It was eight o’clock PM when I found myself in the loving arms of My Jane last Friday night. My adventure had begun fourteen hours earlier when my alarm rang waking me for my trip to catch a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Florida to Pennsylvania.
This episode began a week earlier when my favorite Mother-in-law, Helen, fell and broke her hip. I’m not allowed to tell you how old Helen is, but she shares a birthday year with this lady. So, a broken hip is a huge concern. My Jane was on a plane the next day to Western Pennsylvania to be at her Mom’s, side. I was flying up a week later to spend a few days with My Jane and Helen (Did I mention she is my favorite Mother-in-law?”)
On my way through the food court to my gate I bought a breakfast burritos meal. Surely, this would be my last meal in Orlando today. The flight was scheduled to depart at 9:55 AM and everything seemed to be going as usual. We were all settled into our seats waiting for the door to close and the engines to start roaring. The pilot had turned the fasten seat belt signs on
and then it happened. The crew informed us that a door was stuck on the bottom of the plane and we couldn’t take off until it was fixed.
In my experience when these bumps in the process on airlines occur people who had not spoken to each other become long-lost friends. In our row we had greeted each other but we really began to get acquainted following the captain’s announcement. The young man to my right was a senior archeology major at Penn State (Go Nittany Lions). On his lap was a large three-cornered pirate hat that I had acknowledged while buckling myself in. His grandmother who was on my left shared how the young man liked hats. The hat in question had been purchased at Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom.
Turns out the grandmother was the first woman hired as a guard at Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte just up the road from State College (Go Nittany Lions).
I was impressed and stated, “You must be a toughy.” To which the grandson replied, “You should try to live with her.” I was wondering how safe I was sitting in the middle seat!
Now we were informed that we would have to deplane because the fix on the door required removing the door. The door couldn’t be removed until the airplane was completely shut down. So, we all walked back up the ‘tunnel’ to hang out at our gate number 128. We were barely settled when the announcement was made that the airline had good news. Another plane was found at gate 106. Now, I am wondering how the plane got lost in the first place, but I was happy it was found.
A plane load of passengers navigated through the crowded food court on its way to gate 106. Passing through the food court I purchase a sub sandwich for brunch. Surely, this would be my last meal in Orlando today.
Alas, we received more bad news once we arrived at gate 106. This plane also has a mechanical issue and is being repaired. Surely, this will only take a few minutes. The airlines kept me informed of departure time changes on my cell phone (I had six of these messages before the actual take off at 4:00pm.)
The guy sitting beside me in the gate area is plugged into his phone, so we are not communicating. But, the guy looks like a football player (or basketball player). The young couple (30 something) across from me are very animated-well she is very, animated in a fun way-and we get to talking. She is an engineer (No, not that kind of engineer.) and he is a doctor. They are moving from a two-story house in Pittsburgh to an apartment in Manhattan. For three days they have been delivering ‘stuff’ and cars to parents in two different states on about three hours sleep every night. Today, they are to pick up the U-haul, the dog, load the truck and drive to Manhattan. The doctor’s new assignment in infectious diseases begins on Monday so timing is critical.
The engineer is a tunnel inspector for a national company and starts telling me stories about the Pittsburgh tunnels. She even shows me photos of the exhaust fans above the tunnel on route 70 under the continental divide out in Colorado. I swapped some tunnel stories from our trips in Norway and she got all excited talking about how U. S. tunnel folks keep learning tunnel stuff from the Europeans. She makes tunnels fun.
Our conversation was interrupted by another update that didn’t really give us an update but did announce the distribution of $100 travel vouchers. The doc and engineer decided it was time to get an adult beverage and invited me along. I declined wanting to get my voucher in hand.
As they left the guy next to me unplugged to find out what was going on. Once he was caught up on the un-update I shared with him that I followed him onto the plane the first time we boarded and thought about asking him to open a hole for me to run through. He grinned and said, “That is what I do.” He plays flag football in a semi-pro circuit sponsored by the NFL. He plays for a team based in New Orleans named ‘Fighting Cancer’. The team was playing in a tournament quarterfinal match leading to the possibility of winning one million dollars. Who would have thought you could make money playing flag football. All I ever got was black and blue. He played college ball, semi-pro and arena football in his earlier years. I asked about concussions. In his career he has only had one minor concussion suffering that in his arena football days.
