Milt Abel is a stand-up comedian traveling the world, and places closer.

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Open Spaces

By Milt Abel | September 26, 2011

| September 26, 2011

Open Spaces

To board my short flight from Portland to Vancouver, Canada I had to cross a bit of tarmac. My plane, a smaller prop-engine commuter was parked away from the terminal and accessed only through a rolling staircase that could have just as easily been parked inside a Home Depot; maybe it was at one time, it may have brought down dozens of toilet seat lids -I know I have, but not as often as I’ve lifted them.

There were no signposts indicating this was the plane that would take us to Vancouver. Some commuter terminals have such regular routes that signs, removable like slide-in buffet labels, are placed at the spaced openings from the covered walkway: it says ‘Fresno’ and you know to turn onto the tarmac and follow the cross-stripped walkway to the plane. I wonder if foreigners visiting Texas, struggling with English and the ever-increasing incorporation of Spanish, might be confused in a commuter terminal like this when a sign states, with a pointing arrow, ‘Plano’. Do they they think to themselves, “Yes, of course, but where’s it going?”

Yesterday, Sunday, my plane wasn’t clearly marked. It was the only aircraft on the tarmac that had any activity about it; ground crew, and a luggage handler, but I was in the middle of a big break between passengers and there was no one to immediately follow. It had to be the right one, but I was going to make sure. As I stepped into the fuselage I asked the flight attendant, “Vancouver, Canada?”

After he immediately confirmed I was on the right plane I took a moment, and explained my anxiety. “Usually we have a gangway that pours us right into the plane like a funnel. But here, it’s so open. We could have wandered.” I didn’t think of the analogy until later, but I would have added, had I thought of it then, “Like a pachinko ball, I just randomly bounced into this opening. It was all chance.”

The attendant was courteous enough to smile again before turning his attention to the next boarding passenger, but the anxiety of the open space registered with me. I usually don’t look for the source of my missing comfort; in this case it was the chute of a gangway, leading me without question to where I needed to go. In the past I just trusted things, or trusted myself to recover or adjust. Didn’t give it a second thought. But you get older.

Open a door to an empty gymnasium for a dozen six-year olds and they’ll scream in delight and begin devouring the open space in a run. Present the same situation to sixty-year olds and they’ll despair over the distance needing to be covered before they can exit. And hopefully it’s clearly marked.

I’m currently in a vast open space, or my ship is. I’m aboard the Holland America Westerdam and we are out in the Pacific, a few hours away from anchoring at Astoria, Oregon. A town that is about a hundred miles directly west from my home town. After Astoria, we head south for two sea days then dock in San Diego, then head across the Pacific to Hawaii.

That’s going to be an open space; the Pacific. I spoke to my mother the day before I left ( I try and be a good son and call each of my parents each weekend) and she let out a slight gasp when I said I was sailing across the Pacific.

“Oh, Milt. That satellite is falling in the Pacific.”

A weather satellite has lost its orbit and has been announced for weeks that it will fall from the sky somewhere in the Pacific -likely in the areas near the Pacific Northwest. Odds of being struck by a piece have been figured to be one-in-two-trillion. Just like my mother to find something extraordinary to worry about. But she’s older than me, and has had more time, more vastness, in which to find her losses of comfort.

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