I kissed the ground. I actually walked off the plane, knelt to the ground, put my hands beneath my shoulders, and placed my lips to the pavement and kissed it. This display was not because I had been kidnapped or robbed by vandals or locked in a subterranean prison—I hadn't been stuck on a snowy mountain or attacked by a large beast or lost at sea… I had been flying, just a simple flight from Paris to Seattle—an easy 12-hour hop that would turn into a three-day hell. I thought I’d never get home.
It began with just a small bit of turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean. For some reason, for the first time in my life, I was experiencing a fear of flying. I white-knuckled the back of the chair in front of me as the plane bounced tens of thousands of feet above the cold, dark sea. I asked the flight attendant for a very strong drink. She handed me a scotch on ice and said, “Not to worry, they don’t pay me enough for this to be scary.” That soothed me for a little while, bless that kind woman.
We were scheduled to fly into Philadelphia, but a strong northeastern storm and an unexpected need to refuel rerouted us to Montreal, where we would sit in the plane on the Tarmac for six excruciating hours, unable to exit because of some logistical error met by customs law. After two hours, impatience and frustration set in on the Boeing 747, after four hours, people began to get angry. The only rescue of this increasing emotional force was a man who had a diabetic seizure, too long apart from his medication that was stored in the luggage compartment below. He would be okay, thankfully, and calm came as he relaxed in his seat. Boy how the cheers erupted when the wheels picked off the runway in Quebec.
Off we went to New York City, the newly determined location from where we would make our connections home or to wherever our final destination may be. As we approached JFK from the north, we entered into an ice storm and were instructed to idle above the airport with other airliners until it was safe to land. We were like a flock of swirling seabirds, waiting out turn to dive bomb a school of tasty fish. It was our turn and we began to swoop in. The lights were off in the silent cabin, and the captain warned that the descent would be harrowing (I think he said that we were in for "an adventure.") Again, I was white-knuckling the seat in front of me in the back of the airplane. I swiveled around to the flight attendant who I felt by now I knew and said, “not scary enough, huh?” She gave me another scotch which spilled all over me when the wheels on the plane locked against the icy black runway. We were sliding. Then, we were safe. Then we began to clap. At this point, we started getting to know the other flyers—at this point, the voyage was completely ridiculous bordering on hysterical.
That would be the last plane that night out of New York City. Personnel had given us blankets and simple sandwiches on white bread. There was a sense of community as we curled up on chairs and under tables. I was so happy to be on the ground, but still, I had 3,000 miles to go. In the morning, I boarded a direct flight to Seattle. Across the country we flew, over the sunny Midwest and northward into southern Washington State. And then, Mount St. Helens erupted. We were being rerouted to Vancouver. Are you kidding me?! "Scotch, please!"
When I made it home, after I had kissed the ground in the terminal, it wouldn't be long before I would start to plan my next trip. What I hadn't planned on was a new, enduring fear of flying that I still cannot shake to this day. I combat this in two ways: 1) when the plane screams down or up the runway, I pretend that I am a vampire taking off into the trees, and 2) I remember the kind words of that scotch-wielding flight attendant, “they don’t pay me enough for this to be scary." And so, becoming a vampire is key.