These sunflowers are all along the back roads in New Mexico right now, bright as summer itself. I’m over at Word Whores this September Sunday, talking about the worst place I’ve written.
These sunflowers are all along the back roads in New Mexico right now, bright as summer itself. I’m over at Word Whores this September Sunday, talking about the worst place I’ve written.
Alas Air France 447. It’s looking like we’ll never get to know what happened. What with the whole black-box-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean thing.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a plane-crash, well, “obsession” is probably a fair word. I find that a big part of this is the wanting to know what happened. I can’t help but envision those final moments. What was it like for the passengers? Were they sleeping when the plane hit the ocean? Had they already vaporized before that?
However, I’m finding that knowing doesn’t provide full satisfaction either. In fact, knowing too much can be a real detriment to enjoying life. I work on tap water — I know what I’m talking about here. Sometimes the illusion of safety is what gets you on the plane in the first place, and in the 211th place also. Which is why I’m kind of sorry that I read the cockpit recorder transcript from Colgan Flight 3407. You know the one, the turboprop plane that iced up and fell from the sky like a big rock onto someone’s house in Buffalo, NY.
The kind of plane I fly on all the time between Denver and Laramie, through blizzards, etc.
You trust in your pilots. You have to. And you make certain assumptions in that trust: that they’re not exhausted, that they’re well trained, that they know what they’re doing.
You can read the whole transcript of course. I confess I skimmed. The interesting part is at the end, of course.
Which is also the really scary part. For example:
“I’ve never seen deicing conditions. I’ve never deiced. I’ve never seen any–I’ve never experienced any of that. I don’t want to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know, I’d’ve freaked out. I’d’ve like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash.”
That was from the young co-pilot who was only making $16K and had to still live with her parents, commuting from Seattle.
The pilot has asked her to see if there’s ice on her side of the plane, too. He talks about being a Florida guy, how all his flying hours are around the Phoenix area, how he’d like more flying time in the Northeast before he upgrades to a bigger plane. He does the wrong thing when the plane stalls.
One of the worst parts is the top of page 55, where they reel of the standard spiel about cell phones, seat backs and tray tables. Meanwhile the pilots are saying to each other “son of a gun, look at all that ice — wonder why we’re not crashing?”
Not that any of the passengers could have done anything. Except trust that their pilots have the knowledge to take care of everyone on the plane.
Sometimes knowledge is power. No matter unblissful it might be to know.
It seems like most of the pundits like to spend a moment on Memorial Day talking about returning meaning to the day.
Actually, it seems like EVERY holiday there has to be someone talking about returning meaning to the day. As if there’s something wrong with enjoying a day off and spending it in hedonistic ways.
I’m thinking this is an American thing. Since I’m so international now. But last Monday was Victoria Day in, well, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (I have to specify this now because you WOULD NOT believe how many people hear “Columbia” and right away think of South America.) However, if you’re thinking that Victoria Day is to Victoria what Bailey Days is to Bailey, Colorado, you’re not thinking British enough. They’re celebrating the queen. Which seems to involve having a parade and hanging out. There were no articles in the paper musing over the true meaning of the day, or asking people to devote thought at an arranged time:
As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.
That was from an end-of-days executive order from President Clinton. It’s a patriotic thing. Everyone agrees that it’s wonderful to salute and revere our soldiers. Everyone can feel good about saying nice words, giving a toast, devoting a thought. On this one day. Well besides Veterans Day. And Independance Day. And Flag Day. Actually, there are fully seven military holidays.
Memorial Day means nothing to me. My dad was a US Air Force fighter pilot who died in the line of duty when I was three years old. I went through a brief spell when I was a teenager, when I was swept up in the holiday. I suggested to my mom that we drive down to the cemetary at the academy in Colorado Springs to decorate his grave on Memorial Day.
“Why?” she asked me. “Do you think he’s there?”
