Leaving on a Jet Plane (or) A Trip to the Duty Free Store

Summertime and the livin’ is…

George Gershwin

The very first plane ticket I ever held in my fat little hand – I won in a contest.

It was an essay contest sponsored by Eastern Airlines (now long defunct). I was twelve.

500 words on “The Duties of Citizenship” launched me into the friendly skies for the very first time. I don’t remember a word of what I wrote, but I do remember what I wore: a powder blue polka dot shift with pleated sleeves. Elegantly accessorized with black patent leather Maryjanes and little white anklets, of course.

Flying was way more glamorous back in the day. It was 1967. A PanAm flight bag was a sexy accessory. Stewardess was an even sexier career choice.

Butterflies fluttered in my insides, as my fellow contest winners and I boarded the plane. I was mesmerized, and also terrified, by the pre-flight safety instructions. As I buckled my seatbelt, a little thrill went down my spine — sipping Coca-Cola in the clouds.

And where did we go? Nowhere really.

We went round and round circling National Airport (not Reagan National but National, as it will ever be to me.) We looped the friendly skies for just 30 minutes, and then landed safely back to earth.

My half-hour fairytale flight! I have loved to fly to places unknown ever since, but never would the skies be as glamorous as this again. My Frequent Flyer Followers, I am sure you have seen the Christmas classic: “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”? Similarly, emerging out of the pandemic, things have gotten a little dicey when traveling by plane.

So, let us count and check off the ways.

Lost luggage. Check.

Oversold seats. Check.

Rude passengers. Check.

Late arrivals. Check.

Delayed departures. Check.

Security nightmares. Check.

Flights cancelled. Check.

Planes grounded. Check.

Stuck on the tarmac. Check.

Wings glazed over. Check.

Barometers raised. Check.

Anxiety aroused. Check.

Anger riled. Check.

Irish up. Check.

And still we cannot wait to board that plane. I am not sure exactly when I will fly again, but I do recall a trip I took just a few years ago.

My baby brother Joseph — my rocking, single-at-the-time,  gay baby brother — and I went to visit our horticultural, counter-cultural, professional-chef elder sister Maureen. On a plane, of course,  we were headed to Vancouver.

That rainy, cloudy, cold November, we were psyched for our cross-country adventure to the great Northwest: Walking the seawall; wandering the “gayborhoods🌈” (as my brother fondly called them🌈!); day tripping to Victoria; marketing with the farmers; and pub crawling through the West End — were all on our itinerary.

We departed from seedy Baltimore-Washington Airport, and landed just an hour later with Lake Superior in view. We had five full hours to fill before we boarded our next Airbus out of Toronto.

We could have just sat on our backsides scrolling through our phones — but instead we turned our five-hour layover into a day at the spa!

The exchange rate was very much in our favor. We had brunch: poached eggs over polenta and sour dough toast. Joseph’s Chelsea boots got a shine, and my fingernails got painted — RED —  for the very first time! We had coffee and read up on Canadian trivia for the Vancouver quiz Maureen was sure to pop. We shopped a little and we talked a lot.

Five fabulous duty free hours!

Airports are “duty free” – whatever the heck that means.😊 In reality apparently, it means not paying taxes on overpriced stuff. But “duty free” really works so much better as a metaphor.

Imagine those magical places — that you might declare totally duty free: Free to wander and free to wait. Free to play and free to contemplate. Free to explore and free to splurge. Free to escape and free to anticipate. Free to get lost in your wanderlust, and free to find yourself in some God-only-knows-where glorious place.

I leave tomorrow on vacation. Just saying that out loud makes me so happy! Fully vaccinated, this summer is so much more hopeful than last. Thank you science. Thank you God.

I am leaving not on a jet plane, exactly, but in my little sky-blue Hyundai – as close to a jet plane as I can get right now. And I am pretty sure I do know when I am getting back again.😊

Where I am going on my trip doesn’t really matter. Wherever it is, I promise you this: it will be a trip to the “duty-free-store.”

And so my friends, when are you leaving on your jet plane?


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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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