11-12 January 2017

What a great beginning for my China trip! For days, Ashland has been in the grip of snow and ice and ice and snow, the roads too often a skating rink, the cars twirling dervishes, not even the buses running. But Wednesday, just rain and the snow all melted and traffic moving easily, and not only could I drive – or be driven – to Medford, but my flight from Medford would be able to ascend in this lovely clear weather. Arrived early and eager, only to learn the flight was a bit delayed. But not to worry – still plenty of time to make my connection at San Francisco to my fourteen- hour direct flight to Hangzhou, China. 

A little late, but United loaded us up and we are sitting on the tarmac, and now the announcement that the flight is overbooked. Nobody wanted to give up a seat. Great conferencing up front, staff disappearing and going back to the terminal and more conferencing and the minutes are spinning away. Finally, someone gives up his seat, but not before my China flight is in the business of loading in San Francisco and going to be taking off without me. Always hopeful, once landed in San Francisco, I ran and fast walked in what I was told was the direction to the International  Terminal, only to learn, no – wrong way. You take the causeway. You go back to where you came. That is where the you find the causeway to the International Terminal. Alas, the flight was quite off and away before I reached Gate 100, where  my flight had long left without me. 

Trudge – no more running – to Customer Service, where I was less than composed. No more flights to Hangzhou available today, I was told. Maybe tomorrow That is the best we can do, and so I fussed and fumed and wondered why this should be  This was NOT supposed to happen! I did everything right. I even got out of Medford. And how – trying yet to compose myself – how in the hell can I make lemonade out to this? Missing a whole precious day in China, when I have so few, and now to be stuck here in San Francisco Airport for a day or whatever, and then (oh, marvelous), a creative United Customer Care representative took some care and asked, “Ms. Reed, have you been to China before?” 

“Oh, yes.” 

“Can you get to Hangzhou from Shanghai?”

“Oh, YES, I can,” and within the hour I was on a twelve-and-a-half-hour flight direct to Shanghai in a half-empty plane, where I had a whole row to myself in which to stretch out and sleep. Food was served hot, and then we had ice cream. Life seemed somewhat improved.

Always before my Shanghai flights from San Francisco have been at least fourteen hours This one: twelve and half. And even if I had been in a row with other people on either side of me, the seats were reasonably sized in this 787. All that and ice cream. Yes, life had improved.

A beautiful flight, the windows opening up to blue skies piled with fluffy white clouds and here we are flying above it all. Do you ever get over the thrill of  flying? Should you? The young man across from my seat on the Medford flight was a pilot on reserve with United and just breaking in, finally flying a jet. Four years of flight school in Nevada for one hundred grand, and he is still going to college as well, but the thrill of flying stays with him. He loved it as a little boy, and he still loves it. A lucky man to be doing what he lives and to still be thrilled by it.

How amazing that we can sit here so any miles above the earth, warm and fed and safe in this extraordinary and complicated-put-together machine with so many, many parts that somehow all fit together to carry us forward. 

The woman, who was my seat partner on the Medford flight, had nothing good to say about United: “They always overbook. Every United flight I have ever been on was overbooked.” And she recounted numerous trips that involved waits and arguments and disputes. Fortunately for her, her connecting flight was also delayed, so I think she made her connection. The chap in the seat in front of me had a connecting flight as well, but how well he took it in stride, just did not say much and took off speedily when we finally landed in San Francisco What a nice way to live. Not to be upset by what are, finally, not disasters. (Though I was certainly felt it was a disaster, even while the rational mind said it was not. No accolades for me.) How generously he handled it. What a lovely way to live, to just roll gently with the punches and keep steadfastly on your way. No spewing , no fuming, just quietly moving along.

When we consider the complexity of any airline transporting the millions – or it it billions – of people on even a single flight – ensuring that this humungous machine is safely together and air worthy, the maintenance, stocking it and cleaning it and fueling it and packing it with available staff and the food and the supplies, the ticketing and the checking-in, the organization of air space and takeoffs and landings, even ensuring that the overhead bins actually close. So many details. Such complexity. It is amazing that anyone ever gets anywhere on any plane, let alone on time. But for the most part, we do get there, and we do get there on time, and we are able to indulge in this splendiferous, luxurious, global way of life that allows the vast vision of this vast world. 

Some do it with grace and other do it with less.

When I reach Shanghai, I will locate a bus or a train and reach Hangzhou in the middle of the night, run down a taxi driver and show him my destination written on a card in Mandarin characters, ad say the words “Zhejiang University” in my very poor pronunciation of Mandarin. Somehow, I will get to the Univerity and to my hotel. Things have a way of working out.

Maybe, this trip is not about China at all. Maybe I really had to learn that there is an easy and gracious way to live and to move through Life.