Sunday, August 17, 2003

Vacation to North Carolina

I'm hurtling through the sky at 33,000 feet. I must say that the 12" PowerBook is great for using in-flight. It fits nicely on the tray table with room to spare and I am enjoying watching other people struggle to work on their 30 pound Windows laptops.

While at the gate, I smelled fuel. Made me nervous of course, but the Pilot explained what was going on. It seems that they couldn't get one of the engines started so they had to bring over a special truck to get it started. Yes, they had to jump-start the plane which didn't exactly fill me with confidence.

6:35pm, Atlanta airport: I survived the first leg. My 5:45 connecting flight is sitting at the gate. I can see the plane. But for some reason they can't find fuel for it. Maybe it has an even-numbered license plate and this is an "odd-only" gas day. Every 10 minutes, they push back the departure time another 10 minutes so we're never given to the chance to take a 30 minute break and leave the concourse. On another note, I think one of the worst jobs in the world must be driving those little electric carts through an airport. It's really annoying to hear one go by, but imagine what it must be like to have to sit in the chair and listen to the BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! for hours at a time? I'm sure the drivers must still hear the beeping when they drive home from work and even when they try to fall asleep.

Originally I was assigned a seat in the emergency exit row, but FAA regulations require all passengers in that row to be able to lift and twist a 60 pound emergency door, assist other passengers, and juggle 2 eggs and a bowling ball. I decided to recuse myself of these obligations and switched with another passenger. I am now released from any and all obligations regarding the lives of anyone else on board and will be free to claw and trample my way to freedom if necessary.

Oh, the Humidity Ladies and Gentlemen!
I took a small commuter flight from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach and we had to walk on the runway to get into the terminal. I took about 3 steps off the plane when I started feelings my lungs struggle to take in the moisture-saturated air. I'm ready to go home.

I'm staying in a beach house, and it is oh-so-very East Coast. (That's a good thing.) It is "on the beach", but in east coast terms that means there is the house, then a small yard, then a huge sand dune with a long wooden bridge which takes you to the actual ocean. In my Jersey mindset, it's the dune that makes the difference between going to "the beach" and going to "the shore". We explore the tidal pools every day and have found dozens of hermit crabs, "real" crabs about a foot-across and even a dead stingray.

Oddly, the house has almost as much turbulence as the planes did. There is a constant strong wind blowing in from the water. In typical east-coast fashion, the house is built on stilts; you park your car underneath and then there are two floors above that. You can feel the house swaying in the wind. It's 51% cool and 49% unnerving.

Thursday: Boy, am I a mess. I can't lay on my back because that stretches my surgery incision and that's still a bit painful. I can't lay on my back, because I got a bad sunburn. And yesterday I smashed my knee against the corner of the bed and can hardly bend it. It is pathetic to watch me walk: I am partially hunched over because of the surgery, I have to keep my shoulders perfectly still to prevent my shirt from rubbing against the sunburn, and I can only hobble on one leg. The best way I can describe it is that I look like Quasimodo riding a unicycle.

Saturday: Going home
On our final descent into Atlanta, the woman across the aisle from me started puking. It is a pretty disgusting experience to hear the gagging sound followed by the flowing of chunky stomach juices spurting into a plastic bag. I did everything I could to make sure I didn't breathe through my nose so that I wouldn't have to smell it as well. I had visions of the "barf-o-rama" scene in Stand By Me where a vomit chain-reaction wipes out a pie-eating contest, I could totally see that happening on an airplane.

On the terror front, I screwed up my flight reservations. I didn't bother to look closely at the airplanes I'd be on. Let me start by giving a quick lesson about the airline industry, which I learned from reading the oh-so-informative in-flight magazine. There are two basic business models for airlines: Point-to-Point and Hub-and-Spoke. Traditionally, the large airlines offered point-to-point service (meaning direct flights) between large, distant cities (Los Angeles and Chicago). Smaller airlines offered regional service to connect to smaller, closer cities. (Los Angeles & Las Vegas). But this made it difficult to find a major airline that would go cross-country to a smaller city.

So the large airlines made partnerships with smaller airlines, Delta takes people in a nice big sturdy plane from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and then Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) puts people in a tin can to carry them during the one-hour flight to Myrtle Beach. ASA uses something called a CRJ-700 (CRJ=Cramped Rinky Jet) which is one of the most chlostrophobic planes I've ever been on, and I'm including prop planes. It holds about 50 people. I'm only 5'9, and I could feel my hair scraping the ceiling as I went down the aisle. For a 40-minute flight, I can handle it. It's a necessary evil which I don't like, but I accept.

Today I flew a cramped, vomit-filled CRJ-700 on a 40 minute flight to Atlanta. Then I had a full but roomy 737 take me to Dallas on a 2-hour flight. Now I'm on a 3-hour flight back to L.A. You would think the longest leg would have the biggest plane, right? Wrong. They're flying us on the CRJ-700 again. Why is Delta using their REGIONAL planes on a 3-hour flight?! It's driving me crazy. I REALLY want to get off.

90 minutes into the flight, here's something you don't want to see happen: we run into some sudden and fairly bad turbulence. Shaking, rattling, and loud gasps from the passengers. About 60 seconds later, the pilot comes out of the cockpit, and the flight attendant takes his place, (there was still a co-pilot up front). The pilot needs to use the little wingman's room. Couldn't he have gone before we left? Shouldn't he hold it in until he's sure we're clear of the turbulence? And whatever happened to the post 9/11 policy of keeping the cockpit secure? I swear to you, while he was relieving himself we were losing altitude. Not much, but I could tell we were descending slightly. After he finished and got back up front, I noticed that we leveled off.

Flying is not good for me.

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