The Plane Truth

Last week I had to catch a flight to Virginia for training. It doesn’t particularly what for or where at, except that the airport at the training end was Reagan International. The relevance of that will be clear later.

The first thing I need to explain is that I don’t believe that airplanes can fly. When I reveal this, a lot of folks think that I’m some sort of science-denying, foil-hat-wearing nutcase who doesn’t believe that airplanes travel from place to place above the ground.

(Rather than correct this perception, I usually play along. Consequently there are several people who aren’t quite certain whether I genuinely believe that air travel is an elaborate hoax designed to conceal the existence of teleportation. [I do not. That would be crazy. The aliens kill anybody who comes close to working out teleportation. (Poor Tesla.)])

I understand the science of flight at a high level, my hats are not made of materials useful for baking, and I completely agree that planes travel through the air. I just don’t call that flight. I call it a rocket-propelled death-ride. Airplanes are basically missiles with a modicum of steering, a throttle, and a small packet of pretzels.

This training junket would be my second round-trip death-ride. (My first, also for work, was to Las Vegas. If I was strapping myself into a rocket for the first time, I wanted to have some good shows at the other end dammit!) Between the strain of getting my car fixed, driving through snow, and arriving barely in time for boarding I was already a wreck. I sat trembling in my seat until after we were safely above the clouds.

The trip back was a different story, but here’s where Reagan airport comes in. The ride from Reagan to my hotel in McLean cost around $30. It would be reimbursed, so my worry wasn’t the cost. I’d simply never called a cab before. I hadn’t needed to. In Vegas cabs were lined up everywhere, and they flock to airports like seagulls to the parking lot at McDonald’s. My schedule had me checking out of the hotel on the morning of my last day of training, so I’d have to get a phone number and actually call it.

You may recall that I’m only slightly less phobic of phones as I am of spiders. In fact, a spider with a phone would pretty much incapacitate me.

Then the media started hyping storm Not Actually Officially Named, which was slated to return the East Coast to the Bronze Age or something. Ten hours before my flight, and I’d already started feeling sick. Would I be stuck at the airport, if I even managed to get there?

Luckily, two of the other guys in training were also going to Reagan, and they had a rental car! Even better, they generously offered me a ride before I even started figure out if I should impose by asking. (Thanks again, guys! You’re swell in my book.) That was such a relief that I didn’t mind being about three hours early for my flight.

Okay. Here’s the Reagan part. I promise.

After stalling for a while, I finally decided to get it over with and go through the security check. I threw my bag, boots, and coat into scanner bins and strolled into the cancer chamber. No sooner had I stepped out then I was pulled aside by a large man who was keenly interested in my groin. Turns out that I’d forgotten to empty my pockets, and in D.C. they take that pretty seriously.

My money clip and wallet were confiscated while I was patted down and checked for eau d’explosive. The money clip (and money!) was returned after cursory inspection, but my wallet disappeared. I’ve gone through a few variant types of wallets, and I currently use a small metal business card case. With an alcoholic squirrel on it.

I stood there, ignored, wondering what to do. They’d lost interest in me once I’d passed the sniff test. I stood there awkwardly for a minute, then I put on my boots and recovered my bag and coat. More time passed. A tiny bucket trundled out of the scanner. It contained my wallet. I looked around. Nobody cared. I picked up the wallet. Nobody yelled. I slipped away before they remembered me.

The actual flight was nothing. The plane seemed to be from the 1960s, with original naugahyde. As the plane chugged to the runaway, I could see a wing bouncing harder than a check from Bernie Madoff. No problem. The whole trip was almost over, and my nerves had given up trying to keep me alert. At least if I died I’d have my wallet.