Flying is humbling. Not being an aeronautic engineer, I don’t really get flying. Flying on an airplane is a practice of combined magic and trust. I don’t trust it, even though statistics prove that it’s safer than riding in a car on the ground.
The result of my mistrust of flying is a conviction that I’m going to die on every plane trip. Either something mechanical or human will go catastrophically wrong or God will end the “magic flying experiment” mid-flight and the huge heavy metallic and plastic tube with flaps will fall out of the sky with a deadly drop.
Naturally, I feel guilty. I look at the other passengers on the plane and feel sorry for them. They had the unfortunate random luck to be on the plane with me. Or, if it’s the God option, the last plane ride ever. I feel a strong sense of relief and gratitude when the plane finally touches down on arrival.
Which is where the humbling part comes in. Obviously, I’m wrong about dying on an airplane. It hasn’t happened yet, so I have to admit to being wrong about some things in life. I’ve been on more flights than I can count, so the evidence against my phobic theory grows. I’ve spilled out of canoes and other boats, been in bicycle crashes, motorcycle crashes, car crashes and even a train crash, but I’ve never been in a plane crash.
Considering how awful a plane crash would be, I really hope I never complete that list.
Fill the bucket
Most of us don’t know when our number is up and how we’ll go. We’re all living on borrowed time. Many have heeded the wake-up call to experience as much out of life as you can muster: The bucket list. Get to a certain age, have a health incident or two and fulfilling your own bucket list starts to become an imperative.
I’ve never been much of a bucket-lister, but my perspective is changing. One of the things that drives my personal bucket list is the hatred of the cold, rainy, gray days of my regular existence in the Pacific Northwest. I hate the incessant rain. I’m easy pickings for anyone selling sunshine and warmth. I yearn to travel to anti-Pacific Northwests. Even if I have to take an airplane.
So I did. I recently threatened to take off for Hawaii. The perfect combination of opportunity and availability arose, driven by my bucket list desire to not spend any more time in the @$+*ing cold rain than I have to. I willingly stepped onto a couple of magical airplane contraptions and landed in Oahu.
I have a couple of bucket list items I intend to accomplish on this trip. First one: take in the view from atop Diamond Head. Mission accomplished. Here is the proof:
Funny story: After hoofing it to the base of Diamond Head from my hotel, I paid the fee and made the climb past more slow-moving Japanese tourists than I thought possible to converge in one spot. I took it all in. I chatted with some nice Baby Boomers from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho; a Generation X couple from Sydney, Australia (honeymooners) and a family similarly escaping the miserable Pacific Northwest rain from Mount Vernon, Wash.
I came down the path, ending up at the base of the entrance, which is where not-so-sweet-but-a-tad-ironic life intruded. A deafening siren blared. Long and bone-rattling loud.
There is no better way to feel like a know-nothing tourist than to have an ear-splitting siren blaring — and you have no idea what it’s signifying. Clearly, I’m supposed to know something … something important … but I don’t know what.
Environmental cues were of little assistance. I spotted a few other people on the sidewalks who were suddenly doing the same “duh” pose I was doing. More tourists, of course. They would be of no help. A few cars went by, but the drivers didn’t seem to be in any state of panic.
A wave of stupidity
The thought finally occurred to me that if, for instance, there were ever a need for a tsunami warning, this would be an effective way to get the word out. If, of course, the brain powering the recipient ears were bright enough to know that the siren = tsunami.
I was on the negative side of that ledger entry, but I was starting to have my suspicions.
I also got pissed off. I just came down from the top of Diamond Head crater. What was I supposed to do now? I’m hot and tired. Should I run three-quarters of a mile uphill back to the base of the entry gate and then try to maraud my way up to the top? Again? There’s a tsunami coming (maybe) and I just vacated high ground? I’m not here to get wiped out by a tsunami … right?
An important question to which I didn’t have an answer. As it turns out, the siren blare was, in fact, a tsunami warning for Oahu. The 8.2 quake in Chile caused, unbeknownst to me and at least a handful of other Hawaiian tourists, a series of tsunami warnings across the South Pacific.
I did not know this, at the time. Had I known, I might not have let my hot, tired body make the decision to keep walking like nothing’s happening for me. Cars went by at regular speed, even though the siren was still blaring. Nobody seems bothered by it, but then maybe these people are even dumber than me. I decided that wasn’t possible. I felt pretty dumb at that moment. I kept walking.
I decided I was safe to resume regular stupidity when I came upon a small Air National Guard post near the shore. Forces were not mobilizing to get the hell out. In fact, the only sign of activity I saw was one guy tending to some yard work.
I bet my life on this guy. I decided that he seemed like a nice enough fellow. Surely, if there were a tsunami coming, somebody would have popped their head out of their rubber-peeling vehicle and said, “Hey, Frank, better get to high ground.”
Amiable Frank-from-the-Air-National-Guard-post was gardening, not panicking. Thus, therefore, ergo, no tsunami. I kept walking.
Next up on the bucket list: try to have more of a clue about … everything. I think I’ll talk to some locals. First question: What’s the #$*&ing siren for if there’s no tsunami headed this way? And I have a few follow-ups.
I’m gonna enjoy the rest of my days / hours / minutes here on the island. Despite the emptiness that occurs when you realize you are the dumbest, most worthless person in a potentially life-threatening situation, I still have little desire to get back on an airplane and head home to the rain.