The flight into O’Hare had been harrowing. Bad weather accompanied by wind shear had made for a bumpy landing. I wasn’t really looking forward to the takeoff either. I truly hoped they were de-icing adequately.
One of the problems of commercial flight, if you happen to be a private pilot, is knowing everything the crew has to deal with and how crappy weather conditions can play hell with routine activities.
When possible, I prefer to travel First Class; there is less chance of someone flopping their seat all the way back without notice. Being a tall guy and weighing two-forty-five, I don’t enjoy coach; why fly Business Class when the cost difference between it and first is so small? Even if it wasn't, I'm worth it.
A flight attendant with a Montreal accent asked if I would mind if they seated a boy next to me. He was a teenager who had just endured a very rough flight from Cedar Rapids on a commuter plane. Commuters are knocked about pretty badly in weather like this, but pilots are under a lot of pressure not to divert. The attendant told me there were other empty seats in First but that he shouldn’t be by himself. He was very reluctant to board another plane right away. I told her that it would be fine.
She returned with the boy in tow. I estimated he was around fourteen, but I am rather bad at that. I am also bad at determining gender on younger kids that aren’t plainly identified by attire. It leads to a few awkward moments from time to time.
"Robert this is Kelly, he will be sitting with you during the flight."
"Hello Kelly; you may call me Rob, you can have the window seat if you want it." I stuck out my hand to greet him and he shook it but looked at the window with some trepidation. "I understand your flight into O’Hare was not the greatest, if you like you can have the aisle seat, I have no great preference," I lied. I actually prefer the aisle but I’m not O.C.D. about it, It’s just a preference. I shifted over and Kelly took his seat. He wriggled out of his well-worn, if a bit large, Carhart coat; from which he removed his phone. I heard a faint curse and looked over as a tear dropped on the display of his phone. "Troubles?" I asked. I heard him sniff and his voice was shaky, "Just my battery’s nearly dead, and I really need to call my Mom." I reached into my jacket and pulled out a small packet of tissues and placed them on his knee and then reached for my phone and handed it to him after turning it on again. He croaked a ‘thank you’ at me but didn’t make eye contact. I went back to my reading but I heard the crinkle of the tissues being opened.
Eventually I hear him say, "Hi Lyle, I need to speak to my Mom before they make us turn off our phones.” I have very good hearing and I was able to hear an obnoxious male voice say, "Yeah, yeah I’ll get her.” After a moment or two, I heard Kelly say, "Mom, I just needed to hear your voice. This trip has been awful. No, it’s not my phone, mine’s dead, so the guy next to me loaned me his. I will Mom." Then in a near whisper he said, "I thought we were all going to die, the plane almost crashed and we landed so hard that one lady got hurt and all the stuff came out of the bins. I was so scared. I’m sorry I didn’t say I love you last time we talked. Thanks Mom, I do love you. I will Mom, bye."
Kelly handed my phone back and thanked me sincerely. "Now if we crash, my Mom knows I love her. And, she said to be sure and thank you. So thanks, it was nice of you to let me use your phone." He actually smiled at me. It was the first clear look I had gotten of his face. It was nicely proportioned, thinnish but with a cute nose, full pink lips and pale blue eyes framed by dark lashes. He was very attractive in spite of the red-rimmed eyelids.
"I’m glad I could help," I told him.
Our attendant, Claudette, returned and told us they would push back in about fifteen minutes. Kelly asked if the bathrooms were available. He hadn’t had a chance to go in the terminal. She granted him permission although it’s not usually done on the ground. We chatted a bit while we waited for him to return. "He seems much calmer now," She said in her cute Canadienne. I told her he had a chance to talk to his mother and he seemed to feel better about things in general. "Yes, I saw you hand him your phone; that was very kind."
I love a Canadienne accent, and she was a cutie, albeit half my age. I also love girls with a Cajun accent and the Alsace dialect is very nice as well. What really turns me on is Brazilian Portuguese. Man or woman, it makes me take notice.
But, since I lost Maurice I had not really been up for relationships.
Maurice was my wife Carolina’s Oncologist. There wasn’t much he could do but make her comfortable. Pancreatic cancer kills fast. We remained friends after the funeral and grew to love each other. Together we finished raising my five boys and his son, as well. Liver cancer kills pretty quickly, too, when it goes undetected. By the time I noticed the jaundice, he was already in trouble. They were able to slow it down but not cure it. So, I have been alone the last few years.
I was fast becoming a hermit when my oldest son Lucas came back and moved in with me after a disaster of a marriage. He managed to get me back in the world. We started doing things together. Camping, rock climbing, flying and a number of other activities they had all been raised doing. He met a young lady with the savvy of a farm girl and a giggle like his mother. He’s married now and they have two little boys and are hoping for a little girl.
