Archive for the life 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?

Mach Speed Tumbleweed

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2011 by Chris Manno

A battle rages in silence. You don’t want to get involved–but you are, you realize slowly.

Exactly where is it 5am?

You don’t want to know.

No, I do. The sinking feeling. It’s not home, is it?

Told you you didn’t want to know.

Damn. Reno?

No, that was last night.

Montreal?

The night before.

Palm Beach. Not home. Home got away–again.

How many miles from here to home? Not distance–I get that–flown, I mean? How many more? Flight hours like matchsticks: light ’em off one by one, watch them burn down, then out. Slowly, in the glow, you get it: midway through a four day. Just what you didn’t want to wake to. But do.

So, that was last night: late, always, bone tired too from hotel sleep somewhere else.

That’s here, middle of the night here, before you messed it up. Spartan. Antiseptic. Do not disturb. A trail of clothes from the door to the bed–worry about everything else tomorrow.

Sleep, and it’s that dream again: you can find the gate, find the plane, but there’s no door from the gate to the plane. Which is the way home, of course. No way home–just the waiting place, halls of marked time and any old place.

Gertrude Stein nailed it: “there’s no there there,” in that space between places, the waiting–the island between going and getting there. Or getting home. There’s the irony: for those who make their living going, and carrying others who are on the way too, the idyll would be staying, not going, being home. No door.

So wake up then. Going to need goggles and a snorkel to wade through this one. Not the stuff you’ll think about later–the weather, the jet, the fuel. Rather, another day not home.

Good dog–you’re ready to swim in the deep blue.  People will ask you questions, like “What’s it like to be a trained dog working in the blue every day?” Or maybe they’ll have something equally inane more for each other than for you, like “we’ll let him on” or “we need him” as you try to slip by them going to the office. Funny stuff, right? More likely, though, they have to go to the bathroom; they want to share that with you, assuming you have a constant awareness of toilets and locations, like you do with bailout airfields and low fuel contingencies in flight, right? Funny stuff.

Just put all the pieces back together; everything back into the suitcase like the crammed heap that sprang out twelve hours ago. Kind of like behind the scenes Disney: Mickey puts on his fiberglass head with the permanent smile–then out he goes. Down to the lobby, out to the curb: vantastic! Off to whatever aeropuerto in whatever city.

Just get me to the gig. Snake through the masses herding across the wide-open plains, grazing, mooing; hoofbeats at a shuffle.

The ants go marching out again, hurrah. Step around, mind the Mickey head. Wind your way through; heft the bags, schlep the bags, onward to the gate. Show your ID: yeah, it’s Mickey. Let him on board.

Nothing purtier than precious metal, all eighty tons of her:

She’s your big ol’ dance partner, every song, every leg, and just like you: all about the getting there–but not staying. Folks trundle off, more trundle on; makes no difference. We do our same dance steps, carefully and deliberately without art. Over and over–same old song. You know the words:

We say Mass for the Earth, the litany of escape–then we leave, but everyone still in their pews, seatbelts on and tray tables stowed. Then the aluminum conga line–every-buddy-CON-ga– to the runway. This:

In this:

Into the blue, the higher the better: the sky is denim, comfy as jeans. Good for hanging out, soft, simple, warm, comfortable. The good feel when you put them on.

Unpressed and rumpled–doesn’t matter; a little faded, all the better. That’s cruising, ain’t it? It’s like Saturday against your skin. That’s the jailbreak from the suitcase–off with the polyester, and Mickey’s head; jeans, amen.

Soft and comfy as the sky and nearly as distant: nobody knows you without the Mickey head on, and that’s the best. You’re a ghost, anywhere, everywhere–somewhere where no one knows you, and in the middle of the night you won’t remember where anyway.

You just know what it’s not–home; and where it’s not–HOME. And just close your eyes because soon enough, once again: another passage. Sleep.

“. . . life is a watch or a vision

Between a sleep and a sleep.”

–Algernon Swinburne

Time and Space in the Passage Place.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, flight, flight crew, jet, life, passenger, pilot, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by Chris Manno

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
–T.S. Eliot

The Greeks saw time as a two headed monster: chronos, which is the moments ticking by, and kairos, which is the moment, the “aha” sledgehammer of revelation. Funny how one you count, the other you live. Chronus is the abacus and the sliding of beads; kairos the realization of self–and yet kairos takes a back seat to chronus in life as in flight.

