Great heights

I don’t know how many millionaires, trust-fund babies and titans of industry read Nothing Ever Happens, but for the rest of you, let me state that I know $250 is a lot of money. $250 is groceries for the better part of a month, a whole summer wardrobe at Thrift Town or 25 movie tickets (plus a few buckets of popcorn). I know this will sound ridiculous to you working folks out there, but I’m going to say it anyway: The next time you have $250 to spare, you must take a Delta Seaplane Tour.

I embarked on one of these 50-minute excursions from the Executive Airport over the Capitol and across the Delta sloughs more than a week ago, and I have not stopped yammering about it to anyone who will listen. Back at the office, I told my co-workers how the tiny four-seat plane flew right by the golden Tower Bridge and the squat little Capitol building, capping that green strip of mall like the dot on an exclamation point. I explained how the landmarks that seem so far apart when I’m walking—the ziggurat, Raley Field, the Delta King, the Darth Vader building, the marina, the Port of Sacramento, the Yolo Causeway, the Ryde Hotel and Grand Island Mansion—are really nestled together like the miniature houses on Lego Main Street.

I called my mom to say that the Delta begins in a perfect “Y” at the tip of Discovery Park, where the glassy blue waters of the American River churn into the olive-colored stew of the Sacramento, and spreads to incorporate more than 50 islands.

Over lunch, I told my friends that Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods were barely visible through the emerald canopy of the urban forest, but the new tract homes with tiny backyards and no trees looked barren and exposed. I warned them about the precariousness of the Pocket area, bordered by levees taller than its houses. Later, I told strangers at a coffeehouse how I had to fly above the brown layer of smog that blankets us to even know it existed.

And now I’m telling you that the flood plains along the causeway are full of cranes, stretching their white wings and soaring over the water, and that the closest I have ever been to inhabiting their avian grace was the moment when that seaplane dipped into the Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel—its own white wings outstretched—and sped along the current.

A seaplane ride is as different from a commercial airline flight as pedaling a bicycle is from sitting in your living room. The seaplane was all cockpit and windows, and I was squeezed in among blinking lights and altitude meters right alongside pilot Jenni Martin, who founded the tour company in March. Our ascent from the runway was almost instantaneous, as was our slightly bumpy descent—a process Martin likened to “landing a shopping cart.” Absolutely nothing obscured our 1,000-foot-high view of Delta farmland as we soared over the river, and whenever we landed on the water, wet spray rose in wakes outside our doors.

Not even the airsickness I felt for a few hours afterward diminished my enthusiasm. The seaplane’s quick changes in elevation were smooth, but I still found myself rather queasy by the end of the flight. (Notes for potentially airsick passengers: Eat before you fly and keep your eyes on the horizon during the ride. If that fails, don’t be afraid to lie down under your desk once you get to work. I found the hard office floor to be quite grounding, and my co-workers were kind enough not to stare for too long.)

I have lived in the Sacramento area for much of my life, but until I took that flight, I had never really seen it—the railways, the highways, the Pacific Flyway, the rivers and vineyards, the port towns and government halls, the tiny working people and the ant-sized millionaires—all at once and from such great heights.