Flying Journal - A Thousand Kilometers, a Thousand Years

In my own flying, I'm still at the stage where 160 knots seems fast. But in September, I found myself in a brand new Boeing 777 hurtling over Novia Scotia at 39,000 feet, at 1000 kilometers per hour. It had been a few years since I had been on an airliner, and I had heard terrible things all summer about delays, poor service, and air rage.

But an academic conference in England had been intrigued by the title for a paper I had written about my experiences as a flight instructor with three paraplegics. The title was, "Flying with Gimps: Bakhtinian Odysseys from Image into Identity." Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian literary critic and theorist whose ideas about our internal dialogues with ourselves have recently become popular in several disciplines. Of course I had to begin by saying, "Gimps is a politically incorrect term the handicapped affectionately call each other. I hope you won't be offended by its use in this context." (There, I've always wanted to quote myself). The theme of the interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hull was, "Image Into Identity." They accepted my paper, and my new employer, SMSU, would cover part of the travel costs.

I had only been to England once before, when Dianne and I had gone in an aging 747 over the Christmas holidays in 1993 and we had a great time. So I was determined to go on this trip, no matter what the airlines threw at me. For a while, I thought I had really messed up. I knew you had to get tickets a month in advance for good prices, but I was ignorant that it's 45 days for international flights. When I started checking fares it made me cry. In desperation, I made a bid on that was only slightly more than the fares had been for TWA direct from St. Louis to London a few weeks before.

To my relief, my bid was accepted, but then you are committed to that purchase, not knowing what the routing will be. I was annoyed to see it was a Saab 340 turboprop to DFW, then direct from Dallas to London, backtracking the same airspace for extra hours of travel time.

But the new plane was much more comfortable, and faster, so it wasn't bad at all. In case you haven't been on one yet, each seat, even in steerage, (sorry, I guess they call it "coach") has its own TV screen and headphones (no $3 charge for the movie). There are about 12 audio channels, 5 or 6 movie channels, plus a moving map of the trip, with constant updates of time at departure, destination and local, plus distance and time remaining and groundspeed.

Thus I realized probably for the first time I was traveling with the Westerlies at 1000 kilometers per hour. I also saw that our great circle route took us very close to Greenland and Iceland, but the skies would clear up over water and cloud up over land so I never got a glimpse. But the trip both ways was about as good as a flight that length can be. Even the food was good. I had missed lunch on the way back, mostly because I had figured my British money so closely (it's always better to be lucky than good) that I only had 12 pence to put in the "save the children" box for your remaining foreign coins. To my pleasant surprise, even though the flight departed after 1 pm, they served two meals on that nine-hour flight, a hearty lunch and a light supper.

So where does the thousand years come in? Between and after the two conferences I attended, I had three days for sightseeing. One day I took the train to Windermere and the Lake Country, with stunning views of mountains and lakes and visited Romantic poet William Wordsworth's cottage. My last night in London, I went to a play in the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. For an old English major either one is up there with finding the Holy Grail. And I spent a day and night in the ancient city of York (which you may have seen sacked in the movie, "Braveheart"), still secure within its medieval walls.

A thousand years ago, York was ruled by Vikings (they called it "Jorvik"). There is a ride you take at the Jorvik Viking Centre where you ride in little cars back through recreations of different historical times, complete with sights, sounds and smells. The mannequins of historical figures have faces modeled from actual skulls so they look like real people might have looked. It takes you back 1000 years. As the cars come out of the recreated harbor, market, and village scenes, the final stop is part of the actual archaeological dig, with remnants of the foundations of the actual buildings you just saw recreated. Then you tour a museum of actual artifacts. Quite an experience for a descendant of Vikings! Thus, a thousand kilometers in an hour, a thousand years in another hour.

And my paper about flying with gimps? Well-attended, and well-received. If I read it again at SMSU later this year, I'll invite you. Meanwhile, travel safely, whether in space or time.


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