He is a physical therapist in his day job and is very happy doing what he does. I told him about my Mother-in-law and he said, “I have found that women do better than men recovering. It always seems to take men longer and they complain more.” So, okay they were only small black and blue bruises I got playing flag football. And they healed fast.
We saw the line had dwindled for the vouchers, so we went for it with him opening the hole for me to run through. After receiving our vouchers he returned to his phone and I took the ten-dollar lunch voucher to buy an oriental meal. Hey, a free meal is a free meal! Surely, this would be my last meal in Orlando today.
To entertain myself I went for a walk and decided to ride the tram back to the main terminal then back to terminal “A”. Hey, it was something to do. I ran into a guy wearing a Korean Veterans baseball cap and greeted him. He was like a long-lost friend talking about flying F-100 fighters “They were difficult to fly. You had to be constantly aware.”
He also, flew C-130 number 0001(that would be the prototype airframe) to demonstrate its troop-carrying abilities to the Army.
The Korean Vet’s wife joined us (they just learned that I was a retired military chaplain) and shared how her first husband had just graduated from Med school when the Army was gearing up for the Berlin Wall confrontation. He received nine months training and was declared a Psychiatrist. The job wasn’t to hard. He was assigned to some desolate place populated with Quonset huts. Soldiers would run away from the place but the MPs would catch them and take them to meet with the Psychiatrist who asked them why they ran away. The troop would always say, “I don’t like it here.”
The shrink would reply, “I don’t like it here either. The chaplain doesn’t even like it here. (I don’t even remember being there?) Don’t run away again or I will have to put you in jail.” Problem solved.
The couple had just come back from a cruise to Cuba. She showed me some photos of the cars. Wow! They didn’t like Cuba however, but the two octogenarian were traveling everywhere they could while they could. They waved good-bye to go look for Christmas presents and I hustled back to the gate.
I arrived at gate 106 in time for the Central Florida afternoon thunderstorms to ground aircraft and mechanics. Airline personnel announced they were distributing $200 travel vouchers to add to our initial vouchers. The engineer was jumping out of her skin. The doc was assuring me that the United States can handle insect carried disease because we have unlimited resources. He also, told the physical therapist that flag football was not for him (the doctor) because that would require physical exertion. My football playing friend replied, “Actually, it isn’t so much about strength and speed. If you have good hips you can play flag football. If you can salsa you can play the game.”
The doc replied, “No one has ever told me I have good hips!” I don’t know if the engineer heard that remark.
The storms were moving east, and the engineer said she was going see if the mechanic was on the plane. A retired gal who was sitting next to our group of four (and had been entertained by us) exclaimed, “Do we have a plane?” Seems she had been looking at empty gate 104 all day thinking we didn’t have a plane to board. So, the engineer escorted the nice lady over to the window for a look at our plane.
The engineer came back all excited because the mechanic was on the plane. She soon returned to the window and came running back to us saying, “Using my engineering knowledge I know the plane is ready. I saw the mechanic running his hands along the plane for a pre-flight check.” As she said this she did a pantomime running her hands along the underside of an imaginary plane for emphasis. “He is coming in now to tell us we can take-off.”
Of course, that gave the rest of us the opportunity to reply cynically, “Or maybe he is going to say, “Never, never put this plane in the air.” And other negative possibilities.
The engineer was correct and we did begin to board. The doc and engineer invited me to come with them on the move to Manhattan since I had become part of their move experience. I declined.
I rejoined the prison guard and Mad Hatter on the plane and we took off about 4:00pm.
After we landed our flight attendant exclaimed, “Whew! We made it. Welcome to Hawaii. Just kidding. Welcome to Pittsburgh.” Then he sang “Good night sweetheart.” It was the perfect ending to a perfect airport adventure. Really.