Thursday, December 18, 2008

wherein i end up on seinfeld...(not on, on...)

in taking off this morning on my last trip of the year, i began to reflect on memorable flights. these commuting flights to oslo haven't been particularly memorable, but it's difficult to have much drama worthy of preserving in memory on a flight that's less than an hour. and frankly, when you're on the same flight nearly weekly, it's best if it becomes anonymous and just blends in. to an extent, you want your flights to be drama free and fade away in memory. but there are always some that stand out.

the first one that comes to mind was years ago, leaving reno for phoenix on an america west flight. there was a huge thunderstorm rolling in and i'm sure we were the last flight let out of there that day. i'm still not sure why they even allowed us to leave. the flight was full of bowlers. yes, bowlers. big, tough-looking ones. there is a huge professional bowling stadium in reno, where thousands of spectators can watch big old texans with pot bellies bowl professionally. i say that because i was very nearly strangled by the one seated next to me. it was an extremely rough take-off and i was in the last row. my friend was across the aisle and i turned to her amidst the bumps and said, "this is ok with me, i know i'm going to die in a plane crash." big old strong middle-aged bowler man next to me was none to pleased to hear this statement. "what?" he growled, clenching his fists. my friend, supportive as always, laughed hysterically. of course, we made it. i think we may have actually been struck by lightning a couple of times, but we made it.

my first inter-continental flight--from JFK to moscow. i'd originated the trip in phoenix and was so excited getting on my plane there, to think i was likely the only one boarding that plane who would end up in moscow. i was so excited, i didn't sleep that much. i remember being totally amazed at the -70 temperatures outside over the north sea when we were at altitude. now, i realize that's normal. i still look back fondly on the sense of excitement and good butterflies i had in my stomach on that journey.

on a flight back from busan a few years ago, i had a stopover in beijing. around 25 swedish families who had been in china collecting their precious adopted babies got on the plane. around 25 swedish families who had been in china collecting their precious adopted babies got on the plane. i thought that warranted repeating. that meant 25 sets of new parents, 25 12-18 month olds with whom they did not share a language, nor an intimacy that enabled them to know what to do to serve that baby's needs. and because it was before our company travel policy changed, i was in monkey class, right in the middle of them. 9 hours of pure, unadulterated hell. screaming babies. nervous, worried, panicky, frazzled parents who didn't know what to do. aside from feeling pretty sorry for myself, i actually felt sorry for them. no parent wants their child to be screaming on a plane (or anywhere, for that matter). i'm sure they will all remember that flight as well. i hope things have gotten better for all of them.

frankfurt-skopje on palair macedonian. they had pretty shiny red planes. they're not in existence anymore. it was the days ('95) when people were still allowed to smoke on the plane, and since it was the balkans, i think smoking may have even been mandatory. and smoke they did. aside from one child who was also on the flight, i was the only person not smoking. and when they served us some strange hunk of something that may once have been fish, doused in oil, i very nearly got sick. i think the only reason i didn't get sick was that i had already been sick on the previous flight...

we had originated in phoenix, headed for frankfurt, i don't actually remember if we landed somewhere else in the US first, but that would make sense. my fellow students and i were in the very last row. we had a good flight, lots of laughter, playing cards and drinking some wine and a few beers. but only a few. they served breakfast and suddenly, in the middle of it, i felt really awful. it came on me so fast that i was still reaching for the airsick bag when i threw up. right on my friend dmitri's leg. he was a relatively new friend--we'd met in a summer macedonian course and i was absolutely mortified to have thrown up on him. however, he was totally cool and his only comment was, "you don't chew your food very well." it could have been a real friendship ender, but thankfully it was not and we went on to have a laughter-filled three weeks together and i managed not to throw up on him on the way home.

