How long is 13 hours?
Guess it depends.
You could fly from Portland to New York to Portland and back to New York in that time
You could almost get through the 1st (and only) season of my favorite sci-fi show Firefly.
You could complete the Portland Marathon 2 times at a moderate pace, enjoy a beer and hot shower.
You could listen to one of Morton Feldman’s epic String Quartets.
You could take a term’s worth of jazz combo classes at Portland State with time left over to practice.
But what I dare you to do is get 8 hours of sleep in coach on an airplane.
I’m not sure how many hours would be required to do that, but it was beyond the reach of most of us on the Beijing flight last night.
At 10:00 pm, after dutifully turning off the in-flight entertainment, I took off my shoes, took my extra-strength melatonin, and put in some earplugs. Thinking that five inches could make the difference, I reclined my seat. A yawn came, an encouraging sign. I closed my eyes and waited. Anticipation of peaceful slumber coming in just a few minute I’m sure.
The cabin lights are off. No crying babies. It’s pretty quiet actually. Not exactly comfortable, but it’s been quite a day. Sit there for a while, then open my eyes and turn on the seatback display. Wow, only 30 minutes has passed.
Think peaceful thoughts. Quiet the mind, breathe deeply, meditate.
I’m sure it will happen.
Oops, earplug fell out. Put it back in firmly.
OK, we can do this.
Snuggle under that airline blanket. Another few minutes, then
Man, this armrest is hard on my elbow.
Put my fleece under it. Ahh. Now we’re talking.
Wait a little longer, man it’s warm in here. The fluffy airline pillow is sticking to my newly shaved head. Maybe move it a little further down my neck.
Ahh, there we go. Close the eyes.
Am I sleeping yet?
Getting close, feeling relaxed.
Bam!!!! Shake, rattle, shake.
Attention passengers, please fasten your seatbelts as we experience this mild turbulence.
Hmm. Doesn’t really feel mild.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the scary kind of turbulence, where you can feel your stomach fall to your toes as the plane drops 20 feet. This is a side-to side buffeting- shaking up a can of soda kind of turbulence. I’m imagining that the headwind and the tailwind are duking it out each other to see who’s boss, and we’re just vibrating in between them. And I’m thinking “cant you fly over this.” Then I’m thinking “can’t you fly under this.” I turn on the seatback display. Can you believe we are only over the Yukon. Man China is far. Then my mind is going, thinking about China and how far it is and I’ve lost that peaceful almost sleeping vibe entirely..
The rest of the night is pretty much just several episodes of all of the above. A good night’s sleep is not being had, despite my best efforts. I rationalize that resting is almost as good as sleeping and I’m not going to be a total wreck tomorrow if I just keep my eyes closed. And the look at the clock and it is totally deep night now. Like 4 in the morning and my body must be close to conking out now. But it never happens.
I’m pretty sure I slept, but I’m pretty sure it was never for more than five minutes at a time. And then it is hour 11 of the trip and the cabin lights come on and they start serving the arrival meal, and its time to think about what is happening tomorrow and what needs to be taken care of, and the sleep portion of the evening is a thing of the past. My body says it’s mid-afternoon. But it’s pitch dark. That is because in Beijing its 11 pm and the people on the ground are heading to bed.
And then we are descending and landing, and here we are in China. And I know know if we are coming or going.