Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Good Evening from the Flight Deck

And now, for your complete disapproval, a boring, real-time blog of my flight from L.A. to Seattle last night.

It is 7:41 pm. I am currently sitting on Virgin America flight 797, direct from LAX to Seattle. Scheduled flight time is two hours, sixteen minutes. I believe we took off around 7:13, because after closing my eyes and counting to 300 (a thing I do), my watch read 7:18. The handy map on the back of the seat in front of me indicates that we currently have 804 miles to go. When I first turned it on, that map said 913 miles to go. I call that progress.

I did not enjoy takeoff. It was windy in L.A., though I doubt that had much to do with the big turbulence about seven minutes after wheels up. It was not fun, and during any type of turbulence, I pretty much panic. This is what I do.

Turns out we can watch live television on this plane, which means Monday Night Football. That's interesting.

796 miles to go. Yes, I guess this will be sort of a real-time blog post. I won't be able to actually post it until I get to my parents' house, but I'll write it in real time. If nothing else, it will help keep my mind off my extreme fears.

I am on Lorazepam at the moment. One milligram. I once tried this anxiety-reducing drug about four years ago, and I didn't really think it worked. I was take .5 mg at that time, so I had the doctor up the dosage and give me the hard stuff. It's difficult to say whether it's working. I was in tears for a lot of the beginning of the flight, but I seem to be okay at the moment. Whether that's my own rational mind taking over, or whether the pill is having a sedative effect, I can't say. I won't take any chances on the return trip, though--I'll pop that pill right away.

Altitude: 35899 feet. Must be approaching cruising by this point. Air speed is 524 mph, which is just a little bit better time than I could have expected to make driving my parents' car back up to them in the great northwest.

I texted a few people before I got on the plane. Pretty much anyone I thought would answer the pleas of an insane 28-year old who grew up around planes and pilots and still has nothing but bad things to think about the whole shebang. Claire wrote back, then called when she realized I was maybe a little less "jokey" upset and more "petrified." So she gave me all the clichés, and made me feel a little better. I was just glad to hear her voice.

Cate texted as well, telling me how she had just been talking to her grandmother about me. I'll have to wait until I land to find out what's that's about.

And of course, my girl Christine was doing the best she could, despite being stuck in San Antonio at her mom's house. We chatted via Facebook. I was on my iPhone, she was on her computer. It's really remarkable how all that works so well. I was glad it did.

I had been updating my Facebook status all day with various quips about my state of mind: "Erin is awake and nervous" or "Erin has the drugs and is hoping she can ward off a panic attack" or "Erin is on the way to the airport. Pray for her. Seriously." You know, lighthearted stuff like that. My friends Heather and Sean left very nice notes telling me it would all be okay. My brain knows that, of course, but I can never get enough of people going out of their way to try to alleviate my fears, even though that's not really possible because my mind is a steel trap of panic.

Air speed: 521 mph. 738 miles to go. Tiny bit of turbulence there for a minute. Nothing that would bother a normal person, but you are not dealing with normalcy here, folks. Would a sane person blog the minutiae of a two-hour flight to Seattle? Unlikely. I had a friend tell me last night that I seem like I have a mild case of Asperger's or autism, what with my insane ability to count letters in words. This seems reasonable enough, I guess. But are autistics known for having a fear of flying?

I just wrote a few paragraphs but hadn't saved this document yet, and Word "unexpectedly quit." So, I don't know exactly what I wrote. I'll do my best.

I would like to tell you that I once had some horrific experience on an airplane, and that is why I can't stand to be on them ever. But that's not really true. I grew up around planes and pilots. I know that the method of travel is inherently safe. I know that my father, as a test pilot, has done far more dangerous things inside a plane than I will ever even dream about, and has lived to tell the tale. So a two-hour flight to Seattle should not be so freaky.

646 miles to go. Closing in on Lake Tahoe, where my friends the Harpers are celebrating Christmas. I'll wave out the window to them.

