Tuesday, July 12, 2011
#193 / An Airplane Trip
This image is of a painting by John Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), The Nightmare. Fear sits upon us, riding us astride, as we seek to escape by a retreat into sleep.
When I was still a member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (a rather long time ago, now), I went to Nicaragua with a delegation of local government officials, and with others associated with government at both the state and local level. This was during the time of the Contra war, in which the United States government was providing military and financial support to the so-called "Contras," who were waging war on the established government of Nicaragua. In response to this real, though never fully acknowledged attack by the United States, the government of Nicaragua was taking steps to get "opinion leaders" from the United States to come to Nicaragua, to see firsthand what conditions were like.
Lots of people from Santa Cruz went to Nicaragua. John Laird, then a member of the Santa Cruz City Council, had already been to Nicaragua when I signed up for my trip. Before I left, I asked him for any pointers he might be able to give me. All the more so since I didn't speak Spanish at that time.
John had an interesting story to tell, which I took quite seriously. Apparently, on the flight from Mexico City to Managua, on the Nicaraguan airline Aeronica, the airplane appeared to get "lost" somewhere during the flight. John noticed that the airplane was circling, and became concerned; his concerns were amplified when the pilot came into the main cabin with a set of maps, and consulted someone seated towards the back of the aircraft. After that consultation, the airplane stopped circling, the plane arrived in Managua safely, and John returned home to tell me the tale. Based on his story, happy ending though it had, I did take seriously the problematic nature of any flight on an Aeronica airplane, and I paid close attention on my own flight to Managua.
On my trip, there was no problem in getting from Mexico City to Nicaragua. I was still thinking of the issue that John had raised, though, when our plane took off for the return flight.
The take off seemed normal enough, but I soon noticed that our flight path seemed to be different from the incoming route. (I definitely had been paying attention on the way in, thanks to John's story). Furthermore, we weren't gaining altitude, and we did seem to be circling. Since I didn't speak any Spanish, I went up and down the aisles to those in my group whom I knew did speak Spanish, pointing out that the plane might be in trouble, and asking them whether they could inquire what was going on.
Despite what might even have been an "agitated" request from me, no one expressed the slightest interest in pursuing or discussing the topic that we were, perhaps, in real danger. In fact, most of my friends were extremely brusque, and were almost ostentatiously burrowed into a book, or insulated from external stimuli by their Walkman headphones. I returned to my seat, after trying for about six or seven minutes to interest someone else in what I thought of as a possible crisis situation. One of the passengers in my row, a woman from Nicaragua who may not even have spoken Spanish, and who certainly didn't speak English, was being sick into the courtesy airsickness bag provided. Maybe she knew something?
After about one-half hour, in which my distress escalated, but during which everyone else, at least to appearances, manifested an almost preternatural calm, the intercom came on and gave us the message that we were returning to Managua to correct a "minor problem."
When we landed (which we did, without any disaster occurring), I saw on the runway what I believe must have been virtually every item of emergency equipment available in the entire country, with crews of men on standby with fire retardant suits and foam extinguishers at the ready.
We got another plane, and I got home.
As I have thought back, I now realize that I was not the only person on the plane who perceived the danger. In fact, everyone knew we were in a critical situation, and since they also knew that they couldn't really do anything about it (since they couldn't fly the plane), they chose to read a book, or listen to music, or refused to pay attention in some other way, as their best avenue for escaping from panic and pure nightmare thoughts.
If we are on a metaphorical airplane ride towards a possible disaster right now (and I think the metaphor could well be apt), I find I am still trying to get the other passengers on this flight interested in the possible dangers, with the thought that we ought to be trying to do something about them.
In this case, though, unlike on the flight from Managua, there probably are some things we could do!