On watching airplanes in San Jose

Flying scares the living daylights out of me.

It’s the same thing with most roller coasters. It’s not a motion sickness thing. Or a fear of heights thing. It’s entirely psychological.

I’m completely unnerved by not being in control. It doesn’t matter how safe flying is or how seasoned the pilot. Not to mention the sheer physics of a steel box flying at 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground doesn’t make an ounce of sense to me.

I’ve flown plenty. Out of necessity, mostly. But the only time I would think about flying would be a few days before my flight. I never spent that much time thinking about planes. Out of sight, out of mind. Then I moved to California.

That was one of the first things that struck me my first morning in San Jose. I woke up in the Marriott on South Market Street in downtown overlooking the city. Every couple of minutes I could see a plane flying closely overhead. Come to find out, the hotel was less than 5 miles south of the airport.

I made my first trip to our airport the following day to drop off my good friend Jay. We had just finished our cross-country excursion and he needed to get back to his job at home. I dropped him off that Sunday, a mere 36 hours after we arrived first in San Jose Friday night. And then, for the very first time, I was actually alone in California.

Fast forward to…well…18 hours later. I woke up and drove the two blocks from the hotel to the Silicon Valley Business Journal for my first day of work, my car still packed with all my worldly possessions.

I parked in the parking garage under our building at around 8 a.m. and took the elevator to the 11th floor of 125 South Market St. for the very first time. Now, on the 11th floor of our building, we can see all of downtown San Jose–way out to the foothills on the east side of the city. It’s one hell of a view. And several times each hour, a plane goes by overhead preparing to land at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, man, you see airplanes. I do, too, man. It’s just an airplane.” And, you’re absolutely right. Here’s the two differences:

One: The planes are so low when they pass by our office windows or fly overhead when I’m downtown that I can read the name of the airline on the side of the plane. Without even trying.

And two: I CAN FEEL THEM.

I’ll never forget my first editorial meeting. Once a week, the entire newsroom meets in our biggest conference room to discuss the following week’s stories, photos, charts, web features, etc. and get the editorial staff on the same page. The room is big enough to fit 20-25 people around a long, finished wood table. It has panel windows looking into the newsroom on one side and out over downtown San Jose on the other (remember that view I told you about).

During my first editorial meeting, a plane flew overhead and cast an enormous shadow on the windows of the conference room. The room went dark in the middle of the day. I could hear the engines of the jet. And, as it flew by preparing to land a few miles away, the building rumbled just a little.

It was unbelievable.

I’ve now been in California a little over 5 months. I’m still so absolutely entranced whenever a plane goes by that I have to look up.

“American Airlines.”

“United.”

“Virgin Airlines.”

“Southwest.”

All clear as day.

In the kitchen of our office (which faces the other side of downtown) is when I get the best view. Every single time I go in to grab my lunch or coffee I catch the back of one that has just flown over the Adobe headquarters and is making its way out above the Deloitte tower towards the airport, getting lower and preparing for landing. Every single time, without fail.

When I’m at the office late, it’s quite an impressive sight. The sun going down and jets soaring by. From my vantage point in the kitchen, the planes fly right passed the sun and over Deloitte towards the airport. And I am transfixed staring at a caramel-colored sunset sky.

One morning, I decided to count how many planes I’d see before I even got into the office. I saw the first one as I was coming down Aborn towards Capital Expressway. Saw two more as I turned left on to Capital, heading towards the 101. Three. On the 101, I saw two more. Two. Merging on to 280 I saw one more before turning on to 87. One.

I got off the exit for downtown and a block away from our office, I saw another flying in the sky above Adobe. I begin checking my watch, doing the math in my head. 

Seven planes before 8 a.m.

The funny (odd might be the better word) thing about this is that for the first four months or so, every plane I saw was landing–not taking off. You’d think it’d be closer to 50-50.

I interpreted that weird coincidence as “More people are coming here than are going elsewhere. You are here, and that’s good. This is the place to be.”

Obviously it was just my vantage point in downtown compared to the trajectory of airplanes that take off from SJC that was causing this, but that was a comforting justification 3500 miles away.

The first time I saw a plane taking off from the airport was one morning in April while stuck in traffic on the 280, about to turn on to 87. The airport is just a few exits further than our office off of Hwy 87, Guadalupe Parkway. It caught me completely off guard and I just stared as it disappeared into the early morning sky.

When I got to work that day, I booked my flight home.

As I finish up this post, I am leaving the office and heading to the airport to make my first journey home after moving to California. The days since I arrived here have been a blur, all melded together, but for good reason. I was only in San Jose for all of 60 hours before arriving for my first day of work, which was only 7 days after leaving Connecticut in an overstuffed car, and only 3 weeks after telling my new boss that I would take the job. To say that I left in a whirlwind would be an understatement. And to say that what I do outside of my day-to-day work functions is a Groundhog Day-style routine since day one would likely be as well.

A few minutes before I get to the office each morning around 8 a.m., I am stopped at the red light at the intersection of Almaden Blvd. and W. San Fernando Street, diagonal from the Adobe building. When the light turns green, I turn left  onto W. San Fernando and head into the parking garage underneath our building. But, before it turns, I look up and see an airplane pass over Adobe and roar through the sky behind me out over Deloitte.

I park in the parking garage and take the elevator up 11 stories to our newsroom. Throughout the day, I hear the engines of several planes going by overhead. I’m in the kitchen maybe 5-6 times each day, once for lunch, 4-5 times for coffee. Every time another airplane roars by.

I leave work and take the elevator down 11 stories to the parking garage. I grab my gym clothes out of the now finally empty backseat of my car and walk out onto Park Avenue facing the Tech Museum. Before turning left to cross the green in the center of downtown I, out of habit, look up. Airplane.

Walking back to the office after I go to the gym (which is only about 3 blocks from work towards San Jose State University), a walk that takes maybe 10 minutes, I watch a dozen or so planes fly by in the twilight sky. From this angle, walking west towards the green, the planes enter my line of vision on the south, right over the Marriot, and moving north, flying over the Tech Museum before the Adobe HQ and finally–now out of sight from where I can see–over Deloitte and onto SJC.

I get to my car. I start it, crank the radio. Gary Allan comes on KRTY. I roll down my windows. I get to the gate and swipe my employee pass to exit the garage, turn left on to Park and then right onto South Market. A couple of blocks south I hit the red light across from the Mariott hotel.

I look up at the building, remembering the first three nights I spent in San Jose in the hotel. I remember finally arriving there after 5 long days on the road. I remember handing my car keys to the valet and watching him drive my entire life into the garage of the hotel. I remember Jay and I getting a celebratory drink at the hotel bar then walking through downtown the first night and exploring my new city.

The light turns green. Airplane.

A trip home may be just what I need to make this all real. I badly need it to. It seems like I’ve been gone for years and sometimes it feels like it’s only been a day.

They screw me all up. My mind wanders in the sky when they’re flying by and I get lost inside my head. Time and distance don’t translate the way they should. I forget where I am, where I am going, how long it’s been.

It’s time to face the fear: the fear of flying and the fear of looking away from the sky when they’re above.

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3 comments

  1. Larosamarbob@aol.com · · Reply

    thanks for sharing love you

  2. Aunt Joyce & Uncle Bill · · Reply

    Love hearing from you. Your flight will be fine.

  3. Haven’t caught up on the blog in a while… Safe to say the main thing I pulled from this is you drink 4-5 cups of coffee a day!

    #HASHTAG# drinksomewater!

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