Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Part 2 in the Continuing Saga..The Question Answered

Dorothy again. The International Man of Intrigue, perhaps feeling guilty after reading my highly worried e-mail, Skyped with me this morning. He said, "I didn't crash. If I did, I wouldn't have been able to e-mail you from my hotel." I said, "Try telling that to Tall Twist and my other friends from the international copy machine corporation I used to work for." He said, "I thought the airline called that a "botched landing" or something?" I said, "Well, I can't remember the details, but I'm pretty sure the lawsuit made the airline call it a crash." Then he sent me this:
 
So there I was, cruising at 37000 feet and minding my own business when this Sri Lanka Airbus 300 decided it wanted to land. Why? I don’t know. In the sky there were only random pockets of turbulence and a vague memory of scary takeoff-associated noises. Why did we have to spoil the moment with adding the possibility of becoming a flaming 300 mile per hour lawn dart? Why did we have to mess anymore with the laws of gravity? Couldn’t we just fly up here until technology caught up to Star Trek and we could beam ourselves directly to the baggage claim? Apparently, loitering is frowned upon for adolescents and airplanes with finite amounts of fuel.
The plane’s moans and groans increased as we lost elevation. Suddenly, I thought back to Mr. Stewart’s 7th grade algebra class: This plane is like a mathematics equation, and what happens on one side of the equals sign has to happen on the other side of the equals sign. If we go down, noise has to go up. Does that make sense? I could almost see the pilot fighting to control the aircraft while the co-pilot solved for “X”. I crossed my fingers and hoped he had paid attention in class and not had to write, “I will not talk in Mr. Stewart's mathematics class without permission” as many times as I did. Wow, life could be ending and I could think only of Mrs. Johnson’s geometrical advice from 1992: “Everyone says you don’t need math after high school, but you will.”
The plane bounced, squealed, and moaned as we committed ourselves to the final approach. Why did it have to be a “final” approach? I’ve seen “Top Gun” and “Air Force One” enough to believe we might have a couple of shots at this if the first attempt to get on the ground doesn’t look so good. But Final? Yes, Ghostrider, the pattern is indeed full.
I gripped the arm rest tighter than screw in a nut house.
Thoughts: Should I look out the window? Do I even want to look? I’ve never liked surprises, but maybe I should let this landing be a surprise? Am I wearing flame resistant materials? Is this shirt a cotton blend or all synthetic? Why am I the only one about to lose it?
I pulled my eyes off the window and looked around the cabin. A few rows ahead of me sat a Westerner. I remember seeing him when we boarded, and I thought he looked familiar. Not, “Hey we went to school together” familiar, but more like, “He’s on TV” familiar. *note. To the surprise of every taxi driver I have ever had in India, all Westerners do NOT know each other. But I thought I did know this guy. His hair was short and white, but he wasn’t much older than 40. He was dressed like he fell out of a GQ mazazine. And, he hadn’t looked up from his iPad since I spotted him. OMG! Could it be CNN correspondent and media darling Anderson Cooper? No. Of course it wasn’t Anderson Cooper. Anderson Cooper was probably in business class receiving his “we’re about to die in a huge fire ball” complimentary chocolates and souvenir gift bag. All I had was a lousy Sri Lankan Air refresher towelette packet in my shirt pocket and a boarding pass that said 33K (AKA, not far enough back to be in survivor seating!) Could that be Anderson Cooper? I couldn’t quite see.
My vision of Mr. Maybe Anderson Cooper was partially obstructed by a large closed circuit TV monitor hanging above the center aisle. By a what? Holy crap, I think we were supposed to be able to watch the plane land from a nose-mounted camera, but the left-right-up-down bounce of the monitor made focusing on the picture a little difficult. Be it the CCTV or the window, I was going to watch this thing unfold whether I wanted to or not.
Then it happened. The wheels touched down for a millisecond, bounced off the ground, and set down again. Actually, I was relieved to know the landing gear was still there. The plane surged down the runway and struggled to reduce its speed. It felt as though the pilot was downshifting instead of using his breaks. Wow, this guys is good, I thought. Only a pro can engine break. It lengthens the life of your brakes and is also more fuel efficient. Wait a second, planes don’t have transmissions! Again, WTH?!
We lurched and chugged to the terminal. I expected people to clap, cheer, and celebrate our near death experience. It turned out they only wanted to turn on their smart phones and check email. Even Mr. Maybe Anderson Cooper didn’t seem to care.
The remainder of my journey was uneventful…until this morning. Almost exactly 12 hours later I was the first guest to hit the breakfast buffet, and it was nothing short of AMAZING. I lifted each lid to find the best breakfast spread I’ve ever seen. Fresh squeezed OJ. Made to order omelets in which the choices were only the ingredients I enjoy in my omelets. Pancakes, waffles, Frosted Flakes. Potato salad with little bits of bacon. LITTLE BITS OF BACON IN THE POTATO SALAD FOR BREAKFAST! For a guy that isn’t normally excited about food, I was in heaven!
Then, a 6th Sense: Maybe that plane didn’t land. Maybe Haley Joe Bob will need the assistance of an Army Foreign Area Officer, but it will turn out that I am the one that really needs his help. Maybe that was my final approach, and this is the afterlife. Well, I guess it could be worse. The wifi is ok and there’s a gym. This will do.
Wait, where are the donuts? Heaven has to have donuts! If this isn’t heaven, then… AGH!!!
The devil’s greatest feat was convincing man he did not exist…and creating a hell void of donuts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did his plane crash? You tell me.