When I was in college, I flew from New York to Tampa so that I could meet two friends and drive to our hometown (Niceville, baby!) for spring break. The flight was awful. There were storms up and down the eastern seaboard, which made for an incredibly turbulent flight. I was freaking out like you wouldn't believe. I got out the paper jacket that held my boarding pass, and started writing my goodbyes. There wasn't a lot of space to write on that thing, so I had to be creative. Meanwhile, I was sobbing. Quietly, but still. People probably knew what was going on. At least the guy next to me. But I didn't care. I don't know why I thought that flimsy piece of paper would survive a disaster if I didn't make it, but rationality is obviously not a big part of these scenarios for me.

On our final descent into Tampa, we finally broke free of the clouds and I saw land and lights and water and my home state. Right then, I thought there just might be a god. That feeling was fleeting, but it was nice while it lasted. Shane was waiting for me at the gate (this was before 9/11, so he could do that sort of thing), and I hugged him like I've never hugged anyone before or since. I told him, and meant it, that I had never been happier to see another person in my life.

But after that flight, I got on a lot of planes over the next few years, never worrying about it at all. I don't know if 9/11 affected me, but I'm not afraid of terrorists; I'm afraid of crashing. So I don't know what my deal is. It's irrational, I know.

The flight attendants are serving drinks. I don't want anything. I have a bottle of water, but I'd rather just focus on the task at hand. I'll get water later. Hopefully my dog is surviving. I can't even see her, but she doesn't seem to be moving around very much, which is a good sign in this case. I don't want her trying to claw her way free through the mesh on her crate.

Altitude: 35858 feet. Air speed: 528 mph. 606 miles to go.

I believe our main flight attendant told us his name is Ting Ting.

Slight turbulence now. Did I mention I hate that? It's 8:08 pm, and I'm having a hard time believing I can handle another two hours up here. But maybe the drugs are working, because I'm certainly not at my full-on panic threshold. I will say that I was reading up on the side effects of this drug, and one of them said "false sense of well-being." Um, what? Isn't that the entire reason I'm taking this drug? I'm anxious, I don't want to be, so I'd like a chemical reaction in my body to make me feel like I'm just fine. That's the deal I made with the doctor this morning. Side effect, my ass.

This will be long if I keep writing for the next two hours. So maybe a break is in order. I'll watch a little football, maybe play a video game. I can't read my book because I'm afraid I won't be able to focus. We just passed over Tahoe. I waved. Hi Harpers!

Okay, it's 8:10 pm. I'll be back to the writing shortly.

Back one minute later, only to note that the satellite TV on board has lost its signal. Aren't we much closer to the satellite itself right now than we were when we were on the ground? This doesn't make sense.

On another note, I breezed through security, and was only slightly mortified when the agent made me take off my hat so she could verify it was clean (of terrorist tools, I mean; she didn't sniff it to find out when it had last been washed, and believe me, that's a good thing for her). I've never had to do that before. I wear my hat so you can't see my lack of hair. I don't like to take it off, particularly in public. That part was not cool.

8:13 pm. Guess that means it's been one hour since wheels up. Altitude: 35948. Air speed: 525 mph. 560 miles to go.

8:47 pm. Altitude: 35920 feet Air speed: 525 mph. 285 miles to go. When I turned on the screen and the map first showed up, it showed us only just beyond Tahoe, which seemed very wrong. But it fixed itself, and I'm now somewhere over central Oregon. Perhaps near Bend, though that town is not showing up on the map.

Played a few rousing games of Anagramarama, after giving up on a game called Mad Bomber. Seems like a pretty stupid name for a game people will be playing on an airplane, but maybe that's just me.

I just saw the Bears block the Packers' field goal attempt with less than a minute left in the game. That was kind of cool. And now we go to overtime. I'm not really all that interested in the game, but it provides a nice distraction now and then. My brother has it up on his TV next to me, so I can keep the map up on the screen in front of me.