No. No, I didn’t. She said we could go, but that she didn’t think he was there either, amidst those rows of stark white identical stones. It wouldn’t be for him that we were going. It’s something to think about, how much the dead care about their graves and what the living do with them. Restoring the “meaning” of a holiday like Memorial Day is generating a particular show for the living.
It’s interesting to me that Memorial Day is the modern version of Decoration Day, which was the day that graves were decorated. Official versions of this day were acknowledged by various states following the Civil War. Unofficially, this puts me in mind of rituals like the Day of the Dead. These are less patriotic and sanitized and speak more towards the pagan connection to visitations from the dead. The Day of the Dead is ascribed to Mexican and Latino practices, but this kind of ritual has been prevalent for ages in the Celtic and Roman cultures also. For example:
On Palm Sunday, in several villages in South Wales, a custom prevails of cleaning the grave-stones of departed friends and acquaintances, andornamenting them with flowers, &c. On the Saturday preceding, a troop ofservant girls go to the churchyard with pails and brushes, to renovatethe various mementos of affection, clean the letters, and take awaythe weeds. The next morning their young mistresses attend,with thegracefulness of innocence in their countenances, and the roses of healthand beauty blooming on their cheeks. According to their fancy, and according to the state of the season, they place on the stonessnow-drops, crocuses, lilies of the valley, and roses.
Nothing about the military dead there.
I don’t mind so much the effort to restore meaning. What I mind is the modification of meaning to serve political ends. So, if you pause today, at the recommended time or no, to reflect upon the meaning of this day, make it your own.
A lot of people are afraid to fly.
My mother-in-law has never set foot on a commerical airplane. Other people will get on the plane, but medicate themselves to do it. It’s less a fear of flying than a fear of crashing, really. On an airplane, one gives up total control to someone else. You’re strapped in, encased in a device that hurtles you to another place and spits you out again. Even if you understand the physics, it still seems wrong. It’s hard to know which are good sounds and which are bad. (I’ve been assured that I’m better off NOT being able to recognize the errors and close calls.) And when the great winds, toss you around, you’re ironically happy the ground is still so far away and not close enough to dash up against.
But really, this lack of control is the norm; being on an airplane just makes it more obvious.
We go through life seeking the illusion of safety. We follow the rules, obey the traffic laws, make smart decisions about where to walk at night. But the universe is a random place and none of us know when our thread will be snipped.
I think about this when I feel superstitious. Ill omens like cancelled flights and bad weather make me pause, make me wonder if I’m fighting fate. When I’m tossed around in the sky or, worse, as the runway rapidly approaches, I wonder if this will be my time. Forever writing my own life story, I assemble the foreshadowing events. And then remind myself that, in that case, I wouldn’t be there to write the worst part, the suffering part.
I’m oddly comforted by that and snooze while the plane rocks me.
A Blizzard Warning means severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring. Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. This will lead to whiteout conditions… making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel.
March is our time for the big snow. Everyone gets pretty revved for it. One year, the March snow came up to the level of our hot tub — about four feet deep. The roads were closed for four days. It was perfect because it began to put it down the night before David had to leave for a meeting. We were both trapped in town, buried under snow. A rare reprieve.
Living in an isolated area means you have to travel to get to anything. My boss’s kids in New Hampshire were surprised when I said I live in a small town of 27,000 people. After all, their town is only about 4,000 people. But you can ride your bike down a winding road through a lightly populated woodsy neighborhood and be in the next town, and the next and the next, like a string of pearls. For us, it’s an hour on a fast highway through antelope country, to Cheyenne or Ft. Collins. Two hours to Denver. The road conditions website is bookmarked on everyone’s computer. When they say “no unnecessary travel,” they mean that it better be worth risking your life.
It’s great to have this warning system. Yesterday it was 63 degrees and gorgeously sunny. I can see how the early settlers were fooled. It would have seemed like a perfect day to head to town for provisions. No signs of a blizzard loomed, except for the curious southwest wind, perhaps.
