If I can’t go first class, I won’t go at all. —Thurston Howell
Ever since Orville and Wilbur Wright invented effective aircraft control systems in the 20th century, the human experience has been impacted by travel as never before in the history of all mankind. From the African plains, to the Himalayas, to the moon and back, the something in the heart of man that inspires delight from our wandering exists even to this day.
This love of wandering I blame for my willingness to travel to remote places big and small. Were it not for my love of the countryside, you would indefinitely find me locked away in some downtown tower relishing in the accomplishments of man. But my love of the forgotten places, of nature by God’s design, calls me deep into the far off corners even when I am unaccompanied. My Mama definitely would not approve.
She would much rather me penetrate a crowd like the ones in New Orleans or some college football game. When I say New Orleans, to my Mama this means ANY DOWNTOWN, since she always says, “Hmmmnn, this looks like New Orleans” when we drive through a downtown area.
If I am traveling, she will always say something like, “Oh, I heard Peggy is going to the LSU game, tell her I said hello.” She remains optimistic that I’m going to run into her friend Peggy in spite of the other 89,999 visitors. In the end, Mama is always right because I usually do. Then, Peggy Whoever and myself will take a picture and send it home to Mama who is on pins and needles until she hears from her girl again.
Last week, I was flying into Denver when Mama told me that my cousin Paula was gonna be there and to please tell her hello. Sure, Mom. Six hundred thousand people in Denver, excluding tourists, and I’m gonna run into Paula. So would you believe me if I ran into Paula not once but twice? In the course of my lifetime, I have not spent one day with Paula outside of the context of my grandmother’s holiday table and there we were. Two grown-ups away together on business getting to spend some girl time together. Mama was thrilled, but not surprised.
In my free time, I drove into the Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoyed the fall weather I have so missed! My fear of heights was not enough to curtail my curiosity of experiencing autumn as I never had before. I coached my vertigo all the way up the mountain into not inadvertently causing myself to faint and drive over some cliff. It worked, but I had to take a 20-minute calm-down break when I arrived to regain control of my resting heart rate. I visited with a herd of elk, took in some fly-fishing and gathered up a few bison tacos, the entire time knowing that what goes up must come down the mountain. I was also hoping what was going down wouldn’t come up. Bison.
On the way down the mountain, even my toes were sweating. I pretended to the drivers behind me that I didn’t know I was a slow driver when I didn’t heed the signs that encouraged slow drivers to pull off at stopping points. I knew if I stopped at all I might have to call for help to get going again. After one hour and twenty miles down the mountain it was time for another calm-down break. Was it worth it? In a heartbeat!
When we travel, we discover things about ourselves that we didn’t know before. For instance, I learned that vertigo is really not made up, that my desire to explore was greater than my fear of heights, and that I wish I had a bison farm. Darn, those things are good! Just when my relationship with the pet activists was healing from my Free Kittens and Free Cat columns, I have to say, that everyone might benefit from some buffalo from time to time. I do apologize.
But having said all of this, including how I love wandering and what my Mama might be thinking, along with my eating obscure animal meat, nothing beats the first class adventure of my friends Gene and Margaret Hastings.
They left Fort Lauderdale with three couples and two pilots on a charter to the Staniel Cay in the Bahamas. Upon the approach into the islands, the passengers noticed the plane circling quite a bit. After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot began his descent when the autopilot repeatedly sounded, “Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!” The men, who were seated on the left side of the plane, tried not to alarm their wives on the right side of the plane. It was my friend Gene who first noticed the wing clipping the tops of trees when the plane suddenly took a hard right into the bushes.
The couples were shaken up pretty badly when they attempted to open the door of the plane, but it was jammed shut by a limb with just enough room for everyone to squeeze through, walk on the wing, and hop onto the ground. A couple of the guys got off first and set foot on the crushed coral runway. They gathered their wits once they smelled fuel and yelled to everyone to get off the plane!
There were no people, no planes, no tower, no nothing. Once everyone was off the plane and they decided it actually wasn’t going to explode, they did what every self-respecting affluent American charter plane crash survivor would do and unloaded the most important cargo first starting with the refreshments. In something that resembled a Thurston Howell noblesse oblige, they celebrated living through the crash with a champagne toast!
Before too long, my friend Gene spotted an approaching figure on the island horizon. As the figure drew closer, Gene saw that it was a 60-year-old weathered islander on a bicycle that appeared to be 30 years old. The bike had a large basket and Gene wondered if Toto was in there or if this was all a dream and he would wake up in Kansas. Either option was not that appealing.
“You’re on the wrong island,” the man said. “It’s just me and my wife here.” He told my friends that he did have an old truck that he may be able to start, but the ignition hadn’t been cranked in nine months. Gene and the crew drank champagne until the man returned with the old truck to gather their luggage. Also returning were the Bahamian police and some friends who had been waiting on a nearby island and heard of the crash. Transporting them to the correct island, the vacation continued.
I tell my Mama that Gene and Margaret’s story is a REAL travel story with teeth! She just says more prayers and hopes that this never happens to me. Even when travel is filled with risk and disaster, there are very few trips to a new place that I ever regret or forget. I tuck them away to tell stories to the generations to come.
When I asked Gene to tell me the story once again, he did remind me that the island where they were scheduled to land was only two miles away. I guess sometimes you can get pretty close to where you thought you would be by now, but the real first class adventure takes place when we just stop and look around to appreciate the scenery right around us.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper. Follow Brandi on Twitter @BrandiChambless