I like to fly.
That is, of course, qualifiable. I liked to fly until recent years, when I was a member of a productive cadre of professionals that flew around the world in Business Class. Masters of the Universe, used to turning LEFT, not RIGHT, when reaching the door of the airplane. A pompous crowd that accumulated miles and waited for their rides to some truly far away place in the business lounge or, for those that had accumulated enough miles with one of the main carriers, places with names like SENATOR’S LOUNGE, EMPEROR’S LOUNGE, MAGNIFICENT LOUNGE or THE TOTALLY SUPREMO LOUNGE. It was fun, it was posh, it was snobbish, and I miss it.
Because I no longer get to fly that way. I fly economy, out of my own pocket, downgraded to “mere mortal” and told to “wait in line” until my group boards. That makes the experience pale, a bland day of un-comfort and tedious waits. Wait for the check in, wait for boarding, wait for disembarking, waiting for luggage, waiting in line for the customs agent to eye you and size you up and down and decide you are not worth any harassment.
But this time, it is different. It not tediousness that I feel. It is not boredom. It is a disquieting feeling of dread, an apprehension that I have not felt in some time. As I wait for my plane to start boarding, I have a feeling that I really do not want to go, I really only wish I could get back on a car and drive home, drive to safety. It has been four years since I have gone to my destination, but I am not looking forward to it. In these four years, all the news from this place have been dreadful, have been awful and I am having problems adjusting to where I am going. I simply do not want to. And this is odd. In a few hours, I will be able to see my mother, sister and nephew. I will be in the place where I have spent many years before. It is not unknown, it is not unfamiliar.
It is a peculiar way to feel when you are flying home.
Throughout the flight I am reminded of why I left home, in several subtle ways. One woman, two seats away, spends the entire flight chatting via WhatsApp; as we are over Venezuelan airspace she has a connection, never mind the safety regulations for the plane (which, she seems oblivious, includes her safety). Upon landing, the flight attendant makes the customary announcement to remain seated until the plane comes to a full stop, which is completely disregarded by most of the passengers, all of which jump from their seats before the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign is off, therefore able to gain three extra inches when they line up to disembark. And once we reach the terminal, we are greeted by the national guard, vigilant of all of us and looking for drug smugglers, but simply because the NG does not like competition. If there is anybody smuggling drugs, it has got to be through them and a piece goes to the government’s coffers.
But after that, a different reality strikes me. Due to the pandemic, we are greeted too by the by-now usual group of nurses and medical personnel dressed in epidemiological suits, a weird scene from a sci-fi B movie, and we are guided, politely, through the process of getting tested once more. The Govt has implemented a racket of a mandatory PCR test at $60/pop upon arrival, which was paid with the ticket, but my voucher is accepted and I am not harassed by the NG Monkeys demanding for more money. I go through immigration and customs with ease and, as I was only hauling a carry-on suitcase, I am soon outside the building, where the driver that has come to get me (an old acquaintance) is there to meet me. We drive up the mountain (the airport is by the sea, Caracas is 1,000 Mts up the slope) with barely any traffic to deal with and, as I look around, I am surprised to see that the highway is cleaner than what I recall from my last visit. Cleaner, not clean, but a sign of progress is there. And as I enter the city, I can see newer billboards and some new shops here and there, a difference that is palpable. Traffic is non- existent and I reach home soon, where I do find that some things do not change and the elevator of my former house is broken. I haul my bag up there and meet my family, whom I cannot hug because of COVID. It will take a few days.
In a way, Caracas remains the same. It is the same because IT IS NEVER THE SAME. It changes with every visit, and it morphs, with regularity, into something that is recognizable but not the same. I wonder what other surprises I will get.