From Coast to Coast with Herman the Fly

Herman the Fly, the offspring of Siegfried Engelmanm and Susan Hanne, was born as a maggot on the leaves of a rotten cabbage  in the 22nd lesson of the first  textbook of Horizons: Reading to Learn Fast Track C-D .  He calmly expired,  in early November, in the lesson 36th. He spent most of his 15 lessons short (or long) life on the plane traveling from New York City to San Francisco, going to Japan and Italy, watching flight attendants, bumping into passengers, surviving cleaning crews, listening to pilot’s announcements, experiencing turbulence, and adjusting to changing temperatures.

Robert read chapters about Herman the Fly in 2008 and then again in the beginning of 2009.  By the time I bought tickets for our trip to California, Robert might have forgotten the biography of Herman the Fly.  I know that I did.

It was Robert’s first trip in nine years and the first after 9-11.  The airport, however, was already well-known to Robert as he often brought  either his father or his sister there or picked them upon their return from the West Coast.  Jan was working in Menlo Park, Amanda studied in Portland, OR.  So Robert knew about lines, about baggage, about lines, about tickets, about lines, about security, about lines.   It was a great help that Amanda traveled with us on her way to her college. Although Robert didn’t see much of Amanda in the previous two years, she was still his role model.  She took her shoes off and placed them in the bin.  Robert took his shoes off and placed them in the bin.  She unloaded her computer from the case, he unloaded his portable DVD player from the case. She took her wallet out, he took his wallet out.  It helped that I notified airlines about Robert’s autism.  (In case there would be a need to explain some of the behaviors/reactions).  We were first to board the plane. We were assigned seats in the first row. Those seats were  mixed blessing.  On one hand, we could get easily in and out of the seats and the toilet was one step away.  On the other hand, those probably were the noisiest seats on the airplane, as they seemed to be close to the engines.  Luckily, Robert did not seem to be bothered by the noise any more than I was.  I was armed with DVDs of Robert’s favorite movies, cards from Super Duper School Company, and with the first part of of Horizons: Reading to Learn.  I placed this book in my carry-on bag deciding, in the last-minute, that it would make sense to  use known materials  for review  and maintenance during our three weeks long stay in California and Oregon.

When I threw the book in the bag, I did not think about Herman the Fly.  Only when I saw a galley in front of us, I suddenly remembered Herman’s taking first helping from the food prepared for passengers by flight attendants. So I pulled the book from my bag . Showing  Robert some of the illustrations I talked to him about how our trip was going to be similar to the one Herman the Fly had taken before. Just like Herman we traveled from East to West Coast.  The flight attendant on one of the illustrations was closing baggage compartments just like the flight attendant behind us.  The plane was taking off.  The pilot was making announcements. Later, there was the turbulence, just like in the chapter Rough Trip. 

As I was quickly retelling life experiences of Herman the Fly, Robert had more than the spark of understanding in his eyes.  He was looking back and forth at the illustrations and then  on the passengers, rows of seats, and on flight attendants as if he was silently comparing the story to his current environment. I had the impression that it was the first time Robert made a connection between stories and real life. Moreover, all the concepts (directions on the maps, arrows showing directions of the flights, distances, miles, directions of the wind and other) , that were included in the chapters now made sense. They became scaffolding for understanding.

That connection, Robert made in the first minutes of the flight somehow not only clarified the story for him but also made life more… predictable.

We had a great flight, this one and the next three.


1.The Jet Blue  flight  attendants were very helpful.  Although during the flight we didn’t need any special treatment, the friendliness of the crew made a positive impact on us all. 

2.Of course there were  small differences between Herman’s aircraft and ours.  For instance, there was no shrimp salad or any warm food on our flight.  Maybe that was for the better.  Robert doesn’t eat shrimps.  Not to mention the fact that Herman the Fly tried all the dishes before they were served to passengers. Besides, the variety of snacks provided by our Airline served us all well.

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1 Comment

  1. Intercontinental Flights. Experienced, Not Learned « krymarh

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