Unless you fight it. Let me explain.

Here comes the god Chronus. The price of jet fuel is up 3.3% this week, up 9.6% over last month, and a whopping 26.3% over December of last year–with the price of oil rapidly rising as we speak. My life–and your flight–is counted in air nautical miles per pound of fuel; ANPP, as we call it.

I don’t care about gallons, because they mean nothing in the lift equation, which is what gets our eighty ton freight train into the air. I don’t care about dollars as much as I do minutes, which is what moves us from here to there.

Can’t argue with physics, chronus’s relentless thug. And while I know can’t forget chronus’s digital constructs of “now” and “then”  orchestrating the results of “where” and “when” . . .

. . . I have his relentless data stream from a dozen satellites crunched by another dozen on-board processors populating the abacus with characters accurate down to a ridiculously small margin, claiming “here is where and when you are breathing out and in.”

He’s got a picture for those who would track us, constructed from the ionic backscatter bounced off our riveted hull and scooped up by a scythe-like radar arc sweeping relentlessly, converting us into a dot inching across a black glass pancake.

And he has a cartoon for me that converts our 160 bodies of blood and bone into a white triangle on a magenta line, ever forward-facing, with a numerical count of the seemingly silent action of our passage.

And if it weren’t enough to reduce sky and earth to formulaic characters interacting in sums and differences, the twenty-first century chronus presents me a with a combined image of both the digital abacus and the dirt below–all in one cyber-mirage.

“See?” barks Chronus, dog that he is. “Wasn’t I right all along?” Yeah, he’s tidily accurate to within a few feet, even after a few thousand miles aloft. As if that were all that mattered: the counting of the beads. The passage of time. Like the passage itself didn’t matter. You just sit there–I’ll drag everything by you, tell you what you need to know, never mind seeing or the gods forbid, being.

And that’s exactly where chronus is a liar and a thief. He wants to bottle you up like a genie inside your head. He wants you to overlook your own being in favor of a place ahead or behind; he wants you to live in the “then” and forget the “now.” Use your head and not your eyes. And this is what he’d have you do:

Pretend you are elsewhere. Not notice the “here”–be all about “there.”  The time between here and there is of no consequence and in fact is best left alone or if need be, avoided with the deliberate distraction of Inflight Entertainment or digital connections (chronus has ’em, right?) that reach beyond where you are (inflight wireless connections!) in favor of where you wish you were. He’ll tell you that what matters is solely what you can quantify, what you can calculate, what you can reduce to figural representation.

What a crock. He has no soul.

What chronus would desperately like to hide is the reality that your time spent in passage is a passage itself. And like poetry, that’s not something you’re supposed to “get” –it’s what you’re supposed to live. Kairos is all about the eyes and the heart–not the mind and the head.

It’s the burning lip of death on the horizon, as the day heaves a last sigh that endures for a thousand miles through a long, long flight hour. Would be convenient to ignore the approaching sunset–hard on the eyes, isn’t it? But it’s underway regardless, a portent of the future painted in our “now.”

It’s Arizona sneaking into New Mexico on the dragon breath of a west wind, looking more like an uber-pastel than a omnivorous cloud of stinging dust.

Or consider–and look (LOOK HARDER, my T-38 instructor pilot used to say) at the aquamarine jewel embedded in the jagged Sierras.

Doesn’t cost you anything–give it a long look, and contemplate the deepness of blue, above and below and ahead. And aren’t we lucky, miles above the wall of thunder beating up the plains states right now? Enjoy: this is included in the price, because it’s not just the passage of time or miles–this is your life cruising by with the hands of the clock. We’re way too fast for the storms, but of course, not the clock.

But for kairos, that’s less important. In the moment of revelation, of living out the beauty of the passage, the limitations of time and place mean little.

But missing the moment means everything.

Flight–like life–is the intersection of kairos and chronos, and the trick is to balance the two: one endures, one is simply endurance. If you can’t tell the difference, or if you can and just need a reminder, it’s time to fly.

