Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Equipment Failure

***My father might kill me for sharing this story. But I'm going to big fat do it anyway. Ask for forgiveness not permission, right? Love you, DAD!***

Over the years my father has had a lot of hobbies. He's an avid cyclist, and every year for his birthday he rides the same number of miles as he is old. He could probably give Lance Armstrong a run for his money. And years ago, he enjoyed motorcycles. But he's had one passion since I was a little girl that still sends a look of amazement and wonder across his face: flying. He has recently reignited this passion and it reminds me of a fun little story.

When I was a little girl, I'm guessing about 11 or 12 judging from the frizzy hair and pudgy awkwardness I exhibit in all of the pictures from this era, my dad had his pilot's license. He had worked hard to earn it, logged a ton of flight hours in the sky, and at the culmination of this perseverance, he purchased a green four-seater plane.

I hated it.

I was proud of my dad for getting his pilot's license, and it was super cool to "own a plane" but I HATED flying! I got motion sickness, and in a tiny plane like his, you feel every single little bump of wind, smell nothing but fuel the entire time, and experience a continuous, loud, vibrating hum that zips through your body for the duration of the flight. My father's passion was the bane of my existence for the whole of the awkward pudgy years.

Which leads me to my story.

One year my parents decided to take the family on a vacation to Gulf Shores Alabama. It's about 10 hours away by car. But we were bold and daring, and my father had new flight equipment to try out! So we crammed into the tiny cockpit of the "Green Machine of Misery" and took off into the blue sky for the FAMILY VACATION OF A LIFETIME! (Insert sarcasm and foreshadowing here.)

We flew. And we flew. And we flew. And I got dizzy, nauseous, cold, and clammy. And then we flew some more. As we neared the end of the day, there was some generally unnerving chatter occurring between my parents, and a map had appeared from the tiny glove box. From my position in the plane behind "Captain Daddy" I noticed my father doing a lot of looking outside the window at the ground, and a lot of my mother, "The Navigator" turning the map around a lot while pointing at things out the window. But because of the incessant hum of the engine, I couldn't tell what was going on. However, the back of Captain Daddy's head and the frequency and ferocity at which The Navigator was rotating the map were communicating a very clear message. Something was amiss. My sister, The Quiet Reader (AKA "Mom, Sara's Looking At Me Again"), must have noticed as well, because she had abandoned her book and was now also watching the backs of our parents' heads with a quizzical look on her face.

About the time I was getting ready to get good and scared, Captain Daddy spotted a runway and we began to come in for a landing. I relaxed as much as a pudgy awkward airsick kid could relax and took solice in the fact that we would be out of the Green Machine of Misery soon. I felt the jolt in my stomach as our altitude decreased and then the bump underneath us as the plane's wheels made contact with the precious ground....we rolled to a stop....and then blue lights started flashing and men with air traffic control sticks began making angry gestures in our general direction.

I panicked.

"Daddy, what's wrong?!?! What's happening??? Why are they sending police cars after us? Why are those men angry at us? WHAT DID YOU DO????"

It's the only time in history that I recall my father actually yelling at me to "SHUT UP!!!!"

We exited the plane, they ushered us into a lobby, and my father was taken into a back room with a bunch of angry men who looked very official. Apparently, in an effort to get us to Gulf Shores, Alabama where there is a small, private airport for small, privately owned planes, Captain Daddy had suffered an "equipment failure" and landed The Green Machine of Misery at the Pensacola National Airport...you know....the one where commercial planes land and air traffic control clearance or some sort of special authorization to land are required. Since we were not a commercial plane and we didn't have air traffic control clearance or some sort of special authorization to land, my father was in a tiny room. Possibly under arrest. Definitely in serious trouble.

My sister resumed reading. The Navigator, I'm fairly certain, was praying. But I was stewing, still indignant that my father had told me to shut up.

A little while later, Captain Daddy sheepishly walked out of the room followed by the angry man. They shook hands, exchanged forced pleasantries, and we were ushered back into the Green Machine of Misery where my father gave me explicit instructions that I was to sit back there and be quiet. No one said a word. We took off again, and were on our way, armed with very precise directions to the small private airport in Gulf Shores. I found out later that the angry man really could have had my father arrested, as he had been forced to delay large airplanes due to us puttering into their airstrip uninvited. But he was gracious and chose to look the other way.

As it turned out, we weren't that far off from the airport we were supposed to land at, and I learned, years later, that my father had been communicating with the correct control tower, he was simply at the wrong landing strip. Nevertheless, we got to Gulf Shores and went on to have the worst vacation in family history, a mere 15 Green Machine of Misery hours away from home. Ten by car.

I'm sure my father apologized for yelling at me to Shut Up, and though this was roughly 20 years ago, we are just now able to talk about this entire incident with a touch of laughter, as Captain Daddy doesn't seem to enjoy the story as much as the rest of us.

But as is the case with nearly all of my blogs, there is a moral to the story, so here it is:

Sometimes, in life, you will have an equipment failure. Sometimes you will simply lose your way. And sometimes, when it happens, someone is there, ready to give you Grace.

But no matter what, even if it's faster, even if it's cheaper, even if Jesus himself is flying the plane,

you should always, ALWAYS, DRIVE.

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