Sunday, September 15, 2019

Up In The Air

Another successful take off and landing. I don't take them for granted anymore. As routine as air travel has become all over this world of ours, it's best to be grateful whenever one experiences the absence of bad fortune. Touchdown! Thanks for that.

Statistically, as they say, flying is safer than driving around a big city, safer, even, than crossing the damn street, but there's always the odd chance that we could catch a pair of egrets, one in each engine, right at some highly sensitive moment soon after wheels-up. These modern jet engines just spit out small birds, but an egret is pretty substantial, bigger than a duck, although probably smaller than a goose. I see egrets around every airport that I routinely fly in and out of. They hang around the rice fields, and airports here are usually surrounded by rice fields. Those are nice and flat, and not the worst places to make an emergency landing. You'd be amazed at the quantity and the variety of the aquatic life that call a rice field home. That's what attracts the egrets: lunch. I see egrets in the air and on the ground, every time. The point is, shit happens, and sometimes it happens to you. So be grateful when it doesn't.

I've done a lot of flying in my life, so I'm accustomed to the excitement of it. I know, those middle six or eight hours of a long flight can get a little dull, but anytime you take a moment to think about where you are, much less consider the physics that are involved, it gets exciting all over again. Almost nothing ever goes wrong, however, during that dull middle section of the flight. All of the terrible things happen at take off or landing. I've done a couple of hundred take offs and landings. That's not enough to make me think that I'm pushing my luck. I'll probably be fine.

The champion fliers in my family are my father and one of my cousins. Those guys spent their entire careers up in the air. Several decades each, every week, week in, week out. In fact, before he retired, I called my cousin “Mr. Up in the Air,” after that nice George Clooney movie. On this recent flight I ball-parked the number of take offs and landings for each of them, and the total number of air-miles. They come out in something like a tie, or maybe my father was half-a-million miles ahead. In round numbers, each of them had taken off and landed about five thousand times, for a total of about five million air-miles. Those are conservative estimates.

Not a lot of close calls to report. Neither one of them. Or maybe they just weren't noticing anymore. A couple of funny stories, but no near death experiences. I had a close call myself, but it didn't make too much of an impression on me at the time. I was only ten-years-old, and I only knew that something was happening because all of the adults on the plane seemed very nervous. One lady, who had been drinking, kept smiling at me and saying, “now don't you worry! Don't worry about a thing!” I can clearly remember her wide eyes and heavily made up face, and the Highball on her breath. I just smiled back and said okay. That was on a Douglas DC-6, a very nice plane with four Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasps pulling it along. Great engine, used ten years earlier to power the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the Vought F4U Corsair, and the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, among others. Great engine, unless you let some new kid gap all seventy-two spark plugs right before take off and he fucks it all up. Eighteen cylinders times four engines, that's a lot of fucked up spark plugs. The plane was vibrating like an out of balance washing machine. They turned it around after a half-hour or so and landed it back in Tampa. I'm sure that somebody got yelled at.

It's a fact of life. We should be thankful if we fly. Flying on a regular basis is a sure sign that one is relatively prosperous. Any job that sends you flying places is likely to be a pretty good job. I fly for my job, although not with the frequency, or over the distances, that my father and my cousin experienced. I'm grateful for my job, and I'm grateful for my relative prosperity. Let the record show, your honor, that in spite of my tendency to complain, I have appreciated my good fortune to the greatest extent that my capacities allow.

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