Riding Off Into the Sunrise

Scottish Sunrise

Flying, for me, is just a couple of electrodes and a wet sponge away from capital punishment. At 315 pounds, I’m not a good passenger. You wouldn’t be either, if you had to wedge your fat ass into a seat made for one of those heroin-chic Calvin Klein models from the ’90s. And can someone please tell me what the hell is the problem with giving a guy a break and adding a few extra inches of seat belt? I can’t imagine the world’s economy would collapse over four inches of woven polyamide in dystopian gray.

My biggest issue at 37,000 feet, though, is sleeping. Right after dinner service, The One burrows under a blanket, closes his eyes, and goes slack in his seat, his tongue every so often smacking the roof of his mouth as if he were trying to ferret out the notes of a fine Rioja. I, on the other hand, sit ramrod straight, willing myself to stay awake, because whenever I drift off during flight I stop breathing for so long that I awake bug-eyed and panicked, finally letting loose a sleep apnea-induced snorgg (combination snore and gag) so loud and tortured, it has, on occasion, been known to propel flight attendants out of their cubbyholes.

But the one—literal—bright spot on the flight is when I get to gaze at the sunrise. Suspended seven miles above the earth, I lose my bearings. Without reference points to gauge speed and distance, I imagine myself floating, bobbing over a sleeping world, like in those flying dreams I had as a child. I’m unmoored from myself. The stress of juggling too much at work, trying to be a good husband, worrying about my health drains. I can almost hear the ticker-y static of my daily life fade as I watch the sky lighten. At the same time, the approaching anxieties of being in a foreign country—where I’m guaranteed to miss all the subtle social cues that make one a good and polite traveler—are still asleep, and I know from experience that I have several hours before they begin tag-team wrestling in my gut.

Caught between above and below, past and future, my internal compass shrugs and lets go. I lean my forehead against the smudged plastic window and watch as the sky first begins to brighten, then turns an almost imperceptibly pale blue, a blue so faint that the only way to register the color is to close my eyes for several seconds and then pop them open. I make a mental note to tell The One that this is the color the master bathroom should be.

As gentle blue surrenders to more aggressive oranges and reds, shivery waves of wonder wash through me. I watch the sun insist its way over the horizon, and I ponder creation, evolution, the Big Bang. I question, sometimes out loud, who or what made this. My faith, which these days staggers like a man too much in love with his Scotch, steadies itself. I feel hope—something I used to feel in abundance in my 20s but that, over the years, has been edged out by the sprawl of cynicism. Hovering over the Atlantic, I murmur what some people would call a prayer, but is really a ragbag of fragmented Catholic verses burned into the folds of my brain, New Age platitudes leftover from my Shirley MacLaine days, and strange-sounding, hum-like words I once heard at a Buddhist gathering:

I hope The One and I will stay together. With our old issues of control and distance—which we thought after 20 years were finally over—circling back for yet another round, we find ourselves again filled with doubt and fighting with our gloves off.

I hope Mama and Papa Leite will live forever. No amount of therapy will ever get me through their passings intact.

I hope the freaking returning flight has bigger seats or else I’m complaining to United.

I hope we have a good vacation in Scotland.

I hope.

David Leite's signature



  1. I know this is months later, but food for thought for your next non international trip: Amtrak. We just took the Southwest Chief line from Chicago to Santa Fe for the Thanksgiving holidaze and it’s a pretty nice alternative to flying, if you have the time to spare. No security check in lines, rarely a delay more than an hour and you can get a room with your own bathroom and shower. Go for the bedroom vs the roomette. The cost is about the same as flying and it includes all of your meals while on the train. Meals are not so great, but you can fill a cooler full of your favorite snacks and bevys (they provide coffee 24/7, an attendant for each car, sheets, towels and ice). I actually slept on the train and I can’t sleep on planes. Most cross country trains are anywhere from 18-60 hours. I plan to head to New Orleans via Amtrak for my next train ride. I reserve the flying for overseas or Mexico now.

    1. Ginger, this is so weird: The One and I have discussed perhaps traveling via train. It’s so much more civilized and relaxing. Superb suggestion. Happy holidays!

  2. I have been on your site for maybe a year. I have tried more recipes than any site I have been to for years! You have the best soup recipes! Please keep up the good work! I cannot wait for Sunday to see your blog! Thank you, Renee Kee.

