Almost as soon as we were through 10,000 feet, I had my atlas out. It was completely clear along our route - a rarity in November - and on the dark, moonless night, every light for hundreds of miles was visible. Every town and road printed on the map was duplicated in orange and white pixels below. From Memphis we headed northeastwards on J42, toward Nashville. It grew steadily brighter until we passed overhead; then the glow of suburbia quickly gave way to the isolated pinpricks of eastern Kentucky's rural hill country. Louisville floated by to our left; to our right, Knoxville illuminated the spine of the Great Smokey Mountains. My First Officer broke the silence to point out his hometown where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia all come together. At Beckley, WV, we made a slight right to cross the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians just north of I-64. A thin band of light stretching as far as the eye could see marked the Great Valley; the dark band after that, the Blue Ridge. We reentered "civilization" over Charlottesville, VA, the pixels becoming ever thicker and brighter as we approached Washington DC. From 35,000 feet, we could clearly make out the dark National Mall and the floodlit Capitol Building. As we passed over Chesapeake Bay into Delaware, I noted how Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, and New York essentially form one contiguous, enormous metropolis. The Jersey shore, to our right, was much darker but the casinos of Atlantic City shone brightly, prompting my FO to reminisce about his freight dog days flying into ACY. Now New York's glow, visible 200 miles prior, hardened and formed into city and water, then the individual boroughs, and then mile after mile of individual streets and buildings. I picked out the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings as we overflew JFK and LGA. At the Connecticut coast we turned right; the moonless night and dark waters of Long Island Sound made me think of JFK, Jr. By now we were on our descent; the arrival took us over Providence, RI, which until then had always been a fuzzy spot in my geographical knowledge. We went "feet wet" above the spot that the Pilgrims went "feet dry." The vectors to final took us far out over the Atlantic, almost to the tip of Cape Cod. Our 150 minute night tour of the east coast concluded with a nice view of the Boston skyline from the final approach to runway 27.
Prior to flying for NewCo, I had spent very little time "out east." In fact, the furthest east I'd flown was Grand Rapids, MI, and that was on a cross-country flight I did in college! My subsequent flight instructing, freight dogging, and airline flying was all on the west coast. At Horizon, the easternmost destination for the Q400 was Billings, MT. At NewCo, the majority of our destinations are east of the Mississippi. On the east coast proper, we fly to MHT, BOS, JFK, LGA, EWR, PHL, BWI, IAD, RIC, ORF, CLT, JAX, and MCO. When I began flying to these places, my geographic knowledge was sorely lacking. Now all the pieces are starting to fit together.
When I was flying out west, I had no idea just how good I had it. Flying on the east coast in a royal pain. Out west, it's Direct-To everywhere and talk to ATC once every 20 minutes to change frequencies. Out east, it's nonstop convoluted reroutes, last-minute crossing altitude restrictions, and an endless litany of frequency changes. You eventually give up even trying to check in with certain sectors after having your check in stepped on half a dozen times. Airports like PHL, EWR, LGA, and JFK are delay-prone on good days; throw in some bad weather and you're going nowhere quick. Those airports make me thankful that our turd of a contract at least has "Block or Better" pay.* Our hotels at eastern layovers tend to be in decrepit industrial areas near the airport, and the shuttle van drivers are often surly and hurried.
Despite all that, I still enjoy going east. I guess the novelty just hasn't worn off yet. I enjoy the aerial sightseeing when the weather cooperates. The Appalachians, Catskills, and Adirondacks, while less starkly grand than the Rockies, Sierras, and Cascades, have great natural beauty of their own. The human geography, too, is interesting to me: the patchwork quilt-like farmsteads of rural areas, the little towns secluded in dead-end valleys miles from anywhere, the seemingly endless cities of the BosWash corridor. There's a lot of history out east; I enjoy having a birds-eye view of the landscape that famous battles and campaigns were waged across.
On the ground, there's a lot to do if you make the effort. I haven't spent much time in most of the cities we go to, so they invite exploration. The morning after my sightseeing flight up the eastern seaboard, I woke up early and hopped on the subway to downtown Boston. I reemerged at Boston Common, America's oldest park, and started following the red brick path of the Freedom Trail. It was fascinating to see so many important historical sites in the course of a fairly short stroll. The South Meeting House, the Old State House, Old North Church, and Bunker Hill are all legendary places I've heard about since grade school but have never seen for myself. Walking in and around them made the history seem more real, more palpable; I felt new appreciation for the vision and courage of men like Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.
I have a long Philadelphia layover coming up soon. I hope to make it to the Revolution-era sights there. If they're anywhere nearly as interesting as the Freedom Trail in Boston, it should take some of the sting out of having to operate out of PHL.
*"Block or Better" means that we are paid the greater of scheduled or actual block time. Therefore, when we're delayed we get paid extra, but we don't get shorted for being early. Although Horizon has a much better contract than NewCo, they did not have Block or Better; I got paid based only on the historical block time for the leg (usually less than scheduled block), with no additional compensation for overblocking. If Horizon flew into JFK, LGA, or PHL, that'd be a very bad thing to have in the contract.