Archive for the faith Category

Vuelo Loco: Tennyson, Dead Fish and Mexico City.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, fart, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, layover, life, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by Chris Manno

Listen, I’m a fan of Mexico. Really, I am.

What’s not to like about Mexico City? Always looked forward to those downtown layovers–it was part of my job–but they’re scary dangerous. Probably not for the reason you think though.

I mean, sure, there’s plenty of drug violence. And yes, I did have to dodge through four lanes of traffic to evade a scroungy-looking cop trying to shake me down once, but he was either too lazy or too smart to chase me through the insane downtown traffic.

And yes, plenty of people with questionable intent in a city of 20 million, where you could simply disappear, kind of like the city itself  is doing, slowly sinking into its own aquifer. And okay, maybe I did roll the dice in a sense, as an instructor-evaluator taking pilots down to Mexico City every month, showing them the safe way to fly in and out of the mountain bowl.

Well, it’s not even really this “thread-the-needle-through-mountains” approach and usually, through thunderstorm alley that was like playing craps weekly. And it’s not really that I minded the always slick (memo to Mexico City Airport: the rest of the world cleans the reverted rubber off of their runways every year or two, so get a clue) runway with the puddle in the middle that you hit doing about 150 and exit two thousand feet later at about 149.

More, actually, was requiring the qualifying pilot have a beverage and a Cuban at an outdoor cafe on the traffic circle outside the Presidente Hotel. The bar–Karishma–is where a whole crew got mugged one night. They noticed that suddenly the place was empty save the two airline crews enjoying tapas and the generously poured (“Tell me when to stop pouring, Senor”) refreshments there. Then suddenly, watches, rings, wallets–buh-BYE, as we like to say.

So to be on the “safe” side, we sat outside on the traffic circle–maybe more witnesses?–and since it was my idea, I made sure my back was to the building, so the new guy got to sit with his back to the insane traffic, puffing a Cuban (relaxing–but mandatory) and enjoying a refreshment, maybe getting a shoeshine from the roving vendors who’d magically appear, ignoring the demolition derby mere feet away.

Hey, might as well get the full flavor: massive city (did I mention 20 MILLION people?), exotic neighborhoods of jumbled steel and glass elbowing in between with castellated stone architecture, snarled in the clogged highways like the arteries of a fat man. You watch the traffic and muse over your beverage, how the hell do they do this five way intersection without a traffic light?

And then on the side streets of The Polanco, maybe a quieter sidewalk cafe where I actually did much of my doctoral exam study: outside, books piled, good coffee, usually a thunderstorm in the afternoon that made me glad I wasn’t trying to fly a jet in or out at that moment. Out of nowhere, it seemed, in the afternoon towering big-shouldered thunderheads would roll through the mountain pass with raggedy sheets of torrential rain and thunder that echoed through canyons of concrete and steel, the reverberations so fitting to Tennyson’s “Ulysses” marching across the page before me toward the inexorable doom awaiting us all.

Harder to relax at dinner, though, when you were concentrating on the guard dog staring at your plate and whatever you were having for dinner. The armed guard restraining the dog had his eye on you and the plate alternately, and you had to wonder if either or both of them might figure that the dinner and your wallet might tip the scale in favor of mutiny. It was a stand-off in Mexico: the guard and dog making sure banditos didn’t mug you while you ate–but then the silently menacing pair themselves having to resist the hunger and temptation to rebid the transaction in more favorable terms.

And it’s not even the “one-eye-open” sleep in the airport high rise hotel with the un-level floors from the tipped buildings patiently waiting to tremble and topple in the next big quake they know is coming soon.

You wake up the next morning with the feeling of relief: ahh, The Big One they’ve been expecting didn’t happen while you slept, crushing you in tons of rubble that will take about ten years–if ever–to remove.

No, I’m talking about this:

That’ll eat you alive. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was heading down to Mexico City for the umpteenth time and my favorite cousin was there with her husband who worked for the U.S. Department of State. “Hey, want to meet for dinner?”

Okay, I already know why not–I’ve been in the airline crew biz a looooong time: relatives don’t get it, you’re not on vacation; time does matter, sleep too.

“Sure, why not?” Because I’m an idiot–and here’s why. We’re going out for Mexican, traditional, right? I mean, we’re in Mexico-friggin-City, right? Enchiladas? Queso? Fajitas?

No.

We’re doing Mexican-Asian fusion, which means I’m eating raw fish in Mexico: salmon carpaccio, pictured above. Delicious. Amazing! Immodium, amen. That didn’t take long.

