June 19/20, 2016 – Gaspings and Ravings From An Oxygen and REM Deprived Mind at 37,000 Feet
Fourteen hours. That’s the flight time to Dubai. Then after a few hours layover, we fly another 8.5 hours to Johannesburg. It’s a long trip, but I built in a hotel stay to enable us to at least stretch out before we meet our ground staff contact for the trip to the Entabeni Safari Conservancy.
I’m on the plane as I type this, somewhere over the Atlantic. I’m a few mini bottles of wine in, babied with a paneer makhani lunch that was far more decadent than I had anticipated. It’s Father’s Day, a faux-holiday for me albeit I prefer to celebrate those that serve as father figures. They can be men and women, but they are the ones who taught me what is it is be a good person, a good man.
The inflight entertainment option included the 2016 sports movie EDDIE THE EAGLE, about Great Britain’s unlikely Olympic ski jumper. A PG feel good “family” four quadrant movie, it was apparently edited for content onboard. I cannot imagine what was edited … There didn’t seem to be any footage of plane crashes missing or the like. And just prior to viewing this I watched BLACK MASS, the Whitey Bulger biopic that featured plenty of violence and profanity.
I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies. Always have been. One of my first cover letters introducing myself for an internship out in Hollywood waxed poetic about my dream of getting to write Mighty Ducks 4. Basically I felt by MD4, no one was expecting much and I wanted to deliver the GREATEST SPORTS MOVIE POSSIBLE. The very concept of my writing that script was its own version of an underdog sports movie. When people don’t expect you to succeed, when you prove them wrong, that’s a powerful message… And I think that’s why sports movie cliches continue to resonate with us. The cliches carry power and hope and meaning on an aspirational spiritual level.
EDDIE THE EAGLE is a film that aspires to be a rock solid sports movie. It’s got a charming underdog real-life hero who yearns to make it to the Olympics, overcoming obstacles, naysayers, doubts, and adversities that would test Greek demigods on a heroic quest. It features a grizzled, down-on-his-luck, disgraced veteran who mentors the idealistic youth and overcomes his own personal demons and regrets. It helps in this case the mentor is played with an easy-going swagger by Hugh Jackman. Replete with inspiring “can-do” chutzpah dialogue and a few Olympic quotes from the modern games founder about the struggle, the idea of showing up to compete, being greater than any victory itself, the film plays like RunKevinRun catnip.
We all want to achieve our moment, want to prove those that tell us no that we can say yes. We may NOT win the laurel, but we can go the distance, achieve our own personal best, even if that best is last place. Life is short and so why shouldn’t we pursue our dreams? There’s a nice interlude to the piece wherein Jackman as coach tells young Eddie that there’s a difference between going as a sideshow novelty act and going as a contender. There’s a shortcut to our moment whereby we can achieve the fifteen minutes of infamy or we can seek our moment with our own personal pride that lasts a lifetime and beyond. Knowing the difference between the two moments is very, very difficult. I’m not sure any of us know 100% of the time when the right moment is. I’d hazard 99.9% of the time we are making a leap of faith that the moment is right. Timing is tricky — in sport, in love, in life. We are all just making it up as we go along. But we try our best and hope it all works out.
I had such grand hopes for this piece on sports movies and what they can offer. I think I came up short. It’s a topic I will keep returning to in the coming weeks, months, years. Because I always up for the Italian Stallion getting a shot at the title, the Jamaican bobsled team bucking the odds, the misfit band of school kids forming an ice hockey team to take on the snobby rich kids. Underdogs give me hope.
I am not an athlete. I’m never going to win the Olympic gold. But I keep running and keep trying to improve and go faster, farther, longer. I keep trying to run in new places. The running, like this blog, is a therapeutic respite from the harsher realms of “Being a Grown-Up,” of confronting some darker elements of life. The running is a great excuse to travel and see the world and go for an adventure, to seek out my best version of me and to maximize the potential that is me.
We are all underdogs in life because life can be hard and challenging. But fortunately life also has a way of leading us to a grizzled mentor who can help guide us on our quest. All narratives are at heart quests — be it for the holy grail, true love, identity, or a means of generating 1.21 jigawatts inside the flux capacitor so you can time travel home. Life is a quest. And as I sit amidst the darkened mood lighting of this Emirates Airlines aircraft, I’m reminded that we all can have slow-clapping fans turn up when we need them.
The flight crew snapped photos of Mom and me. Earlier they had asked where we were heading and Mom mentioned we were headed to South Africa for a marathon and to go on safari at the Big Five Marathon. Later on, they handed me this:
The crowd goes wild. My mom will be cheering me on. I’m ready for this race, for this challenge. Let’s do this.
