It’s funny how we think we’ve forgotten all about certain events or issues and then one day something triggers a memory. And suddenly there it is, in the forefront of your mind. Dredged up from who knows where.
Which is exactly what happened to me when I read this WordPress Daily Prompt: “Tell us about a bullet you’re glad you dodged — when something awful almost happened, but didn’t.”
My ‘bullet’ happened long ago. Many, many years. I was in my early twenties and I was in Las Vegas with my parents. We were there during Christmas/New Years. We weren’t in Las Vegas the whole time, we also went to San Francisco first.
Several of my parents’ friends were with us, with their own kids — all of whom were around the same age I was. In all there were about 16 of us. We’d had a blast and it was time to go home.
The day before we were to leave, Las Vegas was hit with a major blizzard — very unusual. As you can imagine, flights were totally messed up; and although we’d all flown to Las Vegas together, now we all had to split up. My mother and I couldn’t even get seats on the same plane my father was on. For that matter, we weren’t even travelling on the same day.
We couldn’t get a direct flight — we had to sleep over in New York. Reluctantly my mother and I said good-bye to my father and headed to the airport. Even as we drove away from the hotel we had no idea when my father was leaving. He still hadn’t been able to get a flight. My mother, who was a nervous flyer in the best of times, was twitched beyond twitched. There were no cell phones then so, really, communications with my dad were essentially cut off.
What a scene at the airport! It was crammed with people and luggage. Line-ups everywhere. It was still snowing, although it wasn’t a storm anymore, but flights were delayed and delayed and delayed nonetheless. Eventually we boarded our plane. Not an empty seat.
To say we encountered turbulence would be an understatement. My mother, whose nerves were already on edge, was a basket case. You’ve heard of a white-nuckle traveler? Meet my mother. She had one hand clenched on the arm of her seat. The other was locked in a death grip with my poor hand. By the time we got off that plane I had no circulation left.
But I digress.
The storm was affecting more than the West Coast. New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Cleveland, Detroit were also all hit. So it was a mega mess. Considering what we were up against, weather wise, our flight went relatively smoothly. Turbulence aside.
And miracle of miracles, we were even on time.
By the time the pilot announced we were approaching the airport and put the seat belt sign on, my mother had relaxed. Somewhat. Until “it” happened, that is.
There we were, in the dark. Why do they always dim the lights when a plane is landing?
Tray tables back in place. Seats upright. Seat belts fastened. Cigarettes extinguished. Yes, we could smoke on planes in those days. When you think about it, it was nothing short of insanity it was allowed, but it was. No lingerers in the bathrooms. Every seat had a butt in it, and not a cigarette butt either. Stewardesses (that’s what they were called then) were also strapped in, in their little jump seats at the back of the plane.
Absolute silence on the plane. Funny how people tend to stop talking during landings. Too busy praying, I guess.
Our descent began. And suddenly, without any warning at all, it felt like we were shooting straight up in the air. Very, very quickly. Like there were straps around the plane and a team of puppeteers yanked us up. It was very forceful. The doors on the overhead bins opened and the contents were spilling out everywhere. Oxygen masks dropped out of their spots. People started screaming. It was really terrifying.
Right behind us, there was a man who pulled out a prayer book (I kid you not) and started reciting a prayer for plane crashes, out loud. Again, I kid you not. My mother turned as stiff as a stone and started to cry. She wasn’t alone. There was lots of wailing going on. The cabin crew tried to calm everyone down, but it wasn’t easy.
Truthfully all this happened in mere seconds, but it felt like time had just stopped. It felt endless. I was too shocked to react. And besides, I had my hands full with my mother. I was also trying very hard to stop myself from turning around and strangling the guy with the prayer book, who was sitting right behind me.
After what felt like forever, the pilot announced we were going to circle a few laps and then land. All was well, he told us. And he apologized for the dramatic, aborted landing. But he gave us no explanation.
Finally, we landed. With quite a bump, let me tell you. And quite a skid. It felt like we’d landed on a skating rink. I don’t think there was a passenger on that plane who wasn’t holding his or her breath. Making the sign of the cross. And making all kinds of bargains with God, if only He’d let us land in one piece.
As we disembarked I heard a member of the ground crew talking to the pilot. He was saying that we’d regained altitude so quickly we’d gone off the radar. It turned out another pilot, from another flight, had skidded onto our runway.
You know what that means, don’t you? If our pilot’s reflexes weren’t as good as they were, if he hadn’t done what he’d done, we’d have crashed right into that other plane, with disastrous results. Our pilot was a hero.
Getting my mother on a plane the next day was no easy task. I needed another holiday by the time we got home.
My father? It took him another 3 days to get home. We had no flipping idea where he was. Turns out he had to fly through Chicago and spent 2 days at O’Hare. When he could finally get out of Las Vegas. By the time he was able to find an available pay phone he was just about to board the plane to come home. My mother was catatonic. I can’t say I was in great shape myself.
Never will I forget the scene when we saw a limo pull up outside our house. First my mother threw her arms around his neck and cried. Then she tore a strip of his ass because he hadn’t called. Her tirade was followed by tongue-lashings by her mother, my aunts, my dad’s mother and aunts and his sister. The entire family had camped out in our house waiting for news. Everyone was distraught.
When he finally could get a word in edge wise he explained and told us what he’d gone through. Anyone who’s ever flown in or out of O’Hare knows it’s a nightmare — even when there isn’t a storm. He said the airport restaurants and concession stands had run out of food. There were no empty seats. He’d spent 2 nights on the floor. There were endless line-ups for the few pay phones there. He’d been just as worried about us as we were about him, because he didn’t know where we were, either.
A flipping nightmare, all the way around.
Sure turned out to be a much more exciting vacation than any of us had expected. We all needed another holiday to recover from this one.