A few summers ago, a gentleman I had only just met offered me an afternoon plane ride. He was a retired lawyer and enjoyed any excuse to pilot his small plane. My friend Paul and I had nothing scheduled that day, so figured why not.
After some debate about where to fly, north, south, or east, we settled on Mendocino, about halfway up the coast to Oregon. Within minutes we were bundled into a Beechcraft Bonanza and rattling off an absurdly short runway into the open sky.
It was a spectacular day even by California standards as we swooped along the pine-clad rocky coastline and buzzed hermits at a hidden Buddhist monastery. After what seemed like only a few minutes we were mingling with the tourists in Mendocino, a colorful seaside village which plays the role of "Cabot Cove, Maine" in "Murder She Wrote." Then we were back in the air, once again hugging the coastline at about 3500 feet. This time (on the basis of a coin toss) I got to sit up front with the pilot.
Up to this point the adventure had been pleasant enough, touched even with a bit of magic. After all, it is nothing less than magic to pick a direction at a whim and quickly land hundreds of mil...
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...n again to rave amidst my unseeing neighbors. I handed back the controls and we swooped between the towers of the Golden Gate just as the fog was rolling in, skipped across Alcatraz and Angel Island, and landed with a little hop back where we started.
And now, months later, I am a changed man. I don't think I'll be signing up for flying lessons anytime soon; I have enough expensive habits as it is. But now, when I look up into the sky, I see it not as a rather extravagant ceiling, but as a conduit to other places. I see that it's easy to get from here to there. All you have to do is fly.
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