November 14, 2009

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

One of the good things about the end of my business "career" was that I didn't have to fly anymore. I believe that when I first started out, I enjoyed it. But as the years went by, I began to dread the thought of all the hassle that is air travel. Getting to the airport on time, checking in, waiting, being trapped in a metal tube 40,000 feet above the surface of the earth, and then more waiting. And then you had to come back and do it all over again.

Most of the time I flew in large jets, and sometimes I was relegated to small puddle jumpers. But one time, I flew in a 4 seat private plane.

One of our plant managers in downstate Illinois called me one day and asked if I would come with him on a visit to a guy who was starting up a small business, manufacturing some kind of "wonder" cattle feed supplement. During the late 80's and early 90's, it seemed like everybody and their mother was coming up with some new additive to get livestock to market sooner ... without the use of steroids. And every feed manufacturer was looking for an edge to improve their market share. It was an incredibly stupid period in the the history of the industry and logical minds have since took the reigns again and put it on the right path.

Anyway, the facility involved was somewhere in the wilds of Western Iowa and "Mel", the plant manager, had a great idea. Instead of taking a commercial flight to Des Moines and driving to the site, he'd hire an airplane and pilot so we could fly right from his place directly to the site, saving us a lot of time. I had my reservations, because it seemed to me like small planes usually crashed a lot more than big planes, but I didn't want to appear to be a mega-sized pussy, so I agreed to go with him.

Several days later, I drove down to LaSalle, Illinois to the airport where we would start our flight. Mel met me there and introduced me to the pilot, who had an uncanny resemblance to Wayne Knight, if Wayne Knight wore a suit.

Speaking of Wayne Knight, whatever happened to him? He was in "Seinfeld" for all those years, then he had a big part in "Jurassic Park", and then he was in "Third Rock From The Sun", but then I heard he lost a lot of weight, because he didn't want to be fat and unhealthy anymore, only once he lost the weight, no one would hire him again. Talk about a bitch ...

So, Pilot Wayne piled us into the itty-bitty Cessna, and we took off. At first, it wasn't too bad, except that I was in the back seat because I had forgot to yell "shotgun" before we took off and it was kind of cramped back there. I also noticed how shoddy the plane was inside. The seats had rips in them, the arm rests were broken and there was garbage all over the floor. Not impressive at all.

As we got higher, it started to get cold. In fact, there was a cabin thermometer on the instrument panel and when I peeked between the front seats to read it, I was a little alarmed to see that it read 36 degrees. I was going to tap Wayne on the shoulder, but he had head phones on and seemed a little busy, so I asked Mel to turn on the goddamned heat. However, it turned out that the heater was broken, but this wasn't any big deal, because it was Spring and it was warm outside. Except that it was warm outside on the ground, not at 12,000 feet.

As we started out slow descent, it started to get warm again, and I could see details on the ground. And I was seeing a lot of brown poofy stuff racing along the surface. Wayne took time out from listening to his Walkman, to explain that a windstorm had rolled in from Nebraska and the brown poofy stuff I was seeing was dirt from the newly plowed fields being blown this way and that. Only the brown poofy stuff didn't look like it was merely meandering this way and that. It looked like it was going someplace with a purpose, and quickly.

I asked Wayne how fast he thought the wind was blowing. He said he had checked about a minute previously, and the wind on the ground was blowing at about 45 to 50 knots. As if to drive this point home, it was right at this moment that the wind grabbed the plane and started tossing it around. Wayne stopped talking and started a cage match with the steering yolk.

I sat back in my ripped seat and grasped the broken arm rest, and thought, "well, 40 to 50 knots isn't too bad". But then I remembered that knots isn't the same thing as MPH, and when I did the conversions, I sure as shit didn't feel any better. I looked at the back of Wayne's head, and there was sweat running freely in rivulets down the fat folds in his neck and into the collar of his white dress shirt, turning the material translucent. I glanced over at the thermometer on the dash ... 50 degrees ... not good. Then I looked at Mel in the front seat. He looked very pale.

Definitely not good.

I've read that it's not good form for a blog post to go on too long. So I'm going to attempt something I've never tried before and do a two parter. Join me later and find out if I live or not.

Or don't ... it's entirely up to you.

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