My cousins who live in Minneapolis take their children south every winter about this time, for Spring break. It seems so extravagant, I can’t even imagine that, even if we could afford it. I didn’t fly on a plane until I was almost twenty. It was during the years I was away. It was winter and a friend and I decided we would fly to San Francisco. I had just gotten a credit card in the mail that I hadn’t applied for, some bank just sent it to me and gave me a credit line. I thought it must be a mistake, but my girlfriend and I got a little drunk one night and decided we would go to San Francisco, just because we had no idea what it was like. We were sure when we paid for the tickets that the credit card would be declined, they would say there was a mistake, that the credit card was real, but they put us on a plane, first for Chicago and then for San Francisco. We had to go back and forth just to get out there. It took forever. But we were so excited. We were getting to fly on a plane and we were going to this exotic place.
We were flying over the prairie. I don’t know where we were, South Dakota maybe. There was snow all over the ground but it was sunny, and the roads were dark lines across it, a big grid. It was a sunny day and the snow snow glistened as we passed over it. I could imagine the prairie down there, hushed and white, with the wind whispering across from time to time.
I was staring down, thinking to myself, “So this is what home looks like, what everyone else gets to see of it.” The guy on the aisle next to my girlfriend wanted me to close the window, so he could see the movie better. He was getting grouchy about it. He said, “Close the window, there’s nothing down there.” I said, “It’s the prairie.” He said, “It’s nothing. There’s nothing down down there. Nothing to see.” I was getting annoyed and I said, “That’s home down there, where I’m from.” He leaned back in his seat and said, “Great. How lucky am I? I get to sit next to the girl from nowhere, the only one who would care about the nothing out the window. The only one dumb enough not to know that what’s on the screen is better than what’s out there.”
So that’s what people see. I closed my window. I could tell my girlfriend was getting nervous, since she had to sit with him. I wanted her to spill that guy’s drink on his lap when he was caught up in the movie. I whispered that to her but she wouldn’t do it. I was the daredevil one, the one who’d got us on this crazy adventure in the first place.
San Francisco was busy and exciting in a way, and we barely slept in our hotel, this terrible cheap place we got in a not very nice part of town. There were bars, there were bands playing, it was amazing to walk along the bay and the ocean and see big water, and not frozen at that time of year. It was hard to get on the plane to leave. We said we’d go back next year, in the summer, when it would be even better.
But we never did. We got back and we were happy enough to be back. There was once I thought about a trip to California again, and I thought of that guy on the plane and how rude he was and how beautiful the prairie was up there that day and I think, No, I’ll just stay. One days when I think I might be getting tired, I remembered what it was like to look down on it, how still and perfect it seemed, and it starts to look perfect down here, too.