Monday, January 5, 2015

"Houston, we have a problem."

One of the pleasures of being the father of two college age daughters is the built-in excuse to visit colleges.

I don't know about you, but I love colleges and universities. Perhaps because stepping on campus allows me to step back in time. I fondly remember Syracuse University (a magnificent campus) as the first time in my life when I was not living under the overbearing demands of my father.

As such, the rules that applied to me at home did not apply to me some 250 miles north, under the snowy skies of upstate NY. There was excessive drinking, drugs, skirmishes with the campus police and the threat of academic expulsion.

Good times.
But I'll save that for another post.

Over this recent Christmas break, we, the entire Siegel clan, decided it would be a good idea to head to Na' Orlans, to visit the campus of Loyola University, where my youngest had just recently been accepted. We could also visit Tulane (still pending) and swing by LSU (also still pending.)

From there we could traverse the swampy state of Louisiana and stop in at Austin to see the University of Texas, also still pending but apparently very high on my daughter's wish list. For no other reason than she likes their logo and the hue of their burnt orange colors.

The trip would also be a nice little vacation, as my wife and I both love Na' Orlans, which we decided has all the charm of a European city without the snootiness and the cigarette smoke.

It was a fine plan.
Until it wasn't.

The 3 &1/2 hour flight was smooth and uneventful. Then we reached the border of Louisiana, where a thick front of warm Gulf air met a cold Arctic blast dropping down from Canada -- in my other life I'm a Meteorologist.

This produced some monumental rainfall and thunderstorms. There was the normal rocking and swaying. And then there was the stowing of the snack carts, the flashing of the seat belt sign, and the stern warnings from the flight attendants.

Followed by the always calming voice of the pilot.

"Ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the rough ride. If you look out the window you'll see there's a bit of a storm. We're gonna swing around the north side of the city and approach from the east. We should be on the ground in 15 minutes. Sit back, enjoy the fireworks and relax."

For the next 15 minutes I, a devout atheist, prayed to the avionics God I don't believe in and went over all the post-humous logistics in my head.

There was the letter of instructions left on the shelf in the kitchen. The Trust and the Will had been recently updated. And that assignment for the Discovery Network, well, that'll just have to be written by some other hacky copywriter.

Thanks to the onboard flight tracking system on the television screen embedded in the headrest, I was able to monitor the progress towards our arrival (?) at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

10,000 feet above sea level, destination is 8 minutes away.
7,500 feet above sea level, destination is 5 minutes away.
5,000 feet above sea level, destination is 3 minutes away.
2,500 feet above sea level, destination is 2 minutes away.
500 feet above sea level, destination is 1 minute away.

I looked out the window, and through the numerous lightening strikes I could see the tops of the street lamps. Soon we would be safely ensconced at our hotel, where my wife and I could enjoy some meticulously-prepared Sazerac cocktails and laugh about this flying nightmare.

And then, just as I expected the wheels to touch down, they didn't. My body was slammed back into the seat with the force of 5G's and the roar of the engines filled the cabin as the plane rocketed up towards the swirling skies.

Landing aborted! We were literally 10 feet above sea level!

A microburst was lingering over the runway and Captain Hirschner decided it was best to go back around and try again.

Unfortunately, he didn't have enough fuel for another circle around the bayou.

So, while the plane climbed through the turbulence in a hair raising impromptu take off, the pilot announced we would be headed to Houston for a refueling so we could do it all over again.

I grabbed the throwaway fleece blanket and used it to towel off my very moist armpits. Then, from my one-row-away-from-the-restroom-seat at the back of the plane, I heard what you never want to hear from an experienced flight attendant…

"Wow, I've never seen it this bad before."

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