The fever lasted about a week. The shower nozzle effect (any chance of scheduling a colonoscopy? I’m prepped, just for the hell of it) lasted a couple weeks. Thanks cuz.

Forget banditos. Who cares about high altitude aircraft performance, up-sloping mountainous terrain and treacherous rolling thunderstorms. The real danger’s on the plate.

Yes, I love Mexico City. Just don’t go there unarmed, okay?

September 11th: Where Were You, Where Are You?

Posted in 9/11, air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, security, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by Chris Manno

It’s difficult to remember, but hard to forget: where were you when the World Trade Center fell? And as importantly, where are you now?

The first question takes you back to a time that’s growing dimmer, but no less painful. The shared stunned looks where there were seldom looks exchanged: at a stoplight, from one car to another, the look of incredulity between drivers as if to say, “what just happened to us?” There was, for that moment, an “us” between random strangers struck at the same time by the horrific events as they unfolded.

Then the common denominator that mattered was both the pain of reality and our citizenship in a nation under attack. For me at that moment, sitting in a flight simulator giving flight training to a new copilot who would in short order be furloughed as a direct result of the 9-11 attacks that ravaged my airline and ultimately, the entire industry, the reality was ugly: jets commandeered, fellow crewmembers murdered at their duty stations. Our sleek, beautiful, powerful jets which we always used for good turned into missiles by dark forces intent on bad.

I’ve always liked the fact that our jets carry the flag on every tail, that our name says “American” in bold letters. And even though that’s probably why our jets were selected by the terrorists for maximum psychological impact, that very fact was also their downfall.

The flag and all things American were reinvigorated from the east coast of this nation to the west. More than just a glance between stunned drivers at a stoplight, the entire nation seemed to rise in dedicated opposition to the terrorism and extremism that cost thousands of innocent American lives.

Several flight crewmembers I know decided to be done with flying as a result of the infamous attacks, and I don’t fault them for that. It’s not like when we were in the military, where it was accepted as a fact that yes, you could get killed flying a mission. Our 9-11 colleagues weren’t on a military mission–they were just doing their jobs when they were murdered.

But there was never any question, at least for me, about getting back into the cockpit and flying again, even knowing that the terrorist threat still existed. It’s a different world now in flight, with security being a constant challenge to a degree unheard of before 9-11. Maybe that’s one positive change, although working under such a threat has changed the profession in ways I don’t always like.

But I believe my part in the opposition of terrorism is to refuse to let the dark forces win. We will fly coast to coast because we can, we want to, we have to. We don’t bow to threats and violence, as a nation or as a flight crew. We fight back for what’s right–which brings us to where we are today.

The fight goes on, and with it comes a huge pricetag in lives and loss. That’s the part of where we are today in the post-9/11 world that worries me.

Because except for on the anniversary of that awful day, there’s little day-to-day remembrance of the important people: not only the thousands whose lives were taken on that day, but also those given since then to keep the rest of the nation safe. That, in my mind, should not be something to “remember” periodically. Rather, that should never be forgotten–ever.

We see the remains of fallen fighting men and women passing from one coast to a hometown on our jets every week. We honor them the best we can. And like most flight crewmembers, we keep alive the memory of colleagues who were killed in the first battle of the war against terrorism.

Never mind the partisan politics of the war on terrorism; the squabbles over the mosque near ground zero, or opposition to the war on terrorism.

Today is about remembrance and appreciation for those fighting the war, those who have lost their lives to the enemy and those carrying on the fight today. That’s what’s most important to me and to many others on this day of remembrance . . .

. . . and every single day of the year, in every single moment in the air.

Nightshift: Meditations From A Dark Sky.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, cruising, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2010 by Chris Manno

There’s a soundtrack especially for this text.

Click here to download the music, adjust the volume, click play, then return here to read.

Ah, the sun: sneaky devil.

Puts on the same show twice–once at dawn, again at dusk. One’s the same as the other, only in reverse; one followed by darkness, the other brilliance. How are you supposed to know which is the real deal, which the rerun? What’s the day’s main event, darkness or light?

It’s a different world once the sun sinks into the far west leaving the sky empty cold and black.  Happens slowly in a showy way as if the dazzling exit can somehow justify the expectation of an equally brilliant return in a matter of hours.

It’s a major league show no matter where you view it from but especially from six or seven miles up. Because even if the sun sets behind you, the sky spreads the news, repainting the image in case you missed it.

Topside, a quick brush from the crimson lip burning away behind you slaps rouge on the towering boomer ahead. But the sun’s not quite done, still spreading the gold above and over the gathering darkness. That’s the cool thing about a perch seven miles high: you can see the night sneaking in between the sun’s angle over the curve of the earth and the actual horizon.

