid about us flying than I am! I’m the one that has to fly!” her husband adding with that sweet Southern fatalism, “If something happens, what can you do? You know you’re not going to survive if the plane crashes out in that big ocean—what a joke! Even if you did survive, you’d be eaten by the sharks before anyone got to you.” The woman grimaced and said: “When it’s your time, it’s your time—ready for it, or not.”



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