The boy was about 3, and he walked onto the airplane at San Francisco International Airport dragging his kiddie suitcase last Saturday, stopped in the middle of the aisle and wailed.

“Where’s the plane?” he sobbed.

“We’re on it,” his mother said.

He wasn’t convinced, but later, as we backed away from the gate, he settled down and when we took off he was yelling, “Yea!”

Watching the ground drop away, flying through the clouds, feeling the thrum of the engines – reality trumps virtuality every time.

Mark, who’s 20 months old, learned to clap his hands and shout “yea!” a couple of weeks ago when he saw bubble artist Fan Yang create soap bubbles within bubbles, within smoking, spinning bubbles.

Fan Yang was the sellout featured attraction at Santa Ana’s Discovery Science Center during spring break.

My grandson is a great bubble admirer, albeit an inexperienced wand waver.

He’s also a typical toddler. He has his favorite “movies,” videos that are educational but still videos. He drags his chair in front of the TV set, settles in and watches the shows over and over again.

Fan Yang was Mark’s first live theatrical experience.

Sure, he was too young to give a disappointed “ooooohh” when a bubble burst too soon. He didn’t get the mistakes, the triumphs, the dexterity.

He did get the wonder, the astonishment and the excitement of everything happening right in front of him.

“The people aren’t flat,” is the way Travis, my oldest grandson, described the cast at his first live show, a dinner-theater performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

He wasn’t talking about their singing. He was referring to their “thickness,” as he told his mother.

Thick, live people singing and dancing have become a favorite experience for this kid, who also is a Game Boy pro.

I take my grandsons to live performances every chance I get. (I’d take my granddaughters, too, if I had any, but so far I have five grandsons – each of them cuter and smarter than yours, of course.)

Live theater, live performances of any sort, are communal experiences shared for a moment. They reach out, demanding you focus all your senses, insisting you stay in the moment.

“Live concerts leave a tingling in your ears unless you wear earplugs,” a colleague who just sat through a Prince concert says.

Live symphonies fill your eyes as well as your ears and your soul.

Sometimes I wonder if today’s kids are so caught up in virtual reality, they can’t tell the real forest from the fake trees. I know getting them into the theater to see the thickness is my goal.

Mark’s too young to talk about Fan Yang but he did give me big wet kisses and kept yelling, “Thank you, thank you!”

I like that reality.

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