    1. That is the loveliest thing we could possibly hear, Renee! Thank you! We work really hard to test and tweak all the recipes that end up on the site so that each home cook who tries one of our recipes has exactly your experience. We love hearing stories like yours and greatly appreciate you taking the time to let us know. Looking forward to hearing which recipes you try next!

  3. David–your last five paragraphs made me bubble up in tears (quietly; Himself is just across from me lying on the couch playing Solitaire–I’d have a hard time explaining in between sobs that Leite’s Culinaria made me cry), and, yes, I hate flying too except for when I can see the sunrise or sunset at 35,000 feet.. Living in Europe now is great, but I’m far away and a yucky 12-hour flight from Mum and Dad in Singapore.

    I’m glad you both had a lovely time in Scotland; it’s a place of healing for me especially when I’m surrounded by mountains and lochs, and that grand awesome silence.

    1. Ling, you always make me feel so grateful to be a writer and to know my work can affect people. Thank you. And, please, tell Himself that I made you cry. The conversation might interesting!

  4. First a bit of logistics, I guess you’d call it. You can ask the flight attendants for a seat belt extender. Embarrassing, but you will breathe a sigh of relief at the extra room. And if you’re wise, you will tuck that baby into your carry on where it will live forever. ;)

    I’m only (!) 5’9″, but my knees are pressed up against the seat in front of me when the seat is upright. Lord help me if the person reclines! I am also pretty claustrophobic, so flying, when I had to do it for work, was always miserable. I’m with The One — if I sleep through the flight, I can manage it without too much angst. So, I’m out usually before we get our turn at the runway.

    My worst experience was once when through a true concatenation of circumstances, I ended up on the wrong flight, landing in the wrong city to make my connection and by the time I could get on another flight taking me where I needed to go, I was stressed to the limit. I got on the plane, last person to board, and it was one of those with the huge section of seats in the middle — what, 8? 10? Way too many. And the stewardess pointed out the one and only empty seat in the whole plane, right in the middle of the very middle row. I started quietly crying, saying, “I can’t sit there. I’m claustrophobic.” And just to prove it, started hyperventilating. The people on either side of the empty seat were saying, “Please, please find her another seat,” because really who wants someone in those tight quarters having a meltdown next to you??? Some very nice man sitting on the aisle way up at the front, got up and volunteered to take that place. I almost kissed him.

    So, moral of the story, if the seat is too horribly uncomfortable, cry. But quietly. ;)

    Thanks, David. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who hates to fly.

    1. ruthie, yeah, I know I could ask, but I felt so embarrassed. I thought of buying one, but I said, “To hell with that!” The good thing is I’ve lost enough eight now that I can fit into the fricking seats! As The One says, “The best part of traveling is getting there.”

  5. My Dear Mr. Leite,

    I too will spent an entire flight peering out the window. On the most recent flight back from visiting my boyfriend who lives near Palm Springs, I watched the California desert transform from a grey flat waste to a rolling mountainous range that eventually turned green and eventually gave way to the farms of the Central Valley before opening up to my beloved Bay. Even on overnight flights I will sit there with my face plastered against the tempered glass and watch the lights of towns pass below making me wonder who lives there and are they looking up and see my plane passing overhead. Over night flights during the summer are often the best because sometimes you will see in the distance a storm dancing on the horizon as it shoots lighting through the network of clouds and onto the ground below. Once a woman asked me if this was my first time flying and I said “Oh no. My dad was a pilot and I’ve traveled a lot. I just love looking out the window this way.” she gave me a confused look and went back to her book and I went back to the more interesting part of the flight, gazing out the window.


    1. My Dear Mr. KitchenBeard,

      I remember when I first started flying (when I was a freshman in college), and how I loved to watch faint veins of lights thread their way from rural areas to the great arteries of the cities. I, too, would wonder, “Who lives down there? And what are they thinking? And is someone looking up at a flashing light while I’m looking down at them?” I was terribly, terribly philosophical back then.

      1. There’s something meditative about watching the world pass below you that way and I think it’s healthy to ask oneself questions like that.

  6. Lovely musings from a wonderful man. As for Scotland, I gained 8 lbs there. Bad news for the return flight. And certainly try the haggis! Some chefs have a flair for it.

    1. Bette, thank you muchly. I actually returned the same weight as when I left–and I ate a lot. I didn’t try haggis, but The One did. He’s glad of it, but it’s not a repeat dish for him!

