Monday, March 28, 2011

A Tiny Plane, A Sledgehammer and a Movie-Worthy Ending

It has been a while since I have flown about the Rockies, and in many ways I am relieved.
Gate Change? F!

And in other ways, I miss it.

(Mostly I miss the Heidi's Brooklyn Deli Cajun turkey sammies on the B concourse, but that is a post for another day.)

Ahh, flying. Good and bad. I will share more flying stories in the near future. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

My very first solo flight happened about 6 months after my 18th birthday. I was newly married

(I know! Who let me get married this young?)

and was traveling to see Special Agent, when he was still Marine Intel Drinking Guy (MIDG). I was dressed in a very 1990's silk ensemble, flow-y and lovely. I had seen someone beautiful wearing something similar and I was trying to mimic it. In retrospect, I am not sure I pulled it off.

This was before cell phones, so I checked in with my parents via a pay phone and told them I was all set to find my gate/had plenty of time/all was well/will call from Cuba.

(CUBA? I know! Who let me travel to a foreign country this young?)

I looked around the Ft. Lauderdale terminal for the flight company Special Agent/MIDG had indicated. It was called "Sunshine Air".

Very tropical.
Very sunshine-y.

"Very SMALL", Special Agent had been warned. We weren't worried. We lived in small-town Wyoming and were used to the "flying hallway" that took us to Denver.

I traveled
to the depths of the airport, past the employee smoking lounge and possibly a poker game to the Sunshine Air counter. It looked kind of like a scene from Miami Vice. There were a lot of floral shirts and no one was speaking English. Being from Wyoming, I surmised that this was a cover for a drug smuggling operation. I started to feel a little prickle of perspiration.

Deep breaths.

I am an adventurer!!!

I checked in and waited around to board. I called Special Agent/MIDG and told him I was all set. We were excited to see each other after 4 months of being apart. He said he would meet me at the terminal. They called for the flight and me and my silk suit (a little mussed by now from sitting in airport chairs) hustled onto the tarmac to the plane:

10 Seat - Two engine  C402C 
visit to book your travel NOW! :-0

I felt my heart leap a little, and the perspiration increased, either due to the anxiety of this pint-sized puddle jumper, or because it was 90 degrees with 85% humidity. Suffice to say my outfit was not exactly the wicking-away-moisture variety. The plane had no bathroom, but lucky for me, I was sweating any extra fluid I may have had left out in short order in the heat.

The pilot greeted us extra exuberantly and again, I was telling myself that I was probably going to fly for THREE HOURS, over the Bermuda Triangle loaded down with cocaine. I had seen it on Dateline.

Have you seen this man on Dateline?

 I may have possibly been overreacting.

The Pilot began sizing us all up, and although the wind was blowing, I could feel the silk suit sticking to my skin. He was putting us all in order, moving people around, etc. It suddenly dawned on me that they were seating us to distribute the WEIGHT. Holy Mother of God.

We piled onto the tiny crafts, 8-9 passengers in each, and the pilots. I crawled to my assigned seat over a large beer cooler, tin of cookies and a stack of newspapers. (The other plane must not have had as many fat people, because they slammed the door and took off. I felt like I was experiencing the "shorter line" syndrome.) It was stifling with no air coming in and I felt some stirrings of claustrophobic panic.

The Pilot crawled over the cooler (and most of us) and gave us a quick, "we're outta here" speech and fired up the micro-plane.


One could see the plane was trying to fire, but the propeller out my window was having none of it.

Deep breaths.
(I am an adventurer....?)

The ground crew hustled around the plane, speaking in rapid Spanish and gesturing wildly. They definitely SEEMED enthusiastic about whatever was wrong. I watched the back and forth out of my window and tried to breathe the thick, hot air in the cabin. I tried to tell myself I could steam the wrinkles out of my lovely silk ensemble just by sitting there, sweltering.

In my free time, I noted that my seat did not have a flotation device. I looked around. THEY ALL HAD ONE. I considered who I would be able to overpower if need be to get one. In my silk suit, I contemplated MURDER.


Deep breaths. Deeeeeeep breaths.

I looked out the window to see the ground crew come back to the propeller. This was my face as I saw one guy swing around with a SLEDGEHAMMER and go to town on the propeller approximately 10 feet from my seat: WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!...

I swung around violently to see the reaction of my cabin mates (the ones I intended to kill for their life preservers). I hoped we could all agree that this was an outrage, and that we demanded United show up immediately and fly us to Cuba in an environment with air conditioning and peanuts. And life preservers. Here is a review of my  cabin mates, all of whom I could clearly see and probably touch in this mouse-sized plane:

Clucking Hens #1-2 -  Happily clipping coupons and talking about me, but not TO me. Very 7th grade.
Off duty Military Guy #1 - Sleeping
Off duty Military Guy #2-3 - chatting with random guys trying to read
Random Guy - Eating candy and reading newspaper.
Random Guy - reading book
Pilot - Flirting
Young woman in co-pilot seat: being woo'ed by Pilot.

Did no one else notice that our aircraft was being repaired with a 30-lb SLEDGE?? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Deep Ragged breath. And one more. Eyebrows furrowing.

