Flight: MS, AR, LA, TX: Don’t Mess With Texas

Chronicles of Existential Dread: Episode XII: Human Fluids

This one is a bit of a hybrid; there is no philosophical rantings here, just a story, which is included because it supports the ethos of my prior rantings.

On my trip to the USA in the spring, which comprises the photos in this and the last two blog posts, it occurred to me that all three of the airline flights I took went wrong, with eruptions of human effluent on every single one of them.

First was the vomiting child in the seat in front of me. Thankfully, this was at the tail end of a 9-hour flight crossing the ocean, so I only had to endure the absolutely vile smell for about 20 minutes.

The second was from a flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, after terminating my general aviation affairs in East Texas (as noted on my AOPA post describing the story). It was a lovely 3-hour flight in a narrow body jet with 144 occupants….and two bathrooms. Anyhow, I had a need to use the restroom, and after a line of people stopped going, I dove in for my turn, except someone was in there, for about 15 minutes. Then she came out, with a rather unpleasant vomit smell, doing the whole “I’ve never had that happen before routine” (Don’t make a mess in Texas?). The flight attendant donned elbow length gloves and plunged in to clean up, for which the passenger returned for two more rounds of spewing body fluids all over the place. The flight attendant noted “It’s pretty bad in there,” so I sat down and held it for the next 90 minutes until landing.

The third flight, my return to Europe, was the coup de grace. I was breaking my record of the longest single hop flight I had yet taken (11 hours, 15 minutes), not something I was thrilled about, so I sprung $700 more for a premium seat. Surely that must insulate me from the miseries of airline travel….?

For the most part, it did. The seat was larger than a quarter coffin, so that helped. About four hours into this little affair, with the cabin lights dimmed, a young lady wandered up from economy and made some utterings that I couldn’t understand, though I had ear plugs in and didn’t care anyway. She then, next to my seat, pulled her pants down, and appeared to stretch. Now, the last time someone “appeared to stretch” on a transatlantic flight, she was actually drunk as a skunk and was in the process of a controlled episode of passing out. This lady, being oriental, tricked my American ignorance into thinking that she was doing some sort of eastern-infused stretching routine, having slithered into premium for a wider aisle to do so. I couldn’t tell if the removal of pants revealed skin tight clothing underneath (better for, ahem, stretching) or if it was…skin. Remember, it was dark.

After she was immobile for 30 seconds, “stretching,” my intuition deduced that nothing good was going to come from it. She stood up after another 30 seconds, pulled up her pants, and wandered away, leaving behind a gallon of urine on the floor. In an act of airline class warfare karma, I note that at least half of the urine flowed back into economy.

Only seven more hours on this flight.

The two Spanish guys across the aisle had a typically Spanish look on their face when crazy things happen. I hit the call button, and they explained to the Spanish flight attendant what just went down, so he laid a blanket over it and sprayed some perfume and that was that.

In Spain, an extremely common expression to denote surprise about any subject is “coño!” It literally translates as “pussy,” so, well, coño! One could devote an entire post to the practice of exclaiming “pussy!” in response to every surprise in Spain….

What happened to the drunk broad lady (my wife made me change it) that emptied her bladder next to my seat? Nothing. Apparently, there is no consequence for such a thing, so next time you’re on the longest flight possible, slither into first class and relieve yourself on the floor.

The odd thing about this whole deal is that I never had anything weird happen while taking flights living in the USA. Once I moved to Europe, I do spend more hours on planes, though I could go on and on about an incredible quantity of drama that happens in an airplane.

Perhaps I will stick to flying the Cub.

Somewhere in central Mississippi. While suffocating under horrific humidity and heat at 9AM at the departing airport, a guy on the ramp shuddered in disgust at my mentioning that I was heading to Texas, like it was some sort of shithole.

The Mississippi River Delta. Its not actually the delta that flows into the Gulf of Mexico, but rather a silty plain that adjoins the river. I suspect they will be planting rice, as Spain does something similar in water logged areas (including timing, where summer is green but spring is not).

Highway northeast of the ironically named Greenville, MS.

A branch of the Missippi. The River cuts new paths in response to floods as the silt moves around. This is one of the tangential sections of the river.

