Up in the air

If you're waiting for a DC-3 to warm up these days, you're at an air show. Frederic Lewis/Getty Images

On my way to the airport, I think of them flying home in the middle of the night. The Yankees -- or the Tigers or the Titans or the Jaguars or the Cards or the Packers or the Magic -- and the team bus pulling away from the ramp at the stadium and the silent drive to the terminal and the long, dark charter home. The game still ringing in their ears.

This is American sports, San Francisco in St. Louis, New York in Detroit, everyone everywhere and back again all at once on their way somewhere else. Our jet age state of dislocation and rebreathed air. "Business travel" to a series of interchangeable destinations and anonymous "mid-luxury" hotels. All mahogany veneer and brass fittings and windows you can't open, $19-a-day wi-fi, the airports and the shuttles and the carry-on bags and the voices and the faces all the same, the postmodern transformation of travel like the postmodern transformation of sports from an intense and eccentric series of local passions and oddities into lukewarm corporate pan-national gruel.

It was inevitable. Without jets, O'Malley and Stoneham can't move the Dodgers or the baseball Giants west to California. Before that it was the Lockheed Constellation or a DC-3 or a train or a bus. However far you could get in a night and a day. It was Satchel Paige barnstorming the peanut circuit in a touring car. It was Willy Loman.

Now? This is how it feels to set out on a business trip -- all hurry up and wait and shiny velocity and worry about what might go wrong.

The longest NFL loop this week looks like Jacksonville out to Oakland and home, 2,300 miles times two. Arizona goes to Minnesota and Baltimore flies to Houston. The Jets are at New England -- they could carpool. But won't. NASCAR haulers set out from Charlotte to Kansas Speedway this week. An actual road trip.

Me? I'll be in line somewhere with my shoes off. Waiting.

What best characterizes American business travel is existential dread. And socks. Disappointment. But sometimes there's a moment. Even in the meanest, narrowest coach seat there's a moment, if you can ease back into it, half asleep at 36,000 feet, if you can find it, if it's dark enough and quiet enough, if it's midnight inside and out, there's a moment that feels celestial. That feels of the infinite, just out there, past the window and the wing tip and the stars, of disembodied possibility and optimism, of being everywhere and nowhere all at once, of being omni and untouchable, invulnerable, of being and becoming something perfect and unheard of and good. It is a feeling of joy and of sadness and singularity so wide and deep it catches in your throat. It is a kind of rapture.

Which is a state like stardom itself.

Then the plane lands and the lights come up and we're home. You and me and the Yankees. Feet back on the earth. On the ground. Down.