Terror At Twenty Feet.

Source: Wikipedia

When I was in first grade my class took a field trip to the airport. I don’t remember very much about it except for the planes. We were taken inside some kind of military transport plane which was really uncomfortable because the floor was covered in rollers and there was no place to sit down while some guy in a uniform talked to us about the CRM 114. And then we were taken onto a regular passenger plane and each given a seat. We were supposed to go up for a short flight but one kid’s mother objected so we stayed on the ground. We were each given a Coke, which seemed more dangerous than flying because the week before our teacher had done the science experiment where she put a nail in a Coke and it disappeared, but that’s another story.

In seventh grade my class took a field trip to Washington, D.C. which was exciting because we’d fly there and I had never flown before. It would be my first time on an airplane.

My friend John and I sat down in adjoining seats. It was a bright, sunny day.

“Hey,” I said, “our window is right on the wing.”

John didn’t say anything.

“Remember that Twilight Zone episode? The one with John Lithgow. I mean William Shatner. The one with the creature on the wing.”

“Shut up,” said John quietly.

“There’s a man on the wing!” I yelled. This was even true. There was a guy in a jumpsuit checking the engine.

“Shut up!” said John a little louder now.

“Hey, you wanna see something really scary?”

“Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!”

During the summer John and I would sometimes go to Opryland together and he’d chide me for being afraid to ride the rollercoasters. He’d lecture me about how safe they really were, how much fun it was to feel that rush. It never occurred to me that John would be intimidated by flying. We hadn’t even taken off and he was scared.

I hoped we’d fly through a storm.

15 Comments

  1. Margot

    Hmm…you don’t seem like a sadist. (And thanks to you I now know that the word “sadist” come from the Marquis de Sade. I think Gina was on to something when she said we should get some kind of educational credit for reading your blog.) Were you just not picking up on how frightened he was? How did you know who John Lithgow was at age 12?

    Reply
    1. Margot

      P.S. I’d hate to be the kid whose mother objected to the flight part of your fieldtrip.

      Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I was so excited about my first flight I really wasn’t picking up on how frightened he was, although most 12-year old boys also have a sadistic streak. And since he always gave me a hard time about being afraid of rollercoasters I felt a little justified in playing on his fear of flying.
      And this was the ’80’s when John Lithgow was everywhere, including The Twilight Zone: The Movie in which Lithgow plays the airline passenger tormented by a gremlin.

      Reply
  2. Gina W.

    My father and his father both worked in the aviation industry so I grew up on airplanes. I’m usually not a nervous flyer, but about 10 years ago my husband and I were on an evening flight that flew through a thunderstorm. It was scary because of all the lightning so close by and we encountered probably the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced on a flight. I was separated on the plane from my husband so I couldn’t even hold his hand for reassurance (we had missed our connecting flight by SECONDS! Like the door had just closed and we had to wait a few more hours to get on another flight. Which was delayed because of storms). Anyway, I was white-knuckling (that’s an odd phrase) the seatrest while I rode the worse roller-coaster ride in my life. Meanwhile a little girl in front of me, maybe four, was laughing and going, “Wheeeeeee!”. That always stuck with me. One person’s horror is another person’s good time.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I bet that kid loves rollercoasters too. I’m not overly afraid of flying but going through storms or even just turbulence really unnerves me. And I always think I’m putting on a brave face but every time a flight attendant comes by and reassures me things will be just fine.
      And that is pretty calming. I figure if someone who flies as part of their job isn’t worried I can relax. In fact the best flight I ever had was one when the flight attendants made jokes all through the safety demonstration.
      Either that or the one where I was drunk and unconscious most of the flight.

      Reply
      1. Spoken Like A True Nut

        The only time in my adult life that I ever got a decent sleep on a plane was during terrible turbulence. We’re talking worried-looking flight attendants, people’s belongings falling all over the place, people praying – that kind of thing, and there I was, fully conked out in my uncomfortable coach seat for the first time since I was a baby.

        I woke up and the girl next to me was just staring at me, shaking her head. I figured I was drooling or something until she told me what I’d slept through.

        Now I’m kind of hoping my upcoming flight to Japan comes with a decent stretch of rough air.

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          It sounds like you handle the stress of flying well. Or you’re a really heavy sleeper. You won’t have to worry too much about jet lag either.
          Sorry, I just can’t stop laughing imagining what you slept through.

          Reply
  3. Kristine @MumRevised

    I think a good airplane teasing was in order. I would think a jumpsuit wearing guy on the wing would be a really interesting point of information (being the parent of a 12-year-old boy helps me get how cool that is). Good on you for trying to toughen up your friend. You obviously made it out alive so he was scared for no reason. Now coasters (or anything really) at Opryland, that is scary!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The guy in the jumpsuit was checking something or fixing something which may have made my friend even more nervous. It’s reassuring to know that a plane can fly with only one engine when you’re on the ground, but do you really want to hear it when you take flight?
      And a lot of stuff at Opryland was scary. Especially the antique merry-go-round out in the middle of the lake. I think it was already a century old when I rode it.

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    For some reason, when I read this post and the comments, I thought about a flight I was on in the early 1980s — it was a business trip, with my boss. (This was when I was a marketing writer.) Wayne Gretzky was on the flight, along with his hockey teammates. When we ran into some extremely scary turbulence, one of my thoughts was, “If this plane goes down, my death is not going to be headline news.”

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      On the bright side if any of the flight crew were hockey fans you can bet they were being especially careful, and even if the plane had gone down you would be forever linked to The Great One.

      Reply
  5. kdcol

    I am not a fan of flying so our family vacations usually involve lots (and sometimes more ‘lots’) of driving. One year I relented and we flew to Florida. The kids were beyond thrilled as it was their first plane ride. They no longer had to be embarrassed around their friends because they actually got to fly somewhere! (??) So after the trip, the boys no longer bug us about flying. I think once they realized it’s like being stuck high up in the air in a giant bus, flying ain’t all that great.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The novelty of it quickly wears thin, although it seems like it would be a lot easier now with tablets or phones that you can use to read, play games, listen to music. Most planes even have wifi now, although I’ve never seen the reason to shell out $10 just to be able to update Facebook on a two-hour flight. I’d even prefer a bus–or, even better, a train–trip to a flight. When you’re traveling on the ground the scenery changes a lot more than it does when you’re in the air.

      Reply
  6. Sandra

    Gawd over the years I have thought of that Twilight Zone episode on and off (mostly when I’m on a plane sitting by the wing) and I have been quite certain I’m the only person in the world who has this episode emblazoned on my brain. So glad I’m in such good company.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      “There’s a man on the wing!” is one of the obligatory things I say every time I fly. The other is “And don’t call me Shirley.” I know I throw out some obscure references sometimes but I think the Twilight Zone episode is such a cultural touchstones that I’m always surprised that people haven’t seen it. It touches on such deep and pervasive fears.

      Reply

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