Thursday, August 23, 2012

Routine Until It Is Not Routine

Late afternoon, August 18th. I'm on an airplane flying over Saskatchewan. An Embraer 190, configured 2 by 2 in economy. A cute little plane. My head, full of snot, is against the window and I am dozing lightly. The refreshment trolley clicks by, the pleasant chat of flight attendants and passengers a gauzy connection to consciousness. There's a New Yorker magazine resting on my lap. I've had a glorious vacation in the Canadian Rockies with my new love. We climbed peaks in Banff, paddled in white water on the Fraser River and camped beside a creek near Lake Louise. I haven't camped in over thirty years, but I am game. He dropped me off in Edmonton and continued to drive to Saskatchewan to see his parents. I was not ready to meet his family, so I chose to fly out of Edmonton.

I open my eyes a little. The young man beside me has placed my empty Styrofoam cup into the garbage bag held open by the flight attendant. Nice lad, I think. Good looking too. A courteous seat mate. I close my eyes again and drift.

Then, the plane dips.
And drops.

The young guy is shifting in his seat. My heart immediately beats fast and hard. A flight attendant makes an announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please stay seated with your seat belts fastened."

I pry my eyes open slightly. The young guy is craning his neck, looking down the aisle. He turns and shoots a look out the window.

The nose of the plane is angling down.

The captain comes on. "Flight attendants take your seats."

We nosedive further. My stomach squeezes and my heart pounds.This isn't the familiar rock and roll of turbulence. I still have my eyes closed. I don't want to believe that we're plummeting from the sky.

My brain recites the Hail Mary, remembering the Robert Redford river crossing scene in the World War II film A Bridge Too Far. I recalled  being in an gilder plane a few years back, engine-less, riding the thermals, rising and falling with the wind. I imagine we are doing the same thing now.  

I open my eyes to see the young guy gripping the emergency brochure. A baby is screaming. A flight attendant yells at a panicked passenger.

"Sir, sit DOWN please!"

I am thankful for the mucous dulling my senses.

We rise and fall again. I steal a glimpse at the young guy. Sweat beads on his forehead and his eyes are wide. I realize I need to say something reassuring. I look at him and smile.

"Hey, how ya doin."

He clears his throat and smiles back. "Okay."

I feel like reaching out to hold his hand, but I don't. "We just have to trust. Pilots are trained for this kind of situation."

He nods and looks over my shoulder, out passed the wisps of cloud and at land and water.
We've dropped thousands of feet from the stratosphere. The pilot comes back on.

"You may have noticed we made a rapid descent and that your ears popped a few minutes ago. That's because the aircraft has lost cabin pressure. Safety is our top priority, so we are diverting to Winnipeg."

The young guy tells me a flight attendant was sitting in the back pouring through the airplane manual.

"I'm going to kiss the ground when we land," he says.

We dive towards the Winnipeg airport, angling over suburbs, houses and trees. We touch down abruptly and taxi to a gate. In minutes, mechanics are in the cockpit, under the plane, circling.

The young guy is talking now.
"I can't wait to get in my car and be in control."
I nod, not bothering to remark sagely. Then he asks if I was scared.
"Yeah. Sure."
"You didn't seem scared. You were so cool. You told me to trust."
I pause, then let out a sigh. "What else is there to do?"

As shaken passengers jump up to queue for the washroom, I know what I can do.

I can meet my new love's family sooner rather than later.