Anticipating


"I remain much better at Anticipating the past
than I'll ever be at accurately Anticipating what's next."

Checking the weather report, I learn that a mighty windstorm is predicted for the foothills West of Denver. Expected to arrive around midnight, our flight's scheduled to land a scant half hour before its arrival. I've seen this movie before. So has everyone who's flown into DIA. The airport's located in a notoriously windy weed patch of a place, more Kansas than Colorado. The Rockies' Front Range regularly funnels slight breezes into full blown gales. Every flight locks down forty-five minutes before landing, the pilot apologizing in laconic tones for the impending inconvenience before the plane commences to terrifying rolling and yawing, inevitably catching one careless passenger on the way to the facility. That passenger receives a stern chewing out from a strapped in flight attendant while the rest of the passengers white knuckle their way past this latest portal into eternity. Landing always feels like salvation.

A veteran of an indecent number of Denver-inbound flights, I start anticipating early, before the plane even leaves Seattle. I once again convince myself of the absolute insanity of air travel as the plane taxis through heavy rain toward the darkest end of the departure runway.
Ninety seconds after going airborne, the plane flies through white out blizzard conditions. Five minutes later, it's leveling off six or seven miles above the Cascades' uneven topography. I remain painfully aware of the peril as flight attendants sanguinely start cabin service. I'm clutching my book as if it was a life preserver, unable to read while The Muse, seated beside me, plays solitaire on her iPhone. My hyperventilation eventually subsides, but my anticipation of what's to come never leaves its dark corner just behind my eyes. I'm bargaining inside myself, working hard to accept my impending demise.

I'd seriously considered just bailing out on the last leg of this trip. The prop flight up from Portland was, as prop flights go, uneventful despite the boiling clouds and deepening darkness. Airplanes don't slow down after dark, but maintain their normal break-neck velocity regardless of changing conditions. Pilots must be chosen for their unflappability. Passengers are not, at least this passenger wasn't. I figure that I've already flown plenty and no longer need the provocation. I just figure every flight will be my last foolhardy extension on this Earth, a simple matter of accepting my fate. If grocery stores demanded such resignation, they would doubtless quickly go out of business, but airlines have seemingly mastered the Dark Art of the Dangle. Whatever they're dangling seems more powerful than self-preservation.

It doesn't seem to matter that powered flight make no more sense now than it did in Wilbur and Orville Wright's time. Alaska Airlines hires better Public Relations professionals, I guess. Offer me four more inches of leg room and I'll pay a premium for the minor luxury of anticipating my end again. Doubtless, the exercise brings my existence into sharper focus. I suppose that it matters not at all what whets my focus. It could have been a religious experience, but in our modern secular world, powered flight suffices. I scan my fellow passengers wondering how they'll appear when the newspapers publish high school graduation portraits in memoriam. I employ some unrecognized form of logic to resolve my concerns enough to board the flight, disinterestedly watching the fierce competition for overhead space, a post-modern lifeboat drill where nobody ever gets left behind. The forced checking of an oversized bag, apparently a form of near-death sentence.

The anticipated turbulence never appears. The approach to Denver might be the smoothest I've ever experienced, though through my rattling anticipation, I barely experience it at all. I'm gripping The Muse's hand, she the steady unflappable, me, the terrified child. I recognize that I've scared myself again. I anticipate poorly if unerringly. I pre-live my future, painting it in colors more catastrophic than it ever turns out. I receive all the benefit of a tragedy without all the messy tidying up a genuine one demands. In my more lucid moments, far away from any flight path, I clearly understand my absurdity. Since I cannot foresee even the near future, not even to the end of a two hour and nine minute excursion into the stratosphere, I might just as well assume the best, but I do not; I seemingly cannot. I'm too busy Anticipating to register my actual experience except in retrospect. Call me self-fulling, but I remain much better at Anticipating the past than I'll ever be at accurately Anticipating what's next.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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