After the sober talk about Comair, Rob and I fell silent, lost in our thoughts. I got out the atlas, and our refreshingly cheerful flight attendants brought Rob his crew meal. Now the sun was well below the horizon even at altitude, the western sky faded to deep violet. The terrain was dark and featureless, save for countless pinpricks of light as far as the eye could see, an electric universe that outshined the early evening stars. We turned north over Gordonsville, and Washington, D.C., appeared on the left, identifiable by the encircling headlights of the Beltway, the streetlamps of its jauntily angled boulevards and the dark rectangular void of the National Mall. Washington blended into Baltimore, and from there we followed a nearly continuous ribbon of light along I-95 through Wilmington, Philadelphia and beyond. The Minnesota of my childhood was rural and the West of my youth was wild, and I had little comprehension of just how crowded the Northeast is until I started flying over it at night.