Monday, August 22, 2005

Night map

Flying home tonight up the clear, moonlit East Coast, I looked out my window and tried to imagine what I was looking at – literally, figuratively – constellations or axons in the brain or microchips in a vast digital geography. Without a detailed map nearby, I was lost for most of the way in terms of actual geography, in terms of particular states or cities or towns or highways. In the distance, mid-flight, I saw silent lighting flashes every few seconds. But the storms – or was it just heat lightning? – were so far away and the foreground was clear and variably pinpricked in orange and white. The landscape alternated between distinctly lit grids with development radiating out and long, thin roads connecting smaller communities in neural-like webs. As we flew, the moon was rising and picking out waterways, shining a spotlight down across rivers and bays.

Finally I saw an especially large grid system and wracked my brain for what it could be, estimating how far we’d flown from Florida and how much more we had to go. It was Philadelphia, and it took me another moment to figure out which river was which. But soon I could see the two towers of Liberty Place, the cluster of Center City, the spine of Broad Street, the two highly lit pockets of Temple University, and then later, the octopus of Franklin Mills. Having oriented myself, I kept hoping to see the Manhattan skyline come into focus in the distance, but we started circling for a different angle of approach and I lost our bearings until we were nearly landing in Newark and I could see the towers of Midtown through the windows on the opposite side of the plane.

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