Twins abound: look at the ghosts below, clouds and their doubles. Like magic, darkness mimes light, twin schooners in flight.

Racing away from the sunset, trailed by the hulking shadows of thunderbumpers behind pointing ahead, monstrous cloud stacks thunder east.

But we’re way too fast in a jet to be caught. But do you think any of the ordinary mortals below see the sunset striated with bruising blue fingers and will put two and two together hours later when the thunder booms and lightning streaks away?

Closer look? Sometimes the sky is so thick with boomers there’s no choice but to pick your way through the darkness with our x-ray vision at least giving you a fighting chance.

Sure, you can slip between the big-shouldered thunderstorms, but they let you know who’s boss and why it’s important that you don’t get too close.

It’s not that I only appreciate the sunset at the expense of the sunrise–I don’t. It’s just that I find little reason to get up early enough (yeah, I used to have to) to see what I know is replaying later anyway.

This could be either, couldn’t it? Except that I’ll tell you that it’s heading west, as we all do. Maybe that’s the point of the light show at the end of the day: reminds you of old times, of the past, of mornings when this tired day was new and all things were possible, all things ahead. That’s all behind you at sunset.

And that’s where everyone’s headed, eventually. Follow the trail, enjoy the show. Not sure, but I think it’s nature’s version of the Faustian cataclysm in Renaissance drama: sound and fury, flash and fire.

Exeunt.

Then darkness. Silence opposing the dwindling flash, swallowing the glaring echo of day’s brilliance. All that’s left is the veiny glow of feeble ground lights allowed only after sunset to inscribe a a place on earth.

Sometimes it’s the darkness itself that provides a backdrop for a place born and bred of night. Only dazzling when not competing with the sun, when the absence of light takes away the blemishes and without shadows, grounding everything as if there were no tomorrow, as if it weren’t hopelessly locked between nightfall and dawn like the underworld.

Sometimes, it’s just a nameless town, a place marked by the headlights like strung jewels inching through arteries that map the topography.

And then I always wonder, looking down, who are all these people, and where are they going? What are they doing under their artificial light, earthbound and not noticing the night?

Or maybe they are looking at the sky, seeing our twin strobes as a satellite whizzing soundlessly by miles overhead. Maybe they wonder where we’re headed, who we are way above and so soon, at our jet speed, far beyond the horizon and into the dark unknown.

Either way, we’re all headed traveling the same road. Sunrise, sunset; flash and fury; darkness, dawn, darkness, dawn, the parade goes on and on.

Same show every day: evening’s about darkness, morning–light. Despite the crushing certainty of night, everyone bets on the dawn and no one’s leaving before the last encore.

And so, life goes on; day to day and always. Crafty, that sun is.

The Sky’s On Fire

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2010 by Chris Manno

To add audio to your experience, click here, start “Waltz in Blue,” adjust to a comfortable volume, then return here to read. Enjoy.

 

 

You can see this, right? I mean if you look:

That’s plain as day–well, late day–when it’s stuck in your face and you open your eyes. In fact I’m half blind squinting  straight into the arc weld shrinking into itself on the fringe of night, folding up the day and running off to the west. But that’s not all that sunset is nor all that’s whisked to the west and away.

Comes up like that too, doesn’t it? It’s the early time, bright golden light warming wings for flight, leaving the dew but taking the chill.

Fresh painted colors so blazing vivid because they’re new, and not just to the day, but also the season: it’s early summer. What a down-to-earth thing, this whole waking up to simple flight in every furious color of the rainbow. The hive’s alive, isn’t it? Launch to the four winds.

And worker bees don’t care about duration. Rather, it’s all about the flight; the getting and carrying and going then putting down. To get and carry some more, crisscrossing the landscape with studious intent. The sky’s full, abuzz, worker bees everywhere.

That’s the engine driven by daylight, roused by the sunrise–alarm clock!–always moving once warm and awake the swarm spreads east to west in the sky. Later is better, to me: I’m senior in the air, which means I don’t get up early any more to fly.

Sure, I vaguely remember “back in the day” when I did, when the coolest thing was dawn on the flight ramp, among the flock of big metal birds fueled and ready to split the air with the roar of jet engines. But this is now and I sleep later since I can; so yeah with the relentless hands of the clock, the dawn is behind me now and almost a piece of nostalgia anymore.

Guess folks leave the nest less wide-eyed the more wake-ups you stack end to end. Slower? Less color? The more comfy chair for you then?