I am a logic based person, so I tried to reason with myself that this was ok.... All others on the flight were obviously USED to this........, and were not panicking........, so neither should I. Fine. Fine.

(I'm Fine. Fiiiiiine.)

They made us all de-plane and go into the terminal. Sweet baby Jesus, the air conditioning was a beautiful thing. I vacillated between feeling frustrated that i was going to be late to meet Special Agent/MIDG and wanting to kiss the tarmac. I called my parents and chatted nervously, NOT telling them the details of the delay and making sure to say I love you VERY CLEARLY. And not cry. I am 18 years old. An adult.

((whispering to self)) I am an adventurer-r-r-r...........(glancing around)

The plane was duct taped  repaired in a way we were not allowed to see, and we all re-boarded. By this time, i am certain I looked like a wet poodle. I told myself I must really love Special Agent/MIDG to be putting myself at this level of risk to see him. The couponing, sleeping, reading, and chatting, etc resumed and I looked out the window, thinking this could be my last day.

The aircraft fired right up, and I stared at the Pilot as he drove us down the runway to turn around for takeoff with his elbow crooked out the window like he was driving a 59 Chevy. If he would have had a cig, he'd be my Dad, Latino-style.

It was a smooth flight, over miles and miles and miles (3 hours worth due to air space restrictions) of water from Ft. Lauderdale to Cuba. I leaned my head against the window, no longer giving a shit about my hairstyle or my flow-y silk suit menagerie and just willed us to get there.

We landed, and military police stormed the plane. This was pre-TSA, so it was quite a spectacle. For me. The others looked at it like old hat and handed over their paperwork. I followed suit; I was catching on.

I was here! I was here! I

It was windy as hell, and the airport appeared to be the only building in existence. It wasn't tropical. More like Arizona brown and green? Hmm. ok. I was mostly happy to be alive, so I was going with it. I peered around the guards, looking for Special Agent/MIDG.


My cabin mates met their parties, or headed into the building. I followed them, thinking he must be inside. 


Maybe he had to work suddenly? The Marines often said "if we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one", so I knew perhaps I had been knocked off of the priority ladder. 

Maybe he had gotten so inebriated he had forgotten?

Not likely.

I stood around the tarmac and the listened to the hens clucking about me. I heard snippets of "he isn't here?.." "Oh no.." and "that happened to my friend Charlene when we lived..." I ignored them, and headed to the bus, which would take me to a ferry landing to go across the ocean to the windward side of the base.

(Internal dialogue) "F*** it. I am not a baby. I will travel to the other side, take a cab or hitch a ride to the Marine barracks and figure out where MIDG is. I can do this."  I rode the bus to the ferry landing and waited under the shelter for the boat to honk its way over. (Internal dialogue) "Special Agent/MIDG will be impressed that his adventurous young bride can take care of bidniss. And if he is drunk somewhere, I am going to kick him in the balls."

I felt only a LITTLE sorry for myself. I could feel the clucking hens looking at me. I glanced at them sideways and slumped on the wood bench. I could hear a weird sound in the background that sounded and then had a delay. ttttaaaa-eeeeee... (pause) Taaaa-Eeeee. (pause) TTTTTAAAAA--EEEEE! What the hell weird bird call is that?

I turned to look in the direction of the noise and saw Special Agent/MIDG running through a cactus field, yelling down to the ferry landing.

((sloooowwww smile spreading across my face))

To say my heart sang was an understatement. As one who keeps her layers under wraps in public, I stood there grinning while this speck of a man grew larger and larger as he ran toward me, yelling my name (good thing he was a Marine, he had a long run). He was making a spectacle of himself and now ALL of those at the ferry landing were watching him running and yelling toward us while I stood there smiling. He swept me up a'la Top Gun and kissed me. People clapped.

Special Agent/MIDG was sweaty, I was mussed-silk-suit-bad-hair-bad-plane-rumpled. It was truly NOT a Hollywood moment. But it was good.

I glanced at the clucking hens, now veklempt over this romantic episode... and smiled.

And gave them the eyebrow. You know the one.


The Onion said...

I should add that Special Agent/MIDG attempted to quell my concerns about not having a life preserver by scoffing, "you should be glad to drown instead of waiting around to be eaten by sharks..." Um, thanks.

We flew Sunshine Air many more times during the 2.5 years we lived there and we are still here to tell the tale. It was hilarious to see my in-laws arrive with an obese person on their flight. Mean, but true. :-)

The Empress said...

Hi! I discovered your blog through Jared over at "What Would Jared Do" and I'm so glad I did. I read and enjoyed several of your posts. Consider me a new follower. Feel free to stop by and visit me sometime too.

The Weed said...

Hey! Awesome story. I was very relieved when all ended well and your silk suit found its home home in your husband's sweaty embrace. I was totally in the mood for a happy ending today

(Consider this a non-bridge-club comment, hee.)

Nicki said...

I totally pictured a romantic 90's ballad playing in the background when I read the ending.

Wow, that was awkward said...

I was at Heidi's for lunch today. Chicken Parm on ciabatta. At the Highlands location in Denver. Yum!

DeBie Hive said...

Great story!!!!