  7. David, Love this post and it reminds me why I come back to your blog time and again. I know I can come here and NOT see a blogger wearing skinny (oh, I have thigh gap I hadn’t notice) jeans, posing pigeon toed and knocked kneed, eyes bashfully down cast. One that is proclaiming they’re Christian (non-information: 95% of the US falls in that category), that they home school their kids, and their life is pastel pink perfect. The fact you refer to your furry one as devil cat shows me home schooling was never in the picture. Also, writing of faith to include the Catholic church, Shirley, and the Buddhist religion–thanks for admitting! Oh, and your stories and recipes are pretty terrific. You’re a darling man. Thanks for being you.

    ps There’s a gal in Seattle that blogs under the name kim chee and meatballs. Another refreshing blog featuring kim chee recipes (among others) and a cautionary tale on condo ownership.

    1. Ann, thanks for getting me! My life is FAR from pastel pink. (I don’t even look pretty in pink.) My thighs are too fat to allow me to be knocked kneed. I’ve got too much of an ego to be downcastedly bashful. And, no, home schooling was never an option. There wouldn’t have been enough duct tape in the garage for my mother to muzzle me long enough for me to learn.

      I really don’t want anyone to think my life is perfect. No one can grow or learn from perfect. I don’t want a Simonized existence. I’m an overweight, bipolar gay man with severe control issues and edema in my right ankle. I yam what I yam. We all should be.

  8. David, I enjoyed all your Scotland pictures on twitter, and am glad to read you (plural) had such a good trip. Welcome home.

    Flying used to be such a thrill for me…travel in general, in fact. Now, I want to be IN other places, I don’t relish getting TO other places. So much physical and mental discomfort, for so many hours…it’s tough. And expensive. Something so expensive should be comfortable and pleasant, no?

    Congrats on the work you’ve done on your health. Glad you–and your doc–are seeing so much progress. Onward! :)

    1. My dear Quinn, thank you. Yes, we indeed had an incredible, incredible time. The big Scotland post is coming. (Why is it I’m allaying saying that?!)

      And thanks for your well wishes. I can finally visit my doctor without that knot in my stomach anticipating the years-old lecture about losing weight.

  9. David, I too saw the sun set on my way home from seeing Mom and Dad. They are great by the way and love when you are home. It was spectacular, unfortunately my One was not close enough to me to touch and enjoy together.

    You say you thought a discussion of twenty years ago was over. Sweetheart, relationships have peaks and valleys just like a roller coaster. Just when you think things are climbing your way, they drop but do get better again. Our daily lives can’t help but fall into the past in what we have done or said. But Love has a firm hold on those who can look beyond the past and not repeat it. You two will get through this fall as one and continue on together. Rollercoasts have their ups and downs, but Love is constant.

    1. Pat, so glad you visited my parents. They do so enjoy spending time with you.

      Yeah, the old roller coaster, huh? It’s amazing how utterly complicated, delightful, exhausting, baffling, and rewarding relationships can be. A friend reminded of the film “The Best Years of Our Lives,” in which Myrna Loy says to her husband, “How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?” I kind of feel that. Love, to me, is cyclical. It keeps coming round and round again, if you let it.

  10. David, you are so very good at expressing yourself, in your writing. I know you are an excellent cook, but you are an even better writer. I laughed until I cried reading the first two paragraphs. Thank you. Best laugh I’ve had in weeks.

  11. David, so glad you enjoyed Scotland. My parents and half brothers are Scottish so I have lots of relatives in Edinburgh and Fifeshire. When I visit I feel this incredible connection, I truly belong there. Edinburgh is hauntingly moody, beautiful and sublime, oozing with stories and multi layers of history.

    Love your writing David, what a lovely man you are, thank you for the gift of your stories.

    Just an aside, Lisbon is also one of my fave cities….hope to return there next year.

    The flight from Scotland to my home in Vancouver takes me over Baffin Island and Canada’s north.
    Watching sunrise is a glorious thing on those flights.



    1. Haunting–you hit it on the head, Linda. That’s exactly what it is. The country stays with you long after you’ve left.

      And thank you for the nice words. They’re greatly appreciated.

      And glad you liked Lisbon. I miss it a lot at times. The charm, the architecture, the food, the colors at sunset.

  12. How do I love your writings, let me count the ways. I guess infinity is the best number, Your wonderful way of sharing yourself is so special.

  13. David, every once in a long, long while I come across a phrase which floors me with its precision and exactitude…and this piece contains one such…thank you so much for penning “…I watch the sun insist its way over the horizon.” It is simply beautiful.

  14. I like vacations. I think they are great, but alas, I am simply jealous. Now that we have gotten our kid through college, stopped paying his rent, etc., we have a bit more $$ for vacations, last one having been Barcelona in 2010.

