Terror on the Tarmac

A True Story of Death and Boredom

It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

I’ve been sitting in seat 11F on Virgin America flight 327 for an hour.

We’re still at the gate.

Plane’s broken. Engine won’t start. Mechanical problem.

They send over mechanical men.

Can’t fix it.

We all sit.

I have the Rolling Stones in my headphones. I’m doing a crossword puzzle.

Suddenly, the 14 year old kid in the seat next to me becomes agitated.

He wants to look out the window next to me but the shade is down and he doesn’t want to reach across me. He doesn’t know what to do.

So I slide the shade up.

I can see several hundred people standing on the tarmac behind terminal 2.

I put CNN on my video screen.

There is an aerial shot of those same people on the tarmac.

There is a scroll running under the scene.

There’s been a shooting. Baggage claim. Terminal 2. Five people dead.

We sit in our busted plane listening to the reporters on TV.

Then we get the word.

Everybody out. Back into the terminal.

Out we go.

I’m guessing we are going to be here for a while. (Good guess.)

So I do the logical thing.

I head for the bar.

It’s crowded. Lots of laughter. The nervous sort.

I work my way through most of a beer.

Suddenly, everyone in the concourse starts running and screaming.

It’s a stampede. A tsunami of people. Knocking over racks of sunglasses and potato chips and each other.

Chaos. More screaming.

The human wave rushes toward the gates sweeping everything in front of it.

In the bar, everyone is taking cover. Under tables. Behind walls.

Pop. Pop.

We’re those gunshots?

I’m happy to say that I am unfamiliar with the sound of gunshots, so I couldn’t swear to it.

An employee of the bar has opened an access door.

“Come through the kitchen.”

I grab my jacket and shoulder bag.

Inside the kitchen, I stop.

All the other patrons have gone down the stairs.

The employee says “Are you all right?”

“No. I left my cell phone on the bar.”


“Left side second seat.”

He disappeared.

Six seconds later he hands me two cell phones.

One is mine.

Through the kitchen to the stairs and down to the tarmac.

A few dozen of us are huddled in an alcove.

Men with reflector vests listen to indecipherable crackle on walkies-talkies.

Some women sob.

Shortly, our group is herded out to the tarmac behind Terminal 1 where we join hundreds of others.

There is no place to go and nothing to do. Stand. Sit. Lie down.

The whole airport has been declared a crime scene. No one comes in. No one goes out.

Cop cars with lights flashing line the street in the distance. Lots of flashing lights all around.

Helicopters hover above.

Armored SWAT vehicles drive by.

So I mill around and wait.

My shoulder bag is killing me. It’s my old laptop. I’m carrying around a cinder block.

Should have gotten an iPad years ago.

I talk to lots of people. Everyone has a story.

I meet a lawyer from New York. He notices my Dodger hat.

So he gives me a quiz about the 1960’s era Dodgers and quotes Vin Scully three times.

I sit next to a woman on the tailgate of a pick-up truck. She’s part of the crew that cleans planes between flights.

I talk to a bald guy from Mississippi who claims he heard the shots.

A supervisor of something-or-other tells us that he was in the employee cafeteria.

He rounded up the people in there and led them to a safe room. They turned off the lights and waited in silence for the police to knock on the door.

Seems that everyone employed at the airport gets Active Shooter Training.

Probably why the guy in the bar knew to take us out through the kitchen.

Service vehicles bring water and snacks. Lots of them.

I use the port-a-potty in the construction area.

It is getting dark. We’ve been out here for five hours.

It is seven o’clock when a convoy of shuttle buses from the rent-a-car companies rolls up.

A woman in a sheriff’s uniform talks to the crowd.

We will be ferried to the Port Authority building not far away.

I get on a shuttle. I wedge myself into a corner.

The two guys standing next to me on the shuttle are from Colorado.

They have already re-booked their flights. They leave from Ft. Meyers in the morning.

They need a rental car. It’s an all-night drive to the other side of the state.

We get off the shuttle at the Port Authority. No one is giving instructions.

We refugees mingle with people from the cruise ships.

My companions grab their roller bags and head for the highway.

Hey, Wild Bill. Wait for me.

The three of us high-tail it out of the Port Authority.

We commandeer a cab. The cabbie knows an Enterprise location nearby. It’s open.

We wish each other good luck and I leave with the cab.

I know a hotel in the area.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to get back to LA.

Good news. I didn’t have to pay for the beer.