Life, Death, Etc.

So I was out in California working the Coachella music festival (held there last weekend), for a little over a week. It was an ok time, a lot of hard work mixed with some fun here and there, and for the most part working with a team of people who knows each other and gets the job done. As a unit, we know what to do to get the job done and it's nice to be part of a well-oiled machine. At the same time, I have this definite sense of disconnect from the festival at large, and at times, my own crew. (Not that this sense of disconnect is anything new; its always been a part of me.) It can be depressing out there. This year the disconnect was with home too, missing out on the ever-changing science project also known as Malcolm.

Pam and my mom would send pictures daily and they were much appreciated. Here's some of them:

I put his ROCKER pic up at my desk and that helped, too.

We had one day of wrap at the festival site. It's always a rush to get out of the office trailer before they pull our power while the utilities roll up miles of cable and the truck crew loads up their gear. Then it's back to our condo to cook dinner, hang out with everyone, and hope it's not for the last time. The next morning can't come soon enough, but due to, um, over-indulgement, that's just what it did. A pretty good airport breakfast helps but I'm really looking forward to getting on that plane and going back to sleep. I'm not happy when the flight is delayed due to unspecified mechanical issues.

Finally though, we do board. I'm not in my seat long before I close my eyes and fall in and out of sleep. Forty minutes or so later, I wake wondering if we'd taken off. From my aisle seat, I look over and see mountains going by. Good, though it doesn't seem like we're going as fast as a plane should be thirty minutes into its flight.

And that's when we hear the speakers crackle to life: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. As you know, we had some mechanical problems that delayed our takeoff from Palm Springs. Well... something else has come up and we're going to have to go back and land at Palm Springs."

Some people turn to their companions to talk about this, but for the most part, it seemed very quiet in the cabin. Shannon, my co-worker, is a seat in front of me and she talks with the man across the aisle from her about a noise they heard (or something) right before the announcement. Later, she would say there was a noticeable decrease in speed shortly before the captain spoke (probably around when I woke up). Occasionally, I think the couple across the aisle from me are talking about places to land.

The aisle seat in this situation was very disconcerting. I wanted that window to give me geographic points of reference. The pilot seemed to be wagging his wings every so often (maybe he was making some exaggerated moves to burn off fuel?) and I would see houses out one side and mountains turn to sky the other way. Were we getting close to the airport? It's pretty much forty miles or so of non-stop irrigated developments out there--strip malls, golf courses, and condo developments--so if there's man-made construction, we must be getting closer. But the minutes just seemed to go on and on.

This is not a good thing when you have no control over your situation. I'd look out the windows. I'd curse the pilot for not saying anything more. I'd drink from my bottle of water, wishing it was something stronger. And yeah, I thought about my family. About Pam having to raise the boy on his own and the boy without a father. I kept checking the time on my dying phone and wondering when was the right time to call in your not-so-average life-and-death situation. Was it worth it to put Pam thru that? Nothing was going to happen, we were going to land safely at the airport... and then we'd hit some turbulence. At least I hope that's turbulence. What would Malcolm say when he learns to talk? That's really what I'm looking forward to the most. I can't wait to have conversations with the little guy and it was going to be all kinds of unfair if this plane were to fall from the sky. But it wasn't because surely the captain would have said so if it was really serious, right? So why hadn't he come back and said anything else, given an update? Because it was serious and it was all he could do to keep the plane in the air and suddenly we're dipping one wing towards the ground again and is that the hull creaking under the strain? What's that grinding sound? Is that normal? At what point would everyone freak out? Would there be a moment where somebody would freak out and then everybody would follow suit? By now, it was very quiet in the cabin. Watching the time was not helping so I began to thumb thru the American Airlines in-flight magazine.

Their hidden gems of Europe did not call to me. The article on the museum of bad art was not much of an article. The crossword had been worked. Only the half-page Q & A with Lt. Dangle accomplished any kind of distraction. For about a minute.

And that's when Captain Silence comes back over the air to say, "We're going to circle the airport for about ten minutes to burn off some fuel."

Well, that's awesome. It's not going to be the fall that gets me; it'll be the fire. Great.

In this instance, there was no rush of adrenaline like I thought there would be. I'd tried to imagine what it might have been like to be on one of the 9/11 planes. The fear. The anxiety. The knowing of what's coming. The ability to stand up and try to do something about it. Maybe it's because there was no one to fight and nowhere to run to. I was stuck there and the experts were doing all they could. So... just had to wait it out. I wasn't panicked, but I was getting infuriated that I couldn't do anything about it, that some guy in a coverall had missed something important when checking out the plane, that Captain Talky McTalksalot wasn't telling us what the frak was going on, that by the time I finally convinced myself was the right time to call Pam, it would probably be too late. 

I'm out of water by this point. My palms are sweaty and squeezing the bottle. But at least I went to the restroom before I got on the plane. I also notice that I'm no longer hung over. More mechanical noises from the plane. Was that landing gear? I thought I heard landing gear ten minutes ago. The circles he was making were so big, I still couldn't tell what was going on. It didn't seem like one side was angled towards the ground more than the other. I started willing the plane to land safely, willing the problem to right itself, and I said a couple of prayers. I can't say it was to God in the Judeo-Christian sense, or any kind of sense, or religion, for that matter. I just started requesting that the plane land and everything go ok and we all have the opportunity to continue living.

The plane is getting lower now, noticeably lower, as well as going slower, but it still doesn't seem to be flying that straight. And there's a moment or two where it doesn't quite lurch, but definitely makes a move that isn't very smooth. Finally I hear someone say they see the runway and the airport; I wonder why there wasn't a "prepare for landing announcement" while at the same time I'm glad the pilot is concentrating on his work. I am pleased and it seems like the tension lifts a bit in the cabin, though this isn't over. We haven't touched the ground yet and if we had to use up some fuel before we landed, then the problem could very well be with our ability to land. The plane swayed side to side. Out the window, a distant foursome on a golf course flashed by. Nobody had said anything about assuming crash positions so I took that to be a positive sign.

The back wheels touch down. They decrease the power more and the nose came down. We pass by emergency vehicles with their lights spinning along the runway. They don't seem to be applying the brakes like they normally do. But we do eventually slow enough to taxi. When we finally get to the gate, the emergency vehicles (fire trucks) pull up along beside us. A few minutes later and we're back inside the terminal.

Part of me didn't want to get on the next flight out, but I wasn't staying in California anymore if I didn't have to. Luckily, we got on the next flight to DFW leaving in an hour and got home at 11 instead of 6. Then, there was almost a wreck in the shuttle bus to the parking lot, but that's a story for another time.

According to later reports, it was a false alarm. But even now, a week later, I have to keep reminding myself of that. "I could have died" is now "I thought I could have died." It's not so much whether or not it did happen but the thought of it that really blew my mind for a few days. Thankfully, it did not turn into Final Destination... at least not yet. But the thought of having everything that I love taken away from me was quite the stunner. Not to mention the thought of everything I want to do but haven't. 

Nothing makes you want to do more--of the things you haven't done, of anything, of everything--than thinking you may not get to do those things.

It's like Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."

No comments: