Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Vomit Comet Special

*Another nugget from the March '07 archives*

Today, I provide you with a lesson in getting from "A" to "B", the peculiar way I do it.

And why you shouldn't orta, the way I do it.
Point "A": I recently had a nice email exchange with Amelia Earhart. Yes, you read that right: Amelia Earhart. Granted, it wasn't the Amelia Earhart who made all those piloting records in the 20s and 30s, and who shattered more than a few female stereotypes in doing so. It wasn't the same Amelia Earhart who was lost somewhere in the Pacific, on an attempted transcontinental flight in 1937.
It was her namesake and current-day descendant, Amelia Earhart, who is a student at CU in Boulder and does traffic reports from the helicopter for 850 KOA in Denver.
Like her late relative (their geneological links date back to the 1700s, according to Earhart II), this Amelia has a love of flying. Her long-term goals include learning to fly "all kinds of planes" and one day, retracing the flight of her lost namesake, completing the flight that the first Amelia failed on.
I'll be able to say I had an email chat with her before she became famous, but I digress.
In reply to her comment on "loving to fly", I admitted that I wasn't such an eager advocate of flight in "anything that had wings". Granted, I have flown in a number of things that "had wings", though only as a passenger. Were I to be at the controls, one needn't look any further than a cockpit view of Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett in It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, to grasp what the experience would probably resemble.
I don't like small planes, period.
Which brings me to directly to "B": back in my corporate travel days, I did quite a bit of flying (in a passenger seat, not up in the cockpit) commercial. Usually the smallest bird I was aboard was a 737. But a couple of times, I was forced to suffer the commuter route. One such required me to depart from Knoxville, TN, on a 737 and fly to Cincinnati; from there, I had to take one of those twin-engined prop jobs to South Bend, Indiana.
Which I didn't know, until I arrived at the departure gate in Cincinnati.

I can't remember the official designation of the craft; I just know it was a 12-seater, and it was booked to capacity. As I approached it, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach: I'm going to get sick and die inside a flying cigar tube.
See, back in those days, a mild amount of turbulence would make me airsick. I knew how to combat it in the larger aircraft, like DC-10s and Airbus 300s. And it was never a problem aboard the then-new 757s. I'd had a couple of rougher flights on 727s, MD 80s and the plane with the equivalent of an in-cabin outhouse, the 737.

But aboard the small prop jobs? Ack. I had been forced to take one once, from Atlanta to Knoxville. When the plane mercifully landed, and I failed to stop myself from kissing the tarmac in front of amused fellow passengers, I vowed to never again ride aboard that option. Every trip to Knoxville thereafter, I rented a car and drove from Atlanta.

But I had a schedule and coworker to meet in South Bend; driving was not an option.

Not a Catholic at birth or in practice, I briefly became one as I crossed myself three times and boarded the flight, and wedged myself into the seat built for sixth grade kids. Nobody looked particularly happy aboard this plane. No one, save for the four year old lad, sitting on his mother's lap across the aisle from me. I was sure she was going to strap him in to the window seat next to her; but some moose planted his carcass in that seat as the last passenger to board, and it became obvious she was going to take her four year old along sitting in her lap.

The flight crew -- all two of them -- sat up front, ala Rooney/Hackett. No one said a word about the arrangement. If they knew, they acted like they didn't. Then the props fired up, and I forgot all about the FAA violation across the aisle.

And with that, the Vomit Comet Special was off. It was supposed to be about an hour or so flight to South Bend, which was about an hour or so longer than I was into. But I was determined to put on a good face for the concerned-looking mom and her loving-every-second-of-this son. Actually, I was finding that it wasn't hard to put on a good face: the plane wasn't bouncing like a fishing bobber on a wind-whipped lake, as had been my prior experience with one of these abominations of flight. I tried to relax and opened my book.

For about fifteen minutes.

At which time, it grew dim inside, and darker outside: we were engulfed in clouds. Lacking much in the way of communication with the "flight deck" (aka, there was none), we didn't know that we were flying into a squall line of thunderstorms that were, at that moment, pummeling the South Bend area and points S/SE.

We only knew that whatever "smooth" flight we had been experiencing up to then, was over. We became that aforementioned bobber.

Trying not to be too obvious with my gradually greening gills, I glanced around the cabin and was somewhat assured: no one was enjoying this any more than I wasn't. Except for that four year old, who was "oooh"ing and "aaaah"ing as the plane bucked and jumped like a penny arcade horse.

He didn't even pay a second's notice to the sudden sound of something pelting the side of the plane. I glanced at the white-knuckled fellow on my windowseat side:

Me: Rain?
Him: off the props.
Me: Oh, is that all?

My outward nonchalance was truly amazing, as I was silently asking God for a touch more sphincter strength, as well as regurgitation resistance, which was getting more difficult by the bounce.

Then, all at once, came a bright flash, a loud roar, and the plane dropped some unknown amount of feet abruptly, putting my stomach against the insides of my teeth. I might well have lost it then and there, but for one sight: that of a four year old lad, whose eyes were suddenly as big as saucers, and was no longer having any fun with this. Nor was his mother, already the pallor of death white, and now reckoning with the spreading urine stain from his pants to hers.

Things could be worse, I reckoned without retching; the kid could have been in my lap.

Fortunately, nothing more drastic than that last fun-ender happened in the next 45 minutes; we bounced and bucked all the way into South Bend, where the pilots, to their credit, made a sweet "no bounce" landing, and taxied us up as close to a jetway as we could get in the prop job.

I didn't bother with the tarmac kiss this time; it was raining.

So I am more than happy to leave the round-the-world flights in bouncing vomit comets to the Amelia Earharts of yesterday, today and tomorrow. They can have the records.

I'm content to hold onto my lunch.


Blogger phoenix said...

OMG I am laughing so hard I am about to pee my pants... You're too funny! I love these kind of stories much better Mr. Feathers! (PS: I am glad you held your lunch and breakfast for that matter ;-) )

04 March, 2007 21:43  
Blogger Herb said...

Yes, it is good you kept your cookies!

05 March, 2007 15:53  
Blogger Monica said...

This is the second post I've read this morning that gives evidence to why yours truly does not fly in planes.

06 March, 2007 07:33  
Blogger Raggedy said...

Great post!
I remember my first small airplane ride. I was terrified. There was turbulence and I felt green. My dad calmly asked me what I wanted to see. I just whispered back. The ground dad, the ground. He landed the plane.
I have been up many times since that first scary ride and I actually enjoy it now.
Ron White does a really funny skit about a little near miss plane thing, flying from the Beaumont hair care and tire center to Houston. They had to turn back because of plane trouble.
"It was weird cause everybody on the plane was nervous. But I had been drinkin since lunch. So I was like take it down I don’t care. You ever have one of those days, Hit something hard I don’t wanna limp away from this s.o.b."
"The guy sitting next to me is loosing his mind.. apparently he had a lot to live for.
He goes “hey man, hey man, huh huh , hey man hey man, if one of these engines fails how far will the other one take us???”
All the way to the scene of the crash.. which is pretty handy cause that’s where we’re headed."

Have a wonderful day!
(=':'=) hugs
(")_ (")Š from
the Cool Raggedy one

06 March, 2007 21:22  
Blogger Karen said...

Note to self: do not read Skunk's blog with a partially or completely full bladder.

OK... this isn't going to happen on my flight tomorrow, right?

Congrats on #250!

08 March, 2007 10:37  
Blogger Ringleader said...

Ugh- I am feeling qeazy just from reading this- of course the swings at the playground make me dizzy- so I'm pretty sure I would not survive a ride in the Vomit Comet!

02 October, 2008 18:09  
Blogger Debbie said...

I get motion sick in small planes, inside ships like cruise ships. If I can sit or stand outside where I can get fresh air and not feel closed in, I'm OK.

I was on a passenger jet with my daughter coming from Hawaii back to the mainland through a terrible storm, at night. We could look out and see the wing of the plane outside our window and the lightening was flashing off it and hitting it (or it looked that way). The wing looked like it was coming off, it was flapping up and down. (I'm told it's supposed to do that).

Hubby got his pilot's license and had a Piper Cherokee 180, 4 seater. I got my right seat training so I could land in case I had to. I would get sick as a dog in that thing. Traveling in it was NO FUN at all. He finally sold it. (I'm a party pooper)

Sorry to be so long getting over here today, this has been one busy week.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

02 October, 2008 21:57  
Blogger Mayden' s Voyage said...

"Things could be worse, I reckoned without retching; the kid could have been in my lap."

That would have been me! Oh my...not good...not good at all- but funny as all get out! :)

03 October, 2008 09:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How funny that you have been in contact with Amelia Earhart! She might be a distant cousin. More after the links are traced. :-)

05 October, 2008 19:03  

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