When I signed onto the Facebook this morning so I could be told what I would never believe would outrage me, I immediately received an instant message from my friend Dan. He travels a lot to sell Christmas tchotchkes to good Christian folks, and this weekend he’s trapped in a windowless showroom in Atlanta. His mind naturally wanders to the day’s headlines… “I’m really freaked out by this plane thing. It’s my biggest fear. Flying away in the middle of a flight at cruising altitude and then crashing.” The headline this morning on all the news is a missing Malaysian Airlines 777 off the coast of Vietnam.
Everyone has a reason they hate to fly: crowds, fees, that growing sense that they will very soon have to ask that cute flight attendant for a seatbelt extender.
Mine goes all the way back to when I was thirteen and the first airplane trip I remember. My mother and I were travelling from Virginia Beach to Columbus to look at houses as my dad had just been called up to Wendy’s corporate. I considered the whole endeavor punishment because a year earlier we drove from Virginia to Milwaukee to visit relatives. Columbus made a natural stopping place. As we drove around looking for a hotel room, I piped up from the back seat, “Who lives in this dump?” My dad did that thing where he bares lower teeth, “Be quiet. You just may someday.”
“Still sucks,” I muttered under my breath.
The outgoing leg was uneventful unless you count running into Elaine, this girl from school, in the Norfolk airport. “Hey Chris!” Elaine shouted from the next security line over.
“Hey.” I said to a point in space eighteen feet to Elaine’s right.
“Why don’t you ask her out?” said my mom just loud enough.
“Then ask somebody out.” She laughed a little too hard at her own joke.
A week went by of looking at big muddy houses in what were inconvenient, yet productive, cornfields the previous Christmas. The two highlights were eating at a Chi-Chi’s –it’s called a Chimichanga marveled my dad –and finding a wet Playboy from June 1979 in the dumpster outside the corporate apartment in something called The Continent off of Rt. 161 where my dad was staying.
But before Miss June could properly de-mildew, my mom and I were ensconced in the smoking section of a TWA flight to Washington National. She “politely asked” a businessman seated next the window to move so her “little boy” could look out the window. I was thirteen mind you. Still, looking out the window would be cool.
As we taxied to take off, the plane shuddered. Even the businessman glanced around nervously. The co-pilot came on after we were airborne and assured us nothing was amiss. I felt comfortable to look out the window.
As I gazed at the tops of puffy cumulus clouds tinted like orange sherbet, my mom took a drag off her Winston, leaned over to me, and said, “Take a good look. That’s the closest to heaven you’ll ever get.” Oh my god, she knew about the Playboy! But before I could fess up and beg forgiveness because most of the pages were stuck together, she settled back and had herself a hearty laugh.
How could she laugh? People wind up in Hell all the time. Didn’t she pay attention that TV movie with Phyllis and Lou Grant? And it was a plane that took them there!
Moreover, you don’t just casually mention to a kid who just spent the last week trying to open soft-core pornography that he’s not going to heaven, especially when you’ve spent the last thirteen years spackling Catholicism onto him. For as long as I could remember a ginormous crucifix hung over my bed –five nearly life sized wounds for your viewing pleasure. In a darkened room. From below. It wasn’t huge just to edify me on how absolutely unpleasant it must be to have nails driven into one’s feet; it was huge because it had a secret compartment with a sinister purpose.
“Dad, why does my cross…”
“Crucifix. It’s a crucifix. Protestants have crosses.”
“Dad, why does my cruzifizz have candles and a bottle of water in it?”
“That’s holy water in case you die in your bed. The priest can give you last rites so you don’t go to hell. It was a wedding gift for your mom and me.”
“Am I gonna die in the bed?”
“Not if you go to sleep right away.”
The clouds didn’t seem so interesting the rest of the flight, and I can remember the last time I’ve specifically asked for window seat.
Thankfully just after the sunset the plane began its descent into Washington National. The co-pilot came on the intercom and narrated: “On your right you’ll see the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the Capitol.” Then the plane banked hard to the left, and he came back on: “On your left you’ll see the Capitol, the Washington Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial.” A few people tittered at the weird symmetry. “Oh, by the way, we are circling back to Dulles to make an emergency landing. Columbus tower has informed us that we blew a tire upon take off. Relax and just enjoy the sights.”
I saw my mom mutter a prayer.
I did have a great view of the fire trucks with their lights spinning chasing our plane as it landed. Hell better have at least as good of a light show for new entrants. I think lasers and glow sticks would be a nice touch. But no strobes.