Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 21, 2017
In a world brought low by hateful politics, toxic weather, and a seemingly endless supply of misery and divisiveness, it is well to remember the everyday miracles we take for granted.
A recent trip to New York began with a phone call to a cab company to drive me to the airport. I got a text when the driver arrived. On the way there, a lush Tchaikovsky symphony poured out of the speakers. Commonplace, but let’s unpack it. On a device smaller than the palm of my hand, the driver pinged me to let me know he had arrived. His signal reached me via one of hundreds of satellites orbiting the planet, ricocheting from earth to sky and back again in less time than it takes to read this sentence.
The drive itself was routine, if a 4,000-pound room-sized conveyance of metal and rubber guided by computer chips can be considered routine. But just imagine what our Founding Fathers would have thought, how Washington and Jefferson would have quaked in their broadcloth suits to hear an orchestra swelling forth from hidden panels behind the dashboard of a big two-eyed monster cruising along effortlessly on a modern expressway at two or three times the speed of the fastest horse.
The airport itself is, of course, a kind of marvel, but the security process is a gauntlet of indignities, until we finally settle into the plane—a 400,000-pound marvel of incredible complexity, threaded with hundreds of miles of wiring and powered by giant batteries and liquid fuel sufficient to lift us five miles into the air and hurl us 760 feet per second a third of the way across the country in a little over two hours, operated by a commercial enterprise of tens of thousands of people and built in a giant factory on the other side of the continent—and take off, the ground rolling away, the plane released from the clutches of gravity, and oh, what a thing of beauty!
In short order we are flying above layers of clouds that appear like white-capped mountains, frozen in their manifold frothy tufts and puffs, fantastic, phantasmagoric images like a Fellini or Kubrick masterpiece, cinema altocumulus, unspooling at a stately pace until finally the mountains give ways to hills and the hills to puffy clumps of snow that seem to melt and disappear altogether, revealing five miles below great cities and blue-flecked lakes and vast patchworks of green, with dark roadway ribbons lining the earth and rivers splayed out like puddles, until we begin to descend ever so daintily, like a ballerina, the earth rolling slowly up and gently shaking us from our reverie, landing at night amid a million city and airport lights shimmering a friendly greeting.
“Welcome to New York,” the P.A. system squawks, and we are back to rude reality. But for two hours we have lived a miraculous dream.