I took the shuttle to New York tonight, to visit family and friends. As the plane banked left over lower Manhattan, entering final approach to La Guardia, I chanced to look up from my book and out the window, through a passing gap in the thin clouds, directly down onto a group of twinkling office buildings ringing a sad sodium-lit emptiness, that hole in the heart of all New Yorkers. Seeing that place was sobering, but I was thrilled that the flight gave me the chance.
Close to exactly nine years ago, I flew the shuttle to New York for the first time – for business, to attend some tradeshow – and discovered on a crisp December day the beauty of the flight plan that took the long way around and showed those in the “A” seats a stunning view of the spine of Manhattan.
The flight path was more or less straight west from Boston across Massachusetts to the New York border and then the Hudson river, followed by a sharp left turn south following the course of the river, and running down the full length of Manhattan before banking hard left again to come up through Brooklyn and Queens to LGA. The view of Manhattan from the left side of the aircraft while banking at a relatively low altitude was truly breathtaking. In clear weather, day or night, I could pick out all kinds of familiar places, not just the large landmarks but smaller places of hardly any note. The turn was so sharp, that it felt as if the plane had turned 90 degrees and that the left-side windows were facing straight down, affording a most extraordinary perspective on spiny skyscrapers and flat-topped office blocks alike. It felt as if the tip of the plane’s wing could touch the top of the radio mast on the north WTC tower and swing around it like Gene Kelly. I took the left side window seat on every shuttle flight I could, and most other flights just in case, even those without New York as an endpoint.
Perhaps it was the attacks, or maybe just a random change in air traffic control’s own machinations, or my own poor luck in choosing flights, but my favorite flight plan was soon replaced by a more direct and less exciting beeline southwest from Boston over Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Long Island Sound.
So when I saw that it was still possible to sit on the left side of the plane and see nearly the whole of Manhattan slide by silently in the night, spiky and twinkling, scars and all, I took a moment off from humbugging the holidays and said to myself, it’s going to be all right.