Early, late–whatever the time, you HAVE to fly, to leave the hive eventually and take to the air. That’s what the day brings with the arc of the sun from the first sliver in the east that vanquishes the night. Those were the days, when dawn meant a new day of discovery, not just covering ground. Whatever happened was almost incidental, choreographed by others bigger and further along in their sunlight arc.

And when the light is brightest, the world at it’s hottest brightest best, it seems like moving is all anyone does, and so you fly too, making your rounds in the sky.

Follow them! Move, and move fast, from flower to flower; it’s what you have to do, what everyone does: noon is no time to rest. So we fly, like everyone else. Yeah we do.

So back to my original question: you can see all this unfolding, right? The greater significance of the flight, the ground crossed, the sun chase we never will win? Or am I seeing it because it’s in my face, but for you, only a sidelong glance.

You’re flying too but even though you’re going straight ahead, your only view is from side to side. You aren’t beak-to-beak, chasing the sun, tending the fires and logging the run.

The sun goes down slowly sidelong when you can’t see it slip lower, measuring it not only with the horizon–

–but also with the colors as they fade in the sun’s march with which we can’t keep up. It’s the subtle consolation prize from the lateness of the day: gold, goldeness as if lovely parting gifts: thanks for playing.

You can hardly remember the boldness of late spring cardinal colors–who gets up at dawn anyway, if you don’t have to–in the expiring light of day that slants and shrinks away.

Then you can almost do the geometry and see the arc quietly closing in on the horizon. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t have the pointy end horizon view, or don’t want to.

You have faith in where you’re going and on the way there, a glance outside is enough to see that we’re upright, that you’re still moving blossom to blossom, at least forward. And that’s enough for now anyway, right? Always that “now,” did you notice that?

But sunset’s about “then,” not now; “there,” not here. How many times enmeshed in our busy-bee flight of right now do we really think about “then?” About where that fireball’s headed, taking with it the warmth and the color and the day? Not just the end of flight, but the end of flying?

Colors fade, motion ceases, eventually. Not everyone flies past the golden sunset, you’d have to suppose but who really knows? I just fly the jet for you and though I often wonder what everyone does when they get “there,” I’m too soon taking off again, taking others wherever “there” is for them.

Look, it’s not my place to tell you how to bee–I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I just wanted to give you a heads-up on the revelation that you can only get from the front.

Yeah, the sky’s on fire. But that ain’t all that’s burning.

“Waltz in Blue” is original music by Chris Manno.

Copyright, Cyber-Sonic Music 2010

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Bees and Flight, Darkness and Light.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by Chris Manno

Special Note: here’s a soundtrack designed for this essay–you can click on it to play it, then return to this window to read for “the full Monty” if you like.

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Daylight is the fountain of youth, and there’s no shortage of seeming noonday above it all westbound.

That’s the way we go, backs to the east and the dawn that’s gone, west to the sun as fast as we can.

We’re younger back there and some of it’s hard to remember: dawn is the time of half awake, of coffee poured and routines started by rote and necessity that give way later to more elaborate undertakings.

Takes time to get your eyes open, to acclimate to the world in general and flight in particular. We’re younger, earlier, closer to the dawn; smaller than now but taking flight nonetheless. Doesn’t seem so long ago until you look back, and then the earlier flights are clearly a different time with different people.

The shine of everything, the newness before a thousand times over makes each seem more like an extra lash of the minute hand rather than a special moment. That was an era of firsts, of an undercurrent of discovery and faith that the cycle would be ever more new and larger ways to fly.

And all of them would last forever. Of course they would, it’s just from that particular momentous “now” that races behind us, linked inextricably to the dawn from which we’re always outbound, they did last forever–it’s just that we didn’t.

Inch by inch, our westbound flight does what we hardly notice as we follow the sun: things change, even as they stay the same. And there’s the conundrum of westbound flight.

The more we repeat the things that were “new” and exciting “firsts,” the less they are that and from the standpoint of time, the less room there is for truly new and exciting as we do diligence to the process. Family. Income. Lifestyle.

Running the machine composed of the endless gears of all that shiny pioneering, they require time and effort that limits the discovery that brought them into our time in the first place.

Still it’s ever westward, tailwind, headwind, bumpy or smooth–we’re on our way, keeping the sun as high as possible over that world of rare, short shelf life newness.

Yet there are those who fly who care little for the clock and the sun that at its highest arc warmed wings best for flight; even the key to navigation in relation to the westbound sun matters little though the routine flight is spectacular and with great purpose.

