Thursday, November 09, 2006

the world's coming down on top of me

on monday night i was driving home from work with my esteemed colleague, brandon. it was a day like any other, nothing out of the ordinary. as we left the small town of ferndale, i noticed a plane flying at low altitude. a few seconds later i observed that this was a large plane. a very large plane.

now, i live in a very rural area. humboldt county has a total population of approximately 130,000. our airport was built next to ocean for the specific purpose of training world war II pilots how to land in very thick fog. after the war was over someone came up with the brilliant plan to transform it into a commercial airport. this creates problems, such as the fact that you meet people at the airport who have been there since 1973, waiting for the fog to clear so they can get to san francisco. the airport has two gates, one for arrivals, one for departures. the only planes that fly in and out are of the puddle-jumper variety, the kind with a ceiling height of 4'-10" and strategically seated passengers in order to prevent the plane from flying like a car leaving hometown buffet with aunt ruth and uncle bobby on the same side of the car. needless to say, very large planes do not fly in and out of our airport.

therefore, seeing a very large plane flying low over ferndale is not a normal sight. as i peered through my windshield up at this massive plane, my first thought was that something was wrong. up ahead on the road, cars were pulled over and i saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. i pulled over and kept watching the plane. it began to slowly bank toward me and continued to lose altitude.

at this point, i realized that i was in danger. as i thought of my wife, my 15 month old daughter, and our as-yet-undetermined child in the womb of 14 weeks, the situation went from curious to alarming. i whipped the car around and gunned the engine as fast as i could, back toward town and toward the foothills of the coastal mountains. i figured that if the plane was going down that the pilots would stay away from the mountains. my stomach was knotted tight and i began to sweat that nervous sweat that feels like it's being squeezed out of you by a python.

brandon continued to watch the plane and as i raced through town he told me that the plane had continued to bank and was headed out toward the ocean. i pulled over again and we watched the silent behemoth glide toward the pacific. we began to pray out loud for the pilots and the passengers. i imagined myself on that plane, looking out of the window at the dairies and fields below and wondering how this could be happening. wondering how long i would be alive. would i be angry? would i cry? would i try and comfort those passengers around me as the cold ocean waters rushed up to pull us out of the sky?

brandon and i decided to try and make it home as we figured the plane was going to try and get up to airport and make an emergency landing. as we left town again, i pulled over and asked a police officer if it was safe to continue. he breathlessly told me he didn't know what was happening and that we needed to leave so that the plane could make an emergency landing on that particular straight stretch of road. the python returned and wrapped me in cold sweat once more.

we pulled away again, looking at all the cars pulled over watching the quiet chaos in the sky unfold. we continued to pray.

at this point i decided to call my dad. he works for a local law enforcement agency and i thought he might know what was happening. my little brother answered the phone and lazily informed me that a large plane was flying around. he said that dad was outside looking at it and was trying to find out what was happening. i told him to have dad call as soon as he found out what was going on.

the plane had turned again and was coming back toward us. traffic had slowed and everywhere people were pulled over to watch the plane. i felt like a mouse on open ground under the shadow of a circling hawk. traffic was stopped at the bridge that links ferndale to the rest of the world as the road construction crew tried to work while looking at the sky. after a few minutes they let us through and as we crossed over the bridge the plane banked over us again. the setting sun glowed orange on the body of the plane and for one moment it almost looked beautiful as it passed over us.

we continued driving and i tried to call my dad once more. he answered the phone and i asked him what was happening."oh" he said, "it's a test flight. boeing is doing a test flight for one of their new planes. the weather was bad up in seattle so they decided to come down here. they didn't notify anyone about it, but it's not illegal."

a test flight. all of a sudden the fear was gone, like a wave receding back into the ocean. the tension burst from me in a ridiculous laugh and i felt like a fool. it was as if orson welles just came on the radio and told me that the war of the worlds was only a story, that aliens weren't really attacking the east coast.

it's easy to laugh now when i think about the plane circling over little ferndale. it fooled us all. the police, the fire departments, every passing motorist...we were all waiting for our little worlds to change forever. we thought we had a story to tell our grandkids and people at parties. "remember when...i was there..." and it was a test flight. just a bored flight crew doing their job while the world below scrambled to get out of the way.

"official" story



Blogger SarahJane said...

The weather was bad up in Seattle... oh my gosh, it's been raining non-stop for about two weeks. Talk about fitting us into a stereotype, it's been awful. Trains have been delayed due to water on the tracks and there's flooding.
Sorry to have our weather cause you such distress, though. I would have been terrified - I'm used to low-flying planes since I live near Boeing and airports but I still watch them like a hawk "just in case" one of these days they're not supposed to be flying so low. I'm so glad you made it out alive. ;)

12:22 PM  

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