travels with greg – day 2
Holy crap, people? Could it be that I’m out of the country, at long finally last? Yes it could! It’s a shorty but a goody as I tell you all about the experience of sitting on a plane and eating a vegan breakfast on an international Air Canada flight. If you’re just catching up now, go to the index page and read Travels With Greg, my epic tale of a six-week documentary shoot through Europe in the fall of 2004.
I sleep badly on planes. Most passengers will tell you that they sleep badly on planes, but I’ve seen them at 3am in the taupe-shadowed darkness of the cabin, propped against each other like old paperbacks and snoring away to the rhythm of the engines. I prefer to sit in my cone of blue light, going over the same few passages in my book or trying to follow the thread of the movie playing on the little LED screen set into the back of my seat. Every so often an attendant will pass by, sometimes giving me a quick smile to commiserate lightly in our shared wakefulness.
Greg gave me the window seat for the Toronto-Heathrow flight. For Greg, who lives for the moments when the ground can be seen receding or approaching through an oval window on an airplane cabin, this was a generous act. I had never seen London before, and he wanted me to see London at night. There was a possibility that we would spend a few days in England at the end of the trip, but that was six weeks in the future, and besides, there were no pages in the binder under tabs 37-41.
London at 5 a.m. was endless and illuminated. The plane flew at an impossibly correct altitude, just low enough to let me see the detail of the buildings but just high enough to feel as if we were crawling slowly over the city, as a magnifying planchette traces out a line of text on a page. Clumps of skyscrapers, burning with light, passed underneath, only to be replaced with another clump. Greg leaned over to get a look. Do you see it? he said. What do you see?
He wanted me to tell him that I could see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and that ridiculous fucking ferris wheel. I couldn’t even find a comparison to sum up what I was seeing, except to say that it seemed like huge outlined geometric shapes all pressing into each other and shaken by the river – shaken too slowly to see, but yawing back and forth nonetheless, as if one end of the Thames were being cracked like a whip. Other cities are easier to take in at a glance: Los Angeles looks like a giant microchip, for instance; it looks frighteningly like the Machine City in The Matrix. Manila from the air looks like a ball of dark yarn covered in red and white crumbs. London looks like tectonic forces, which is hard to explain at five in the morning.
A few people had already woken up and were staring out the window at the city beneath. The lights came on and we could hear the metal clanking of meal carts, then the maddening experience of waiting for the meal cart, with its steamed prepackaged breakfast food. On a whim I’d requested the vegan option, which turned out to be either flavourless stir frys with tofu or, in the case of breakfast, the regular meal with everything interesting removed. I picked at breakfast as the sky lightened and London began to speed faster beneath us, on its way to Heathrow.
Whoah? Will we make it to Heathrow? Or do we, um, die, or get rerouted to Leicestershire or something? Will there even be an airport in Leicestershire if we fly there? I can’t take the suspense, people: come back soon.
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