Monday, April 21, 2008

The Longest Runway

Sitting on the tarmac at JFK, on the way to LA, I became entranced by the languid dance of the signalman. At a certain point he walked beside the plane and fell behind a bit, and then he disappeared, a solitary man loosing the behemoth. Just as we began to taxi along the mysterious crisscrossed pathways that lead to the runways, the captain got on. He told us we were headed to the longest runway at the airport, three miles long, and it was the only runway they had open 'cause of the fog. And there were, it looked like, maybe forty planes ahead of us. And it was going to take a long, long time, and frankly he couldn't even tell how long.

I don't know why he said it was the longest runway. I mean - I'm sure it was.

The ebullient man in the aisle seat reached over the lady in the middle and touched my arm just as I was most lost in thought.

"What's it like out there?"

"It seems foggy," I said.

People evidently grew restless as we inched our way toward the runway. There were exasperated messages from both the captain and a stewardess telling people no, they absolutely could not go to the toilet. Faint groans of dismay. An indistinct stir in the canned air. The awakening, perhaps, of some nearly atrophied instinct in all civilized men towards mutiny. Before long the captain came back on and said OK, OK, he'd pull over so that people who absolutely have to can get up and go, but they better make it quick.

Illustration by Louise Asherson