I had dinner and drinks with my friends Stacey and Jenn last night (they're the ones who diagnosed me with autism and called me Rainman and shit; they're such mean girls). Four beers, it would appear, is my threshold for being able to function at a reasonably sober level. Four beers in about three hours, so my blood alcohol level probably wouldn't have been too shabby. I was good to drive, because I don't drive drunk and I'm not interested in tempting fate by giving it a shot. If necessary, I would have taken a nap on Stacey and Jenn's couch, which I'm sure they would have loved. But it turned out to be just fine. I made it home (after stopping at the liquor store to pick up the driver's license that I had left there earlier, like an idiot), and talked to Christine for a few minutes before crashing. It was probably about 11 o'clock. I woke up, alert and ready for the day, at 2am, because that's what alcohol does. I had an alarm set so that I could get up and go get the anxiety medication prescribed, but I basically tossed and turned until that alarm went off. It sucked, and you'd think I'd be more tired right now, especially with the drugs that may cause drowsiness, but you'd be wrong.

Bears just won the game. Yay?

235 miles to go. We're at a healthy 35922, and it is -51 degrees Fahrenheit out there. Chilly.

9:00 pm on the nose. Altitude: 35928 feet. Air speed: 526 mph. 204 miles to go. This pilot seems to have made excellent time. Good job, buddy.

Soon I will be asked to put away my electronics. It was not my intention to provide the most boring blog post of all time, but I think I've accomplished that goal nonetheless. I think maybe some might believe this whole exercise of obsessive blogging for an entire flight is just proof of my borderline autism/Asperger's. Right, Jenn?

My brother's screen says we have 148 miles to go, and mine says we still have 154. My brother insists this is because he's taller and therefore closer to the destination. Even he knows that makes no sense.

It's 9:09 pm and the map says we're right over Portland. Hi Aunt Karen! Hi Nicole and Dan! I'm waving out the left side of the plane, toward Beaverton.

There is now a discrepancy in the altitude between my computer and my brother's. Mine said 35906, his said 35919. The brother: "That's 'cause I'm taller."

9:11 pm, and I get the distinct feeling that we are beginning a slow descent with 120 miles to go. Looks like we just crossed the Oregon/Washington border.

9:13 pm means we're exactly two hours into the flight. We're definitely descending, as we are now at 34184 feet. Won't be long now.

Gets a little bumpier as we descend. I think you've all learned by now that I could do without that part of the magic of flying.

When this flight is over, I can finally be excited about Christmas. That will be a nice feeling. That is, until I have to start thinking about the return flight on December 31. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

9:18 We have been asked to return to our seats and buckle the belts. A little bumpy, but not too terrible. I have not been asked to stow electronic devices for landing yet.

9:20 Altitude: 19100 feet. Air speed: 385 mph. 60 miles to go. Almost there. So far, so good. Just get us to that ground safely, captain.

9:25 We're at 12238 feet with 42 miles to go. I have not been asked to turn off the computer, but I'm just going to anyway. Final status to be reported when I'm back on terra firma.

We landed at roughly 9:35 pm, and then waited at least an hour for my one checked bag. It was 26 degrees in Seattle, and there was (is) a ton of snow on the ground. And my parents don't believe in turning on the heat. So, I'm alive, but very, very cold.


Bruce Paine said...

hehe, you said Beaverton.

So one day I was working with a buddy of mine. He was a good kid, not particularly bright, but good natured-like and always friendly. As a young man he had identified himself as an athlete. He had returned kicks at the Air Force academy and been a sprinter at IU. He was recently graduated and had no other employment leads and was no longer associated with athletics. It was a crisis of self-perception.
As was our habit, someone asked an existential question and he was required to answer. The question was, "The plane is going down, what do you do?"

He stood for a moment and grimaced under the strain of exercising his jock brain. When he was done, he said, "I am going to sit back, relax, say 'good game, keith', and grab the hooter of the woman next to me."

Always ready to criticize everyone around me, I said, "Jesus, man! You last act on this planet will be to violate an innocent young woman?" To which he replied,

"She won't be mad, I have great abs."

Erin said...

Good story, Paine. That made me laugh out loud.

My father, being an Air Force Academy graduate, would like to know when this Keith fella returned kicks at the school. He realizes he's probably much older than Keith, but he's curious nonetheless.

Bruce Paine said...

It would have been five years ago or so. He probably made more noise as a track athlete. I don't think academy life suited him very much.