Archive for high

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.


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.

Airliner Lavatories: No Blue Sky and NO DEUCE. Ever.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, jet, lavatory, mile high club, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2010 by Chris Manno

I couldn’t wait to stick my head in that toilet. I was nine, we were flying from Buffalo to Chicago and when the seatbelt sign finally went off, I flew up to the lav, just certain that when I flushed the toilet–once I figured out how–the bottom of the bowl would open up and I’d see blue sky below. I’d planned to drop stuff out of there across the country, pencils, tissue, pictures, maybe even a deuce if I could work one up.

What a buzzkill when I realized the truth: it’s just a chemical toilet. No open skies, thousands of feet of open sky below. Just a chemical toilet.

Well, it’s worse than that. The way your modern airliner is designed, it’s basically a chemical toilet with no water–just degerm solution swirling around below an aluminum “splash pan.” Yes, “ewwwwww,” but stay with me–it gets even worse: the chemical toilet is barely an arm’s reach from the galley.

This is you, standing in the galley, looking into the can. Nice, huh?

Are you getting this? Here, let’s paint the picture: the aircraft designers put an outhouse right next to the kitchen. But it’s worse than that, too. Let’s strip out the walls

Okay, see where that bowl is? And see where my seat in the cockpit up front on the left is? And how close? Well, the ventilation is designed so that whatever you do in the lav is brought forward almost instantly.

An old Air Force buddy of mine flies for Southwest Airlines and reports this as a major problem on early morning flights. Since Southwest doesn’t have reserved seating, a line forms at the gate well before boarding.And no one will leave the line to go to the bathroom lest they lose their boarding priority. He reports that as soon as they’re airborne, everyone suddenly needs their morning constitutional. The end result could only be described as similar to my high school memories on Saturdays when my Dad would roam the house picking up newspapers and magazines. You knew what was coming next: an hourlong sit down during which you hoped none of your friends came over; the whole house smelled like, well, an airplane lav.

No, we’re not defenseless in the cockpit:

But that does make it hard to drink my morning coffee (believe me: you want me to have my morning coffee) and does nothing for your fellow passengers gagging up front.

Yes I always fly with a drawing pad. Why do you ask? Anyway, take pity on the other hundred-plus people on the plane. Here are some reasonable yet crucial guidelines:

1. No Deuce in the forward lav. That’s the one by the cockpit near me. “Number One” only in the forward lav–NO DEUCE (that’s a “Number Two,” okay?) EVER up front. Except, of course, for me:

It’s good to be captain. You? Go to the aft lav in the rear of the airplane. Everyone back there’s traveling on some kind of discount anyway, they can live with it.

2. Mile High Club? Seriously?

What, in an outhouse? The last guy’s skid marks (remember: no water) stinking the place up? Now THAT’S amore. And you’d have to be an idiot. Your buddy who claims he did it in the lav (yeah, right) is an idiot for even thinking about it.

3. In and out, quickly. No newspapers, you’re not my Dad and this isn’t Saturday; you’re in a Porta-Potty five miles up at 500 miles an hour. Make it quick.

4. Wear shoes! It’s not that we mind you mopping up the sticky spillage on the lav floor with your socks (or less–ewwwwww); we don’t. It’s just the thought of it makes me gag when I type this, and especially when I see you doing it.

5. Mercy Flush: every thirty seconds, at least. Remember: no water. Lots of air. People trying hard to breathe and your atomized particulate matter is wafting around the cabin.

Look, your best bet is to just hold it, because the lav’s a filthy Petri dish; between flights the unlucky low man on the ramp totem pole holds his nose, flaps a rag around the lav, sprays some junk to mask the stench then slams the door. You can hold it and remember, it’s not like the bottom’s going to open up and let you throw stuff out into the blue sky. Seriously, I checked.


World’s most dangerous sandwich, from the deli in Hangar 3 in LaGuardia Airport:

My in-flight hogfest from LaGarbage to DFW February 2.

Hot pastrami with provolone, onions  and mustard on a hero. Definitely will get you to the other coast, and someone’s going on oxygen a couple hours into the trip. Okay, there’s the connection with the “Deuce” post above.

When I was a First Officer–back when the earth was still cooling and dinosaurs roamed the planet–on the DC-10, I’d get one of these babies to go from the LaGuardia deli and eat it in flight enroute to O’Hare. During the next leg, about midway to Seattle, you could count on a burnt-onions-like gas cloud in the cockpit that had the captain ranting. What was he all whipped up about? Here, just Pull My Finger.

He’d fingerpoint, eventually at me, but on a three-man crew he couldn’t be certain if it was me or the flight engineer (that’s the beauty of today’s two-man crews: you always know who farted) who was responsible for gagging him. I swore up and down it wasn’t me.

Then one trip, the usual engineer called in sick. Over Wyoming–same stench. Busted; he wouldn’t give me any landings the rest of the trip.

Now, “My Darling Bride & Favorite Flight Attendant of All Time,” like most women, would be horrified and grossed out by this story,

but seriously–nobody’s reading this blog, much less this far down in it, plus she doesn’t even know I have a  blog. So shhhhhhh, mum’s the word, okay? Besides, whenever she asks me what I could possibly know about the general topic I call “Man Stuff,” I tell her honestly, “I used to be a guy.” Guys–particularly husbands–reading this are nodding and grunting. Women? Whatever. As I said, nobody’s reading this anyway.

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