Valley Voices

Ah, the freedom of flight – gravity and atmosphere neutralized

A United Airlines passenger airplane passes over Whittier on its way to Los Angeles International Airport.
A United Airlines passenger airplane passes over Whittier on its way to Los Angeles International Airport. AP File/2015

Lodged between a snoring man and one who was dozing, I was seated in Row 27, Seat B on a Thursday afternoon flight between Dallas and Fresno. Taking a discreet glance at the fellow seated to my right, I saw a stranger whose earbuds seemed to be lulling him to another place, his day-old stubble back-lit by the sun. I shifted in my seat, barely able to stretch my legs.

Two rows in front of me, a video screen was flipped down from the cabin ceiling to display programming I couldn’t hear. I hadn’t thought to retrieve my own hearing apparatus – which I still call “earphones” –from a small compartment in my suitcase where they have been stashed for at least three years.

Flight attendants don’t provide earphones anymore, just as they don’t offer pillows or serve hot meals. I was surprised this plane still had video screens. One of my friends recently told me that you are now expected to stream in-flight entertainment on your personal electronic device.

Cricking my neck to watch a movie on a small screen I’m holding in my hand doesn’t sound appealing. I’d rather read a book to pass my time – and not an electronic one. On this flight, I was enjoying Carole Firstman’s “Origins of the Universe and What It All Means,” the Visalia author’s well-received memoir.

In the crowded cabin, I was seated upright, a pickled vegetable in a jar of Armenian tourshi. I preferred to see myself the bright-eyed carrot wedged between two sleeping heads of cauliflower. In actuality, I was the piece of celery, bland and faded, vinegar in my veins. Here we were, three strangers, making it through another day. I was happy to be heading home.

Despite the challenges, I still feel magic when I fly. I look toward the puffy clouds and let my mind drift forward. I think back to all the places I’ve been.

I remember the Air France stewardesses of the 1960s serving me a perfectly appointed tray of baked chicken and mineral water as I flew between Los Angeles and Montreal with my mother. For a farm girl used to taking swigs from the garden hose, this was fancy stuff.

In the mid-1970s, I was thrilled to be traveling over the pond to Great Britain to perform with my high school band friends.

In the 1980s, I made numerous trips from California to the east coast for work, weddings, and exploration.

Over the next 30 years, I ventured to places historic and exotic. France. Australia. Armenia. Morocco. I always arrived by plane. In-flight movies came and went. Meals disappeared. Once, my baggage was lost between Los Angeles and Guatemala City. I’ll never forget how TACA Airlines paid me cash for my inconvenience even though my suitcase was delivered the next day.

These days, I fly for work more than pleasure, although the energy of an airport still excites me. Flying over the earth at 500 miles per hour remains nothing short of a miracle.

A jetliner cannot travel in a straight path. Dire consequences will result from an unwavering trajectory. A pilot must continually adjust the airplane’s heading, flying in an arc that follows the curve of the earth.

Ah… to move through the air to places real and imagined, the constraints of gravity and atmosphere neutralized.

In her book, Firstman describes a trying circumstance she faced as a child. Her inborn tenacity was displayed in her reaction to the situation.

“If I allowed myself to be bullied into making a promise,” she writes, “I would be giving away an intangible piece of myself…I’d forfeit the sensation of flying I could create at will, depending on how high I trampolined on the bed, how close I got to the ceiling.”

Don’t we all aspire to that freedom of flight, blue skies and cool winds framing the propulsion of our free will?

Seated on the airplane that afternoon, book in my lap, the end-points of middle-age appeared fuzzy in my wandering thoughts. Yet I was sure of one thing: to get from Point A to Point Z, you must accept a fluid path.

The plane takes off. And lands. Takes off. And lands.

The excursion becomes an ever-moving, never-ending dialogue we voice in silence – our reach to the moon, the stars, the strangers beside us. We fly toward the horizon irrefutable and waiting, a destination glazed with peach light.

Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at