Prepare to Die

Without fail, a week before I am scheduled to take a flight, an inner voice matter of factly informs me that I am likely to perish on the upcoming flight.  That grim warning sets in motion an irrational and neurotic search to convince myself otherwise.

My fears center  mostly about the weather and what turbulence I can expect to encounter on the flight.  I begin to look at long-term forecasts for my place of departure as well as arrival. En route forecasts are hit or miss since the flight plan is not set in stone. There’s a very good chance that if the arrival/departure cities are “in for it” I’ll find a reason, not necessarily disclosed to anyone, to postpone or delay my flight.

Tornado/thunderstorm activity is to be avoided at all costs, so this means if it’s during the spring/summer season of thunderstorms, I make certain that landing doesn’t occur in late afternoon, a more frequent period of storm activity.

I have literally flown dozens of times.  For a while in my youth, I gave up flying after a grueling flight and traveled only by train for a few ridiculous years. This being America, it was not a sustainable solution. I’m better than I used to be, but it’s still not a piece of cake. It’s an endurance test. I congratulate  myself in showing courage and at least haven’t taken a vow never to fly again like some scaredy cats do.  It’s a necessary means to an end and I’ve determined I must endure it if I want to travel.  My mind has trouble concentrating on two issues at once, so playing music I like can help some to distract, but truly not enough.  Kind of like the Lamaze method for breathing during childbirth.  Better than nothing, right?

If the flight is smooth, no problem. I even fall asleep. However, when the seat belt sign is illuminated, I am on guard.  I check outside the window to see what’s going on.  If it looks stormy, I’ll pull the shade down, tighten my seat belt, pop a tranquilizer and mutter things to myself like “This too shall pass.” If the flight attendants are asked to be seated, that’s an indication that we’re not in a game for sissies.  Time to check out the facial expressions of the attendants and hope to receive some consolation from the fact that they are not showing an ounce of fear. I think those facial muscles must have been cut when they sign up for the job.

I have been known to refuse to board a plane if it looks like it’s going to take off headlong into a storm. By all rights, I’m sure the airport should be closed.  My husband has departed without me, unable to contain his disgust with my cowardliness.  All he’ll say to me is, “The pilot doesn’t want to die.”  My reply?  “How do you know?”

I rationally understand that turbulence isn’t dangerous as long as my seatbelt is tight across my lap.   On an instinctual level, in extreme turbulence, I KNOW a plane could easily fall apart. Just like breaking a neck if you’re jerked around too much.

I compulsively count to 5 right after liftoff because a friend of mine who’s a pilot told me that period of seconds is really the only period of danger during a flight. That’s easy enough as long as the plane lifts off relatively soon after barreling down the runway.  If the prelude to the liftoff seems to be taking too long, that could in my mind. be a sign of trouble. So far, the planes I’m riding in have always lifted off.

I’ve tried drinking alcohol which helps a bit, but not for long if the adrenalin is coursing through me.  If it’s pretty rough during the flight, I’ll sneakily take a Xanax, not telling anyone I’m traveling with, because I know they think I just get dopey, which is undoubtedly true, but better that than to be trembling in fear as far as I’m concerned.

I came of age singing Come Fly with Me” and Starliner.  I can easily get into that mode if “weather wise it’s such a lovely day.”  What’s more thrilling?

I know most people do not consider flying their favorite activity. I think we all have our own reasons.  Let’s face it, if God really meant for us to fly, we’d all have wings.

Opening to a Different World

My pores are opening to my new world.  I’m a little like a bi-valve when I fly.  Part of me shuts down/closes and waits patiently to arrive on another shore.  If there are periods of turbulence, I shut myself off even more.

closed bivalve

My flight to Japan was truly fine, considering the distance traveled.  I did not have a window seat and my window seat mate upon being seated immediately closed the window shade and put on his tv monitor, thereby  shutting off any connection with night/day/clouds or light for the duration of flight (11+ hours).  I hunkered down, swallowed a sleeping pill, and waited, sleeping a bit.

nose

Emerging on the other side of the Pacific, I had no trouble talking myself into a taxi ride to Tokyo.  A man approached me, speaking a little English. I know I had that just-flew-across-the-ocean dazed-look that made me an easy target.  He offered to take me to Tokyo,   “Do you have a taxi?” I queried suspiciously.  He pointed to his nose!  That’s a gesture I’m unfamiliar with, but, for some strange reason,  it was enough for me to decide to follow him.  He took my luggage, pointed to a bench and just said “wait.”