There’s no fear in this flight, oriented by the sun yet oblivious of the fireball’s second by second dip from the top of the sky, slinking to the west. No thought for the hazards that also awaken with the new day, disguised with jewel-like adornment that is night’s mourning of dawn’s heat, promising nothing but doom.

Relentless, westbound just the same, with lessening notice of the good or bad as the remarkable is subsumed into routine by repetition, blossom to blossom, noon till sundown and onward we fly.

Takes a herculean effort to not give in to the opiate of monotony. Almost have to pinch yourself, remind yourself exactly where you are. To acknowledge that the flight itself is as significant as the destination, maybe even more important: this is the now that’s fleeting, that is relegated over the shoulder toward the vanished forever dawn.

Face it: the cloud swing is moving, just as the sun is, ever west. Looking ahead, it may not seem so but looking down, the illusion is clear.  The gears turn now, but not forever and never the same as “back then.”

Because like the bee’s wings, they cool and move more sluggishly in the diminishing light. Not such a ready flex or easy reach as the day fades, but it’s still easy to underestimate the power of light and loss in the creeping of darkness. As time goes on, that requires more deliberate effort for any creature transcending the automaton-ish, hive-centric bee’s life.

If you do, you won’t be fooled by seemingly carefree flight that is borne more of indifference than courage.  Because what he doesn’t know–but you do–is this: the sun will win this race, fleeing westbound and eventually, leaving you without a shadow. The molten gold near the end is beautiful,

but darkness waits just beyond and as Swinburne warned, “. . . in the end it is not well.”  Bees go somewhere at night and eventually, don’t fly any more. If the sun shines brightest on the liveliest, then this is truly “the rest” of life.

To know or not know that ending won’t matter as much then as it does now while there’s still daytime left. Never mind the bees buzzing unconcerned around the fountain of youth, that’s the promise of light.

Soundtrack: “Stormy,” Chris Manno–Lead, Bass,  Drums.

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The bee’s story: I was heading to breakfast in Nashville yesterday, getting ready for another day in the sky. Looked like he was doing the same, which got me to thinking. I’m lucky he didn’t sting me for sticking the camera in his face, but he seemed more interested in his collection business than in me. Or maybe he wanted to be part of this story . . .

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Flight Lessons for Real Life

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

Most of what I’ve learned in over 17,000 flight hours–usually the hard way–applies on the ground in the big picture of life as well. Here are two primary lessons you can rely on whether you’re in either place:

1. There’s nothing more useless than runway behind you. The concrete behind you can do little good for you when things “change” and suddenly you have less space than you planned on to get up to speed. In real life? Forget shortcuts=start at the beginning: don’t waste any parts of the runway. Sure, First Officers tell me all the time, “we don’t need all of the runway–we’re light.” Yes, jet is lighter than planned so we don’t “need” it mathematically–until an engine ingests a bird at 35,000 rpm and destroys itself.

Then suddenly those mountains seem higher and like the end of the runway, not so far away. What does that mean in real life?

What did you take for granted? What precaution did you skip for convenience or because on paper, it didn’t seem necessary?

Personal decision? Nobody else’s business what you do as far as “precautions” because it’s your life? Well, does that apply to me too?

I’ve had passengers tell me they “don’t worry” about flying because “when your number’s up, it’s up.” I remind them that when my number’s up–theirs is too.  Because whatever applies to me applies to you when you’re on the jet I’m flying. And so it’s really not about me–rather, it’s about the hundreds a day who pay me to do what I do perfectly and in their best interest. Never mind what’s easy or convenient for me.

You?  Think there’s anyone depending on you and the decisions you make in the course of your life? Family? Business?

Okay, even if you don’t have the classic four piece set yet–when do you think is the time to do the preparation they’re counting on in order to have a smooth journey when they come on board with you?

What monumental yet tedious preparation would be nice to have behind you–rather than empty runway–when the challenges ahead demand every iota of advance preparation? Does it really matter down the runway what you might have skipped out of convenience a couple miles back?

So you tell me: do we really need all of that runway? Wouldn’t the mathematical minimum be sufficient? Can’t we deal with things later or if it’s easier now, not at all?

2. Don’t trust the weatherman. Why? Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Specifically, he’s looking to the past, predicting future outcomes based on historically similar circumstances. Two problems with that: first, you’re going to be dealing with the weather in the future, not the present and certainly not the past. And the weather guy will be the first to say, “things change.”

Second, no one has succeeded yet in crossing any bridge before they come to it–and the weatherman ain’t going to be with you when you do. Those who depend upon “experts” making predictions of future  outcomes based on past events will find themselves ill-served and alone if they base crucial decisions on a forecast–of weather forecast, financial, political or any critical issue. I prefer the simple way: assume the weather is going to be awful and prepare accordingly. What’s the worst case scenario, and how to I bail myself out when it comes to pass? Then, if the weather’s nice–oh well, we’re safe, happy, secure.