I just got this little partial blog post gem e-mailed to me from The International Man of Intrigue in Thailand. Do you know what happens? I don't, and since it's past everyone's bedtime on this side of the world, I'm left with a cliffhanger ending, too. Sorry about the bold--I just copied and pasted from my e-mail and Blogger won't let me undo it. Don't say I didn't warn you about the ending:

Bangkok and Sri Lanka Air
 
I saw a show a few years ago that said full planes, planes with all their seats occupied, never crash. Since then I've taken selfish gratification when I find myself sitting next to south Asia's only 7 foot tall sumo wrestler. However, today was to be the exact opposite.
 

I should have prepared myself for trouble when I asked the counter agent at Colombo's airport if the flight was packed or if I could get bumped to business class. She sad only two business seats on the Airbus 300-it's-not-a-Boeing-so who-gives-darn were booked but upgrading my economy ticket would cost more than my original ticket no matter how many zillion sky miles I have with the carrier. Well, as about 95% of the time it was worth a shot.
 
I made my way through immigration and security, grabbed an airport beef burger, and went to the gate. In this part of the world one must go through security (for at least a third time) at the actual gate and beyond the final check your boarding pass is verified by the carriers reps. I asked one last time if I could get bumped but it wasn't happening, even though the crew recognized me from my other zillion miles.
 
No big deal. They said the flight was almost empty and I shouldn't have trouble stretching out. What was that about not full flights?
 
I sat down in row 33 seat K and I had to wonder if I'd gotten on the wrong plane as ten or so other people scattered about. We were pushed back from the gate and on our way...or so I thought.
 
The plane clunkered along like my old 1979 Pontiac LeMans. And I mean clunkered. It sounded like some one was running beside the plane trying to get a luggage door closed: slam, clunk. slam, clunk. slam, clunk.
 
The noise continued as we made the turn to line up on the runway. Something's not right, I thought to myself, but I was the only person at all alarmed. Instead of announcing a delay due a wobbly wheel nut the pilot ignored it too! He actually directed our attention to the safety brief, and for the first time in two decades I paid close attention because I thought I'd be putting that info into practice as I envisioned this plane sliding off the runway and plowing into some squatter's house.
 
But the joke was on me. I bet the pilot and crew had money riding on who would freak out. We did make it off the ground, and the air was rougher then I remember it being recently, but I could have been imagining things from the safety pamphlet that was seared into my brain.
From then on the flight wasn't too bad. I finally made good use of the kick ass Bose headphones Dorothy gave me for Christmas. I broke out my laptop and did a little paperwork. I even caught a few z's...until we were on approach.
 
Now, I didn't see a little gremlin on the wing or an old lady in colonial dress, but that plane aged a lifetime while I was enjoying all my elbow room.
 
I sat above the wing and the strangest, most aerodynamically wrong sound vibrated through the cabin as the flaps maneuvered to their landing positions. Did no one else hear this? It sounded like the hydraulic fluid had leaked out over the Bay of Bengal. That couldn't be good.
 
Then a strange whining came from what I imagine was the landing gear cover. For an eternity the devil played his cover of Dave Matthews "Crash".

