Volume 3, Issue 21: Far, Far Away

"Far, far away, from you, on the dark side of the moon."

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According to Delta’s SkyMiles App, I have flown a total of 578,796 miles on Delta airplanes in my lifetime. That is a lot. I had not realized I had flown that many miles. That is enough miles to fly to the moon and back, and then take another 25 laps around the planet for good measure. That might sound like a lot of wasted laps, but I dunno: Being up in the air right now sure seems a better bet than being on the ground.

My first flight was when I was eight years old. My grandparents had retired and moved to Fort Myers, Florida, and I drove with them down there from Mattoon. Ft. Myers was the most exotic place I had ever been; my grandfather had me convinced there was an alligator around every corner. They sent me home on a one-way flight by myself. I am sure in 2020 (well, in 2019, anyway) airlines have staffers dedicated to ushering unaccompanied minors on and off planes, but I don’t remember much supervision in 1984. My grandparents walked me to the gate—back when you could do that, back when you used to buy insurance before you got on the plane, back when planes crashed often enough, apparently, that buying insurance before you got on one struck people as a reasonable hedge—and put me on the plane, I got off the plane, I looked for my parents, they found me, we drove home, that was it. I have no idea what eight-year-old me did on that plane by myself. Maybe I just stared out the window, wondering what all those people were doing down there. I wonder if I felt big.

I didn’t get on a plane again until college, which means I went a full decade-plus without ever flying in an airplane. Flight took on a lot more mystique for me in those 12 years or so. Something about an airplane felt massive, even infinite. You could get in one of those and fly to China. Or Australia! Or Africa! Or, like, Utah! Wherever! One of the things about growing up in a tiny Midwestern town in the middle of nowhere is that every place on the planet that is not a tiny Midwestern town in the middle of nowhere seems otherworldly fascinating. There was a spot by the Coles County Airport, a hub that (unbeknownst to me) only flew to Chicago, Memphis and West Lafayette, Indiana, where you could park your car and watch planes get down to only about 300 feet above your head before landing. I used to sit on the roof of my car in high school, watching them come in and take off, wondering where they were headed, wondering if I’d ever get to go.

Once I became a grownup and a Media Professional—and especially once I moved to Georgia—I became a regular traveler, and all that comes with that. The George Clooney film Up in the Air has all sorts of problems, but I always was amused by how sneering he was toward all the other, less experienced passengers, the ones who didn’t know how to pack a bag, or how to expedite their way through security, or where to eat when you find yourself stuck in O’Hare for a few hours. When you are always haunting airports—as I have for a decade now, whether it was covering an all-timer of a sporting event, writing about a Presidential race, filming my old show or basically doing anything than taking a proper vacation—you are incredibly smug about how much better you understand the terrain than the minion tourists, the ones who seem constantly baffled by the fact that they can’t bring water bottles through security. You have to be that kind of smug, to convince yourself that you are somehow accomplishing something from all this, so that you do not think about how much of your life you are spending in idling, suspended animation, away from everyone but yourself.

I flew with my wife to a wedding one time a few years ago, and we used the Sky Priority lane, zooming past the plebeians and all their neck pillows.

“That was sort of nice and convenient,” she said, temporarily impressed.

“Yep,” I said. “And all those 45 seconds we just saved cost me? Hundreds of nights and lost memories I could have shared with the people in the world that are the most important to me. So I hope you enjoyed those 45 seconds as much as humanly possible."

Though sometimes you do get upgraded so that they give you a mini plastic bottle of Chardonnay and an extra bag of pretzels. So there is that.

I’d still be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed traveling, in a vacuum anyway. Andy Rooney once wrote that traveling, for vacation or otherwise, isn’t better or worse than normal daily life: It’s just different. And different is sometimes enough.

Different feels, well, different right now, though, doesn’t it?

On March 13, I flew back with my family from Spring Break in Jupiter, Florida. We left on March 7 to go watch some Cardinals spring training games and see some family, and we returned to a world that was dramatically and forever altered. I have not flown since then: Still stuck on 578,796. We have all been in the house for more than four months. We took a short trip out to the lake, we go out to visit the equally restricted parents, sometimes we go for walks to the football stadium and back. But when we all froze in place, we froze in place right there.