But if the weather’s awful: you’re a prepared. No one rewards you for fortune-telling; being ready for everything makes you the genius everyone was counting on you to be. As with number one above–it really isn’t about only you.

Experts can predict a forecast that suggests that umbrellas aren’t really necessary. We know how that goes . . .

If you rely solely on the predictions of those outlining the future by peering into the past, you could be in for an interesting fight for your life well down the road.

Okay, that’s it for me nagging. The point is, most of what has become a culturally normative standard of individuality is completely irrelevant in the life or death business of flight. Looking for motivation? Or, have someone who needs a little push in their life because of the way the life plan affects others? Feel free to forward this post to them:

Diligence is dull stuff, on the ground or in the air. People count on their pilot to do what is prudent and safe no matter what effect that has on the “free choice” or convenience of the pilot. I affirm the commitment passengers expect when they strap in behind me. It’s all a part of the duty that comes hand in hand with the privileges inherent in the position at the controls. Anything less is simply unworthy of the trust others who count on you have placed in you–in flight, and in life.

. . . and okay, here’s the rest of the Chris Farley “motivational speech:”

H20: Above and Below

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, fart, flight, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, passenger, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by Chris Manno

H20: Above and Below.

Ride the sky home.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, fart, figure skating, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, mile high club, night, pilot, savchenko, travel, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2010 by Chris Manno

There’s a song in my head and it won’t go away. It comes at the top of the slide,

a sloping seven mile glide, ever downward and south toward home. Bound for DFW from the west coast, the captain’s voice my own, says “we’re eighty nautical miles from touchdown in Fort Worth; be on the deck at half past.” and on it drones with the same spiel as ever, but the music gets louder each mile, drowning it out.

It’s a tedious trip west to east to south, like the ride from The Stockyards to Tanglewood, or God forbid, the Far Southwest side on Bryant Irvin where any time of day, never mind rush hour, it seems like forever: there’s just no hypotenuse. East to west, or north to south but not north to southwest in Cowtown, not without a lot of pain and aggravation. But come down easy, that’s how you get home. There are no shortcuts.

The mayor once said with a hang dog tired face it’s so bad you could change a tire in a Cowtown traffic jam and not lose your spot, and he wasn’t even talking about trying the mythical hypotenuse between the North Side and the southwest Mecca of Hulen and Tanglewood. Really, it’s not so far away but just hard to get to yet home is definitely worth the trip.

When I cross the Red River I feel like I’m in the neighborhood and the red dirt pancake of the Panhandle starts the song of home in my head. It’s those comfy notes your hands just know, a cozy riff you can get lost in like a half-awake morning in the Paris Coffee Shop, more aware of what it’s not—and it’s not a modern chain shoveling breakfast—than the bald light, melodious clink of silverware and bracing aroma of strong coffee that it is. Newspapers and linoleum and waitresses who call you “hon” and the comfort of an old tune not redone, not over done; rather, the original from way back when. That’s the music that when you play it, you transcend fingers and frets and keys and notes, simply cruising along with the melody.

A hundred plus people follow me down in the back, some coming home and humming the same tune. Picture my wife’s Paschal mafia: they graduate and scatter to the four winds—but they return sooner or later. So there are the inexorable five year milestone reunions at Joe T’s or the Stockyards Station or anywhere Fort Worth that’ll hold the returning classes; hugs, backslaps, “so good to see you!” but because so many seem to move back eventually, and we see them weekly anyway at Thom Thumb on Bellaire, what’s the big deal?

But that’s everyone humming along—no one needs sheet music; like the song in my head, they probably don’t even know they’re doing it. That’s the song of home you get to sing aloud now and again with others who know it.

We slip between big-shouldered thunderheads marching out of the west toward Fort Worth, casting a bruised blue shadow across a red sky sprawling east like a dome you can see best atop Reata, the bustling crisscross of Sundance Square below. Storm’s coming with one inch raindrops plopping an inch apart, but nothing’s perfect and who knows? Maybe it’ll hold off till we get there, and we need the rain nonetheless.

Things look bigger the lower you go and now the swaths of green and brown and lakes of blue define themselves like individual musical notes on a scale but now you don’t need them: there’s DFW and you’re cleared to land. More hands and feet on the controls, working less with science than art, riding the familiar tune whose beat is like that of your heart. Close your eyes and see the flow of red tail lights snaking down the main artery to Fort Worth.