If you look–if you bother to look–the revelation is there for free: flying, in passage, where you really ought to “be.”

*****

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

–T.S. Eliot

Waltz in Blue: Last Dance with the Old Girl.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight crew, jet, life, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2010 by Chris Manno

She was my first. And it’s true: in flying, like many other areas of life, you always remember your first.

It was a long time ago when we were both a lot younger, newer to the airlines. I’d read about her even before that, though. She was the sleek new model–long lines, long legs.

I looked down on her at first, at least from where I was, flying the DC-10. There was no mistaking her distinctive tail and shark-like profile.

I sat sideways on the DC-10, The Plumber, for a little more than a year and I saw her around–knew someday we’d get together. I wouldn’t be a flight engineer forever, and she was the “first date” for a new First Officer.

That’s the first “first” I shared with her: my first flight as a First Officer. For me, that was a long awaited milestone. By then, I’d been flying jets for nine years, seven of them in the Air Force.

But finally, after a couple years flying sideways as flight engineer, and six weeks of transition training, hours upon hours in full motion simulators, this was the baptism of fire: take-off with a full boat–130 plus crew–fly to Long Beach, land.

What a view, finally, from a front seat! All the way across the country, thinking about that landing in Long Beach. First time for me in a Super-80, and with a full boat. We worked it out; she made me look good, touching down firmly but in Long Beach, with a fairly short runway, that was the right thing to do.

And that, as I said at the time, was a dream come true. We did a lot of miles together, saw most of the country and a lot of Mexico, too. Good times, some of them on days I’d rather have been at home. But we hung out together on more than one Christmas, many holidays, even a birthday or two over the years.

Thanks, Marsha!

All told, I guess I accumulated a couple thousand hours in that right seat. Learned a lot about “big picture” airline life on my own, but most of the important flying lessons, like how to land on a slick runway, in near zero visibility, how to pick through a line of storms, wrestling with crosswinds and treacherous icing and a thousand little ‘gotchas” I learned hand in hand with the 80.

Then a couple years off to fly the big brother–the DC-10–all over the globe. But I took with me the early lessons I learned on the smaller, thinner “Long Beach Sewer Pipe” and put them to work on a grand scale on the wide body jet where often, I was glad I’d figured out how to accomplish the mission on the 80 first.

Which brings me to the second first: the Big Kahuna.

Captain’s wings. I can see plain as day still my first landing in the left seat at Raleigh-Durham, thinking similar thoughts from the first “first” in Long Beach years before, landing the MD-80 for the first time: that was a dream come true, too.

Now that’s where 19 more years have passed. Day, night, good weather and bad–you name it. The airline records show over 11,000 captain hours in this one spot.

And actually, the other seat, too, wearing yet another set of wings:

Instructor and evaluator. Helping others make their airline pilot dreams come true and as importantly, keeping the dream alive by ensuring the quality of of training in jets and sims for a couple years.

We’ve seen a lot of miles together in the air. Carried thousands of passengers safely over the years. And we’ve crossed the country enough times to span the distance to the moon, enjoying  the view most of the way.

Which brings us to the present. And more significantly, this week.

It’s the Last Dance with the MD-80 for me. It’s been a good twenty-plus years and many thousands of hours in the air.

But . . .

There’s a new girl in town. In fact, we get a new one every month, and that rate is actually going to pick up in the new year.

She’s state-of-the-art, more powerful, lifts more and cruises both higher and faster. She’s actually replacing the faithful old MD-80 which one by one, month by month and actually two by two, heads to the desert to park for good.

So this week, instead of another first, it’s going to be our last. Three more days and maybe another few thousand miles together.

Then when I put you on the deck this week, it’ll be for the last time. That’s going to be a little sad in many ways, but that’s the way it goes, right? People want to fly on newer jets and even beyond the fact that I can’t blame ’em is the reality that I do too.

In fact, I’ve already started learning the 737-800 systems, although my formal classes start in mid-month. Lots of new numbers, systems and procedures to learn.

And the new Boeing will be just a transition relationship for me. In a couple years, I’ll throw her over for the 777.