I have to get to Nebraska today, for work. It’s only an eight-hour drive from here, but I decided to fly from Denver because of the possibility of the spring blizzards that roar straight down I-80. Now I just booked a ticket on the puddle-jumper from Laramie to Denver, because it’s often much easier to fly out than drive out when it gets like this. At least there aren’t tractor-trailers zooming past the turbo prop in white-out conditions.
I’ll probably be able to get out, which is the responsible thing to do.
But I had half-hoped the storm would have hit by the time I woke up. That the storm would keep me here, tucked inside while the snow piles up. Here it is, nearly 8 am, a full two-hours past the predicted start, and nothing yet. Though road conditions show it snowing and blowing on the webcams.
As it is, I’ll probably miss it all. By the time I get home Thursday night, the snow will be melted and trampled. The roads might be snowpacked, but open. We’re moving to Victoria partly to leave the severe weather of our high sagebrush plain behind.
But I had hoped to have one more blizzard.
About two years ago, I bought a fancy, wheeled laptop bag. In fact, it was October, 2006. I know this because I recently had to look up my receipt for proof of puchase.
After much researching, I settled on this lovely leather bag from McKlein. In this great burgundy color — just say no to black luggage. Plus they had a great reputation and a lifetime warranty. Sign me up.
Everywhere I dragged it, which is a lot of places when you fly once or twice a month, people complimented me on my bag. It has all kinds of wonderful features.
Except that the teeth in the zippler tore out. Everything else about the bag is perfect. The leather looks new; the wheels are barely dinged. But it no longer zips. Which is problematic, especially when you go to lift it into the overhead bin and everything in the bag dumps out on your head. Yes. This really happened to me. And nice nearby businessmen helped me pick up all my stuff and didn’t even laugh at me. To my face.
I looked up what to do online, which involved sending in information like my proof of purchase so I could get some kind of trouble ticket and go from there. Naturally I procrastinated at this point, which is almost certainly what they hope you’ll do.
But after slogging around Delaware lopsided, weighed down with my shoulder-strap bag, (I can only carry it on one shoulder — it falls right off the other. Why? Why? Why?) I bit the bullet and engaged in the process.
I don’t have to tell you the details. You already know how this goes. The email exchange. The photos of the damage. The email I finally receive:
I have advise my boss regarding your damage item she has determined that the
item is not repairable the estimate cost to repair the item is $100.00.
Never mind the broken English — I love the whole Orwellian view of repairability. So after I asked which it was, repairable for $100 or not repairable? and she responded that I was correct, I volleyed back with a challenge to explain why the clearly inferior zipper construction doesn’t fall under their lifetime warranty covering materials and workmanship.
Yeah, we know what’s coming next. But I’m kind of entertained to see what excuse they’ll give. The real question is: do I pay $100, plus shipping two ways, I presume, to repair a two-year-old $200 bag? Or do I just pay less money for an inferior bag that I can count on falling apart in two years also, but that I won’t have invested so much confidence in?
I wish they wouldn’t bother with the warranty that guarantees nothing. Perhaps I’ll look for the bag with truth in advertising: “This bag will last two years in reasonable condition, at which point the wheels will fall off and it will explode in the overhead bin, causing your overstressed fellow passengers to throw you out the emergency exit at a low enough altitude to kill you but not suck them out the door also, at which point you will no longer need a laptop bag.”
I’d buy that one.
I’m tempted to say I failed.
I certainly didn’t succeed in following my intentions, so that amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it?
I really wanted to be able to continue to post to the blog while I was on work travel. Clearly I didn’t. You can see my pleased, self-satisfied (a number of people have used that phrase to describe me lately and I’m wondering how to take it) post from the plane on Monday. Then nothing nothing nothing for the next four days. I got home at about 1 o’clock in the morning Thursday night, slept in and worked all day catching up. No 1K words, no blog posts. So much for resolutions.
