More tales from the Road
By DAVE KIFFER
October 27, 2015
Ketchikan, Alaska - A couple of weeks ago one of my friends, noted "Gee, you haven't had any fraught-filled traveling stories lately."
And she was right. A couple of years ago it seemed like every time I left the friendly confines of Our Fair Salmon City I would return with a pretty interesting tale of woe.
Many of these “adventures” revolved around "fun times" with our state airline, the one my mother always called "Elastic Air."
It got so bad - an endless round of entertaining anecdotes that threatened to get me slapped on a no fly list - that at one point a local member of the airlines advisory board pulled me aside and gave the direct line to the president of the airlines with a request that any time I had any "concerns" I should call him directly before venting on SITNEWS. Ah, the power of the written word.
At the time, I was more amused than anything, I wasn't trying to trash "Elastic," I was just relating what I thought were pretty funny stories. I guess "funny" is in the eye of the beholder.
Anyway, my most recent trip north and back has gifted me with a couple of stories.
Fortunately, they don't reflect particularly badly on "Elastic" so I don't run the risk of being added to the no fly list. At least I don't think so. I'll probably just get "extra special enhanced security" for a couple of months. Which is good because it means I can skip my yearly colorectal consultation.
First of all, it may or may not be a good idea to hop on a plane just as post tropical storm is arriving. But since I had to go north, I figured that it was better to be flying ahead of it rather than into it. That may not have been the best choice.
Still, we took off relatively uneventfully and landed in Wrangell a very short (a post tropical tailwind will do that) time later. It was after takeoff from Wrangell that things got a little bumpy.
I guess bumpy would be a bit of an understatement. When overhead bins start popping open in mid flight, it has passed the "bumpy" stage.
Speaking of overhead bins, do you think it is just a little coincidental that a few days after "Elastic" announces to the media that its president had his bags misplaced on a flight, it then announces that it is the first customer for Boeing's new "Space Bins" which will have nearly 50 percent more capacity than the current overhead bins?
I think not.
Of course, we lose a couple of inches of headroom for the new design, but what does that matter when Alaskans will be able to fit their full moose racks in the overhead and not have to check them?
But I digress.
The bins were definitely bumping around - and the contents were definitely shifting - on the flight from Wrangell to Petersburg, even more than the normal bouncy air courtesy of the Stikine River delta.
At one point some luggage shifted its way out of one of the bins and onto the lap of a passenger. It was fun watching a flight attendant reel like a drunken sailor as she fought her way up the aisle to retrieve the shifty carry-on.
But the best part was yet to come.
Just after we came out of the clouds and began the big sweeping turn to line up with the Petersburg Airport, the jet pretty much lost all lift.
Now, I have been on flights that hit windshears, so I know what that is like. The plane basically feels like it has stopped flying forward. It is like the scene in the cartoons where the Coyote runs off the edge of the cliff and keeps running until he realizes he is in mid-air. Only then does he plummet to earth.
Well, we plummeted, and since we were in a turn we plummeted with one wing perpendicular to the ground. And we plummeted for a whole bunch of seconds.
Enough seconds for me to beseech every possible deity my mind could grasp in those seconds. At least I was doing it quietly. About a dozen other people on the plane were screaming loudly. I truly thought our time had come.
But then at what seemed like the last possible second the wings leveled and we smacked down, hard, on the runway and rolled to a stop.
Frequently when that sort of thing happens the passengers clap and there are smiles all around. This time there was just silence as we taxied to the gate.
The people deplaning in Petersburg quickly scurried off and the rest of us just sat there in shock. Either we were stunned that we had survived or we were too concerned that moving about would rattle the contents of our Astronaut Diapers.
I got up to use the bathroom and heard one of the flight attendants mutter to her co-worker. "uhhh, that was a pretty bad one for sure."
If we had been at an airport at a larger city, we probably would have all deplaned to await better weather. But the likelihood of spending a night in the wannigan that passes for a terminal there forced us to stay on board. Against our better judgment.
In short order, we loaded up again and headed for Juneau.
The captain noted that there would be a "little turbulence" which was not very reassuring because when they say "little turbulence" it means that you will soon find your small intestine in your throat. It didn't help that the attendants began handing out extra air sickness bags.
We all braced and I suspect more prayers were said, but fortunately not out loud.