That’s the way it goes. Will always have a soft spot for the old girl; she was always faithful and a great dance partner. It’s going to be hard to park her for the last time Friday, but whenever we pass in the sky–and I know we will–we’ll share a good thought, a good memory just the same.

Stupid Layover Tricks: Sharks In Death Valley.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, life, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2010 by Chris Manno

You know how things make sense when you’re doing them but in hindsight, you have to ask yourself, what was I thinking? Well this is one of those times. Being on the road, flying about 200 days a year, it’s really not surprising that it happened on a layover.

Had a Tuscon layover a couple summers ago. My big plan was to get in a good run early, before it got too scorching hot, then some pool time.

And here’s the thing about layovers: that was my plan, I was looking forward to it, it’s what I told myself ahead of time when I was feeling that “I-don’t-want-to-be-away-from-home” pang before a flight sequence: it’ll be fine, a good run, decent Mexican food for dinner.

Great plan. But a problematic jet engine screwed it up: we departed a couple hours late, which meant a late arrival in Tuscon. Add to that the excessively long time it took to get the hotel van to pick us up and by the time I was ready to run . . .

. . . I was pretty well screwed: the temp was over 100 and climbing as the afternoon wore on. The hell with the temp, I decided–and it really was becoming hellish–I’m not going to be denied my run. The whole layover depended on it! I could start out and if it got too hot, just stop and walk back.

So I set off from the hotel running. Found some back roads with shade and honestly, even at 109 degrees, with the shade, without any humidity and at a slower, more cautious pace, the run was more comfortable than back home in the upper 90-degree range with boiling humidity and scorching sunshine. So on I went, carefully, for twenty minutes through a mostly residential area of town.

After twenty minutes, I took a walking break for a minute to take my heart rate: no real problem. And I felt fine.

So I reversed course, hugging the shade as much as possible, heading for the hotel. Then I got that gnawing feeling–and it wasn’t just the heat–that I wasn’t alone. The whole time it had seemed as if I was running through a ghost town: not a creature, a person or pet in sight. But still, I knew I was being watched. I turned around . . .

Creeping along behind me, maybe fifty yards back, a police cruiser. When I stopped, he did too. I started running again, he started creeping along behind me. Finally, I turned around and walked back to the police car. One cop, and he didn’t get out of the car. The window slid down silently.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He tipped his shades down. “Couple people have called 911,” he answered nonchalantly, “figure you must be crazy.”

He let that sink in. Guess there’d been no signs of life outside, but inside the natives had decided only a mental patient would be out running in the afternoon.

“Well I’m almost done,” I said, pointing at the hotel in the distance. “I’m feeling fine.”

“I can’t stop you,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.”

I went back to running at a measured pace, but the cop had been a buzzkill: what if he’s right? If the hidden, 911-dialing residents were right? “We gotta ‘nother dumb tourist down,” he’d say on the radio, staying in the car with the furiously blowing air conditioning, “wet cleanup on aisle six.”

Me, road pizza. That’s how it happens–one minute you’re running, the next your heart explodes in the 109 degree heat. Now came the mind games, like when I’d swim laps between bouys in the Pacific: now and again you’d catch a glimpse of someone on shore, pointing. You just knew they were pointing at you, yelling, “Shark!” Which you couldn’t hear . . . but which you’d certainly feel any minute. Yes, I know Death Valley is not in Arizona; but was the shark thing all over again.

Made it to the hotel and started a walking cooldown. The cop car did a u-turn and vanished into a side street. Disappointed? No CPR, unless it was too hot for that. No roadkill.

Regardless, the thrill was gone, probably for both of us. I grabbed the cool beverage I’d had icing down as I ran . . .

. . . then entertained second thoughts about the run. Okay, maybe you can’t always force things in extreme temperature. Maybe the run could have waited till Boston (hate the traffic!) the next day.

Like so many things you look back on in life–and layovers–you have to wonder: what the heck was I thinking?

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.

Steven Slater, Dental Hell and the Death of Civility in Air Travel.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, elderly traveller, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, lavatory, life, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

The outrageous JetBlue incident last week brings back memories. And they’re not necessarily good.