Crossing the Mississippi into Arkansas. Hot as hell and not as spiritual as crossing into Missouri. I guess it helps to pretend I am a settler in 1840, which is dumb because it really would mean a significant chance of death from cholera.

Mississippi River Delta in Arkansas.

Ouachita River, Arkansas. Infrared. The black areas are water, which means two things: 1) if the engine quit, I’d never be found and 2) there are gators in there. I read an article today about authorities in Tennessee kindly requesting area residents not to flush their unused meth products down the toilet as “our sewer systems are not designed for it, gators live in the ponds near the discharge point, and we do not want to imagine a gator on meth.”

Red River valley, “God Damn Louisiana.” This makes the 46th state I have visited. It is somewhat ceremonial as my wife tells a story as a kid crossing Louisiana in a car during a torrential rainstorm. “Where are we?” to which her father replied: “GOD DAMN LOUISIANA!” 

Somewhere in East Texas.

Somewhere else in East Texas.

Lake Palestine, Texas. Two things: a) I emailed a friend where I was, he googled, and it came up with a photo of a redneck holding a rifle and the gator he shot. I was also given a brief viewing of the lake, and a snake went swimming by…. b) It is pronounced Lake “Palesteen” so I am told that the locals don’t want to be associated with Palestine, as in “them damn foreigners over there.” I find that ironic given the religious proclivities of Texas. 

Flight: MD, WV, VA, TN, AL, MS: Great Appalachian Valley

Chronicles of Existential Dread: Episode XI: Wonderment vs Structure

The “Chronicles” have been a long running analysis of two concepts seemingly in opposition to each other: illusions of modern-day travel compared to my European wanderings in the Cub. In retrospect, I started writing from the farthest points possible between the two, and these viewpoints have been narrowing. It is not to say that one is the other, though it is a methodical analysis of the two that has removed elements of apparent conflict. At this juncture, it is time to consider something that both have in common.

I am proposing that a scale in life exists: wonderment vs structure. To have more of one means less of another, to a point where one could, in theory, have complete amounts of one, lacking entirely in another. I will elaborate more, though suffice it to say that I think my wanderings along with those of the traveling public both sit on this scale, with both looking for an ideal equilibrium point. My contentions of stereotype as applied to Cub wanderings has to do with misinterpretations of where on the scale certain things lie.

“Wonderment” is a funny word. I use it to describe that elevating feeling walking the streets of Venice for the first time, that sense of magic hopping onto a commercial flight, that glazed look of bliss a tourist has sitting in traffic in London, alongside Londoners who are fantasizing about being on holiday in Greece (anywhere but the doldrums of London). Wonderment is a state of mind, not a state of location. It is a constantly changing point, like balancing on a ball, where one must remain in a relative state of motion to remain in the state of wonderment. Not too long after we find something that stokes our need for inspiration, excitement, freedom, or awe (aka “wonderment”), we adjust to it and begin looking for it again. Travel is a natural activity to seemingly contain wonderment in a delightful box; just travel somewhere and the feeling awaits…or so it seems.

Quite obviously, there is wonderment to be had wandering around in an antique airplane. That is what lies in common with a typical travel activity, to the extent the feelings remain the same.

Why call it “wonderment,” though? Why not use “freedom?” I think freedom is a tool; it is not a destination. Freedom in and of itself is the state of lack of restrictions, enabling the ability to pursue one’s desires. Wonderment implies that a person has used their freedom to engage in an activity that, for the moment, has achieved the moment of mental stimulation someone was looking for. Freedom could be used scratching one’s arse on the couch equally as it could be used to fly an airplane or wander Venice.

Structure enters in as the counterweight to wonderment. It seems that the more structure we have in life, the less room there is for wonderment. Why could this be so? Structure is inherently predictable, which means it is antipodal to new things, said new things being a common element of travel and stimuli for wonderment. It is for this reason that I put structure on the opposite end of the scale. To have absolute structure implies no wonderment; to have absolute wonderment implies no structure.

The problem is, we seem to need a certain amount of structure in life. At its core, economics tends to group around predictability; jobs are usually in one location. It’s cheaper to own or rent a consistent residence, for which it is easier to attend college, send the kids to school, visit family, enjoy friends, go to the doctor, and do everything else in life in a known construct, revolving around the structures of need. Since most of the world holds a steady job, wonderment is a small portion of life; therefore, what international travel can be had is like a brief orgasm, a complete explosion of over-the-top enjoyment of new things, before the dominatrix of structure rears her head, demanding of its subjects wonderment chastity.