i had a colleague who i traveled with a lot in my last job. we had great fun every time we flew together. after the dinner, we'd ask for a refill of the wine, pick a movie, count to three and start the movie simultaneously on each our own screen and thereby watch the same movie together. but the most memorable flight we had was from chennai to frankfurt. the flight was delayed and delayed and we sat in the lounge for ages (at least there was a lounge). finally, they let us on the plane and they were doing the usual routine...handing out the little toiletry bags, coming around with the champagne...and then the power went. completely. it was an old 747. eventually, the little lights on the floor that should light up in an emergency did come on. the captain came on and informed us that they were trying to locate a blown fuse. and they say the germans have no humor. after nearly an hour, they got the power back on. we stayed in good spirits by switching over to gin and tonics. finally, we left for frankfurt a good three hours late and when we got there, had long missed our gate opening, so they parked us way out on the tarmac. and someone forgot to order stairs, so we waited another 45 minutes once we were on the ground. the stewardesses were very happy when that flight was over. we had missed our connection to copenhagen, but ended up on a flight together with environmental skeptic bjørn lomborg. i hadn't realized he was gay before seeing him in person. not that there's anything wrong with that....


Jaime said...

Interesting stories.
I have only flown a handful of times, and when I first started flying, I was so excited...loved take off most of all. But now, for some odd reason, I feel a subtle fear of flying setting in. I think it is the complete lack of control and the scary thoughts of how long it would take to fall out of the sky and crash if something went wrong. When you go, you go....but when it's my time to go, I don't really want to have a lot of time to think about it!

tangobaby said...

Seriously, lady, can I give you another assignment? You need to write a book. I'm not kidding. This is a different book than that Balderdash one I'm trying to get you to write.

This one would be all about your travel and adventures with a special chapter about the sailors in your life. You can even dedicate the book to me, if you want.

I am not going to share my thunderstorm plane travel story because I really do think we almost died and I won't forget the captain's face when we finally landed in San Antonio. It took me years to get back in a plane after that.

But my favorite plane memory (aside from the kiddie memory of flying TWA and PanAm when stewardesses were cool and paid kids lots of attention and gave them toys) was the time I flew to London right before the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Our flight was full of old gentlemen, some dressed in military uniforms complete with medals attached, talking about their memories of WWII. I spied as much as I could, and my eyes welled up with tears to be surrounded by such heroes.

Lastly, I think it's really funny over in your little Followers Area where it gives you the option to Stop Following if you're already a follower. Like I would Stop Following you. Except that I'm a teensy bit bummed that I wasn't your first follower and that Molly is.

Sorry for the tremendously long comment but I'm chained to my desk because I'm doing the work of three people and can't go to lunch.

Relyn Lawson said...

I really enjoyed your post and was all set to share my traveling memories when I got waylaid by TB's comment. She's right. Stewardesses were much nice to kids when I was a kid. Come to think of it, they were nicer to grown ups, too. I would have loved to have been on the plane with TB and all the WWII veterans.

My most memorable flight is when I flew from New York City to Cairo. Coming home we very literally flew through an entire day and ended up in yesterday. That was pretty incredible.

I also remember flying across the Atlantic in the cargo section (on removable jump seats) of a big army cargo plane. It was so loud that we all had to wear ear plugs. I think that was the only childhood plane trip where my brother and I didn't argue.

Many more happy journeys to you.

Tara Thayer said...

I don't fly now, but I grew up on Pan Am flights with my parents...the ones that had a second floor in first class? And the stewardesses were like the kindliest teachers I could imagine.'s not like that anymore? One of the last nervous flights I had was on Christmas Eve in the early nineties, stuck on the tarmac for hours. I ordered a scotch (don't ask...I don't know what I was thinking...)and they actually carded me, and gave me a lecture, to boot!
I'd love to see a Seinfeld version dubbed in Danish. Thanks for the laugh. Take care, Tara

Tara Thayer said...

PS...I agree that you should be writing a book. Any book, but a travels-related one seems the obvious choice.
You've got the atelier...get to it!

mo said...

Great post! I too love that sense of anticipation and excitment when I travel. Though I don't travel as much anymore so I tend to get more nervous now. That thunderstorm flight with the bowlers sounds awful!