Used to be when the last squadron jet of the day’s flying reported in on the tower frequency, a very surly Bad Jimmy Williams would step out of his Operations Officer cubicle and without a word, he’d open the padlock on a large refrigerator in the back corner of the Flight Ops lounge, glare at us waiting Lieutenants, then stalk off.

That signaled  that the “Beer Box” (presumably derived from “ice box”) was officially open, which also opened the lounge for an impromptu happy hour and flying story session. After beers all around, we’d discuss the day’s flying and eventually the conversation would meander into all manner of B.S. stories.

Although he wasn’t a pilot, Dr. Love (yes, that was his real name) often would wander over from the Dental Clinic, knowing he could poach a beer or two before heading home. Which was fair, because he lived near us and we drank plenty of his beer whenever possible.

For whatever reason, he felt like he had to add a dental war story to the absurd flying tales being spun and although that was largely irrelevant, one thing he said I’ve never forgotten.

“Well,” he drawled, contemplating his half empty beer can, “I used to be so careful when I was doing dental work on a patient.”

The room fell silent. What the hell could he possibly say next? Please make him say and I’ve only gotten more careful and caring as time goes on, because we all have to go to the Dental Clinic sometime.

“But you know what I learned?” he asked, studying the Budweiser label (there were only a few brands of beer available there on The Rock in the South China Sea). He paused for effect. “I learned, people heal. You don’t have to be so careful.”

Note to self: never see Dr. Love at the Dental Clinic. But beyond that, there’s a real point:

Dr. Love deliberately contributes to everyone’s lore of dental hell. Which only perpetuates the problem, reinforcing not only the fear of dentistry, but also escalating spiral of outrageous dental tales.

People only want to tell a story about a “horrible” dental experience. No one wants to tell–or hear–a story about a pain-free, simple dental procedure.

The same is true for air travel nowadays: everyone needs to tell a horror story now at happy hour. Ten hour tarmac delays with no food, crying babies, and overflowing toilets (not physically possible unless there’s actually over fifty gallons of human waste added during the delay) and passengers dying.

That’s the stuff of legends, and perhaps Steven Slater is the new “Dr. Love.”

On the day he snapped, cursing a passenger on the P.A., blowing an escape slide, grabbing a couple beers and sliding off the jet, Slater negated the day’s work of his peers–just like Dr. Love did for his dental clinic and fellow dentists.

Because on that same day, thousands of flight attendants were treated rudely by thoughtless, boorish passengers.

But they didn’t snap. They didn’t blow a slide. And though many likely wanted to, they didn’t curse their passengers, at least not out loud.

Instead, they did their jobs, under trying circumstances with unreasonable passengers and onerously long work days. You didn’t read about the flight attendants who that day–like every day of the year–perform CPR on a passenger in cardiac arrest at 30,000 feet. Nor the ones who helped the very young or very old with the extra attention that they need above and beyond the normal passenger services so that they can get where they need to go safely.

No, the headlines were only about the one flight attendant who blew up–and quit being a flight attendant. Which I say discounts and devalues all those who didn’t. Those remembering Dr. Love’s “healing” philosophy project it onto the thousands of dentists who do care about their patients.

And the thousands of passengers who were treated kindly by their cabin crew nonetheless have their radar scanning for a Steven Slater rogue to spin into a cocktail yarn or a “Good Morning America” interview.

That’s life and moreover, that’s popular culture. Don’t get me wrong; I know thousands of flight attendants nationwide cheered the actions of Slater. But in the fantasy sense of wow, what a great gesture. The public is too often rude, surly, inconsiderate and they get away with it.

Because  in air travel, this:

Has given way to this:

. . . and so this

Has devolved into this:

Funny stuff for tall tales, late night talk show monologues and silly YouTube tribute songs.

But a sad commentary on both popular culture and those who comprise its storytellers and listeners. And even worse, it’s an accurate commentary on both the traveling public and the norms of behavior en route.

Every profession has its Dr. Loves. Unfortunately, the rest of the profession suffers the derisive connotation of the rogue’s actions  regardless of the reality of their work, which pales against the backdrop of popular culture that rewards outrageous behavior.

Not sure what ever happened to Dr. Love or what will become of Flight Attendant Slater. But both are hard to forget, for all the wrong reasons.