I tend to find that those with more structure look at anyone on the scale with more wonderment as though he or she is living in pure bliss. While some freedom from structure may exist, the emotional perspective looking over the fence is somewhat of an illusion. Once there, a person naturally finds the next fence to be restrictive, and gazes longingly at what lies over the next fence.

The problem is, I have talked to those who have near complete wonderment, the point in life where no more fences exist to gaze over. It is usually a life of having the weeds as a restroom, sand fleas as compatriots, and a skanky surfer van as one’s primary abode. Further, most who do complete binges of free living (say, digital nomads) tend to do so in punctuated bursts, normalizing into a more, but not completely, structured existence. It is not to say that Middle America is desirable; it is to say that some point between absolute wonderment and absolute structure is.

Therein lies the mystery of the human condition. Once blowing past a person’s personal ideal point of equilibrium on the scale, settling back to an ideal point, the question of life is not answered. The mechanics of travel and wandering may be decided, though the answer to the journey is by no means over. I think a large part of my view has been that those undertaking traditional travel, bound voluntarily or involuntarily by an excess of structure, look to someone with more wonderment in life, thinking that the person has found Nirvana. My teeth begin to itch in that said ascribed viewpoint is lacking adequate insight for the purveyor of it to move to a more desirable point on the scale.

Ironically, my thesis was going to be different, and the evolution of this writing led elsewhere. Even when someone reaches the Nirvana of equilibrium vis-à-vis wonderment versus structure, it is merely yet another tool, like freedom. Wonderment is a continuous state of philosophical stimulation, though it cannot remain a fixed point in time or space, or its effect will dwindle. A person is incumbent to use existing tools available to maintain standing on the ball, in continuous pursuit of the state of thinking. To have arranged life to make that more possible does not alleviate the requirement to continue to chase a state of wonderment. Merely having removed structural impediments without simultaneously fostering the existence of wonderment would result in a relatively freedom-filled existence….sitting on the couch scratching the proverbial arse.

Scientifically, that is a chemical reduction of our existence. Our brains seek dopamine while simultaneously adapting to an excess of it, requiring us to continue working to seek an ideal squirt of hormonal bliss, often derived of exploratory and philosophical wanderings, while being unable to continue doing so lest we get calloused to it. Where does it lead? Probably a lifetime of travel.

Continuing from last blog post. Airplane fixed a week later. Northern Shenandoah, Virginia.

It is horse country in the Shenandoah Valley.

Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Between Lexington, Virginia and Roanoke, Virginia.

Believe it or not, this is a field and not an airstrip.

Quintessential Appalachia. Heading into the hills to avoid Roanoke’s Class C area.

Also quintessentially Appalachian….the occasional heavy industry site in the middle of nowhere. Usually this is a fight between the jobs such sites provide to completely impoverished locals versus the cancer its pollutants cause in said locals from lax pollution regulations. Everyone usually ends up rather pissed off in the end….politicians, environmentalists, locals, workers, and heavy industry alike.

Blacksburg, Virginia. 

Agricultural test sites.

Tree farm. This species is Colorado Blue Spruce, of which one happens to grow in our backyard in Spain.

The partially “populated” valley to the right is known in these parts as a “holler.”

Cherokee Reservoir, Tennessee. It is now grotesquely hot and humid.

Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. There was nothing “frozen” on this flight. It is at this point that I departed the Great Appalachian Valley, which runs from Quebec to Alabama, after having flown half of it without realizing it until I got home.

Up at 8,000 feet, fantasizing I would actually freeze. I whipped out the infrared camera due to haze.

Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River – Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I could have used an “Alabama Slammer” after having flown all day in vicious thermals and heat.

West of Ford City, Alabama (would be ironic if they drove Chevy’s). It was fields of this texture in 2012 taken from Lincoln County, North Carolina that spawned my texture photos that have been going steady since. The same vein of profusely red clay that shows up in the Piedmont of NC goes all the way through Alabama to Texas.

Cedar Creek Reservoir, Alabama – infrared in late evening light.

Reservoir south of Bay Springs Lake, Mississippi – infrared. I landed in Tupelo, Mississippi for the night not too long after.