I really thought I might post pithy observations about being in Dover, Delaware. About their coastal farmlands and abandoned malls. But I didn’t. Penelope Trunk says your day job can’t suck away your creative energy, but I’m not sure I agree. When I’m on my work trips, they drain me dry. I get back to the hotel in the evening with nothing left. Often I can’t even summon the energy just to read. Only inane television can hold my attention until I fall asleep. I don’t understand why.
But, as I’ve broken into this new schedule gradually, so I’ll try with this. I’m home this week, then off to Raleigh/Durham the week after. Cross your fingers and look for the daily blogs!
I’m posting from the airplane today.
Well, more precisely, I’m drafting this on the airplane. I believe, though, that the day is not far off that we will be able to post to our blogs and continue our internet connectedness from the air. Yes, I’ve become one of those business travelers you see, who pull out their laptops as soon as they give the go ahead to use electronic devices that don’t broadcast a signal. Have you noticed that some of the newer airplanes have a little light for electronic device use now? The light-up icons for seatbelts and our symbiotic technology now displayed where the cigarette emblem used to be.
I have no idea what the implications of that may be. Perhaps we’ve only traded one kind of encroaching cancer for another. Feeding our lives into just another bad habit.
But it makes a difference to me, as much as I travel for the day job, to keep up with my connectedness. I wrote my 1K first, cozied into my cocoon of Bose headphones playing the very same writing music as I play in my skylit studio at home. (There’s a bit of my ritual, replicated there.) It feels good to have that done. My numbers safely recorded for the day. Then I replied to a few emails, set aside because other things had been on fire. They can leisurely wend their way over the ‘net when I land.
Now for this. As much as I ranted about computers disrupting my ritual, here the technology allows me to bring pieces of my life with me. Everything I accomplish here in 5C is one less thing I’ll have to sandwich elsewhere into my life.
Not a bad deal at all.
The news has been chock-full of the recent plane crash at LaGuardia. (In a recent writing discussion, one person chided an author for misusing the idiom as “chalk-full.” Another poster responded that, since no normal person uses the phrase “chock-full,” that it didn’t matter how it was spelled. I, of course, couldn’t resist.) This plane crash has captured everyone’s attention, not just because airplane disasters always do, but because no one died. Amusingly, I notice that the article I linked to here refers to the incident now as a “splashdown.”
By now you have the details: taking off from LaGuardia, the US Air jet sucked birds into two engines. The birds were big enough to cause immediate, devastating damage, knocking the spinning turbines off enough that one engine burst into flames. The pilot, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, reported the double bird strike, requested permission to return to LaGuardia, then said “unable,” and asked permission to land at a New Jersey suburban airport, again came back with “unable.” He then told the passengers to brace themselves because the plane was going down, and he landed the plane in the river. Hence the “splashdown.”
What’s remarkable here to me, is that Sullenberger kept his head so well that he not only navigated a spectacular landing, but he kept communicating the whole time.
Those of you who know me know that I have a consuming interest in plane crashes. In many ways the plane crash is both a seminal incident in my life and an ongoing metaphor for me. Sullenberger trained first as an Air Force Academy pilot, like my father. And where many cockpit recordings from plane crashes yield only frantic babbling, this one shows a pilot so well trained that he continued to let everyone know what was going on, even as he dropped an Airbus loaded with people into the Hudson River.
They’re calling him a hero, and that’s probably appropriate. The kind of hero who coolly walks through the plane twice to ensure all the passengers were off. The kind who smiles and nods graciously when people thank him for their lives.
But I think what really captures us here is that this is different than the usual metaphor. If a plane crash symbolizes how everything can go abruptly wrong, snipping threads in an instant of impact, then this is the reverse. The threads that weren’t snipped; how it almost happened, but didn’t. How someone who keeps his head can avert disaster. That a disaster can be magically converted to a splashdown.