This is an interesting thing to think about, something that has struck me on a few occasions as well. To lay the groundwork, here is a paragraph from a book I just started reading called Another Great Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer. The book is about the two weeks he spent as an observer on the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier in the American Persian Gulf fleet. In this excerpt he is talking about the sudden change of worlds from the time he boards an aircraft in Bahrain to when he lands on the deck of the carrier. Dig it:
I have never known anything like the suddenness of this change. Compare it with the experience of flying from London and landing in Bombay — from freezing winter to eighty-degree heat — at two in the morning in January. Even a change as dramatic as that is gradual: a nine-hour flight; a long and slow descent; taxiing round the airport to the gate; immigration, baggage claim, leaving the terminal. Typically it’s an hour and a half before you find yourself out in the Indian night with its smell of wood smoke and the sense of vast numbers of people still asleep. Whereas here, one moment we were traveling at 140 mph and the next we had stopped, the hatch opened and we had entered another world with its own rules, cultures, norms and purposes.
I love this kind of transition. Certainly I have had similar travel experiences to what Dyer relates between England and India, if less dramatic (Montana to South Florida in January is quite a change; as was returning from Panama to Missoula, via Los Angeles, going from 80° to -25° or so in a matter of hours) geographically. But it’s true: the plane serves as its own buffer of sorts, preparing one for something different upon disembarking, especially if it’s a longer flight.
What comes to mind for me was a short train ride. I was in Hayward, CA, which is just south of Oakland on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. The previous evening I’d ridden the BART train a short distance north into Oakland in hopes of seeing an Oakland A’s game at their dilapidated stadium, though on arriving I learned what I thought was a 7:00 PM game had actually already concluded, having been an afternoon game (doh!). Still, I got to see the stadium, which is a stop on the BART line. It’s a beat up old thing in a roughish part of town.
The next night I was back on the BART, only this time I was going all the way into San Francisco to watch the Giants play the Atlanta Braves in the gorgeous AT&T Park. I boarded in Hayward and proceeded north, through Oakland, then the BART turned west and plunged underground for the crossing —
— and surfaced on a completely different planet, or so it seemed. An urban, gentrified section of San Francisco, light years different from Hayward and Oakland, even in the dress and demeanor of the people. It was shocking. I had to walk a block to get on a different train to take me into the stadium, and it was fascinating to me. The return at game’s end, while not quite such a lurch in environment, was still enough to keep one a little off balance. Two entirely different economic and social realities, mere minutes apart.
I’m curious to anyone else’s experiences in such sudden and dramatic lurches in reality. I find them as intriguing as anything.