Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Feeling Grounded

Up until a little over 15 days ago, I had never flown. I grew up in a small working class family and the few trips we took when I was little were limited to car travel. The thought of flying anywhere for a vacation was simply never a consideration: My mother had a horrible fear of flying and even if she hadn't, we wouldn't have been able to afford it. In my junior year in high school, my English teacher had organized a small school trip to London and I remember how I, as a longtime obsessed fan of the British music scene, longingly watched my classmates plan car wash fundraisers to top of their parental contributions to the cost of flying to -- and staying in -- England. My own going was out of the question. It would have been so even if my older sister hadn't been getting married and my parents hadn't been bracing themselves for footing the bill for her Roman Catholic shindig. In the end, my only physical connection to the whole thing involved clutching the virgin vinyl pressing of The Smiths' Girlfriend in a Coma maxi-single purchased and brought back for me by a lanky and geeky boy with no interest whatsoever in British music, but with a vested interest in getting me to agree to accompany him to the senior prom.

During my early adult years it seemed that whenever I would have liked to travel someplace, there was a vet bill to pay. Whenever there was loose change, work or school left no opportunity to book time off to go anywhere.


So a little over 15 days ago, on what I can only describe accurately as an 'impulse', I threw some money towards a ticket and flew to the San Francisco Bay area. I had spent the previous two months planning to fly to the UK to visit friends in Bath and Oxford at the end of February, but when those plans fell through and the itch still needed a good scritch, I decided that staying put wasn't an option. "Come to California," an acquaintance suggested, so I did.

I found out quickly that food options for vegans traveling Economy Class from Canada to the US with Air Canada can be quite limited. The Fredericton-to-Toronto segment of my trip -- a very short jaunt -- included complementary beverages like water, juice, tea/coffee and a small proffered package of "artificially butter-flavoured pretzels" which nobody could guarantee were vegan (and on a flight lasting less than two hours, this wasn't a big deal). The next leg of the trip could have been a bit more problematic, however. Air Canada allows you to request a vegan meal if you're on a flight where complementary meals are offered, but the only food available for Economy Class passengers flying from Canada to the US with a change of planes is what's available for sale on what they call their Onboard Menu. It's basically a limited selection of largely obviously non-vegan entrees and horribly overpriced snacks and I had been unable to confirm in advance through the Air Canada website whether any of the more ambiguous entrees were, in fact, vegan. For the Toronto-to-San Francisco portion of my flight, I had therefore packed some food to eat, including a very well-chilled container of mujaddara and some peanuts.

On the way back after my stay in California, I ate a meal before heading to the airport three hours before my scheduled departure and then once I'd passed through security, I grabbed an overpriced tray of hummus, pita and raw vegetables at a shop. My biggest mistake as a novice air traveler was in not realizing that once past security, I could also purchase a beverage to bring on board with me. Two small complementary beverages were served on the red-eye back to Canada and by the time the second one was offered just an hour outside of Toronto, I was
really uncomfortably parched.

I have no serious complaints, though. The absolutely worst part of my trip involved a light scolding from a flight attendant for not having properly tucked my shoulder bag beneath the seat in front of me just before takeoff. The weather was great with the slightest of turbulence (which was more bizarre than unnerving), the attendants and airport staff were all helpful and friendly, the delays were slight with no line-ups at customs. And the flying? The actual act of ascending into the sky for the first time ever and watching the world shrink below? Poking through clouds and then seeming to drift just above them? Trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was traveling 3000 miles -- farther than I've ever gone in my life -- and knowing that I would be doing so within just a handful of hours? That I'd be stepping out into warm glow-y sunshine after having piled into a cab back home in the wee hours, careful not to slip on ice as my teeth chattered? Oh gosh. I mean, seriously -- oh gosh.

I've had reactions from others ranging from polite smiles to the "I-can't-believe-you've-actually-never-flown" that have felt dismissive. Who cares, though? There's no shame in feeling delight over a new experience. It was an adventure to just get on a plane in the first place and, on some inane level, the flying in and of itself was well-worth my portion of the cost of the ticket. I will never again be able to self-identify as someone who's never flown, and that's really kinda neat. I also can't wait to do it again.

From the final segment of my flight:

Just leaving Toronto Pearson International Airport.

The city of Toronto -- a place in which I hadn't set foot since I was a child.

The more familiar wooded landscape of New Brunswick (with the snow drilling it home that California was left far behind).

Almost done.

Staring down at myself while approaching the tiny runway during the last few seconds of my flight.

Over the next few weeks I hope to share some photos, stories and restaurant reviews from my trip to what was one of the most wonderfully vegan-friendly areas I've ever visited. The truth is that if a non-profit or other interesting employer from Berkeley or the San Francisco Bay area plopped a job offer on my lap this week, I'd pack up the cats, some books, and would gladly return and call it 'home'. I truly hope to at the very least be able to spend some time there again some day.


Vanilla Rose said...

I could hardly believe it either, and that is not meant in a dismissive way! Glad you liked it.

M said...

I should have stated that most of my close friends who know and understand me seem to have delighted in this as much as I did. They knew that it was a pretty big deal for me to travel out there for a variety of reasons (I'd never flown, was traveling without a safety net and placing a lot of trust in those welcoming me on the other end of things, and so on), and they were a little awed that I'd have taken the leap of faith I did in going. They had pretty much sussed out that once I got over my initial nervousness that I'd love it and want to seek it out again. That's sort of how I operate with a lot of things. Once I run through them the first time, though, my enthusiasm fires up. :-)

Vanilla Rose said...

Three years ago, I went on a plane for the first time since 1984. A lot of people asked me, "Who did you go with?" and I told them the name of the airline, knowing full well that they meant that they were thinking I could not possibly have done this on my own initiative.

But I did.

Am still not keen on flying, but am less wary of it than I used to be.

M said...

I've never not flown because I feared it. It's mostly been because I've never really been able to afford to do so, whether I've been putting myself or an ex through school or dealing with veterinary bills. I was lucky this time around in that I also had a place to stay while there, which really reduced my expenses.

Ray said...

Flying is always amazing. I've done it plenty of times, and it'll never be enough to dismiss it!

I'm lucky living at the other end of the world where Asian airlines abound and their vegan options are actually vegan. Sometimes there's more than one option, or a raw or fruit platter option, too. Local flights on cut-price Australian airlines are a bummer, though. The same In-Flight "seasonal" menu deal. Gak.

I look forward to your reviews! Can't wait to visit the North American continent some day. So many great food places to try!

Jenne said...

I love flying. I'm in awe every time I fly, and I'm lucky enough to be able to fly a couple of times a year. It's really magical! (Okay, it's physics, but it sure feels like magic.)

Jenne said...

I love flying! It's always magical to me, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to fly a couple of times a year (during good years.) I'm so glad you enjoyed it.