The very idea of a 10-hour plane flight can be daunting and oppressive in the abstract, when you’re back home planning your trip. But up here in the air, in the middle of the 10 hours, I find it simply delightful. The best thing is that I have no idea what time it is, or which time zone I should even be considering myself to be in, to begin with. Boston? London? Johannesburg? We quit trying to sleep this morning at the Sofitel at 5 a.m. United Kingdom Time, and left Heathrow at 9:20 a.m., after an unhurried stroll to Terminal 5, where we had flat whites and croissants in a cafe. What time it? It’s easy enough to find out, but what’s sweet is that I simply don’t care. I’m sitting in an aisle seat next to Darlene and Deb, and when the plane lands in Johannesburg we’ll get off. There is no way to miss the arrival of a plane you’re already on. And no way to get there faster. All that’s left is passing the time. For Deb and Darlene, that means reading their Kindles or checking our progress on the moving map visible on the screens built into the backs of the seats in front of us. My arsenal is more extensive – Kindle, Livescribe pen, podcasts on the iPhone, Mad Men episodes on the iPhone, the paper manual for my Nikon Coolpix S8000, writing a blog post on the netback. I reach into my knapsack and pull out another way to pass the time. I’ve got way more than 10 hours in there.
This is a big plane, a Boeing 747 – 400. But our seats are in a section which feels like the cabin of a much smaller craft, with only four rows, separated by blue curtains from first class in front of us and the galley behind us, then further back the main cabin, which looks like a movie theatre when we walk back to stretch our legs. Every seat is taken, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic to me. Maybe it is for Deb, who has the window seat and spent some time watching the Sahara Desert as we flew over it. Darlene is in the middle, but when she’s reading a book on her Kindle she’s in another world where there’s apparently plenty of room. The British crew are crisp, friendly, and, I’ll confess, a bit intimidating, as if I’m worried I will choose the wrong plastic fork to eat my omelet with. Actually, there’s only one, mate.
I’m listening to music from my iTunes directory on the netbook – “On the Sunny Side of the Street” by Benny Goodman at the moment, my father’s personal theme song. The dynamic map on the screen in front of me shows that we are passing to the west of Lake Tanganyika with two hours and 26 minutes till we arrive. For the first time, Johannesburg has shown up on the map, a promising sign. I feel as if I’m inside a video game when I watch the plane icon inch its way from one hemisphere of the globe to another, knowing that we are sitting, right now, inside that icon.