Up in the Air

The majesty of New York City still mystifies

Aerieal shot of Manhattan under blue skies

This week, I got stranded at New York’s Laguardia Airport, which is the travel equivalent of Dante’s inner circle of hell. I spent seven hours there, furious at the logistical nightmare of getting from my departure terminal to the one lounge—a short bus ride away—that I had access to. If ever there were a symbol of American decline, Terminal B at Laguardia is it. These feelings swirled in my mind as I ate a second airport meal in front of my makeshift gate and paid $7.50 for a bottle of water.

When finally I boarded the plane, I slid from the aisle seat to the window and pulled up the shade, gazing out onto the sunny tarmac. I put on my headphones and began to zone out in the stupor that typically overwhelms me at takeoff. But as we lifted up and ascended over the Upper East and West Sides and Central Park and across the Hudson into New Jersey, I forgot the day’s petty miseries and was gobsmacked by the utter miracle of aerodynamics. Gazing down on the wonder of the modern world that is New York City—in such crystal clear resolution that it felt like I could hear at once all eight million stories—I felt humbled, in awe of the human achievement.

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Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.


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