As I waited for him, I thought about my really unjustified trust in this man. I was too tired to find another more obvious method of transportation.  Before long, he drove up to me in a large van with enough room for at least 12 passengers.  Or would they be 12 kidnappers who would hold me for ransom while leaving me locked up in small cell, torturing me intermittently?  Once more, I asked the man, is this a taxi?  He pointed to his nose once again. I wasn’t making a lot of headway, but I decided to get in.  I did try to check out one of the doors in case I needed to get out quickly.   It was dark and I couldn’t see a door handle.  I decided that he’d probably locked it from the front anyway. Now that my breathing was a bit stronger, I might actually be able to run 2 or 3 feet and get a head start in a pursuit, in case I had to make a run for it.

bridge-city-highway-japan-asia-kagoshima-kyushu-island-japanese-road-EJ0EWX

I felt a bit of relief when he followed a sign towards Tokyo.  At least he wasn’t taking me in the opposite direction to some vacant concrete deserted building (Like I saw in Homeland) .  We rode along for miles, silently and uneventfully.  I tried to assure myself that my mind was a victim of all the awful news I’d been taking in recently.  After all, I told myself, I’m in JAPAN, a country know for being one of the safest in the world.  Or so I proudly told someone just yesterday.  Was I going to have to eat my words?   I remained vigilant, watching for signs, whenever the road offered options, that we continued to head in the right direction.  So far so good, maybe it wouldn’t be a vacant concrete building, but a place in central Tokyo?

Then I thought of a new question for my driver.  Do you know where the hotel is?  “I know, I know, nice hotel,” he responded.  I wasn’t sure if I believed him since the hotel is a new one.  I realized that question really didn’t accomplish much.  But at least he knew he was being watched.

We followed a sign towards Ginza, the part of the city I needed to go to.  Yes!  Relax, Dianne. Then just as the plane ride had ended, this car ride ended with us directly and safely in front of the hotel.  Thank you Lord.  No need for any heroics tonight.  My defenses relaxed as I entered the comfortable world of the Japanese hotel. I felt relieved and happy as I deposited my baggage and went out for a leisurely stroll, with no need to run from anyone.

A few pics taken:  and a p.s.  in the light of day, I figured out that pointing to one’s nose, must mean, it’s mine!

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street dude
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NIssan showroom

so slick

Don’t Fly with Me

fear of flying

 

For many years,  I was truly terrified of flying,  particularly if there was a threat of turbulent air.  If it became turbulent during a flight, I’d initially scan the faces of the flight attendants, to determine if they showed any fear. Surprisingly, they never did, even when instructed by the pilot to remain seated.  Suspicious of their equanimity, I’d then convince myself they knew they were being watched, so their composure was all an act. I’d continue to observe them for any signs of a breakdown. One time, after a rough patch of air, I did overhear an alarming conversation between flight attendants, “Today’s my birthday,” one told the other.  “I’ll sure as hell never forget this flight as long as I live!” Aha!  The truth revealed.  Maybe my terror was an appropriate response.

I’d also silently assess the attendants’ perceived competence to empty a plane and save my life in the event of an emergency evacuation.  Using  gross assessments, I’d generally count most of them out.  Too young, too old, too heavy, etc.  There were only a few who seemed to me to be up for the job, if it got beyond passing out food and drink.

In recent years, other than in really turbulent skies, I’ve calmed down a lot.  A few little bumps don’t bother me anymore, whereas, years earlier they’d set off immediate alarm bells in my fight/flight system.  No longer do I scan national weather maps up to a week before my flight to determine my chances of a smooth flight, nor do I count down the days before the flight, like a woman going to the gallows.  I learned early on that alcohol doesn’t help  for long.

