Monday, January 24, 2011

An Additional Seasonal Change of Pace

When I was quite a bit younger, and gainfully employed as a flight attendant on the west coast, one of the commuter flights I worked was San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria-Los Angeles: just down the California coast and back and call it a day. This trip was generally without incident.

One spring day, rain and wind and coastal bugaboos reared their ugly heads and made a horribly turbulent flight to Santa Maria. It is said, particularly in the world of classrooms and airplanes, that if one person vomits, it takes on a domino effect. I am here to concur. That was a very unpleasant flight. We had a brief stopover in Santa Maria, and the two pilots and I went in to the airport diner to grab a quick lunch. A few minutes into the lunch, I remarked to my cockpit crew, "This is amazing: I still feel like I'm on that flight! I feel wobbly!" They laughed at me, and I sat back to settle myself.

No sooner than I spoke, but the chandeliers above our heads began swinging back and forth. I had no clue what it was about - the native California pilots exclaimed, "It's an earthquake!"

It only lasted a minute or so, a swinging-type sensation, not the shake-shake-shake that some earthquakes are described as.

Another time, on another coast, still working as a flight attendant, I shared an apartment with other commuter flight attendants. (That Spouse o' Mine and I lived in East Lansing Michigan, and I commuted to work at JFK International each week.) We laughingly told people our address was "Final Approach: JFK". We were indeed just below the last few minutes of final approach on any given day at JFK. I loved watching the 747s and the Concorde fly overhead. (In 20/20 hindsight, I wonder how much fuel exhaust I consumed during my flight-gazing?) The Concorde would sneak up on me - it was so fast, even on landing, that it was overhead and then gone before I knew what was happening - like a giant bat overhead!

One night I was awakened from a lofty slumber by a horrible horrible shaking. I called out to a roommate, "They're too low!" I meant that the plane on final approach was too low over our neighborhood. She yelled back, "I think it's an earthquake!"

She was right. It didn't last long, or cause damage, just a lot of shaking going on.

In 1989 I was working a domestic flight (I am sensing a flight pattern here, are you?) from JFK to San Francisco. An L1011 holds 300+ passengers, and we were busy with a full flight. Somewhere just over Las Vegas, our captain came on and very matter-of-factly announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, there has been a major earthquake in San Fransisco and we are being diverted to Los Angeles." The rest of the flight was somber and worrisome. A father came up and worriedly told us his kids were at the World Series Game; could we check on their well-being? Similar questions cropped up as we walked up and down the aisles. There was little infomation we could tell them, except that we were being diverted in case the runways had been damaged...landing on a faulty runway is a bad thing.

The passengers and we crew members spent the night in Los Angeles, and the following morning, our flight to San Francisco was the first to land at the SFO airport. We landed without incident, and that final approach was absolutely silent as we flew into the area. All the passengers were witnessing the damage from the air, a vantage point that few would personally experience.

The Loma Prieta Earthquake, San Francisco, 1989

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