Fifty years later: A traveler pauses in the airport bar and leans into the evening. Televisions are cocked at all angles, and he looks up from his drink to check the crawl of scores at the bottom of the screens. It is of no particular importance to him that the Sabres lead the Bruins (he is from Anaheim, after all), but it is reassuring nonetheless, the background thrum of his culture, all cylinders still firing away. Whoa! Bruins tie.
It's the end of the day, end of the week actually, and he's on his way home. He orders another drink. The World's Strongest Man (on his left) competes with NASCAR highlights (overhead), which fight with two men in suits (on his right) trying to top each other with catchphrases, for his diminishing attention. The crawl shows a busy night: full NHL schedule, two college coaches fired, baseball starting, and it looks as if the Big Aristotle needs toe surgery again. His flight is called—back to LAX, at last. Bruins take the lead!
Air travel is no longer a miracle of transportation, hasn't been for some time. But our businessman, who is returning from a week in Philadelphia, where he serviced business-form accounts, might do well to evince a little appreciation as he gains altitude. His comfortable life in the suburbs—orange trees bowled over, long time ago, for his pink stuccoed, absurdly irrigated, 4 BR, 3 BA home—would not be possible without the ability to fly city to city and conduct commerce with zero regard for geography. Philadelphia? He gets there as easily as Modesto.
A window seat, which is not his preference, but the flight is full. No room to upgrade, either. He looks out at the blackness beneath him and tracks his way home, according to the glow of municipalities. According to the glow of their sports, actually. Even in the dead darkness of an 8:45 flight from Philadelphia, he can easily spot the coliseums, arenas and ballparks below. A long time ago, perhaps 50 years or so (this is his understanding), he would have imagined himself skimming above wheat fields, or some such pioneer scene. It's his understanding, furthermore, that cities west of the Mississippi didn't even have franchises. From where he's sitting, America would have looked pretty featureless, this time of night.
Does the flight path take him over Cincinnati? If so, those could be the Reds playing—let's see (rustle of paper)—the Mets. Or has the evening gotten away from him (the bartender at the airport was pushing doubles, just $1 more), and that's St. Louis already? East to west, one after another, great gobs of outdoor candlepower demonstrating a city's importance (we're big league!), lighting his long way home. St. Louis (or Cincinnati) fades, and now Kansas City (or is it St. Louis?) blinks into view. He can make out clots of cars in radiating parking areas lit up too. No smokestacks, no slaughterhouses to identify civic pride now. It's ballparks! Giant horseshoes of refulgence! Time to Coors Field? About an hour, he thinks. Over wheat fields, as far as he knows.
The country seems small from up here, but not regional or parochial at all. It occurs to him that this is not a particularly deep thought. From his window seat he strains to pick out lesser orbs—high school football, he hopes—that dot the landscape with their feeble incandescence. The plane bores through the night, and our businessman, feeling nostalgic maybe, pictures small-town bleachers, so innocent of the throbbing business of games, so distant in their wattage from big-city stadiums. Those bleachers, he thinks (a little more deeply this time), are the training wheels of our sports culture. With each mile he regrets those doubles at the airport bar.
We allow him to nod off now, and he passes over Coors Field without noticing or further formulating societal constructs. The country, with its knitting of interstate highways, sails beneath him. Once it was far more vast, its parts distinct, unconnected. It's as uniform as can be now (except for those bleachers), regional differences (a brat in Milwaukee, blues in Memphis) maintained less out of historical heritage than the need to develop tourism (eat our brats, hear our blues).
Those glowing orbs are not only indistinct to our businessman at 30,000 feet, but they might also be equally blurry to him at ground level. Their architectural similarity, it turns out, is as much function as fashion. The standardization seems to encourage, or at least support, the modern portability.
And if that portability seems a curse, with team owners extorting skyboxes with the threat of easy movement, it was also a key to the coast-to-coast spread of sports. Suddenly regional interests (that became shrewdly attuned to financial windfalls like Chavez Ravine, just for an example) became part of a truly national portfolio.
The westward expansion that brought teams of all sports (even hockey, his beloved Mighty Ducks) to all destinations (even Anaheim) created fans where there had been none. Now everybody, assuming there is sufficient passion, can argue for his place on the map. By its team, Portland ( Trail Blazers) shall be as worldly as New York. All it takes is a shrewd trade or an artful draft to truly demonstrate democracy. All created equal, when the Arizona Diamondbacks can win a World Series against the Yankees.