 

The whining stopped only when the loudest metal-on-metal collision ever recorded on a still-flying airplane caused me to almost jump out of my seat. I swear the landing gear ejected because they knew how this flight would end. And still, the flaps, THE FLAPS screamed.
 
Please, I thought, just give me some ball bearings and 10W40 and take care of it. I'll climb out there myself and oil the crap out of those things. Please!
 
Am I asleep or is everyone else? WTH?! I was surrounded by sheep, by cattle heading to slaughter. My God, what if I was surrounded by zombies?!
 
For the love of all things holy will some one show some concern?! I swore the oxygen masks would drop down as the cabin vibrations grew stronger and stronger.
 
If this is it why can't I die in business class?! Why am I going to croak back here with the weird smelling bathrooms and 30 year old trust fund hippie that hasn't showered since his dad bought him a ticket out of civilization to Lackohygieneistan? I bet the life jackets are under the seats have a personalized "Enjoy the afterlife Mr. Intrigue. Your crash will be credited to your sky miles account." I doubt my seat cushion even floats.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Muslim Anti-American Protests and Sri Lanka

Yep, I’ve been away from the blog for a bit. Not the best timing, I know. The International Man of Intrigue was in India for three weeks and I was busy wrestling the Little Explorers on my own. Then my sister arrived for a two week visit and we took a little jaunt around the southern half of the island. Highlights included a safari and not getting gored by an elephant who was hanging out on the side of the highway. I’ve also been trying to upload and edit the 867 pictures we took in India down to a more modest 600ish. Yeah, I’m also starting to believe that’s still too many. That would be about three full scrapbook albums with minimal storytelling just for a 14 day trip to India. Who’s going to look at those? I guess I could have people over for dinner and pull the old, “Let’s look at vacation pictures!” and regale them with stories until their eyes glaze over.

Enough about that. The real reason I’ve been staring at my computer screen and letting myself be distracted every five minutes by things like Pinterest and a rerun of Cougar Town is that I wanted to somehow let you all know that we are safe over here. I try to find the humor in any situation, but there’s no funny way to spin the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya or the subsequent embassy protests and attacks. One of my friends and her husband and four very young children had to evacuate Tunisia in the wake of the unrest there. I can’t imagine hastily throwing what I can into suitcases and leaving the rest of my belongings behind, not sure when or if I’d see them again. Actually, I can, because I have imagined it. It’s the nature of this lifestyle. (I’ll give you a hint—my suitcase would be filled with lots of important things like photographs and those construction paper and fuzz ball Christmas ornaments with photos of the girls pasted inside that they made last Christmas. I’d probably have to buy unimportant things like underwear when we got where we were going.)
That brings me back to the question on your minds, Fellow Adventurers: What is the current climate in Sri Lanka? To me, the situation stayed a lot less tense than it was in March when the U.N. was voting on the human rights violations made by the Sri Lankan government during their 30 year civil war. At that time, the government sponsored protests and bussed people in to march on the U.S. Embassy and other U.N. affiliated countries’ consulates.
We had a couple of protests last week. Friday afternoon, about 300 Muslims marched toward the US Embassy. Before the march started, the commissary opened for 30 minutes to allow American staff and families to get a few necessities in case things did go south. The International Man of Intrigue was first in line with booze and Diet Coke. We have to be realistic about what we want to have if we have to hunker down here, Fellow Adventurers. In the end, the protest was peaceful and the Sri Lankan government did not allow the protesters to march all the way to the Embassy.
The makeup of Sri Lanka is such that this reaction makes sense. The population is about 70% Buddhist. Less than 8% of the population is Muslim and a good portion of that population lives on the opposite coast of the island, which, with the lack of highways and infrastructure, is a long day’s drive from Colombo. The ruling party is Buddhist and does not have a lot of positive feeling toward the Islam contingent in their country. While they’ve been around as a minority for 400+ years, the last thing they want to do is give the government a reason to be angry with them. Maybe it’s not the most positive reason for these protests to stay calm, and maybe it’s not the one they’re giving, but it works for me.
That being said, there are much bigger demonstrations planned for Monday. I am not sure what the protesters’ mood will be then. I don’t know what the government reaction will be. I do know that I continue to pray for peace in the world and among religions, and that I will also be making a quick run first thing in the morning to get some Diet Coke before things get started. A girl can never be too prayerful or too prepared.