The Free-Book Shelf

Or hear me read it so you don’t have to:

As I sunk into my middle-seat prison, I watched my new kiwi friend add movies to her in-flight playlist the way I accumulate books which I “plan to read” from the free-book shelf at work.

Sleeping pills, and those Asahi’s were fading me as a little plane jerkily traversed a map across the screen in front of me.  I returned to the opulence of my seat mate.

Racking up a bill in my head, I started to have to carry ones.  Those movies had to be what, at least 4 bucks a piece?

I ordered the coke, which I hoped would be free, and was surprised when I received the entire can.  My seatmate ordered red wine. It struck me odd that the attendants refilled her glass, not even asking.

She turned and offered me her extra pair of deluxe headphones.  I had earbuds, but, not being one to refuse a request with a pleasant accent,  I accepted.

She said she was from New Zealand, and had flown from Auckland to LA, and now on to London.  I asked how long a flight that was.  We did some math, and while I don’t precisely remember, there was multiple blood clot potential.

She inquired as to my itinerary.  I explained my plan to spend two days in London and fly off to the Highlands.  She asked why for only two weeks.

“Two weeks a year.” She cringed.

She runs a software company, leading a team from wherever she wants, and is flying back for her twice a year London visit to spend time with her husband.

Contemplating the intricate mechanics of her story, I reclined, but I noticed her turn back.  She smiled. “You’ll be happier when you work for yourself.”

She fell asleep somewhere between the first two Harry Potter movies, her playlist chugging furiously in vain.

I thought about the kind of money my new friend must make to enjoy vacation time and bottomless airplane merlot. I began to reconsider public radio life.

Around the time we crossed into Canada, I discovered said movies were, in fact, free.  The screen informed me that the vino was gratis tambien.

I had free access to the same luxuries I’d been ogling for hours, and was now thrust into a moment of self awareness.

When had I been nickeled and dimed into submission?

Why am I conditioned to perpetually expect less for more?

What is this machine we feed, and why are we so convinced we can’t do any better?

Existential, I put on Frozen and repeatedly fell asleep trying to watch it.  I have no idea how many times my seatmates sat through “Let it Go”, but I believe I saw the vast majority of the movie, cumulatively speaking.

As an eleven hour blur drew to a close, my neighbor wished me a “Great Holiday,” and deplaned. A man to my left tapped my shoulder and stopped me before I could get up.

I hadn’t looked at him throughout the flight, but he was older, and he spoke in a thick Brogue.

“You’re headed to Inverness?  You must go to Culloden.”

“The battlefield?” I recalled, scouring the annals of half-asleep BBC documentaries I’d watched in preparation.

“Aye,” he replied, “The dream died there.  You must walk the ground.”

Amused, for reasons I didn’t quite yet understand, I hoisted my backpack from the overhead compartment.  Feeling its weight hit legs which may or may not have been suffering from deep vein thrombosis was startling, but I recovered quickly. Strapping all that I had around my chest, I lifted with my shoulders. I stood tall, fighting the weight of my baggage.

Pondering Culloden, it struck me that life is a lot like that free-book shelf at work.  I can take books, or be given them. I read them or they gather dust. I create exactly the experience I want. I just knew that I was glad I had not made plans, and I’d read whichever book grabbed me.