    As we are retiring to the Philippines, our plan is to take advantage of the cheap flights to Southeast Asia and visit Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. Scotland sounds fun though.

    PS, I consider your discomfort on planes. I have been on airplanes since I was 5, getting dragged (literally) all over the country visiting relatives in half the states. My mom worked for TWA and I was actually able to fly FREE up until I was 23 or so. I would pay a surcharge of $23 or so for 1st class.

    315 lbs, David? We don’t want to see you in an early grave, dear, nor does The One. There are apps for that.

    1. dontcallmeachef, it sounds like your retirement will be one incredible vacation. I hope you live to 100–then you can see most of the world.

      And thank you for the concern over my health. My weight’s down from 350. And I’m no longer talking blood pressure pills, and my doctor has reduced some of my bipolar medication. My cholesterol is now normal and there are no signs of diabetes or even sugar issues. I still have a long way to go, but I feel better than I have in years.

      1. This touched my heart and soul. I hope the people in your life always treat your private and personal musings with the utmost love and care. Little did I know when I contacted you via LusaWeb all those years ago, what a wonderful man you were. We all go through trials. Our own feel more terrifying to us than other’s must feel to them. Of this I am pretty sure. Yet you tackle these dark waters head on with all of us tagging along, if we choose. There has to be a ton of hope in that action. I value your friendship so much and will always have your back across the miles.

          1. And congrats on the progress you are making to improve your health. I share some of your issues and know how hard it can be.

  15. Hope… Sometimes that’s all you have when you have nothing else. If you have it, you have everything.–Anonymous

    Hope you two are together & happy forever.

  16. David, a beautiful, and a bit sad, description of what most of us have experienced on flights and life. I hope you and The One have a fabulous trip through Scotland and along the way, find resolutions to those old issues. I look forward to reading about your journey.

  17. Ah David…I sympathize, As a…ahem…large-boned fluffy sort of girl myself, I hate the idea of flying–my parents compounded the problem by giving me extra tall genes to boot–so I am squashed into those torture seats, and I end up with my knees catching on my earrings. Not comfortable. I have decided in my old age that if I don’t go first class, I am not leaving terra firma. But oh, David…seeing the sky light up like that makes me pensive and believe that all is right with the world. It feels good to be alive! I guess we take our joys where and when we can find them. Glad you and the One enjoyed your vacation. Welcome back!

    1. Ah, Pieri, you get me. I paid for one of those five-extra-inches-of-leg-room seats, so that was good. But the rest, well, Mr. Fluffy Butt here had to squirm. A lot. But I weigh 315 pounds at the moment–down from 350. Can you imagine if I traveled at that weight? Hoo-boy.

    1. Thanks, Adele. This was written yesterday from notes hastily scribbled on napkins while flying. And we did have a great time. A post about the trip will be forthcoming.

  18. Oh, David. I hope too, on your behalf.

    Thank you for the joy your writing has brought me over the years. I have never commented before, but you brought a tear to my eye tonight.

    Enjoy Scotland!

    1. Laurie, thank you. We’ve returned and did have a great time. It’s amazing what a vacation can do (good and bad) for a relationship. Luckily, this one was very healing.

    1. Jana, thank you. As I mentioned below, these thoughts were scribbled on napkins while flying, so we’re actually back. We had a great time. We loved Scotland. And the great thing is we had gorgeous sunshine the whole week except one day.

  19. David, fingers and toes crossed for bigger freaking seats on your return flight.
    Thank you. You made me laugh and I so needed that!

    Happy travels to you both!

  20. Hurrah for you in Scotland! You will have a great time, especially if you visit the Love Crumbs Café in Edinburgh.

    1. Katie, if only I got your message earlier! (This post was published yesterday, but was written from notes taken on the plane last week.) We had a blast in Scotland, but didn’t get to Love Crumbs. Perhaps next time.

  21. I was just telling a young man the other day that “marriage” is never easy. “Marriage” is often not fun. Sometimes you just want to say “eff” it. And sometimes it just doesn’t work long term. And sometimes it does. PS: We had a super vacation in Scotland. PPS: don’t eat haggis :)

    1. Catherine, you’re so right. And if both parties aren’t interested in really working at it–long and hard–a marriage has an ice cube’s chance in hell of working. The good thing is the trip was healing for us. And, no, I didn’t have haggis–The One did, though. He’s glad he tried it, but wouldn’t rush to eat it again.

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