To move expeditiously from Point A to Point B in this story might be hoped for (as in “get on with it”). Yet, it would be a disservice to sharing this one voyage of getting on a plane for the first time in 20 years. Not to mention confronting a major fear in my life. We left off in my last post with When This Little Boy Learned To Love To Fly, and now you can experience the next step through my eyes.
It was a horribly smoky afternoon on Thursday, September 25th as firefighters were continuing to try to snuff out the devastating wildfires in California. We often are the recipient of the second-hand smoke here in Reno. My aunt had arrived in town to see me for the first time since Phoenix had passed away a month prior. I usually only get to see her a couple of times a year and we intentionally met at the food court in our local mall. It was the most intense, emotional talk I ever had in my life regarding anything that had happened to me. Putting that in the perspective of my past and my childhood it says a lot about that two-hour talk. She knew I was in a “dark place” despite every attempt I had made to feel better.
My entire adult life I had asked her for just the two of us to go a trip together. Wishing and hoping on my part yet she always politely declined or was too busy.
I don’t know what changed but later that night she called me and out of the blue said, “Do you have anything going on the weekend of October 18th and 19th?”
I looked at my appointment calendar/scheduler to check. *This is where Phoenix would always pipe in and his comment would have been, “He doesn’t own one of those…” and rolled his eyes. Needless to say I wasn’t doing anything on that weekend or any weekend for that matter.
She said she wanted us to go on an overnight trip together to any place I chose. It needed to be a non-stop flight out of Reno which severely limited our options. There had been a calling to me all along the past 20 years and I knew where I wanted to go more than anywhere in the United States for this reintroduction trip. I had been there first in 1984, then again six years after that and a few more times when I was married. I chose the city I had always been head over heels in love with.
I immediately peppered three of my very close friends – Suzanne, Merry and Hendrix – with a barrage of travel questions, though they too were unaware of my pending journey. With their guidance, the ol’ Internet and navigating my way through Expedia for the first time – I had booked two roundtrip tickets on Alaska Airlines and two rooms for one night at the Grand Hyatt Seattle. Now that may seem lame as an accomplishment to many of you but for not having done so in nearly 20 years and facing an immense fear it was a herculean task in this man’s mind and soul.
I quickly got myself up to speed with the TSA approved list of carry on items. The most important item that I cared about making it to Seattle with me other than my wallet? My camera. The Thursday night before the Saturday trip I was fully ready to go.
I was also wanting to bail on it due to nerves. I paced the house telling Phoenix I needed him.
I arrived at the airport at 9:30 a.m. that Saturday morning with an entire trip itinerary printed out. I mean everything I had planned from the flight, the car rental, the hotel to dinner reservations. Yes, I even printed out the restaurant menu. I had printed duplicate copies and put one set into a manila envelope for my aunt. If there was to be a graduate of Being Anal 101 on this trip – I was going to be valedictorian this weekend.
We went around another corner and got in line for the TSA screening and she informed that she would walk through “my” line instead of her TSA pre-approved line. That’s right Auntie B, come on over here with us common folks in the bread line.
Then I saw the long line.
The machines. The TSA and DHS agents. People hurriedly unpacking, undressing and tossing plastic buckets every which direction.
I approached the man (seated in the picture below on the far left) and handed him my driver’s license and watched him inspect it carefully. I was expecting him to continue to look at it while at the same time knifing me verbally in a Russian accent with, “Your papers are not in order.” Alas, he did not.
These were life situations I had Phoenix along to help ease that anxiety.
My aunt said, “Just watch what everyone else does and make sure you have your shoes and everything off of your person except your clothes honey.” I did so and it was my turn to step into the transporter as the large Klingon (a reference to how imposing he was, not his appearance) with a DHS badge waved me forward with a deep, unnerving voice. (look in the picture above and you can see half of his left side the blue shirt just past the scanners)
I was scanned and immediately the same large man said aloud (so that the other 100 people heard), “WHAT’S IN YOUR BACK POCKET?!”
That’s it. I was doomed. I was about to be handcuffed and taken to a dark room and interrogated. I was going to do hard time.
Hey I’ve seen the Showtime series, Homeland!