We got lost in the Dubai airport. There’s ample signage but it’s unhelpful Bostonian style signage, with inscrutable directions and contradictory information. At times we were through the looking glass where straight was reverse, left was right, and up was down. But eventually after twists and turns and corkscrews through space and time, we found ourselves at our initial gate.
I say initial gate as we cleared a passport check and went down to a secondary gate waiting area that left more than a few of us passengers bewildered. The flight from Dubai to Johannesburg is apparently only a third full so we all were released from this holding area onto the jet bridge en masse. I suppose had there been a larger crowd we would have mingled and comfortably sat in this waiting area until our boarding group was called.
Prior to boarding, I scoped out the Dubai Souvenir stands. I was tempted to buy a magnet but wasn’t sure how much 15 AED was… Turns out it was about four dollars us. Maybe on the way back through DBX I’ll pick one up. I did break down and grab a soda as the jet lag and time zones were messing with my head. Unfortunately, I had to cheat on my true love Diet Coke. But desperate times call for desperate caffeine choices:
As we wing our way to South Africa, I’m somewhere between sleep and consciousness… Not really here but not really there either. I’m in a traveler limbo whereby reality and imagination commingle and converge.
Does this airline actually offer complimentary playing cards or am I dreaming that, caught in a nostalgic loop? They FEEL real in my hand… But then a lot feels real in the slumbering dreamlands. I suppose if when I wake or if I find myself in a few days still in possession of a pack of Emirates playing cards that I’m either using them as an Inception style anchor or they really do exist.
There’s still four and a half hours until we land.
Two and a half hours until Johannesburg. I wasn’t sure about including this in this rambling mass of prose. During my flights, there has been live tv of CNNi and BBC World News along with text alerts for breaking news. There were stories about Trump’s campaign manager parting ways with the presumptive nominee. There was ongoing coverage of the Orlando mass shooting. Tons of stories on Brexit. And a brief note on the death of the rebooted Star Trek’s Chekov, Anton Yelchin. He was 27 and the text blast was awkwardly worded to say he was killed by his own car.
There was something in the phrasing that made me think it was either an internet hoax or perhaps something was lost in the translation. But the details, of a freak accident involving his car rolling into him and pinning him against a brick barrier and fence, are both horrifying and beyond explanation or wording. I understand why not only the Twitter-verseian text blast and even the slightly more detailed summary wire services struggled with how to explain the untimely passing and the bizarre circumstances of the bonafide accident. It’s yet another reminder in a torrential hail of bad news regarding the fragility of life and the fleeting nature of all of our existences. What a bummer, what a downer, what a freakish thing.
I’ve had wild mood swings of late, a weird sense of delirious joy at fun and adventures and an odd melancholy over time and distances, both the toll it takes on me physically and the toll it takes emotionally. I’m trying to embrace the now, the spontaneity and opportunities that I’m lucky to continue to have. But I think maybe I’m feeling a little guilty about the abundance of fun and adventures; maybe I worry I should be trying to leave a better legacy than I have. This probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. I blame the nearly 25+ hours of travel so far in heading to South Africa coupled with the oxygen levels at 37,000 feet. I also blame that contradictory sense of self and place in the universe with the fact that I’m human.
I know I’m incredibly lucky to be out here, that I’m lucky to be healthy enough to run at all, let alone to keep running. I know I’m lucky to spend time with family and friends when I can. But I also know that there are moments of doubt and hesitation. It’s something I often experience on a marathon run. There are easier miles and there are tougher miles. Sometimes the causes are obvious — I’ve “run” hills that felt like scaling Everest and I’ve run miles that felt like I was gliding on wings of mythical creatures. But other times I can be running along fine and dandy and just feel… Whoosh. The energy is gone, the legs are jelly, and for seemingly no reason whatsoever I’m running with concrete galoshes. The only thing to be done is to put one’s proverbial shoulder to the wheel and press on.
I’m more worried about this race than I think I should be. It’s been a few weeks since I did a race and I’m feeling … Concerned? Out-of-shape? Under prepped? All of which is bananas as year to date I’ve done 30 marathons so I should be able to handle the distance. It might not be my prettiest run but I can certainly finish. But I am feeling heavier than usual. I’ve been struggling with weight and mindsets lately anyway but at this moment I’m feeling particularly vulnerable to that “wall” mentality, that mental and physical barrier that saps one’s strength as surely as Deliah’s shears to Samson’s hair. Doubt is a terrible thing; it’s a self perpetuating beast that feeds on itself, growing in strength as it weakens the soul.
I’ve got five days to shake this feeling. And there’s plenty of distractions to help — and that includes the big five — African Lion, African Elephant, Black/White rhino, cape buffalo, and African leopard, this weekend’s marathon namesakes.
8:43 PM Local Time — I’m in South Africa!
Gotta be careful when opening my hat rack as items may have shifted during landing…