That changed today. This newsletter is being sent from Cincinnati, Ohio, where I have just arrived after driving through the mountains all Saturday morning. (It turns out that the closest baseball stadium to Athens, Georgia, other than the Braves’ stadium of course, is Great American Ball Park. Who knew?) I am here to write about what it is like to attend a sporting event with no fans in the middle of a pandemic. I have not been to Cincinnati in five years, since the 2015 MLB All-Star Game, though in a previous lifetime, I was here all the time. It’s an underrated city, with a terrific downtown, great running routes across the bridge into Kentucky and a lovely skyline. I even like the chili.

But it doesn’t really matter where I am, other than the fact that I am not home. For the first time since the world turned upside down, I will be alone in a hotel room, away from my house and my family and my office and my car and everything that have made up my entire reality since reality disintegrated. I will write my story about what it is like to watch a sporting event with no fans in the middle of the pandemic, I will send it to my editors and then I will walk back to my hotel. I will nod awkwardly through my mask at the hotel concierge, I will try to avoid contact with any other human and I will skulk my way back to my car and drive home the next day. It is the first trip of the COVID era.

Traveling is something I once never did, and then did all the time, and then stopped doing immediately just as the biggest event of my lifetime scrambled everything that I thought I knew about the world. I have stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms in hundreds of cities over several decades. This is what I do: I’m Up in the Air. But I bet no hotel room is ever quieter and lonelier than the one I stay in tonight. I have a feeling I am not going to sleep much. And I’ll drive faster than I ever have to get home.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. Lots of baseball stuff this week, as you might imagine.

  1. Baseball Can Be a Welcome Respite, MLB.com. I don’t usually do these sort of “big picture of the planet” pieces for MLB, so I enjoyed this one.

  2. Can Baseball Pull This Off? New York. Still stands to be seen! But that was pretty damn fun last night, I will not lie.

  3. The Thirty: Predictions For Every Team, MLB.com. The only person who ever remembers how wrong all these are is me.

  4. What to Watch Instead: The French Dispatch, Vulture. This is the last one of these. We’ve finally run out of postponed summer movies.

  5. 2020 Season Preview Redux: American League Central, MLB.com. I have never been nice to Mike Matheny than I was in this preview.

  6. 2020 Season Preview Redux: National League West, MLB.com. In the same way that I think if I were a billionaire, I’d move to Los Angeles immediately, it always seems like the Dodgers would be a super fun team to root for.

  7. 2020 Season Preview Redux: American League West, MLB.com. The number of friends I have who love baseball who have never seen Mike Trout play is … well, it’s a lot.

  8. Opening Day Matchup Rankings, MLB.com. Already dated!

  9. Figuring Out Fangraphs Playoff Odds, MLB.com. REALLY already dated!

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, new movie The Painted Bird, and then Silence and, hey, Demolition Man!

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Patience Is a Dirty Word,” Ibram X. Kendi, The Atlantic. I have a tendency to be calm, patient (to a point) and measured. This great piece on John Lewis is a reminder that people like me are largely part of the problem.

Also, here’s David Wallace-Wells in conversation with Bernie Sanders.

THIS WEEK’S PIECE OF HANDY ADVICE

“Don’t borrow trouble before its time.” I just recently came across this axiom, and it reminds me of the Mamet quote from last week: “Worry is interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due.” I can’t do anything about next week, or next month, or next school year. I can’t do anything about today. It’s all about picking up one foot after the other.

Also, while I have you: I dunno … this looks like the sort of person I’d like to vote for President someday?

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

It has been increasingly pointed out to me that my handwriting is getting worse during the pandemic.

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Halfway Home,” TV on the Radio. I just saw Tunde Adebimpe in an upcoming movie, and every time that happens I go back and listen to a ton of TV On The Radio. I can get on a kick if I’m not careful.

Oh, so here’s something: The ceiling caved in on my family room this week!

Fortunately, no one was in there, everyone’s safe, and we have insurance, and all of that. But apparently my house is also aware it is 2020.

Be safe, all. Sometimes the ceiling falls on your head. You just gotta dust yourself off and get back out there. Life isn’t stopping for you, or anybody else.

Best,
Will