When my sweaty palms finally popped  their first Xanax, however, it did truly help.  Insane thoughts diminished. Not foolproof though. In extreme circumstances, for example, if turbulence lasts for more than 5 minutes, after taking a Xanax, I might resort to cranking up my iTunes music and singing  along loudly to distract myself and everyone else on the aircraft.  Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

This would be a good day to fly from LA to NY!
This would be a good day to fly from LA to NY!

I had to rely on my daughter several years ago to guide me off the plane after I decided I needed more than one Xanax to calm my delicate nervous system during a particularly rough flight from Tokyo to LA.  I knew I was in trouble, when, after takeoff, the pilot announced that we were flying into typical late November  weather, indicated by a series of storms lined up across the Pacific.

As a teen ager, I loved to fly.  Then, one year, flying the East Coast corridor from Miami to NYC, I was a passenger on the Flight from Hell. It frightened me so deeply, I’ve never totally recovered.  From the moment we were airborne, until we touched down in NYC, we experienced extreme turbulence. Immediately after takeoff, flight attendants were instructed to stay strapped in for the entire flight.  Meals were never served. It was far too rough to attempt a bathroom run. An ambulance met us at the airport upon landing to remove a few very sick passengers.

The plane flew on and on through endless dark and stormy clouds. It was like a bad dream that I couldn’t awaken from.  The plane constantly lurched from one side to another, dropping altitude and recovering it, doing everything except a perfect somersault. It might have made a good amusement park ride for daredevils.

The rosaries were out for most of the flight. I briefly wished I were a Catholic.  After about an hour of this, I lost the ability to think. I felt trapped and hated having no control to bring the that aircraft down from the sky immediately. My mind was in turmoil. Dear God, I prayed, if I survive this flight, I will never, never, ever get on a plane again.

rosary

Of course, I survived the flight, but it took years to climb back on board an aircraft with any semblance of composure.  For many years, I’d take a dreadful passenger train from Miami to NYC, rather than a flight. As bad as train travel was in the early 60’s, it was an alternative that I was grateful for, the coward’s way out. Finally, as this method of travel continued to deteriorate,  I couldn’t stand it anymore; the snoring, the lack of air conditioning, the long waits in the middle of nowhere waiting for god knows what.   I think the train was called the Silver Meteor.  Hah. The 24 hour trip was always a minimum of 3-4 hours late in arrival. I came to the conclusion, as most friends and family had done years before, that it was crazy of me to continue traveling the rails.

the silver meteor

In the 1980’s my husband and I approached Kennedy airport for a late afternoon flight  to California.  The weather forecast, which I’d been listening to intently, was for severe thunderstorms in late afternoon. The day dawned with clear blue skies,  but as I watched the skies intently throughout the day, the dark clouds began to gather. I become an obsessive sky watcher on days that I fly. By flight time,the sky  was an advancing, ominous black wall.  At the airport, I kept waiting to hear that our flight had been delayed, but there was no such announcement.  Then, to my shock, there was a boarding announcement.

I could feel my husband getting increasingly irritated with me, as my fear got increasingly out of control, but  I nevertheless approached the desk agent at the gate to inquire about the wisdom of taking off in such bad weather. She curtly let me know the decision to take off was up to the pilot, and they intended to go ahead and board the plane.

I didn’t like that at all. My husband looked at me and said evenly, “The pilot doesn’t want to die.”   Not enough.  I wanted it in writing. I wanted to know that it would be impossible, even for a strong-willed pilot with an overpowering death wish to take off before the weather cleared.  I bid farewell to my husband at the gate, he boarded, and I checked into an airport hotel, to leave the next morning.

storm clouds

I’ve been on planes that have been struck by lightening and planes that had to make emergency landings.  I’ve come to understand that it’s not a simple thing to destroy a plane, but I guess you still might not want to book a flight with me.