I explained to Kelly that we would likely encounter a lot of turbulence between take-off and the four thousand feet, flight level. "Once we lift off we will turn left from 32L which is most likely and this is a big ol’ fat girl and a ground lover of the first magnitude. 32L is the longest runway and therefore has the most room for correction."
Things went bad right from the start, the take-off roll went okay, but we weren’t climbing as we should. I could hear and feel the pilots adding more power and eventually the big old fat girl waddled her way to the forty-five hundred mark on the altimeter and they were able to turn to a westerly heading and begin the gradual climb to around thirty-two thousand feet. Once we were above the weather, everything smoothed out and we had several hours of peaceful flight. But, while all that had been going on, Kelly had wrapped both his arms around my left arm and buried his face in my chest. It must have been a very bad flight that he had encountered earlier. I put my hand on his exposed left cheek and stroked his ear and hair. He eventually fell asleep in that position. When Claudette returned, I asked for a pillow and blanket and arranged him so he could sleep with his head in my lap. We went on an hour and a half like that until he woke and sat up. He removed his seatbelt and bolted for the restroom. Once he returned, I asked if he felt better and he said he felt pretty good and thanked me for letting him conk out the way he did. He was a little embarrassed that he had acted like that with a stranger. He said he couldn’t explain it, he just felt so relaxed around me it was like I was family.
I told him not to concern himself. He just needed someone to lean on at a very stressful time. That seemed to relax him for the moment but it was clear we would revisit the subject later.
"So Kelly where are you coming from?"
"I was visiting Gramma, and her husband Ed. I'd love to live there with them, but they're too old to take me on. My Gramma is sick; I don't think I'll get to come and visit again. Ed's a nice man, he gave me his old jacket and it is warm. He doesn't work outside anymore and he thought I could grow into it."
Kelly seemed to stare into empty space as if reliving his visit.
As we approached the west coast, the weather deteriorated. Even the jet stream was being affected by the powerful storm. Our first approach was very rough because of wind shear and turbulence. The pilots executed a missed approach at about three hundred feet and I knew it would be awhile before we were on the ground. I could feel him adding power and we were turning south to line up on one of the other runways.
Forty minutes later, we were making the second approach, which went pretty well until the left main gear hit a huge hole in the runway and made the plane veer off the concrete into the verge, which was grass and gravel. When the mains followed the nose gear, they immediately sank into the verge up to the top of the tires. This made for an abrupt but not disastrous stop. The big beast groaned, creaked and protested, but it stopped without tearing off a main gear or anything else.
During that time, Kelly had a death grip on my arm and I held his other hand to help him stay calm. Everyone onboard exhaled at once. People began to scramble for the overheads. Claudette told everyone to remain seated but no one listened. I asked if I could help and showed her my Reserve Deputy badge. She said it would help if I could get them to listen. I told Kelly we were safe on the ground and I had to help Claudette calm everyone down before someone got hurt. I picked up the microphone and began.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please. I would like everyone to look forward and pay attention to the man with the badge." I held mine up so they could see. I began, “I realize you are all a bit unnerved by the landing, but we are all safely on the ground. There is no threat of fire and the engines are shut down. Here’s what will happen now. You will all sit back down and wait for the mobile jetways to arrive. Then we will disembark as though we were at the terminal and we will all board busses together. Is that clear?"
One loud mouth; there is always one, decided to challenge me.
"Well what if I just open the door and slide down?"
"You will be charged with endangering an aircraft and failing to obey the flight crew. And, if someone follows you and gets hurt, you will be charged for that as well. Plus, you will spend the evening in a very uncomfortable room while federal agents trash your luggage. Is that clear enough for you?"
I heard an older man say, "Now sit your dumb ass down before I call your mama."
It broke the tension that everyone was feeling; a few even laughed and no more was heard from the loudmouth. After that, everyone relaxed and after a half hour the mobile jetways arrived and they started pulling people off the plane. I went back to Kelly and found him asleep with my jacket as a pillow. I was just starting to wake him when my phone rang. It was the last number dialed so it had to be Kelly’s Mom. I answered and a frantic woman asked if he was okay, she had seen the news story and flipped out. I told her he was asleep, but I would wake him and he could call her back in just a few minutes. She was satisfied with that and I disconnected. I had heard the obnoxious male voice complaining that she would run the phone out of minutes. What a creep.
I felt a pair of arms around my waist just as I was bending to wake Kelly. It was Claudette; she wanted to say thanks for getting the passengers to settle down. She told me her husband was watching the scene on TV and she told him there was a no nonsense man on board and he saved the day. I blushed a bit and said I was happy to help.
The cabin door opened and a very stressed looking crew stepped out. Having completed their lengthy post-incident checklist they looked desperately in need of a drink. I offered my hand and congratulated them on a successful, if a bit bumpy landing. I told them it felt like we hit an obstacle or a hole, I wasn’t sure but the left main hit something.
The first officer said, "It was a hole, but you can’t swerve a big ass bus like this. We just had to ride it out like everybody else."