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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Air Bear: Beware.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, flight crew, food, life, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by Chris Manno

Early in my career as a bear, I learned a valuable lesson: reality is flexible, but only from the outside. So not for me, of course, but for those who see me. Let me explain.

That’s me at fourteen years old, wearing a bear suit for minimum wage. My brother had been the bear before me there at “Cartoonland Restaurants, Inc,” mercifully now defunct and swallowed up by larger fast food chains. No more live bears.

And that’s the problem with flexible reality: whatever people see, you get to be–like it or not. And I kind of did, at least for the pay, but minimum wage made even that a little iffy.

Because it was four hours at a whack of sensory deprivation: I could only see a small bit straight ahead from the mesh covered nose.

So it was far from fun and games from the inner-bear perspective. On top of the sensory deprivation and boredom was the external expectations. And not not just talking about the kids who figured, based on the cartoons, that Yogi could take a punch to the nuts. Rather, it was the manager who, from inside the restaurant itself, monitored and critiqued my every move.

On the loudspeaker that blared over the “pick-a-nick” ground: “Bear, move around. Bear, get off the bench. Bear, give out balloons at the carry-out window.”

There was no rest for the bear. Except on the hour, when child labor laws required I be give ten minutes which I took as my brother did: in the walk-in freezer.

There I could take off the unwieldy fiberglass bear head and cool down for a minute and most importantly, have a moment of peace amid the silent burger patties, the produce, and the dairy products shelved there. Plus–you can see it there–the white bucket.

That was the “special sauce” for the burgers. It was also therapy for the bears. As my brother explained, sure, they could hound you over the loudspeaker, drivers on the main drag could honk and yell obscenities, kids could whack you anywhere they wanted to.

But in the coolness of the freezer, silent save a whirring fan and condenser, payback: open the sauce bucket, expectorate; close the bucket.

Then on the hour, back outside for more sensory deprivation and relentless hounding from the loudspeaker.

Life was not as happy-go-lucky from inside the Yogi suit as it was from outside.  And yet, that was the reality for those who enjoyed the restaurant, both adults and kids. Until the day I inadvertently backed into the barbecue pit with its fake logs but very real gas flame. Then the same dull, nagging voice from the speaker: “Bear, you’re on fire.”

And I was, or at least the Yogi suit was. That was pretty much the end of my career as a bear.

Fast forward about fifteen years and a new costume for me: airline pilot. Long after I’d traded the bear suit for an Air Force uniform and ultimately a flight suit, I traded all that in for the current four stripes and wings of an airline captain for the past 19 years.

Mostly fun from the inside and out, but it has its days of dark challenges, long hours and hot airplanes that make one wish for a few moments alone in the walk-in freezer.

But that’s not the only connection between fast-food, costumes, reality and the guy in the suit.

I stopped at McDonald’s in the airport recently for a cup of coffee to go. Had a buck out, ready to pay the usual seventy-some cents. But the clerk says, “that’s one-twenty six.”

Huh? Have you gone up? It’s usually under a dollar. “No,” he answers, with a sly grin, “that’s the senior citizen rate.”

Bear, you’re on fire.

How differently things looked from inside the costume. How flexible, and merciless (I really was on fire) the reality from without. The next time I got charged seventy-four cents for coffee, I saved the receipt. Damn.

This time it was me who’d been fooled by the costume. I felt the same as the day I’d put it on the first time, but that was twenty-five years ago. Well, there’s the flexibility of reality: it depends on which side of the costume you’re looking at it from, and what you’re willing to believe.

I’m not the guy in the bear suit any more, not the young guy in the pilot suit either, except for some days, depending on who’s manning the cash register: some simply charge me for coffee. Others say just give the old bastard his senior rate coffee.

But either way, bear suit or flight suit, seventy cents or a dollar twenty, in flames or not–I’m still just me. That’s reality.

And since I discovered all this as usual at a fast food restaurant, how about a quick break in the walk-in freezer? I’ll cool down and while I’m at it, check on the special condiments. Won’t take but a minute, then I’ll be back out in character with that same secret smile, good as new. Why the smile? Never mind reality–use your imagination.

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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