As I was cabbing towards Darwin airport, I thought, please let there be no one I know at the airport, especially not someone who’ll want to talk about some dull aspect of local social policy for ages and sit beside me on the plane. The problem (one of them) with the NT is that it’s like a huge country town, and you’re never quite sure when you’ll run into someone you know — hope of a moment’s silence (lonely amongst a crowd and all that) or time to write a blogpost can so quickly be shattered. I’ve even been hailed down in the loos at Darwin airport by a local politician.
I saw Up in the Air the other night, probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year. It captured so much of the world of constant air travel for me, as well as the ambivalence about the single versus encoupled life I was trying to express a couple of blogposts ago. I realise I’m quite possibly the last person in all the world to have seen this film, living in Alice. But if you haven’t seen Up in the Air, the basic story concerns a Ryan Bingham consultant who’s hired to fly around the States firing people. He’s on a quest to accumulate 10 million frequent flyer points, and when he hears the company wants to carry out its operations online, he offers to take the 23 yo mastermind business consultant behind this plan around with him to prove why it’s better done in the flesh. The real reason why he doesn’t want to give up his peripatetic lifestyle is that if he became more sedentary, he might have to build deeper connections with other people. He comes unstuck when he falls for another woman who seems to share the same lifestyle and outlook. I won’t tell you the twist, but thankfully the film’s makers don’t give it a sappy rom-com ending in which everyone lives happily ever after, having learnt their lessons. Instead, they just learn their sour old lessons (oops – tmi).
I admired the Bingham character greatly because of his ability to finetune both the packing and check-in processes, and combine it all with clocking up the loyalty points. (I wonder if there’s any reason for him being called Bingham — after the Salt Lake visionary and traveller?) In my glory days, when I had to travel a lot for work, I had it all whittled down to a small wheelie cabin luggage bag and a routine where I could virtually run onto the plane having arrived thirty minutes before the flight. Those were the days when Qantas would let you do that. Sigh. (I only almost missed a connection once in Brisbane, when my first plane ran late.) I travelled so much I automatically became a gold frequent flyer without paying the member fees, a status I’ve never regained. Another sigh.
There is something about constant air travel for work, as opposed to holiday travel, that’s quite addictive and hard to explain. Both involve having to adapt quickly to new people and places, to re-make yourself continually, in a certain sense. But with work, there’s an added pressure to perform, to make the appropriate contacts, to be in certain places at certain times, and to communicate information (in my case). There’s also a sense of going into the zone, of the normal partitions and distractions of the work day disappearing. For some reason, I’ve often found it easier to develop longer arcs of thought or to write short pieces or edit docs while on a plane, although you wouldn’t have thought that three hours on a plane would be better for this than three hours at home.
As for the intimacy-versus-solitude-Stephanie-Dowrick stuff … so much of what Bingham says about relationships I would say myself, but he’s clearly the loser for it (I don’t travel quite as much, she says quickly). But constant air travel – the possibility of always rolling on, meeting more people but never setting down roots — versus being staying at home — trapped in the same place with the same people — great metaphor for that tension.
Note to self inspired by Kevin Rudd: This was what I was doing when I was meant to be incubating -- running on and off planes with small wheelie bags for government (i.e. my country). I never gave a thought to my eggs: we didn't in those days, we frivolous and career-minded Xers. Note also that Rudd never mentions men in same age group's reluctance to commit to breeding, and their sometimes misogynist discourse on this subject.