Slower, down to earth but still, the music will carry you home. The steel and glass on Main and Commerce rise straight backed and tall, waiting. Patience, slowly, mile by mile, the music will carry you home.

Flight Time: Soothsayers, Stooges, Sages and Thunder.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2010 by Chris Manno

Time is pretty sneaky when hooked up with his silent partner, motion. You think you’ve got all the time in the world–and relatively speaking, maybe you do–but where you’re headed will force your hand nonetheless.

Can I get by everything in my way? Am I above it all? Or do I need to change course? Ah, the curse of forethought and the knowledge of a future rushing your way.

Can you really look too far ahead, and if you do, can you get an accurate picture of what’s in your way? Can we trust the seers and soothsayers we look to for their view of the future?

Do they really know, or are they just telling you what they see, rather than what’s real?

There’s no shortage of people with answers to sell but that all depends on your buy-in: do they really have the answer you need? Can they see the path ahead of you? Even if they can, what will change between the time they give their view and when the picture ahead becomes near and real?

Can you really have faith in either art or science claiming to transcend the barriers of time and space and help you understand the future? I guess some people do, because they continue to ask the experts for a vision or at least a forecast.

Always good to have options, right? And a backup plan.

And information is always good, with a catch: predictions, visions and forecasts are all helpful, but nothing beats realtime information. What’s happening right now? What’s happening on the path ahead this minute, this second?

That’s where time and place coincide: worry is because there’s nothing you can do until they meet.

Now the picture is clear–not a prediction, not a forecast, but at last, square in your face. Now you can take action: evaluate your options. You could wait:

Fine a place to hold off to the side until the storm passes. Of course, that presumes we’re talking about a “passing storm,” not anything permanent.

Another option would be to plow right on through and hope it’s just a temporarily bumpy ride:

Some folks choose to plunge headlong into the storm. Maybe they’re mislead by the earliest look at things–where maybe from afar there seems to be a safe passage through the ugliness, based on a forecast or an earlier report. “Look–a sucker hole. Can we make it before it closes up?” That puts YOU in the business of predicting the future.

And the only thing predictable with perfect reliability is that things will continue to change. Opportunities for safe passage vanish in an instant and there you are, nose to nose with big trouble. With the escape path blocked. With no options but straight ahead.

Oops! The sucker hole is closing fast . . .

Where are the soothsayers now? Where’s the clear path, based on a few minutes ago? That’s why I’m a confirmed pessimist, at least at work. Expect the worst. Count on it. Plan for it.

I knew this was going to happen. So we have a couple tons of fuel to spare–we can outlast the storm. We can go the extra miles around the tumult and so just not care what it does in the near term–or ever.

Well folks, slight delay here as we give trouble a wide berth. We didn’t worry too much in our flight planning as to whether there’d be problems along the way–rather, we just planned on it. And so we have the range we need to keep life smooth for all of us.

Don’t really need soothsayers or good luck charms–just tons of fuel and patience.

Like mayhem in life, lightning in flight is best enjoyed as a spectator:

That’s life. Craziness is fine, as long as you’re just a casual observer and can step around the insanity. Forget the soothsayers and stooges telling you what they think you want to hear. You already know what you need to dodge the thunder.

Here’s how that looks from the flight deck. You can relax in back and enjoy the view–we’ve got time and distance all under control for you.

There’s always a way around, if you’re ready now, never mind “then” or whatever “they” predict. It’s a big sky, thankfully. Plan accordingly.

“Are we there yet?” Trust Me: You Don’t Want to Know.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, flight, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

Being the captain, I think I hear it more than most but all flightcrews get a fat share of the “are we there yet” question–especially at night. I might hear it from a bored F/O with a tired butt aching from sitting in the cockpit for hours, or often a call from the cabin from a flight attendant wishing the time until deplaning was an hour or two shorter because passengers are asking them that question over and over.

And I usually answer, “yes we are” and add “open the door and plunge to your death” but only in my head for that last part. But the impact of the question comes not from the answer–in my head or what others hear–but rather in the reality: we don’t really know where we are.

Seriously–and I don’t really care.

Sure, I could press a couple buttons and get a present position reading down to a tenth of a degree of both latitude and longitude–but that reading would look like a car’s odometer with the tenths place rotating as we moved: by the time you can read the position, we’re not there any more anyway.

And at night, there aren’t any visual cues outside to define an approximate position (there’s the Mississippi!) or even direction of flight (the sun’s off our right wingtip, it’s afternoon–we’re headed south) to orient oneself. So it becomes even more glaring that in the absence of any real or definitive position, no one seems to mind plunging through the darkness at the speed of a shotgun blast in a metal tube with thousands of moving parts.

