Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Texan in Italy - 17 Curious Days

Over the next several days I will be telling you about my recent challenging, weird and wonderful 17 days in Italy.

Day One - September 3, 2007

The first leg of the trip is flying from Dallas to Houston. In Houston we are scheduled to take a Continental flight to Paris. From Paris we will fly to Bologna. From Bologna we will take a train to the track meet site in Riccione, Italy. The entire trip is approximately 16 hours of combined flight and train rides combined.

The flight from Dallas to Houston is one of the small regional jets that perform commuter duty. It’s the type plane in which a tall man has to stoop over to move down the aisle. There are 2 seats on one side, a single seat on the other side. (the photo above is the actual plane) BEG is bubbling with energy and excitement knowing she will be in Italy in a matter of hours.

Little did she know that fate would intervene in a cruel way. Have you ever done something awful like squish an ant or insect, then realize you held its fate in your hands and knew what would happen, while they understood nothing of your power or what was about to happen? Looking in hindsight at the morning we took the Continental flight to Houston, I am left wondering if the power behind the phenomena of human fate felt bad for us. I hope so.

Mid-flight we were told a rain storm had developed in Houston. The pilot said we did not have enough fuel to amble around the skies so we would land and spend the duration of the storm in College Station, Texas. That’s about 150 miles or so from Houston and the home of Texas A&M University. Fortunately our flight to Paris doesn’t leave Houston for 4 more hours so I feel comfortable time is not an issue. Like other unscheduled landings I have been part of over the years, we dropped in a free-fall into the College Station airport like a rock to earth. The weather was Texas hot, 90 degrees or so and the sky was a brilliant blue, no sign of a storm in view.

What is it with people farting on airplanes? Now, don’t get me figured for being all righteous, I’ve been known to fart some now and then, but I dang sure don’t fart on a little airplane! That’s just plain nasty and rude!

Now we’re grounded in College Station and according to FAA regulations we cannot leave the plane until the pilot says we can. It’s an FAA cruel version of Simon Says. She tells us the airport does not have enough personnel to put us through security again so we will just sit on board until the Houston airport re-opens. So let me think about this. If we get off the plane we have to go through security again? This is in case a terrorist is lurking in the College Station airport, waiting for their big chance to board an unexpectedly grounded airplane? Or maybe the person that was already on board and had just been thinking about terrorism, but now that we are grounded realizes it is their big chance to go into the airport and buy guns and bombs to bring it down once we resume? No guns or bombs for sale in the airport? I’ll explain that to the FAA.

After an hour BEG breaks out a lunch she had prepared for eating at the Houston airport between flights. Its grapes, sandwiches and power bars, though I feel a little guilty eating and not sharing with my fellow grounded travelers. Except for the mystery farter. All I really want to share with him or her is the business end of a stun gun. After eating I decide to walk back to the lavatory. Just for fun I decide to check all the women to see how many are wearing earrings. Don’t ask me why, I am merely a keen observer of human culture. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. What I learned on my passage to the back is that there is not one, nope, not even one lady on board this grounded aircraft that is not wearing earrings. Don’t know what this means, but all the women are wondering what my problem is since I stared at each ones ears on my way to the back. They probably think I’m some shaved head horny bastard looking to make the best of my ground time. I’m not quite sure where a person would perform the deed in this situation even if they did get lucky, but that’s never stopped a woman from thinking the worst of me.

I estimate half of the flyers are speaking a language other than English, including a giant of a man directly behind me speaking a loud and excited Polish into his cell phone. His too large left leg is sticking into the plane’s tiny aisle. It’s not his fault really since he is too large for the space assigned a normal size passenger. Oddly the big Polish fellow is wearing a Texas Rangers baseball jersey.

The wait turns into 2 hours; two hours on a small regional jet with a mystery farter that seems to have no control of his or her overly active sphincter. I’m looking around for a cork just in case I can trace a sound to a source. It’s been two hours with angry and tired travelers speaking loudly into cellphones. I’m looking at my watch. The Paris flight is becoming iffy as the hands move around the watch. The pilot is no longer on board. I guess she never heard of the golden rule. This isn’t good.

The pilot returns. Instead of speaking directly to the small assemblage of 38 persons in a regular voice, she makes her way to the cockpit and uses the intercom to tell us that the airport in Houston is open again, but the storm is headed our way and we can’t be airborne until the storm passes our location. True to her prediction about 30 minutes later an authentic Texas tail twisting black rainy nasty storm emerges over the horizon. The rain pelts the sides of the airplane as the flight attendant hurriedly closes the main door. The wind rocks the small plane back and forth on the runway, the wings visibly tipping up, then back down as each gust runs below the plane. I’m glad we are on the ground as I see the magnitude of the storm, but I look at my watch and begin to think about alternatives. I try to call my teammates scheduled to fly with me to Paris. No one answers. I surmise this is because they are all on board Continental Flight 11 bound for Paris. I’m on the ground 150 miles away.

(Continued later)

The photo is the ACTUAL PHOTO from aboard the small plane, taken by BEG who has a Canon Rebel digital camera surgically implanted in her left hand.


Lynilu said...

Oh-oh! I can feel it coming!

Ya know, Seven, you are the only other one I know who has as many, uh, adventures during travel as I do. What is it with us that attracts the challenges?

So glad you're back, and looking forward to the next episode.

kathi said...

You don't mind if I start calling you before each of my flights, just to make sure you're not a passenger, do you? ;)

Seven said...

Silver Lovely,
Just the tip of an iceberg so far. The Titanic was nothing.

It's a good idea for you I think.