THE BLOG
07/01/2010 12:33 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Flight Patterns

I like to think my mind is my best friend, not because I don't have 'real' or even 'imaginary' friends, I do, but most of my thoughts and conversations are held within the walls of my cerebral cortex, and I would hate to think it's plotting against me.

Most of the time we get along fine and mesh well. Then my mind throws me a loop, like last month when it played the theme of Jaws while I was swimming in a pool, or when it made me think I was being followed by cops when my speedometer hit above 80mph on the 10 freeway in Los Angeles. The "boogieman under the bed?", unsubstantiated at my tender age of 43, yet sometimes I do check. The most recent plot against me occurred at the start of a two-week business trip to Asia in May.

Upon boarding the plane, and getting situated for the long journey, I noticed the flight attendant asking all members of the emergency exit row whether they could perform the tasks needed in case of a forced landing. All seemed to understand perfectly, even knowing that the attendant needed a verbal response. A head shake just wouldn't suffice.

After the flight took off from the runway my mind quietly, but in an authoritative, newscasty voice, whispered to me, "Just after take-off from LAX a 747 bound for Hong Kong...." What, you've got to be kidding me? You're really making a radio announcement that my flight is going to crash? Fortunately the flight altitude buzzer rang and I put on my extremely expensive, but actually worth the price, BOSE noise canceling headphones. Quiet. It's not fair that my mind can do impersonations.

About two hours later, my mind roguishly pointed out to me one person in the emergency exit was drinking quite heavily. Hmm. Why do airlines give such stringent requirements to patrons of the emergency exit, yet still let them imbibe? Seems like a faulty system. I'd rather have some 75 year-old lady who can't pick up a 40 lb door blocking my egress than a bewildered drunk who can't get out of his own way. But we digress (my mind and me).

One of the most interesting things about traveling is how much it broadens the mind's perspective (much needed). A perfect example is traffic.

In the US there are many stereotypes about drivers relating to their place of origin: New York drivers are fast and aggressive; LA drivers are preoccupied with their cell phones and vanity mirrors; Chinese drivers are all over the road (and they wear those crazy visors). Yet the interesting thing when you go to China and see, first hand, in a city full of Chinese drivers, the true New Yorker would go crazy within ten minutes. Lane dividers only serve as a suggestion, hardly something to issue a citation, and even if everyone is in a rush, they accept idle traffic and logjams with grace. Few people were using traffic signals or horns, and if they were, little was needed in the "bells and whistles" options package. Driving is by no means a free-for-all: it's more like Brownian motion. There is a method, it is just not fully apparent until you look at it all holistically. In Hong Kong and Korea I noticed subtle differences in the driving style, yet it made sense. The saying, "go with the flow," came to mind, and quite often.

In New York drivers honk in anger, cut you off, complain to their other occupants, point out to other motorists your shortcomings and, time permitting, slow down long enough for you to acknowledge that they are now in front of you. In Asia there was a tendency just to go around and let bygones be bygones and be done with it.

On the second week of my travels I spent four days in Vietnam. A recent third world country in transition, it's dominated with motorbikes, not cars. From the curb, at street level, motor-scooters, bikes and a smattering of cars whiz around you in all directions. Everyone honks their horns, but more as a homing device, not out of frustration. Occupants can be two, three, or even five to a bike, and they appear in swarms. Not following directions or without any semblance of a queen bee, they merely navigate from point A to point B, and the quest is to get there in one piece, helmet optional. It was here, of all places, that I harkened back to my trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York early in April of this year.

There was an installation by Aaron Koblin entitled Flight Patterns. On a screen was the globe showing the major airport hubs and along the edge of the screen was a running clock. As the day progressed around the world, streaks of light would flare off from each airport, indicating a flight route to its intended destination. In the early morning, east coast US time, the NY hubs would light up like a firework exploding, then smaller explosions would dot their way westward across the US as sunrise became midday, until the whole US was awash in colored flight trails, totaling over 14,000 planes being airborne at once. This pattern replicated itself around the globe until only a few transcontinental planes were lone souls passing in the night until New York started the next day with renewed fury.

Like the movie Night on Earth about five different cab drivers in five different cities around the world, ground traffic patterns are the same, but different. A video shot from space of traffic circles, or roundabouts, from 10 different countries, that transition every 10 seconds, would show a very different take on the same issue (especially since some of the countries have traffic in the opposite direction from driving on the, yes, 'wrong' side of the road). I would love to see, from overhead, many of the most famous traffic circles in the world: the Magic Roundabout in Swinden, UK, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Mexico City's El Angel de la Independencia and the major ones in Vietnam.

As I stood, literally, in Saigon traffic on that hot day last month, I forgave myself for the Jaws theme and all the other random mendacities my mind tends to play. It is my friend. I enjoy the discourse. I traveled half-way around the world to gain insight by watching mopeds zip around me yet it all made sense. Our minds like to connect the dots of our life experiences. Something reminds us of something else, and it becomes like putting pieces of a puzzle together. Eventually the pieces fit and bam! -- a fun, random, and memorable experience.

Be open to change; as with change comes the shock of the new, and the fresher perspective. Take a trip, or even a step back, and see the difference.