Before last week, it had been many years since I set foot on an airplane.
It’s not that I don’t like flying, but I’ve always been pretty good at coming up with reasons why travel wasn’t a good idea at the time. Fifteen years ago, I thought our daughters were too young. Ten years ago, I was certain we didn’t have the money for one plane ticket, never mind four. Five years ago, the girls made it clear that they had no interest in flight, thank you very much.
How they arrived at that position is clear enough: In character as the wise parent, I tell my daughters to embrace adventure; too often, my actions teach them to choose security.
But last week I pray them farewell and finally left the ground. It wasn’t much of choice or a journey – Manchester to Washington, DC, for a three-day work conference – but it was a departure. I walked into the airport alone and disappeared, an invisible man with a rolling carry-on bag, and settled into a seat in the terminal. There, I did what air travelers do: I waited, for hours, and then I flew.
After landing at Reagan National Airport mid-afternoon, I took a cab to the hotel, unpacked, and walked around by myself – not so much to see the neighborhood but to find something to eat. I settled for an empty taqueria a block away from the hotel, and returned to the room after a few buffalo shrimp tacos and an IPA to resume the waiting, this time for a planned excursion to see the White House followed by a meet-and- greet happy hour.
States Newsroom, the national nonprofit that helped launch the New Hampshire Bulletin nearly a year ago, hosted the summit in part to help us better understand technical things like “search engine optimization,” data tools, and HR procedures. But the main point was to get the individual editors – 26 and counting – in the same room so we could mingle the way people used to before the pandemic turned us into Zoom collages.
It was a gray afternoon, cool and drizzly, and so only a few of us decided to take the White House walk, and that’s where I met editor-reporter-photographer Sherman Smith of the Kansas Reflectorand Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montananwho broke the ice by saying how wild he thought it was that New Hampshire was selling COVID-19 tests in the state liquor stores.
Later, about drinks and snacks, I talked for a long time with David DeWitt, editor of the Ohio Capital Journalabout the road ahead – and the road behind – for LGBTQ+ rights in our states and nationally, and with John Micek, editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, who also grew up in New England. I bonded with Kathie Obradovich of the Iowa Capital Dispatch over our states’ ever-threatened positions on the presidential nominating calendar, and spent the second night’s happy hour with Rob Schofield, director of NC Policy Watch, so we could talk a little about politics and a lot about more important things, like parenthood. I finally met the incomparable Holly McCall of Tennessee Lookoutwho is even more engaging in person than she is on Twitter, and Jim Small of the Arizona Mirror, home to an unending supply of “what in the heck?” political stories. I’ve never met so many intriguing journalists at once – Marisa Demarco of Source New MexicoChristina Lords of the Idaho Capital SunTerrence McDonald of the New Jersey MonitorRuth Conniff of the Wisconsin Examinerand so many others in states around the country that are very much like New Hampshire and yet so very different.
On the return trip to the airport, I shared a cab with Jason Hancock of the Missouri Independent, my tablemate for much of the summit, and Iowa’s Obradovich, with whom I plan to speak with soon about coordinating some of our coverage heading into the 2024 crazy season. We went our separate ways inside the airport, and I once again disappeared into a colorless corridor. But this time everything was different. My little world, made even smaller these last two difficult years, had expanded.
I know now, after just a few days of laying the groundwork for new and important relationships, that expansion is what I want most for my daughters. I want them to find comfort in discomfort, to mine the familiar from the unknown, to wrap themselves in all the strands of the wide world. I want them to see that the desire for security is a kind of prison, but that there are ways to break free.
And, yes, sometimes that means getting on a plane.