I looked at the x-ray and said out loud, “Shit. That’s my wallet. Sorry, sir. This is my first…”
“Step over here to the side, ” pointing as he growled, cutting me off.
Next I heard a very soothing voice of a soft-spoken female. It was Joan Clever from Leave It To Beaver the DHS agent! *ahem*
“Just step over here for a second hun,” she said kindly. “I’m going to swipe your hands and then you will be on your way.”
I said, “Sorry about that, this is my first time ever through TSA.”
She replied back, “Oh don’t you worry people do that all of the time. And don’t worry about him (the Klingon), his bark is worse than his bite.”
Now we were able to go up the escalators (which were in a completely different place than before) and get to the second floor where the gates were. Once we did, I breathed a sigh of relief. Ahhh, this was better as everything now looked completely familiar. I was back in my old traveling stomping grounds at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Here is where one of a couple of life moments came full circle. The first being that we had to walk out onto the tarmac and up some stairs to get into the plane. And this time instead of flying for the first time to visit my Aunt Betty as a 6 year old, I was getting on a plane for the first time ever with her! All very reminiscent of some 44 years ago.
We boarded the Alaskan Airlines Bombardier 400 and I knew this make of aircraft and that they were very loud. We settled into our seats and right then a smokin’ hot flight attendant started down the aisle from the front. Time went into slow motion and I could hear Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” playing as I fawned over her.
My aunt elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Oh honey, you should talk to her!”
Oy vey…here we go…I was thinking to myself.
Beverages. Hmm…tempting, and even more so after I saw two other flight attendants with “Trainee” on their name tags. My aunt saw the same thing and burst out laughing at me. She whispered in my ear, “Just your luck, sweetie!” Perfect…
Then I stared at the tire…which looked like it needed more air in it. I knew it didn’t but I couldn’t be outside the plane giving it the pre-flight check either. What’s weird is at this moment I wasn’t that nervous. I just did not want to talk.
The plane fired up and were pushed away from the gate to begin taxiing to the runway. This is where I wanted my aunt to do my one big favor. Not say a single word. I wanted this entire moment to myself to achieve as much of a Zen like state of anxiety as I could get. Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron…it’s intentional!
We turned onto the runway and the pilots gave a full power up to the twin turbo prop Pratt & Whitney motors. I heard the turbines kick in and felt a rush of emotion as my eyes filled with tears. Not of fear. Just of the moment.
Then my aunt hollers over the roar of the motors (those are not quiet planes), “Too late to turn back now!!!!!” Funny lady she is, as the couple seated in front us both giggled also. Jerks.
My face was glued against the window and a couple of tears started to trickle down my face. Then the same familiar saying flashed into my head ever since I learned it from street racing in high school. I continued to stay glued out the window as I said to the pilots under my breath, “Drop the hammer boys…” It means to put the pedal to the metal and give the engine(s) full throttle.
I felt that rush of being pushed back into my seat and realized my hands were not white-knuckling any stationary object but rather calmly in my lap. The plane leapt like eagle into the sky with the Bombardier’s high take off angle. Then another abrupt interruption to my Utopia.
My aunt hollering, “So, what is it you are afraid of with flying??!!”
I must have given her the look of Damien from The Omen and said curtly, motioning with my right hand, “Where the plane goes like this (down) and crashes and we all die.”
She giggled again, “Ohhhhh, got it.”
We continued our ascent to the south up and away from Reno then began circling back around to head North.
We were five minutes into the air and that huge grin from that 6-year-old boy beamed across my face again. It was a huge life moment and realizations engulfing my heart and soul. I wasn’t the flying that I had feared, it was the dynamic of going through the new technology world, the TSA and getting onto the plane that had caused all of the worry. I finally knew once and for all at that moment that I would have never left Phoenix.
We made our turn for final approach and began the rapid descent. The windows immediately became doused in rain streaks. The clouds started parting and I could begin to see parts of downtown glancing by. Then Interstate 5 underneath us to the leftr with Boeing Field next and I knew we were seconds away from landing.
The Captain put this bird on the runway like a swan landing gracefully on a pond. My eyes were a big as tennis balls looking out the window at the trees on the other side of the Sea-Tac International Airport. I had made my first flight after 20 years. My eyes were welled up with happiness.
I was in Seattle.