Powered by dual blast furnaces turning gears and wheels at 50,000 rpm. In air so thin you couldn’t breathe and so cold you’d turn blue in a minute. What a curious detachment there has to be in order to step aboard and not worry about where you are for two or three  hours in unsurvivable conditions.

Like that last breath you take before jumping out of an airplane miles up, there’s that confidence that never mind this moment, soon enough we’ll end up where we expected to and presumably, in one piece. I’m not sure if this belief is borne of faith or convenience.

I’ve seen from the cockpit the groups of people and cars below watching us landing and have often thought, as they park and wave from the exact spot where we’d impact if we landed short, that it was the former–a greater faith in the institution of piloting and aviation than I have. Which is a convenience item–bored? Let’s go watch airliners land.

But having lived the human side of piloting from behind the scenes for thirty-some years, I have my doubts, which I’ll share, followed by why I have faith nonetheless. The important thing is not the asking of “are we there yet,” which translates to “how much longer?” but rather the leap of faith that ignores the fact that where we are is not significant.

The very nature of travel–like life itself–is an extended process. While there’s always a point of embarkation in both, the waypoints en route are significant only in relation to the end of the route. How close is it? How soon? And is it where I meant to be?

Which brings me back to the giant step out of an airplane into empty miles below: we’re really counting on the positive result at the end more than the process of getting there.

So here’s the secret: the important part is not where we are, but rather where we’re not. For that, we pick a defined point and measure from it to plot our relationship to the known. For me, it’s always north. In this hemisphere, no matter where I am in the dark or daylight or weather all that matters to me is where North is. Then I can position myself in relation to the Big North, the pole, where I’ll never go but which will always define where I am by comparison.

I’ve done my freefall then looked up to see a tangled mess of a parachute above my head, hard brown dirt racing up from below at terminal velocity. And besides a fleeting thought cursing the chute packer–at least till I recalled packing it myself–the only significance of my unwinding altimeter was not where I was, but rather how much time I had until I inherited the Earth in a big way. And so I really didn’t want to know “are we there yet,” figuring the end would be apparent enough when it happened.

And because I had more important things to worry about along the way–like  pulling the reserve chute ripcord but holding it in tight, then with one end-of-the-world throw downward, hope to God it billows roundly in hundred mile an hour slipstream sufficiently below me to brush aside the tangled mess above me. That would separate me from the ultimate “known” I spoke of above, truly the “there” in the journey that comes only once. And let me tell you, when you’re close to the edge, you suddenly don’t want to ask that question.

Which returns us to the matter of faith or convenience. What you believe in truly is a convenience: from below, spectators watching a plane land or sky divers tempting fate always think they’re immune and immortal since they’re uninvolved in the process. How much more so the passengers in a jet? Even asking demonstrates how little they know of how close to the edge they really are.

And that’s the convenience of faith: you have to believe in the safe passage or you probably wouldn’t take the journey. Never mind the risks of standing in a landing aircraft’s path, much less riding one down. Don’t even think about plummeting from the sky with only your wits and just one backup between you and the hard earth calling you down hard.

That’s life and while yes, I said “you probably wouldn’t take the journey,” you are nonetheless on your way. No real meaning to where we are en route save where we are vis a vis the end of the journey. You can close you eyes and have faith in your own north and where you are in relation to it. You can trust in the choice of conveyance en route. But it’s only if you ignore the perils of the journey and the ultimate destination that you you can ask the foolish question, “are we there yet?” Because really, you don’t want to know the answer.

The good news is this: I’m awake up front; station-keeping at 500 miles an hour and I’ll always know where north is. You can relax in back because I’ve got the clock measuring our fuel and mileage and the right course set in relation to true north and ultimately, a clear focus on throwing the reserve out as effectively as possible to ensure our landing in one piece if need be.

That’s why I really don’t care where we are, only that we’re safely on our way to exactly where we planned to be. And the “plunge to your death” addendum I’ll add silently after your annoying question “are we there yet”–which is really asking “how much longer”–is born of firsthand experience, so trust me when I tell you on both counts: you don’t want to know.

Keep your north in mind always, and know where you are by comparison. Don’t curse the guy who packed your chute–just be sure it works or if not, you have a backup. And if you live your journey fully, you won’t need to know where you are in relation to the end.

That reality is beyond faith and convenience–rather, that’s life. Enjoy the ride. I’ll keep you on course en route, but you really won’t need me to tell you when we’re there.

So do me a favor: just don’t ask.

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