M. Giant's
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Thursday, October 23, 2003  

Going Down?

I always think I want a window seat on the plane, and then I just end up driving myself crazy. It’s not because I’m claustrophobic. That’s not even an issue, especially if I’m in an exit row (although I wasn’t in an exit row Sunday night). It’s because I’m always trying to orient myself and figure out where I am by looking at the ground. Obviously that’s now going to work unless you know the ground in question fairly well as a result of having spent a fair amount of time on it, but that never stops me from trying. Overcast days aren’t an issue, obviously, but when you’re at thirty thousand feet and looking down at a few hundred square miles of the United States of Awesome (tm Invincible Girl), the desire to get a feel for which few hundred square miles I’m looking at can be overwhelming. However, as it turns out, the vast majority of American cities are sorely lacking in labels that are legible to the naked eye from six miles up. Someone should really get on this. I suppose I could carry-on a giant road atlas and try to orient myself using that. I could also go up and down the aisles introducing myself: “Hi. I’m a tremendous dork.” Besides, a person of my size feels self-conscious enough in an airplane seat, thanks very much, and the last thing I want is to make myself even more conspicuous by flipping through a book the size of all of the personal space that I paid hundreds of dollars to rent for a couple of hours.

That’s why I like flying into Minneapolis, especially on a clear day. Flying in from Eau Claire on Friday to catch my Minneapolis-to-Austin flight (just so you know I haven’t gotten over the absurdity of that), I could look out and see the place where the St. Croix feeds into the Mississippi, and followed the river to the marina where my parents park their boat. I was on the ground five minutes later, having covered a distance that takes a half hour by car.

So you can’t really blame me for my thought process on Sunday night during the descent back home. I caught sight of Interstate 35, the road we take between Minneapolis and Des Moines when we visit Deniece. If I’d had four days to get there, I could have taken it to Austin as well. The cities we pass through when returning home spooled beneath me in fast-forward mode: Owatonna, Faribault, Lakeville, Burnsville. Burnsville Shopping Center, eminently visible from the air at night, is twenty minutes from home. I looked at my watch: 7:30. Right on time for our scheduled arrival at 7:34.

Problem is, we were going due north. As far as I know, the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport doesn’t have a runway that runs north-south. I conveniently forgot this fact. Perhaps the pilot did as well. Or perhaps he had originally planned to set the aircraft down in 35W’s northbound lane between the exits for 494 and 77th street and was dissuaded at the last moment by the control tower. Which is too bad, because that stretch of freeway is even closer to my house than the airport.

In any case, my hopes of landing on time evaporated as the plane sharply banked left over the Minnesota River and meandered off over the western suburbs. Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Plymouth, and Chanhassen slipped underneath us, and the lights of the metro area became more and more sparse. We were making a wide loop to come around and land on Runway 12, which meant we were going to have to come in from the northwest. It was at this point that I remembered that the airline I was flying on used to be called Northwest Orient, and the reason for dropping the second part of the name was becoming inconveniently apparent.

It wouldn’t have bothered me, but I knew Trash would be circling around in front of the airport terminal. Which is always fun, because the stretch of road that passes by the entry doors is always crammed with people who are driving past it as slowly as possible, because even though they’re expecting their party to step out of there at any moment, they’re not allowed to stop unless something or someone is going in and out of their car, and there’s no point in going to short-term parking because they can’t meet people at the gate any more anyway, so there’s all this glacial, sneaky, going-just-slow-enough-to-not-get-flagged-by-airport-security driving right in front of the terminal building, and then everyone gets to the far end and has to come back around and it turns into a lap at Daytona. I would have called her on my cell phone, but apparently there are rules against that and for all I knew the woman sitting next to me flipping through the style magazines was an undercover air marshal who knew eight ways to kill me. So my wife spent a silly amount of time in that maddening circle. Thanks, September 11 hijackers!

Finally the plane turned around, way the hell out over Rockford or some damn thing. Rockford is not a suburb. It’s not even an exurb. If the expansion of the metro area continues at its current rate, Rockford may become a sub-exurb in ten or fifteen years. It’s quite a bit further away than Burnsville, I can tell you that for damn sure. It’s like halfway to St. Cloud. So we came in over the western suburbs. I didn’t see my house from the air because it was dark, but I could see my neighborhood. The negative spaces that the lakes create in the latticework of streetlights is a dead giveaway.

The last thing a passenger looking out of the left side of a plane coming in from the northwest sees before the wheels hit the ground is a church steeple at Cedar and Crosstown. It reads H O P E in huge white letters, one on top of the next. That was a nice thing to see the time we were coming back from Puerto Vallarta in the middle of a snowstorm and our pilot was riding the wind shears like a competitor at the X-Games and in literally five seconds we would either be on the ground safely or on the ground on fire. Sunday night, twenty minutes after I was scheduled to be off the plane, that sign was sheer mockery.

I could have gotten home sooner if I’d jumped out of the plane over Burnsville Center. But like I said before, I wasn’t in an exit row. Live and learn, I guess.

Today’s best search phrase: “Must you throw dirt on my face Merle Haggard.” Yeah, Merle! Must you? God. Asshole.

posted by M. Giant 9:43 PM 0 comments


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