The plane was really started to rock from side to side. Much more violently than I'd ever experienced in a commercial jet or turboprop. And for the first time, I started to seriously consider the possibility that we might crash tits up in a fucking corn field. Wouldn't that be a hoot? I wondered if it would be too late to make the evening news. Do we have enough in our checking account to bury me? Oh crap, I never did tell Jan if I wanted to be buried or cremated. Well, if the plane catches on fire, then I'll be halfway there to cremated. No open casket for Cap'n Crispo!
I don't know how long this train of thought went on, but I snapped myself back to reality and took some comfort that the runway was now visible in front of us. Wayne was still sweating like a bitch, but we were really slowing down. In the last seconds, the plane seemed to just hang in mid-air a few feet above the concrete, any forward progress negated by the force of the wind blowing into us.
And then we just ... settled. The plane thudded down a little hard on it's tripod gear and there we sat, in the middle of the fucking runway. I thought Wayne was going to taxi over to the little terminal building, but he cut the engine and told us to get out. We stood there for a little bit, and when the plane started rocking again, Mel and I draped ourselves across each wing strut and Wayne held the nose down until a pick-up came out and hooked onto the plane and slowly pulled it toward the terminal building, all of us still holding on to it so it wouldn't flip over.
We helped Wayne tie the plane down and then walked into the terminal building. Wayne walked over to the pilots lounge, no doubt to brag to the others how he landed in a 50 knot wind, no sweat. Mel and I looked at each other and giggled like little girls until we told each other to stop.
Then we rented a car, and drove the remaining ten miles to the site in a raging dust storm, and got down to business. We were done with our evaluation in a couple of hours. Mel called Wayne at the airport, and was told that there was no fucking way we were going back until the wind died down to nothing, which by the looks of the forecast, wouldn't be until after sunset.
So Mel and I drove to the nearest town, which had exactly one cafe, and spent the rest of the afternoon, drinking coffee, eating pie, smoking cigarettes and bullshitting about nothing. At sunset, we drove back to the airport. The air was calm, so we got on the itty-bitty Cessna and flew back to LaSalle. I took the front seat this time and occupied myself looking out on the lights of the towns we passed over. I spoke to Wayne a couple of times, but he'd had a hard day, so I generally left him alone. I was just looking forward to getting back to LaSalle and driving home from there.
It was after 10:00 when we reached the airport, which meant that everyone had gone home and turned the lights off behind them, including the runway lights. Wayne said this wasn't a problem, because he could turn the lights on remotely from a transmitter in the cockpit.
Except that it didn't work. No matter how many times Wayne hit that little button, the runway stayed dark. We circled several times and then Wayne made an executive decision. The airport manager lived on a small farm outside of town and we headed for it. And I am not making this up ... we actually buzzed the house twice to get the manager's attention. He came on the radio, Wayne told him what was wrong, and he drove to the airport and turned the runway lights on for us.
We landed. Mel counted out 12 crisp 100 dollar bills into Wayne's outstretched hand for his trouble and I headed for the Day's Inn in LaSalle at midnight. I called Jan to tell her I wouldn't be home until the next day and went to sleep.
I don't know if this little incident was what soured me on air travel.
But it sure pushed me in that direction.