Email 1: Your flight is delayed due to severe thunderstorms over Dallas.
Email 2: Just kidding your flight is on schedule and everything is probably fine.
Email 3: Just kidding your flight is delayed because it’s crazy up there.
Email 4: Just kidding your flight is leaving right now, hurry up!
Twenty minutes earlier, I landed in the Newark, NJ airport in the luxury that is Terminal C. Then I took a shuttle bus to the war-torn nation of Terminal A.
Terminal A is actually still a part of the old Soviet Union, and has been under construction since before planes were a thing. Want food? One option: The Earl of Sandwich. These people hold a monopoly on the captives held in cell block A, and they know it. For $12, you can get some old lettuce and suspect meat thrown into a tiny bun and run through a conveyer belt toaster. There’s also only one option for a bathroom in Terminal A, and it’s a secret. Luckily, I bumped into a friend from college who told me where to find it.
You must go to Gate 7, and you must turn around 180 degrees. You must then travel down a set of narrow stairs, where you pass men who say things like, “Yes, believe it or not, you’re going the right way.” Then you get to the bottom of the stairs where an employee is pointing you down a concrete hallway modeled after prisons. Then you push a cinder block on the wall and utter the words, “Long live the Communist party” and you get swung around into a toilet. It’s really something.
After using the bathroom and getting my sandwich, I saw the last email: Your flight is leaving.
I get on the plane. I’m sitting next to a man who has the window seat to Dallas and is then connecting to Rapid City, South Dakota, then driving to his town. (“Population twelve,” he tells me.) “I’ve always wondered about people like you,” I tell him. Then the captain tells us, “Folks”—because a plane full of people is called folks—“There are some thunderstorms over Dallas right now and we’re thinking that we’re going to miss them, so we’re going to go ahead and take off.” Why not.
We take off. “Folks, it’s going to get a little bumpy up here, so just be sure that you stay seated with your seatbelts fastened.”
I’m not afraid of flying, per se. But I don’t like turbulence and I don’t like airports and I don’t like flying. During the bumps, I like to stare at the tiny wings that play a large role in the miracle of flight in order to make sure they are still attached.
The flight gets bumpy. The wings are still attached. My seat-friend says, “I used to work on plane parts for the Air Force. so I’ve flown a lot.”
“Oh, so you’ve probably experienced turbulence like this huh?” What I meant: You’ll tell me if the wings are about to fall off, right?
“Oh this is nothing compared to being in a C130 flying over the mountains.” Thank God for this man. “Or refueling—you get in the jetwash and it’s bumpy like this for 45 minutes straight.” I loved this man.
Three hours later. “Folks, we’ve been told that Dallas is shut down for a storm emergency, so we’re in a bit of a holding pattern here, we’ll keep you updated.”
We watched a woman in a white shirt two rows in front of us to the left Freak. Out. She hated this flight. She was crying and shaking and her friend was rubbing her back and holding her, and I smiled, because for whatever reason, I felt less afraid because she was so afraid. I’ve noticed if someone else is more afraid of a spider or mouse or potential intruder or in this matter, turbulence, I can find courage. What is that? Oh don’t worry about it, it’s just a little turbulence.
The flight wore on, and the bumps got worse. “Folks, ahhhhhh, some more bad news unfortunately…”
Oh no: the wings. Is it the wings? It’s the wings.
“Ahhhh looks like Dallas wants us to loop around again, but we’re running low on fuel. We’re being diverted to our backup airport in Tulsa so we can refuel.”
Arms went up. People said swears.
We land and stay in the plane. The couple behind us is fighting. He is calling her an idiot because she doesn’t know “basic math”. I wanted to ask how basic we’re talking, because if she was worse than me, I would have liked to join in the fun-making. She told him that he was acting like a child. He told her that she, in fact, was acting like a child.
“Folks, ahhhh some good news—the Dallas Airport is allowing flights to land now—it’ll be about another thirty-five minutes.”
My seatmate and I start talking about books we’ve read and movies we’ve seen.
Time passes. We’re taking off. The guy and girl have gone silent on each other. We’re lifting into the air and we’re hitting turbulence like a boxer punching a freaking speed bag. Glunk glunk glunkglunkglunk! People’s heads are rocking from side to side in unison, like we’re all attached to some freakish, unhinged rollercoaster. The woman in the white shirt is Losing. Her. Mind. She has the tray table down, her head is on it, her earphones are in, no doubt blasting Enya. Someone behind me says “Jesus!” during a particularly rough patch. I can’t tell if he’s swearing or praying. The flight attendants are strapped in with the shoulder straps that they give the important people so they don’t get sucked out of the plane. I have a familiar thought: If I free fall from this height and pull the sides of my jacket and zip-up sweatshirt out, like a flying squirrel, will I survive a landing? The turbulence got worse. My seatmate knew just what to say.
“You know what movie I saw recently?” Glunk glunk glunk! Glunkglunkglunk!
“It’s a great movie. It’s all about these guys who go up Everest…”
GLUNK GLUNK GLUNKGLUNKGLUNK
“Yeah, I’ve heard of—”
“—YEAH”, he continued, all but shouting this last part because it was so loud in the plane: “THEY ALL DIE!”
I broke eye contact with the wing to look at him, gauging his level of insanity. He’s not joking. I start laughing because it’s just too funny. He realizes what he has said and says, “Probably not the best thing to say in present company!”, which is the understatement of the year, and we both lose it, laughing like maniacs tied to a ship’s mast in a storm.
I made it to Dallas a mere ten hours after I left Boston. Finally got to see Tulsa, though, suckers.