“The ramblings and grumblings of author Ad Hudler”

Why Delta should send me a paycheck
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The worst flying experience I ever had was during Tropical Storm Gabrielle in the year 2000. I had to make the trip because movers and an 18-wheeler Allied moving van were awaiting me in Georgia, and I caught the last flight out of Fort Myers before they closed the airport. Wind gusts: 90 MPH. Visibility: 10 feet.

There were only six passengers on the entire DC-10 that morning, and it was pretty obvious why: The tropical-force winds and rain were causing the plane to tremble and rock. We looked like a first-time acrobat standing atop the wire, his arms spread like wings, spasmodically bobbing up and down, left to right. I heard one of the flight attendants say to the other, "The only reason we're flying out this morning is because they don't want to leave this plane behind in the storm. I mean, can you BELIEVE we're actually here this morning?"

Gulp.

We took off, and within seconds I wished I had put on a pair of Depends that morning instead of my usual underwear. Our plane was being tossed and thrown about so violently that I swore one of those wings was going to snap right off. At one point, someone's carry-on suitcase actually flew up and smashed into the ceiling. That was when two of the passengers screamed in fright. A few minutes later I, too, was screaming four-letter words.

During one very-brief moment of stillness, I yelled to an old woman sitting a few aisles away, "Can I sit by you?"

"Absolutely!" she answered, and within seconds we were huddled together, holding hands.

This lasted until we were north of Orlando, and at that point the captain came on the PA system and said, "Well, folks, that was really something, wasn't it? The drinks are on us this morning." Mrs. Leary (I'll never forget her name) and I were silent as we shared two gin-and-tonics, thankful to be alive.

I still fly, but not without precautions. I'm going to let you in on a little secret here: I personally am responsible for my airplane's safety each and every time I fly. I go through this little ritual that pleases the gods of travel, and I'm not sure where or how I came up with these antics. While we zoom down the runway on take off, I take my left index finger and pretend to scratch my forehead, but in actuality I am making the sign of the cross on my forehead. (No, I'm not Catholic.) I have to draw this quick cross two times in rapid succession while on the ground, and then a third time just after the wheels leave the ground.

Then, after we are aloft, I have to imagine the path of the airplane, a la Google Earth, all the way to its destination. I have to imagine it landing at the airport, taxiing up to the gate, and then I have to SEE myself walking off the plane, into the terminal. It helps if I know what the terminal looks like, but if it's an airport I'm not familiar with then my fiction-writer's mind fills in the details. And this is an important part of it: I have to imagine myself wearing the same exact clothes that I am wearing that day. And then I imagine me laughing and walking about, all happy and SAFE at my destination.

This seems to be working just fine. So....the next time you happen to catch a flight with me, be sure to leave me alone as I appear to be scratching a mosquito bite on my forehead. Indeed, I am keeping us all safe, and God knows what would happen to us all if you interrupt me.


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