There is a point on the two lane highway as you enter the Napa Valley where the horizon is filled with vineyards that stretch outward across the valley floor and then sweep upward as high as the hills will allow. The only break in the perfectly aligned rows is an occasional family home, almost always two story and white, with a wide porch encircling the house, or clump of oaks majestically watching over the vines. During summer the view becomes a sea of green, balanced by the alternating red lines of soil; but as autumn arrives a mosaic of red, yellow, and orange attack your senses in a vibrant mosaic of nature. I see a small sign placed at the entrance to a dirt road leading to the white house that reads, “Drive slow – grapes at play.” I think there is more truth to the sign than we know.
Imagine you are in a small plane, flying at 10,000 feet above South Placer County. It is a clear autumn morning, the sun is up but only producing a brisk 58 degrees; there is a moment of white on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, signaling the first of many snow storms had arrived last night. Dressed in jeans, tennis shoes and a tee shirt (if you are a girl, the outfit matches; if a guy, then you don’t care), you can feel the cold outside the plane, which is ten degrees lower than on the valley floor. You slide open the passenger door of the four passenger Piper; the wind instantly tears through the interior creating a tornado like effect with the few papers on the dash. The velocity of the chilled air striking your bear arms makes you believe you now know what it must feel like to be lost in a blizzard – in a bathing suit. (You were always one for drama!). Unbuckling your seat belt, you send a nod to the pilot, place both feet on the door threshold, and jump. In less than a second, the plane is a distant memory.
As Newton predicted, you fall towards the earth accelerating at 32 feet per second. Depending upon your weight, and position while dropping, you will reach terminal velocity in 7-10 seconds. This is the point where your descent speed can no longer increase, but remains constant at about 125 miles per hour due to the friction of the surrounding air. Kind of a good news / bad news story: you’re not falling any faster, but you are falling real fast. It will take another minute to find the ground, but a lot can happen in a minute.
I am still sitting in terminal 1 in the C concourse at Chicago O’Hare airport on the 14th hour of delay, waiting for a flight home. The monitor, which I no longer believe, says that I still have two more hours to wait. So, I do what everyone does under these circumstances; I slouch in my uncomfortable faux leather chair, crossing and uncrossing my legs to maintain circulation, and watch people walk by.
There is a lot of talk about diversity, how everybody is different and the difference is good for everyone. Well, in this airport I have found the grand slam of diversity. I have seen every shape, size and color of person meander by my perch in just the last 30 minutes. I have a great location to watch and write about the world, and I don’t think I can even type fast enough to capture all that I see. My plan is simple; I will smile at random people walking past, not too obvious-just a pleasant hello kind of smile, and note their reaction. Here we go: