January 11, 2002





Hi there. I'm starting to think I should change the name of this journal to something travel-related, seeing as how I only seem to update from mid-air. Yes, that's right, I'm traveling again … but with a twist: I'm on a direct flight from Dallas to Burbank and we just took off from Albuquerque. Huh? Please to explain:

Picture our take-off from Dallas, if you will. 7:30 p.m., a balmy Texas night. Engines throttle up, the plane accelerates down the runway, the nose lifts and we're pressed back into our seats as we take to the air. The normal business of a normal flight takes place as we climb to cruising altitude -- the crew announces it's okay to used "approved electronic devices," passengers recline their seats back into the lap of the people behind them (who silently curse them for the rest of the trip), people like me break out laptop computers to write clever and entertaining online journal entries like this one, everyone does their thing. It was business as usual.

And then the lights went out.

Not just the little spotlights over each seat for reading, not just the cabin lights that let the crew see whether or not you've stowed your laptop properly so they can force you to put it in the overhead bin if you haven't, not just the emergency lights that shine through choking clouds of smoke as the plane burns to direct you to the exit you'll never reach alive. No, not just those lights. ALL the lights. The plane went absolutely, completely dark. Pitch black. Whafuck? I reached up and hit the light button over my seat. Nothing.

"Hmm…," I thought to myself. "This can't be good."

But then the lights came back on a minute later, and then the crew started serving drinks and whatnot, and the captain never said anything about it on the intercom, and then the plane didn't fall out of the sky, so I tallied it up in the "Oh well" column and forgot about it.

Until the captain came on the intercom about an hour later.

"Uh, yeah, folks, we're sorry about that little blackout we experienced a little while ago. We had an electrical problem up here, but we think we've got it all taken care of now. Nothing to worry about."

"Hmm…," I thought to myself. "An electrical problem, huh? That can't be good. And I'm not too comfortable with 'we think we've got it taken care of,' either."

But the captain said it was nothing to worry about and the crew kept doing their thing and nobody seemed to mind, so I added another tick to the "Oh well" column and forgot about it.

Until the captain came on the intercom again about two minutes later.

"Uh, yeah, folks…"

And then nothing. He just stopped talking. For a looooong minute or two. The flight attendants stopped what they were doing, exchanged not-exactly-not-worried glances. Clearly, something was going on up front, and on this particular flight something going on up front was not a good thing. And then the captain spoke up again. In an entirely different, rushed tone of voice.

"Sorry, folks. We're, uh, we're going to land at Albuquerque. We, uh, we're not happy with this aircraft… We've decided we don't like the way this airplane is acting, so we're going to make an emergency landing at Albuquerque and they'll set us up with a new one there. We'll be on the ground in about 15 minutes. Flight attendants, prepare for landing."

Well, shit, get out your crayons and color me right there next to the captain. If he doesn't like the airplane, then I don't either, and if he wants to land, then I think that's exactly what we should do. You go, Captain! Land this plane! And hurry up about it.

And then he's on the intercom again.

"Uh… They've decided they're going to roll the emergency vehicles for us, so if you see fire engines and a lot of flashing lights as we're landing, don't be concerned; it's nothing to worry about."

It's funny how quiet a crowd of people on an airplane can get. It had been pretty quiet before the captain's announcement, but now it was downright funereal - pun intended. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that we practically went into a power dive and dropped like a stone as we made for ABQ. A sudden descent like that tends to make you take a deep breath and shut up - it's hard to chatter away brightly when your stomach is trying to erupt through the top of your head. Makes you wonder if you're going to make it home tonight … or ever.

So… We landed. I've had more soothing approaches, but so what? We landed in a controlled manner and you've gotta love that. And sure enough, we had emergency vehicles waiting for us - a whole squadron of them. Fire trucks and ambulances and big trucks with lights on top and all kinds of vehicles. They were waiting for us at the end of the runway and there were more of them waiting at every runway intersection we passed as we taxied to the terminal. And as we made a turn I was able to look behind us and saw that we were leading a virtual parade of emergency vehicles. Which didn't make me feel terribly safe anymore. I had figured we were okay once we were on the ground, but here we were "safe" on the ground and we still had half of Albu's disaster team following us down the runway. Suddenly I didn't feel so safe anymore.

Despite all that - despite an emergency landing and fire trucks and ambulances trailing us down the runway and a planeload of people who just wanted OFF - despite all that, procedures must be followed. As we crept the final, endless inches to our gate, one of the flight attendants came on the PA with the standard announcement of "Please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened until the captain has turned off the 'Fasten Seatbelts' sign." Right. Like we're going to sit here like sheep while the plane explodes around us because the captain didn't think it was safe for us to stand up yet. I don't think so. And yet… we did. Docile and obedient to the end, we stayed put until that stupid little light went out.

And of course it did go out. Our parade ended with a whimper, not a bang, and we all got out alive, and then they put us all on a clean, well-lighted plane, and that one wasn't broken and didn't attract emergency vehicles on the runway, and we ended up getting to Burbank only about 45 minutes behind schedule. They never did tell us "officially" what the problem with the first plane had been, but I heard through the passenger grapevine something about us having had a "bad" generator. That'll do it, I guess. Darn juvenile delinquent generators. You really have to keep them under a tight rein or they start acting up. I say send 'em to military school, teach 'em a little discipline. Or something.

But, yeah, that's all over now. So all in all, I think I'll have to put the trip in the "Oh well" column and forget about it. What goes up must come down, and as long as it comes down in a controlled manner, then you call that a good day.

But I knew we should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.