Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I used to be afraid of flying. Until one especially gruesome flight into Denver wherein Jay Krugman leaned over the back of his seat and told me I could freak out as much as I wanted to, but I was never going to die in a plane crash.

That cured me. I’m now a relatively calm flier. Especially since I learned turbulence is irrelevant, not indicative of any flaw at all, only air pockets. I’ve come to enjoy the ups and downs, to a degree anyway.

But then there was that flight out of Aspen about a decade back. There was a 5:15 cutoff, after that we’d be stranded. It was blowin’ and a-snowin’ and the pilot had us on standby, waiting for it to die down, and about 5:10, just before American had to pay for hotel rooms for the entire cabin, the pilot came over the intercom and said “We’re gonna go for it.”

Never a less encouraging word has been heard.

Now there are worse airports than Aspen. I think of Telluride, that one in Nepal, but Aspen is surrounded by mountains and that private plane crashed back when and they gun the engines and we leave the runway and we’re bouncing up and down and gaining little altitude and I’m starting to get scared and I figure the best way to assuage my anxiety is to speak to my brother, in this case, Mark Kates, sitting next to me, I asked him if he was scared, and he told me he most definitely was and he preferred I didn’t talk about it.

Obviously I lived through the experience.

But I wasn’t so sure today.

You see I was flying to Sun Valley. There, I said it, let my inbox fill up with wankers denigrating my lifestyle. I’ve become inhibited. Not only do I worry about the political police, but the financial ones too. Everybody wants to drag you down into the hole they’re in, as if living on the bottom with pockets turned inside out makes you a better person. As a result, those who do and have remove themselves from the discussion. If you’re boasting about how much money you’ve got, you probably haven’t got that much, kinda like our President.

Anyway, it was my idea. Sun Valley historically gets less snow than other western ski areas, but it’s got the best mountain, one with no flat spots, it’s the same steepness from the first foot to the last. And in the case of Limelight, on the Warm Springs side, that’s close to thirty degrees. As in steep, if you’re not a skier.

Marc wanted to go to Whistler. Which I’ve sworn off of. Because the altitude’s too low, barely over 2,000 feet. In March, it rains at the bottom, it’s soaking wet, even in January the weather can be less than winter.

As for Sun Valley, it’s less high than the Colorado resorts, 5,945′ instead of Vail’s 8,150′. But despite that, they’re having the year of years, the best February since record-keeping began. 294″ and counting this season, whereas Vail hasn’t even hit 200″.

But Vail is easier to get to.

And my heart sank when Tom weighed in from Chicago that their flight from Denver to Sun Valley was canceled because of the wind. He rebooked through Boise, which required a three hour drive, and I felt almost guilty taking my two hour and change direct flight from sunny Los Angeles.

Only it was gonna be snowing when we landed. It does not stop snowing in Sun Valley this year, global warming is making it a hotbed of precipitation. And that means we might get diverted. But Alaska/Horizon just instituted new technology they said was gonna raise the landing rate from 60% to 95%. Of course, that turned out not to be true. The effective rate is now 80%. Would we get diverted? To Twin Falls or Boise too?

That was the question on my mind as we were flying over the Santa Monica Mountains.

Now the plane is a turboprop. And it was only half full. And I had all the newspapers, I was thinking about what I was gonna do when we landed and then…

I became intrigued by the landscape. All the solar panels out in the desert. I just don’t believe the world we live in. One wherein money trumps environment. The story in the “Times” was how fuel standards were going to be rolled back. So the car companies can sell more SUVs and trucks. Can we dictate that no one can buy an SUV unless they need four wheel drive, and no one can buy a truck unless they haul stuff? How did automobiles become fashion items to the detriment of us all?

But to restrict choice would be un-American, that’s what they tell me.

But soon we won’t own any cars at all. A day I’m looking forward to, as I waited at a stop sign this morning for a woman to roll through the intersection in her RX330. Yes, she was texting.

And then the pilot came over the intercom.

Now I’ve got my Bose headphones on, I just got them fixed via this place on the internet, and believe me, the engines make a noise and you need them and I pull the cans off and the pilot says…

There’s a caution light on.

Now that does not make me anxious, he’s not freaked out, so I won’t be either.

But rather than fly on to Sun Valley we’ve got to go back to LAX so they can look at it.

Sounds reasonable to me, I can handle the delay.

But then the plane started to bounce. And everybody onboard became best friends. You see, people got scared.

But no one as scared as the flight attendant, on the phone, gesturing wildly.

And then I started to think, was my number up?

Now I’m too old to die young. I’ve had a good run. And I’m less concerned about it all ending than the way it’s gonna go down. The pilot is making bizarre maneuvers, where he twists the plane a bit and then does not. And we don’t seem to be heading back to LAX. Are we going to Ontario? Will we land in the Valley? Will we land on the street? Will we glide down or go nose first?

