The Man In The Crashing Plane

May 16th 2014

 Story originally written and intweviewed: March 9th 2014

The reason we were meeting was strange. 

And I thought about that as I sat alone at the bar. It was a Sunday. And I was early. And I ordered a coke.

I just really wanted to know.

And I wasn’t sure why.

The waitress brought over >> my drink fairly quickly. Maybe because she wanted to give away my seat to a real customer. Or maybe because she was just exceptionally fast. I’m not really sure.

“Olive! Hey!”

Chris finally walked in. Lean body. Tousled brown hair. A smile that was always inviting. Carrying a backpack. And slightly out of breath—but only because he was unintentionally late.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“That’s okay! I appreciate you coming at all.”

“No problem.”

He sat down and ordered a beer. The waitress was happy. I took a sip of my coke. And then put my phone on the table. 

“I forgot to bring a pen. Is it okay if I take notes on my phone?”

“Of course. Where do you want me to start?”

“Hmm…the beginning I guess? When did this happen? Where were you flying to? And what happened after that?

The waitress set down his beer. And he was ready to talk. He took a long sip. And then he said this.

“Okay. Let’s see. It was the weekend of Thanksgiving. 2010. I had just flown from

Cleveland  > to > Newark

And I was ready to board a second plane from

Newark > to > London.

It was an overnight flight. A red eye. And it was set to take off at 9 p.m.”

“Why were you going to London?”

“My brother-in-law was graduating. Getting his PHD. In Scotland…my mom and stepdad were on the same flight too actually

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11 rows ahead.

Or maybe it was 12.

I don’t know. But anyway, we were sitting there in the airport. My family and I. Boarding passes out. Carry ons in hand. Waiting for our zone to be called. When suddenly, the woman working at our gate announced that our flight was delayed. “Mechanical problems.” she said in a stoic voice.

Great.

1? 2? Hours later? They were ready to board again.

Or so they thought. 

Everyone boarded. >>   S  l  o  w  l  y   but surely. >> Exhausted. A little frustrated but eventually all seated. But, when it was finally time for take-off we just kept

>>  taxiing

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around

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                                  >> the tarmac. >>

“Ladies and gentleman. We’re going to pull the plane aside temporarily for ‘mechanical maintenance.’ Please remain seated with your seat belts fastened. We should be off the ground shortly.”

We waited for an hour and a half.

You could tell people were getting restless and uneasy. But the flight attendants were great. Especially one in particular. She was very cheeky. And very flamboyant. Made everyone feel better.

And eventually we took off. And everything was fine.

Until 20 minutes in.

The flight attendants  were serving their complimentary drinks and offering non-complimentary cocktails. And actually, at one point, the one that was very cheeky and very flamboyant came up to me and asked if I would switch >  < seats with a woman who had been mis-seated. “I’ll give you free drinks for the rest of the flight if you say yes.”

I said yes.

I ordered a Corona, which may as well have had a halo around it. Because right then.

The cabin went completely black.

The lights. The TVs. Everything.

I looked over at the flight attendant. The one that was cheeky. And flamboyant. And personable. And made everyone feel better. And her face looked completely blank. She walked over to me. >> Put 2 coronas on my tray. As if giving me my promised beers were her last duty on earth. And walked away.

Everyone was silent.

Something had to be wrong. And I really wanted to share that feeling with someone. Anyone. But the seat I switched to was in between

two                            men

who didn’t speak English. They couldn’t express panic.

But the pin drop silence. On the entire plane. Said it all.

Suddenly I felt the plane move to the left.

The plane was turning around. <<<

And we were

 

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Quicker than usual. Much quicker. I could see the ground outside my window. And it just kept getting

closer

and

closer

“Flight attendants. Take your jump seats please.”

That was the only announcement that captain ever made.

I looked at the flight attendant again. And her face was still blank.

Thing is.

I’m not afraid of flying and I’m not afraid of death. But my biggest fear? Is dying in a plane crash. But only because I always thought it was one of the only rare situations where you would actually have the opportunity to reconcile your life. Everything. Everything you’ve done. Everything you haven’t done. Whether you’ve lived a good life. Or a bad one. And this literally. In every sense of the word.

Felt like my worst nightmare coming true.

Everyone on that plane thought they were going to die. Everyone. And that eery silence? In the pitch dark? In a plane that was headed for the ground?

Is something I will never. ever. be able to describe.

I wanted to look at other people for reassurance. I thought about being with my family. I wanted to run up to my mom

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11 rows up.

Or maybe it was 12.

I don’t know. But. I wanted to go up to her and say ‘I love you.’

But I didn’t.

So I looked at the guy sitting next to me.  > < And he looked at me too. And it was probably the strangest moment to ever really share with a stranger.

And then I saw a red blinking light outside the window. A lot of red blinking lights actually. And that was the moment I knew things had really gone awry. I could see the runway at Newark. Numerous fire trucks and ambulances were pedaling aggressively towards where we were supposed to land. Where we were rapidly

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We hit the ground.

Hard. Bags and suitcases were

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Everywhere. The plane kept bOuNcInG uP aNd DoWn MuLtIpLe TiMeS.

Everyone was screaming. Everything was still dark. Suitcases beating against the chairs.

We slammed back and >>  forth.

And then that was it.

The pilot emerged from the cock pit asked the passengers in a panic if “there was smoke in the back of the plane?!” But everyone was still shell-shocked. And running for the exit of the plane…I guess what had happened was, 20 minutes into the flight there was smoke in the cock pit. I never smelled it or saw it. But quite frankly, I’m glad that was the case.”

“Wow. Did they give you a refund on your flight or anything?”

“Nope. Just coupons for shitty hamburgers at the airport McDonalds.”

He took a long sip of his beer. And then he said this.

“You know what’s weird?”

“What?”

“There I was. On this plane. My biggest fear literally materializing into real life. And…

It wasn’t that bad.

I mean. I imagined that scenario. Of crashing on a plane. Over and over and over and over again. Every time I got on a flight I would imagine that scenario. And I was scared. Every time. And then when it actually happened. And I truly, honestly thought that that was it. That I was going to die. In that way.

It was almost a relief.

I was calm. I mean sure, my heart was beating out of my throat. But…I was okay.”

“What did you think about while the plane was going down?”

“You know, when I had always imagined that moment, I instinctually just wanted to feel like a good person. Not cycle through regrets. But rather the good times. And that feeling is so worth it. And in those few seconds, I felt so small. I was in this metal box at a speed you can’t comprehend. 500 miles an hour. 3 miles above the earth. Soaring towards the ground. And I thought I was going to die. I felt like I was in a coffin. And.

It just wasn’t as bad as I thought.

And it’s not because it wasn’t scary. And it’s not because I was ready to go. But it’s because I handled those few seconds the way I had handled my entire life up until then—generally uncontrolled. I mean, I have control over my schedule and my breakfast. But the outcome of most things in life are a total surprise.”

“…Do you think you changed after that?”

“Definitely. It made me a better flyer. I’m much more relaxed. Much more open to experience. But you know what I thought I would feel afterwards, and didn’t?”

“What?”

“That cliche urge to ‘live life to the fullest.’ Because I guess I realized that that idea is really subjective. There are days when all I want to do is sit in a park and read a book. Or sit in a book shop and write a story. Or just generally, do nothing at all. Don’t get me wrong, I like to have adventures, but doing those simple things? Are at that moment, what make me happy and exactly what I want to do. And I couldn’t think of two better reasons to do something.”

“I don’t think I can either.”

“I hate to do this, but I actually have to head to a dinner now.”

“That’s perfect actually, so do I.”

“I’m glad we met up to talk about this. I haven’t told that story in a while.”

“Other than my storytelling event?”

“Other than your storytelling event.”

He finished his beer. And I finished my coke.

And then when we exited the bar

he went left <<<  and I went right >>>>

And on my way home I thought about Chris. And what he said. All of it. And particularly the last thing. How lazy days don’t have to be wasted days. And how adventurous ones can be scheduled as you please. That life can only be controlled to a sense. But. If you can control your breakfast. And control your schedule. I hope you have one hell of a breakfast. And schedule that is entirely you.

And if you could pause your life at any second. any minute. any hour. Without the drama of a near death experience. But just to pause it. Just for the hell of it. Would you be satisfied? Would you be happy? Would that feeling be…worthwhile?

I think it would.

And if not.

Then there’s no better reason to press play > 

I met Chris for the first time. About a year ago. Through a friend. And he eventually became my friend too. He’s a poet. A writer. And just a damn good person. For my last storytelling event, he shared small snippets of quirky stories with poems to accompany them. This one included. The storytelling video is below. Fast forward to 3:29 to hear another one of his ridiculous life episodes.