Few things make me as spiritual as funerals or the moments just after lifting off from the runway in a plane. Its been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, I think that the same could hold true for take-offs. Many a fuselage have emanated the earnest prayers of its passengers, rivaling Sunday morning sanctuaries. GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY…I HATE TAKING OFF!!!
My bride isn’t much better which is quite ironic since she’s the one who planned our whole twenty-fifth wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii. Since there’s no known roads or interstates to Hawaii we pretty much had to take the airborne route, driving west on Interstate 80 won’t cut it. I don’t fly much. I could count the number of times that I’ve flown on ONE HAND. We arrived at the airport weary from a night of strong thunderstorms and not much sleep. At the TSA checkpoint I tried to keep up with everything that was going on and what needed to go where. Normally I’m a joke-machine and run off at the mouth, but today I’m quiet and compliant. I asked the nicely dressed business lady behind me if she’d like to go ahead of me since I hadn’t done this kind of thing very often (as in eight years ago), but she politely declined. I thought that I was finished with doing stuff when she whispered “take off your shoes.” Which I did very quickly. Then she whispered again “take off your belt.” Again I obliged very quickly, (you’d have thought that Connie would have gotten interested that a nice looking gal was literally telling me to undress, but “no”. The lady could’ve continued “and now your pants and socks” and there’s a fifty-fifty chance that I would’ve done it until I got tackled by the TSA guys…or Connie for that matter.
After the checkpoint we settled into our waiting area where there was a church group in matching tee-shirts having a prayer service. I’m all good with scripture, they were heading to Haiti on a mission trip, and am real relieved that they didn’t proceed into the 23rd Psalm “and though I walk through the valley of Death” thing or I might’ve gone a little weird. Nice people, though.
On the plane I sat across the aisle from a high school girl who was busy texting, as we were puttering around the lead up to the runway. Now the flight attendant had already told everyone to turn off their electronic devices several minutes earlier, so I was debating whether or not to say something to this youngster who was starting to make an already edgy and paranoid Rich Ripley go totally ape-shit crazy as I hadn’t planned in dying in a fiery plane crash that morning with her texting somehow interrupting our precarious existence in flight. So, to my credit, I reached across the aisle, touched her on the arm and pointed to her phone and asked her to turn it off, which she did. Now I say that I said it politely but I’m sure she looked at me and saw a middle-aged man sweating profusely with a look of sheer determination upon my furrowed face. Whew! Now that I had the passenger compartment under control our pilot (who was wearing black shiny cowboy boots, or shit-kickers as my bride calls them) could fly us to Dallas/Fort Worth. Maybe its my father-in-law that calls ’em shit-kickers…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is all I’m sayin’.
I prayed as the engines on our plane started revving up to take off:
Angel…”Lord. Rich Ripley has an urgent prayer that he’s really concerned about.”
Lord…”I’m not letting him win the lotto…”
Angel…”It’s not that prayer this time…he’s flying.”
Lord…”Flying?! What’d he jump off of this time?”
Angel…”No Lord…he’s flying commercial.”
Lord…”Who’s the pilot?”
Lord…”It’s not Randy’s or Rich’s time yet. Direct Rich’s attention to some pretty clouds or better yet, he’s always blabbering about umping baseball games so let him see some from eight thousand feet, or the clouds.”
As we leveled out after the climb Heavenward I looked out the window and thought “Dear God…it’s beautiful up here.” To our east a flat horizon of pure sky blue while to our west the horizon was interrupted occasionally by clouds that shot straight up like Dairy Queen jumbo twist cones (I owe the Angel a big one).
Our flight and landing went off without a hitch into Dallas/Fort Worth, except for the fact that I chose to finally use the bathroom on the plane just seconds after the pilot announced our descent into Dallas. CURSE YOU COFFEE!!! It’s like peeing in a Porta-John during a windstorm with someone tipping it partially sideways. Anyway…mission accomplished. For some reason I’m totally cool with landing. It’s a natural progression of being so high and honestly I’m relieved that the flight will be over soon. Our second flight was from Dallas to Oahu, Hawaii…which in my opinion they should’ve stopped somewhere along the West coast and topped off the gas tanks, maybe grabbed a burger and stretched their legs…but no…they fly straight through. I mentioned my concern to my brother Brian, an all around nice guy and world traveler, and he assured me that there’d be enough fuel to get us that far without stopping to refuel. Mind you, I remember the time when I was around five years old and I climbed on top of my bed, his was right next to mine, and I whipped it out and whizzed all over his bed. I can’t remember why I did that, but I remember that he was real, real mad about it. Since I was so much younger he couldn’t extract a pounding on me like I deserved so I figured that he’d eventually give me some bullshit story that I’d believe in desperation like “sure there’s enough fuel to get you to Hawaii” as we plunge into the ocean, well short of the island. Well played, Brian, well played…forty years later and you finally got your revenge for that pee-prank your baby brother pulled on you in nineteen seventy-one. At that point during take-off from Dallas I was relatively sure that Brian wouldn’t do that, but only because he’s fond of my wife Connie. Relatively sure….
We loaded onto the American Airlines 737, through the livestock chute…er gangplank, whatever they call it. I resist the urge to squeal like a hog being led to slaughter, if only to keep my bride from back-handing me. I internally rationalize that if my aunts, who are in their 60’s and 70’s, can fly all over God’s creation and not make a scene then maybe I can too.
Again we sit on the runway, this time in a big silver tube with wings. The engines throttle up, the big girl lurches forward then launches down the pavement. It just doesn’t seem possible that this big multi-ton piece of metal, plastic and wire can get into the air much less stay in the air. Faster we roll, faster my heart beats. Palms sweaty, face mighty stern, stomach in knots…and she lifts…first the nose then the rest. We’re climbing and gaining altitude. Seconds pass and we continue the ascent. My thoughts during those moments aren’t fit for print. Let’s just say that they’re profanity laced religion to a certain extent. Nothing sacrilege…just very plain and direct…then a pretty cloud catches my attention.
We arrive to Oahu safely and on time. Relief washes over Connie and I, I’m as serious as a heart-attack…we don’t do well with flying…actually I like flying its just the whole take-off thing that has my undies in a bunch. As we stand at the luggage carousal an elderly man approaches us, using a cane. He’s in his 70’s or 80’s and was a couplea rows behind us on our Oahu flight. He stops and with a smile on his face asks us “May I ask you a question?” We reply “sure”. He continues “Do you fly much?” Both Connie and I laugh and answer “No. Not very much at all.” He smiles, shakes his head in agreement and continues on his way. We laugh at our obvious trepidation and fear, so apparent to others. “I bet that he saw us pressing our faces against the window, looking at everything under us” I tell Connie. Later on, after we’re in our room for the night I revisit our exchange and the day. Perhaps he’s an experienced traveler and the whole “flying thing” is old hat, or maybe, just maybe he didn’t see the pretty Dairy Queen jumbo twist cone clouds that I saw. It’s probably a little of both…but God-willing, I hope that I’ll ever get tired of looking at those delicious clouds.
On the ground for the next couplea days…we rest that first night having been awake for almost twenty-four hours.
Next stop, Pearl Harbor. Until then…peace friends.