And I can see the propeller turning, which I could not earlier, so I’m getting a bit freaked out. And I don’t recognize any of the landscape and I can no longer read and I’m starting to white knuckle it.

The other flight attendant tells me this has never happened to her before.

That’s not encouraging.

I was once on a flight out of Denver, to Aspen, once again, and it was bumping around like a pogoing punk. After fifteen minutes the pilot came on and said “As you can see, we’re having a problem.”


The cabin pressure system wasn’t working, we couldn’t fly at altitude and we were going back to DIA.

Which we did, they fixed it, and we were on our way.

And another time, to Denver, from Burbank, there was a fuel leak, and we sat on the tarmac as they called San Francisco and argued about wrench size and stunningly they fixed it so we made it to Denver, although we missed our connection.

So I was thinking this would be no big deal.

But maybe it would be. That’s the thing about life, it throws you curveballs, issues surprises. Kinda like my college buddy’s wife, everything was going smoothly and now she’s got cancer. You think you’re immune, but you’re not.

And now we’re vaguely headed in the right direction, but we’re far south of L.A. Are we gonna have to fly over the ocean to land? Do I have a better chance of surviving if we put down in the Pacific? But it’s winter and the water’s cold and there are no life jackets.

And we’re way too high. I can see the plane landing on the next runway over, it’s much lower than us.

And this runway, no one ever uses it. Are we gonna land on the golf course?

Then the plane dropped like it was hot and we were on the tarmac and I turned on my phone and started texting away with a sigh of relief you rarely have unless your life is in danger.

But then it got really weird. We were speeding through the airport, as if someone onboard was gonna have a baby or something. Why such urgency if we were already on the ground?

And finally we were at a gate and the personnel huddled and told us to get off the plane.

Now what?

And, of course, we passengers are now all buddies. We’re telling war tales, revealing our observations. Turns out everybody was scared, primarily because of the flight attendant’s behavior.

Then they have us get the carry-on bags, you know, the stuff you normally take on the plane which they make you check on a flight like this because the overhead bins are so small.

And then I can see the luggage coming off the plane.

And nobody knows nothing.

But then I see the pilot, I go up to talk to him. He’s off, so this can’t be a good sign.

And I’m worried about the crew timing out, this has happened to me, they’ve got the plane, it’s got the gas, but the pilots have too many hours on the clock.

But this gentleman told me they’d just begun, they had plenty of time, nothing but time as Fountains of Wayne would say.

So then I went deeper. What exactly happened?

Well, the caution light was for the engine…

Now can this plane fly on one prop? I didn’t even want to ask. Especially after he grimaced and told me this had never happened to him before.

But the pilot thought it was the computer that ran the engine as opposed to the engine itself but whatever the truth was I was glad I was on the ground.

As for going back up, would I get back on that plane?

Yes, I would. But that plane ain’t going nowhere.

And neither is anybody else.

There was no spare plane. Everybody was flummoxed.

They’re charging their phones, lighting up the internet.

And it made me glad I’ve got a new one, an iPhone 7 Plus to be exact, because the truth is after about eighteen months, maybe a bit less, the batteries start to die. And if you’ve got AppleCare, an overpriced warranty that “Consumer Reports” tells you to forgo, they’ll give you a new device. And you should buy AppleCare, because the truth is your iPhone is your most treasured device, the one you use most, you want the peace of mind. And I start to Google and look for flights…

And there are none.

None that get you there in less than twenty four hours.

And, what’s worse, there’s no direct on Tuesday.

And everybody’s freaking out and the help ain’t much help, because after all they were not up in the plane, they did not experience what we did, and they’re in their hometown, Los Angeles.

And they won’t say the flight is canceled and then it is and I call to cancel my pickup in Sun Valley and get a hold of my travel agent, an archaic concept, I know.

But you want one for just such a situation.

I rang in, he searched for flights today, and found none, like me, and then rebooked me tomorrow just like that, while everybody was still in line. Worth the price, wouldn’t you say?

I would.

So I turned tail and went to baggage claim and grabbed a taxi. I prefer Uber, but I was schlepping so much gear.

And the van’s seats were broken and the experience was horrible and I don’t know how the taxi industry survives.

Then again, the driver on the way in said he couldn’t make it on Uber, he only made sixty bucks on New Year’s Eve.

And I’m thinking about how much this is costing me, to go nowhere, the trips back and forth to my house.

And what I’m missing in Idaho. Everybody else, with their travails, arrived.

And tomorrow I’ll be flying all day. First to Seattle, then east from there on a tiny plane once again.

But at least I’m alive.

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