And then. Nothing.
The flight and the landing into Juneau was completely routine, as was the rest of the flight to Anchorage. We had obviously outrun the rest of the storm, at least for the time being.
Of course, that safe flight didn't stop the travel anecdotes.
I spent a week at a lovely hotel in the Mat Su Valley that had no Wifi. You read that right. No Wifi. You couldn't even pay extra and get better Wifi, because THEY HAD NO WIFI. They had Ethernet, which the desk clerk said their customers preferred.
"Preferred when, in 1995??" I wanted to shout out, but held my tongue because she was giving me a room away from the railroad tracks and the constant night-time rumble of the trains carrying all that Valley dirt into Anchorage for construction projects.
It fascinates me that the Valley exports so much dirt (and no I am not referring to its Reality TV profile). I guess the Feds were right all along about it being the agricultural capital of Alaska.
Anyway, I could survive without my usual daily dozen doses of Internet, I just needed to find enough hot spots where I could get unhealthy fast food lunches with an extra helping of download to carry me over.
Well, guess what? The major internet provider for those parts was having connectivity issues that week. Go figure.
Even Starbucks was down. Talk about a Zombie Apocalypse.
So I spent the better part of the week cruising the wilds of Palmer and Wasilla, desperately seeking a signal. Any signal.
I was actually off Facebook for hours at a time. Quelle horreur!!!
But it did allow for some unexpected people watching in the Mad Zoo. For example did you know that approximately 40 percent of the people in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley look like Ma and Pa Kettle?
Anyhow, I survived being generally out of touch (as if I am ever really "in touch" anyway, but that's digression for another day) for most of my trip, but it was a relief to finally stay at a hotel near the airport that actually had "connectivity" if only for one night.
Natch, I stayed up all night madly surfing the Internet hoping to glean all the connectivity and info that had been denied me for the previous several days. Wow, 100 million websites and nothing on!
Of course, I had to get to the Ted (the Anchorage airport) really, really, really early for my flight back.
It's not that you would normally have to get there three hours before your flight, but it was fall in Alaska and there was a serious supply tote marathon clogging the TSA lines because everyone in village Alaska (which is everywhere outside of Anchorage) was apparently making their last supply run before winter set in.
And it seemed like I was the only passenger without an emotional support therapy animal. Which got me thinking, maybe I should have an emotional support therapy eagle for future flights.
Ever since "Elastic" told me I could not bring my own parachute on board a decade ago, I have certainly felt anxious. Especially when the plane suddenly drops several hundred feet and the flight attendants begin intoning Tibetan death chants.
Fortunately, the lady in front of me in the TSA line was on my same flight and she had her comfort dog with her. She told me that she suffered from such bad asthma that she could barely walk ten feet unassisted. And yet her comfort poodle was so furry that it appeared to be jettisoning nine or 10 pounds of pet dander per second. Go figure.
Finally, it was time to board Elastic Airline for one last uneventful trip home.
Except, of course, it was not quite uneventful. It never is.
For the first part of the flight, to Juneau, I was sitting next to a charming grandmother from one of the villages. She was all excited because she had just been present at the birth her newest grandkid. She asked me if I wanted to see pictures, which I always do. Photos of nanas holding their newest descendants all swaddled up in love are wonderful things.
So she pulled out her massive new IPhone 1000 with the TV tray sized screen because even nanas from the villages have gigantic cell phones these days.
First we thumbed through the sweet pictures of the brand spanking new baby being cuddled by its new relatives.
Then she popped on the video of the birth.
I realize we are in a new age where we share everything. Thanks to Facebook hundreds, if not thousands, of people know what I ate for dinner last night. And I have left a significant archive of snarky comments in the egosphere that will embarrass my son for decades after I have taken my emotional support therapy eagle on our last swan dive.
But, gee whiz, maybe that extremely graphic video was not meant for my eyes. I mean, really, now I know more about the private matters of that family than I would ever want to.
It didn't help that everyone from the surrounding rows were hanging over the tops of their seats to look at the video too.
Suddenly we were a century or two in the past, the whole danged “electronic village” taking part in this great renewal of the species.
Thank goodness technology is truly bringing us all together, even if is in a cigar shaped 60-ton tube streaking through the skies as if it hasn't realized it should be plummeting toward the earth.
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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