Thursday, December 1, 2016
NEW MEXICO DIARY -- S (A celebrity -- saved by the Katchinas)
On the airplane departing Albuquerque, Julie sat next to a celebrity. Every seat was taken on the plane. We were crushed together, sitting stoically with our shoulders flexed inward and our knees pressed together, hip to hip, and the pilot announced in his jovial Tennessee-accented voice that we were privileged to be serving the father of one of the best and most competent Air Traffic Controllers in the region, naming the man with a "shout-out," so that the man, a big, square-cut fellow with glasses and a friendly smile, could whisper to Julie, his seat-mate, "that’s me."
Julie spoke for a while with the celebrity, a gentleman probably about my age. He said that his son had just suffered a painful break-up with his girlfriend and that the young man was left alone with only his dogs for company and, so, he had come down to Albuquerque from Bloomington, Minnesota for a visit.
"How is your son doing?" Julie asked.
"Okay, considering," the man said. "He is on-duty right now in the tower."
I don’t know what the plane was carrying in its cargo-hold: gold treasure from lost Spanish mines or plutonium from Los Alamos in specially designed vessels or corpses in lead sarcophagi or some combination of these things together with luggage, salesman’s heavy cases of pharmaceuticals, Acoma pots in bubble-wrap, and who knows all what, but the aircraft was too heavy and as it careened down the runway, the wings clawed at the sky, but the sky offered no hold, there was no traction, and, so, the plane went faster and faster and the glass and steel buildings of Albuquerque flew by with bewildering speed, but still the plane would not lift off. At the very end of the runway, the plane tilted upward and zoomed forward, but at a height of only a dozen feet above the parched desert. Buildings were ahead and beyond them the buttes and mesas under Sandia Peak and, then, five-thousand feet of escarpment itself and I thought that there was no way the airplane could clear those obstacles if it couldn’t rise more than a sapling’s height into the air. Then, the plane began to shudder violently and the wing blurred and the window portal rattled so loudly that I thought it was going pop out of the wall and, vibrating in this way, the plane tilted upward again and caught a hold of some invisible ramp or surface in the sky so that it shot upward with a ferocity that caused the luggage in the bins overhead to slam back against the bulkhead compartments.
Everyone pretended that things were okay.
The plane found a groove between the mountains and drove through it and, then, the sky darkened and the sun set and the earth was covered with low, writhing clouds.
We reached Minneapolis but were early and so the plane was detoured far to the west to circle over Willmar or Sioux Falls. Then, a window opened for our landing and, so, the airplane powered down out of the clouds, descending in a steep dive. Something was wrong the landing gear. I could hear the motor deploying the gear whining beneath my seat, a high-pitched noise that went on and on like a car trying to start on a sub-zero day. Every time, the landing gear extruded from the belly of the plane some great fist pounded the wheels back up into the aircraft. And, all the while, we were dropping like a stone out of the sky.
The plane pierced the cloud cover and I could see the wet runways only a few feet below the plane’s wing tip. The wheels had not deployed and, instead, the plane had extruded two raw hands, bloody and with talons, to grope downward for the concrete that was rising rapidly toward us. The plane reached out and caught the earth in its Katchina-grasp and we smashed hard onto the runway shooting beyond the end of the landing zone and, then, careening hard to the left, so that we almost toppled over.
Everyone gasped as if the wind had been knocked out of them.
We followed the celebrity with the air-traffic controller son down the jet way. He was limping a little.
The moment he emerged from the jetway, his cell-phone rang. It was his son verifying that he had survived the flight. The man held the phone to his ear with trembling hands. The calamity that we had narrowly escaped turned his face white and bloodless. He staggered to a seat and crumpled into it.
But we were back, returned to Minnesota, in one piece.
October 26 - December 1, 2016