10 April, 2007

Cirrus business

Well, I survived. As many of you know, my attitude toward flying runs on a spectrum from mild alarm to intense dread. But I was so good about taking my fear of flying course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, listening to endless tapes, participating in the Wednesday Night Chat, taking advantage of the two-hour phone conversation with Captain Tom, the ex-commercial pilot turned therapist, who explains all about how airplanes work, how pilots of commercial jets are so safe at work that their life insurance premiums are the lowest of any profession (although my life insurance agent father-in-law regretfully informed me that that's not quite true). I went the whole nine yards and did the whole course, and I must say, it worked pretty darn well. I still don't love flying, but I don't panic at every unexplained sound, I don't think the plane's going to flip over like a beetle on its back, and I don't let myself think that all the statistics work only for the planes I'm not on. I got much better.

But as we approached this little plane to fly from Chicago to Waterloo, Iowa to visit my in-laws last week, one of the salient details of the course stood out in broad relief in my mind. None of the facts or figures applied to teeny-weeny private planes! In fact, the whole course kept emphasizing that it's only private planes that are dangerous. Harumph! This plane was unbelievably tiny. Like our Mini Cooper, only with wings. Seriously.

But I was brave. Mostly because I had no choice, since it was that or walk to Waterloo. Of course as luck would have it, it was incredibly windy that afternoon, so the nice calm pilot warned us there would be some "bumps," which I came to realize is like a doctor warning you that there might be some "discomfort," and then you're in mortal pain. Most alarmingly, as we sat listening to the engines rev, the pilot said as in an afterthought, "And if I were to become incapacitated for any reason, say a heart attack, you reach up here, to this lever, and just like you were chinning yourself, pull it down, and a parachute will exit the back of the plane and carry you down." Excuse me? I thought he was joking, but no, there was the ominous little lever, hovering above our heads like a bad dream.

It was like being in a little toy, bouncing around in a bathtub. But finally we climbed up through the invisible bumps, Avery clutching my hand in a death grip, while we listened on our headphones to John's excited questioning of the pilot, who at first was rather laconic and dismissive, but soon realized he had a very, very interested audience, and so we spent the whole journey listening to tales of how much ice is too much ice, how to compensate for strong headwinds, and how to divert to Rockford because there was radar difficulty in Dubuque. Then came the inevitable John question, when confronted with something he's never done before but decides he really likes. "How much would one of these babies set you back?" Too much, as it turns out. Thank you, God.

So here we are in Iowa, where the land is flat, the Walmarts plentiful, American flags adorn every surface you can imagine, the supermarkets are the size of airplane hangars and the weather is incredibly cold. But on the plus side, we've been seeing all our old friends and family, repeating the same old jokes we've been telling for the past 20 years, indulging in the kind of food we eat only when we visit the Midwest, like breaded pork tenderloins the size of frisbees, fried shrimp, iceberg lettuce, Lucky Charms for Avery, and unlimited ice. The first night we were here, after everyone had fallen asleep but me, I looked up from my book which I was reading propped up in John's childhood bed, and across the room on the desk was an enlarged photograph of Avery and her stable friends, seen from the back, all on their ponies, in Hyde Park Mews. I was visited by a very strange sense of unreality: that here in Iowa, in the middle of the dark night, London still exists, complete with the Bayswater Road for Avery to cross with her pony, and the Marble Arch roundabout with its zooming black cabs, and our placid little maisonette inhabited by the cats in our absence. How can both places be real? And yet in two days we'll be back there, doing our food shopping in the crowded, foreign aisles of Marks & Spencer, filled with spotted dick and mushy marrowfat peas instead of Pop-Tarts and fruit cocktail. I've got lots more to tell you about Iowa, but right now we're headed out to find some American lunch and drop Avery and her Nonna off at the dreaded craft store for yet another project involving yarn, glitter, googly eyes or metallic markers. Then to the grocery store for ingredients for the mushroom and parmesan risotto I'm planning for tonight. Every once in awhile we eat something that isn't deep fried, but not too often. More soon...

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