Just Like Riding in Your Car

City002            I hate to fly.  To go on and tell you I planned a trip flying in 11 different airplanes before I got back might have you questioning my sanity.  That’s okay–I questioned it too. 
            Before I discuss my masochistic marathon, let me give you a little history of me and flying machines.  No, I’ve not had any grisly, near-death encounters, and I’ve always enjoyed the food. (Remember when they actually had food?)  This isn’t that kind of history.  And actually I don’t mind the flying part of it.  It’s being cooped up in a crowded metal box that looks like a coffin.  I do okay for the first couple of hours–reading, looking out at the clouds and eating all the snacks provided by the smiling flight attendants.  A movie or a good, old fashioned dirty book will give me an extra hour or so.  But then, my concentration fades and the plane becomes my own personal trap and that’s what I mean when I say I hate to fly.
            My first airplane ride took place when I was 17. A  red-headed guy from Louisiana, great looking and built, who was stationed at the Air Force base near my hometown, took me up in a Piper Cub.  A friend drove me to a small private airport and ten minutes later, Red appeared in the East like the evening star, landed–thucka thucka thucka’d up to where I stood, pushed open the little triangular door from where he sat, white silk scarf a-wave, and off we went.  It was great fun, and I fell in love with the guy, the plane and the great glistening sky.  All would age and fade except the sky, but at 17 no one could have made me believe that.
            The next few years of occasional commercial plane trips were uneventful.  I usually got loaded in the airport bar whenever I had to fly, and in the inimitable essence (if not words) of Don Ho, the singing Hawaiian boozer, tiny bottlesin the air helped immensely.  Gone was my early love affair with the sky–but really–there’s no sky thing involved in commercial flying.  The comparison that comes to mind is walking into a room the size of an extra large train or a cramped quonset hut, depending on your perspective.  There’s no real air or wind in your hair unless the guy going by you to the toilet passes it.  Any sensation of flight is eliminated by bumps and vacuum-filled sky drops similar to those felt in a poorly calibrated elevator.
            Added to the overall ambience is the in-flight PA system crackling advice about exits, oxygen and using your seat cushion for a life preserver.  For the life of me, I can’t imagine myself hurtling through space at the speed of sound, tightly belted down and still gracefully getting my ass loose from the seat cushion in time to do any good at all.  
            Following the in-flight excitement, landing presents the airport rest room where multitudes of people are using the forced-air dryers on various parts of their bodies and clothing before they hit the next stand-up kiosk bar with the down-home guys in Stetsons and snake-skin boots.
            Well, unfortunately for my flying life–although fortunate for the rest of me and the “25 people around me affected by my drinking”–I  quit drinking and could no longer fly united . . .with imperviousness.  A vacation opportunity came up located  too far away to drive or walk to in the time I needed to spend, and I had to book a flight.
            To accomplish this return to flying, I went to a therapist who used Rational Behavior Therapy.  I had a folder of blank forms in which I would write down my fears, negative self-talk about them and then the rational answers that would combat these fears and allow me to see clearly the error of my ways and grow and become a more viable human being–in 60 days.
            The day of my adventure arrived, finally, and I boarded the plane, red folderclutched in my hands, prepared to deal with the old me.  Well, I got to my destination and back.  Both the plane and me still viable.  But in my hyperkinetic state at landing and racing for the door before anyone else unsnapped a seat belt, I forgot my red folder in the seat pocket in front of me.  Imagine the next passenger who reached for a little reading material to calm his or her pre‑flight jitters.  I don’t want even to  know about it.  I hope there was no ID inside. (To be continued! Take a break!)

            This brings me up to the 11 airplanes I booked myself into.  My friend and I went to Hawaii–this after years of her begging and pleading.  The travel choices were somewhat limited given my financial resources, three weeks vacation and my inability to portage my car from San Francisco to Honolulu.
            I tried to avoid the nine-hour non-stop flights to and from by booking a stopover at Dallas going and San Francisco coming back.  I figured this would aid me in deluding myself into thinking I have some control over my destiny.  The rest of the flights were inter-island hops to which I looked forward because I’d be on planes that looked like the planes of my youth and not the sleek flying pressurized football fields used routinely.  I even wanted  to fly over a volcano in a helicopter–but my friend, Fay, was chicken.
             We arrived in Honolulu–I was now a ‘seasoned’ traveler and looking forward to the next flight to the island of Molokai.  Until I saw the plane.  You know those old flying boxcars they use in movies about carnival flyers–well, you got it!  Dirty yellow, two propellers, seated 13.  I clawed my way up the steps and it looked like the inside of an Oscar Mayer wiener mobile.  The front stretched far in front with a narrow aisle between the small seats.  I knew I couldn’t get far from the door, so I tried to sit in one of the first empty seats.  The pilot stopped me and motioned (the sound of the engine and props were deafening) me into the back seat between a good sized Hawaiian woman and a Native American looking man, reading a newspaper. 
            Once I sat down and tried to figure out the seat belt and watched Fay sit waaay down in the front, the pilot handed me a well-used plasticized card.  It said I was in charge of emergency evacuation of the plane.  Really!  Little did the passengers know who their leader was.  
            The trip was terrifying–we swooped, bumped, leaped and did very little forward flying from what I could see through the foggy windows.  I watched the two people on either side of me who seemed to be oblivious to the perilous nature of our flight.  I soon decided they knew more than I, and I tried to concentrate on keeping my stomach where it belonged in my abdomen.  Just as we began to fly over land (which was double the previous description of the plane’s gyrations), the woman woke and sat up straight.  The man put his paper down and also looked straight ahead.  I queried, “Do you take this flight often?” 
            “Yes,” she replied, period.
            “Do you live here?” I asked desperately.
            “Yes.”
            It was obvious that she wasn’t into social amenities while traveling, so I swung my leg and dryly whistled to myself.  The scenery or what I could see of it was beautiful, breath-takingly so even without the accompaniment of fear.
            She leaned over to me as we were just above the airstrip (which appeared to end in the ocean) and said one long sentence.  “It will be all right now.”
            And that was the most harrowing of all the flights–after that one the rest seemed like angel food cake.  The same day we were junketing over to Molokai, a Japanese woman had been blown off a cliff in Honolulu, so I guess ignorance is bliss–it was for me, anyway.  It was a grand vacation, and even leaving Molokai a week later, the wind was down to blowing the windsock straight out but not off the pole, and the plane was bigger–a normal looking plane, pink with Hawaiian flowers and a jet engine to assist the propellers.  
            Of course, now that I could fly for nine hours at one time, we had to return home on the hop, skip, and jump reservations I had originally booked.  But my final fear–that of finding  that red folder still in the seat pocket of the plane from Chicago to Madison where I left it all those years ago didn’t come to pass–hopefully it’s in the shaking hands of a traveler who said, God,  I hate to fly.

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Published in: Uncategorized on September 21, 2009 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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