I flew on an airplane a couple weeks ago. It was exciting from the standpoint that a good portion of my travel takes place on a pedal-driven one-seat conveyance that moves me from a spot I call home to a spot I call work a couple miles away and back again. It is not much of a commute, and if you add the miles that I run for exercise weekly in there, I find myself bustling about Oakland each week to the tune of under fifty miles, with the occasional trip in our family car to his or that local destination to bring the grand total to somewhere just over fifty miles. I don't get around that much. That's why it's such a big deal when I do find myself at an airport for the expressed purpose of expanding my horizons beyond the city limits.
Upon clearing the scrutiny of the Transportation Security Administration, I made my way directly to the closest newsstand where I purchased the most important piece of baggage I would carry with me: The latest issue of Rolling Stone. I was alone, and so I made chit-chat with the guy behind the register.
"It's gotten smaller," I said.
A look up from cash register guy.
"The magazine," I gestured to the periodical I was paying for.
"Yeah," he replied.
"I remember when it was newsprint," I recalled wistfully.
"I can remember when it wasn't six ninety-nine an issue," cash register guy offered me my change.
"I guess I could always get a subscription, but that would make these trips tot he airport less of a treat," I suggested.
"Yeah," cash register guy returned, "You need a receipt?"
"No, thanks." I was a travalin' man. I couldn't be weighed down with that kind of debris. I wandered off into the terminal in search of my travelling companion: my younger brother. I recounted my less-than fully amusing interaction to him, remembering that the reason I had started making a habit of buying a Rolling Stone at airports was when I started flying to places alone and after I had read Anne Tyler's Accidental Tourist. The magazine was my chosen buffer against the outside world. I could stare at it for hours while sitting next to a complete stranger without fear of becoming chummy or involved in any coincidence that I might share with my seatmates other than the direction we were facing: straight ahead.
Imagine my surprise when I boarded the plane and realized that the folks at Virgin America had made it even easier for me to ignore the person next to me by putting a video screen directly in my line of sight. I could be distracted by a world of barely entertaining satellite TV or pricey feature films that I had either seen or had no interest in seeing. To my surprise, it was my younger brother, the Luddite of the family, who produced his iPad and began to share with me his video animations and manipulated photos throughout the duration of our flight. We talked and talked and looked and watched and ignored the glaring screen on the back of the seat to stare at the one he had brought with him. When our plane touched down, I had read only the first six pages of my Rolling Stone. Time, it would seem, flies.