"There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror." --Orson Welles

t h e   p r e p a r e d   t r a v e l e r

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN my latest trip to France was going to be "one of those," when, halfway to the British Airways ticket counter, I realized I had left my wallet, passport and day-planner back at home. Luckily, it is my practice to arrive at the airport three hours before my flight -- a habit I would highly recommend -- just in case something like this happens. After panhandling 50 cents from a skycap (I hate carrying all that jingling change), I called Hector, my valet, at home.

"Be a dear and courier it over to me," I said to him. "I think there's just enough time to get it here." Though he was in one of his "cooking moods," he assured me he could get the items to me within the hour.

Well, Hector was only off by 35 minutes. The courier blamed the traffic; I knew Hector had probably intentionally dragged his feet a bit just to put me on edge. But the time was of little consequence because of my early arrival and the fact that my flight had been delayed by fog in Seattle. I was relieved: A rushed traveler is a grumpy traveler.

I walked straight to the ticket counter, after tipping the courier handsomely for his speed and snappy dress. "You'll be pleased to note," I told the young lady behind the counter, "my valet has come through as I promised with my passport and wallet." She really didn't need to know about the day-planner.

I had hoped to open the envelope with flair to punctuate my statement. But when the glue finally gave way, the package split open violently, flinging its contents all over the ticket counter.

I apologized profusely while trying to commandeer my business cards, credit cards and photos. "I am normally very well organized."

"What is this, sir?" she asked holding up a small plastic bag of a dried leafy substance.

Now, I'm no expert, but it looked like some of the dried oregano Hector had been using in the kitchen recently. Since I bought him that Nesco Snackmaster Food Dehydrator for his birthday two weeks ago, he had been drying and vacuum-sealing everything in sight, from store-bought fruits to items from his extensive herb garden. That sure looked like his oregano. Now, why he had sent it along, that was another question.

"I believe that is oregano," I said while meticulously re-alphabetizing my credit cards. An airport security man had come to the counter, I'm assuming to speed this ticket lady on in her duty. He grabbed the small baggie from her.

"Let me have a look at that, Denise."

"My valet is just crazy about dried herbs," I said.

"You'll have to come with me, sir." Waving the little plastic baggie before me, the security man grabbed my upper arm and not very gingerly. "I'd like to ask you some questions about this if you don't mind."

He pulled me away from the counter and quickly through an unmarked red door.

"It's very simple," I said. "Krupps makes this delightful two-in-one kitchen gadget that dehydrates and seals..." He pushed me into a chair. Boy, could this room use some perking up, or just ventilating.

"Shut your trap!" he growled.

A second man walked into the room, pulling on rubber gloves, and asked, "Whose the lucky contestant?"

"Some prissy, penny-ante smuggler."

This was undeniably not the first-class treatment British Airways was known for.

* * * *

Despite getting off on the wrong foot with them, the security staff at KCI ended up being quite helpful. Once they realized they were barking up the wrong tree with me, Dirk and Vic (the gentler of the two) were quick to offer apologies. And after a moment in front of the mirror to freshen up, I boarded my flight to Paris, the City of Lights, with 20 minutes to spare.

Ah, the City of Love. So many summer nights have I spent wandering your seductive rues and boulevards, sipping champagne and dreaming of dancing through your fountains with Leslie Caron. It had been two years since my last jaunt across the pond, and I was pining for an eyeful of that famous tower. (Pun absolutely intended!)

My usual luck in dull flightmates, it turns out, had completely run dry. I had the good fortune to be seated next to a lovely young lady, fresh out of high school, on her first vacation out of the state of Missouri.

"You are certainly jumping in with both feet," I told her.

"Isn't it cool?" she replied with a bit of a gleam in her eyes. "My parents don't even know I'm going. They'll know as soon as they get the credit card bill though." She laughed.

I had to laugh as well; her youth was invigorating.

Once we reached "cruising altitude," as the pilot so butchly put it, it was time to start the liquor machine. Being trapped in a metal tube 30,000 feet over the ocean is no place to be without a couple Stingers under your belt. I was having so much fun with my ebullient flightmate Corey (what a horrible name for such a gem of a person) I thought I would treat her to the drink of her choice.

"Here over international waters," I explained, "you're old enough to drink anything you like. Wouldn't that be madcap?"

Corey flashed me another of her magical smiles and reached into her fanny pack where she had hidden a hip flask of Jack Daniels. "Why wait for those skyhags to reach us? I say the party begins now!" She unscrewed the lid, threw it over her shoulder then tossed back two deep gulps of the whiskey. "Oh, that's what mommy needs," she wheezed.

"I haven't drunk Jack from the bottle since my Navy days," I said, but wasted no time taking three long swallows. "Oooh, now we're cookin' with steam."

Before we could finish the bottle, our little gala was brought to an abrupt end in the most unlikely of manners. A short, sweaty, screaming man at the front of the cabin, brandishing a tiny semi-automatic weapon, informed us the plane was not going to France, but to Belize in Central America. My disappointment, though dulled by the liquor, was profound; the best hotel in Belize closed down two months ago.

"Oh my God," Corey exclaimed, rather stridently into my right ear. "Terrorists! This is horrible."

"Actually," I told her, consolingly, "it is technically a terrorist and Belize is quite lovely. There's a delightful cafe on a hill in Belmopan, the capital. They make the finest paella this side of Madrid."

Corey finally calmed down, only after I let her finish the Jack Daniels, and, other than our beverage and snack service being interrupted, there was little evidence that our flight plans had been changed at all.

"Do you think they'll kill us?" Corey asked.

Looking out the window, I could see we were closing in on land. "No, the people of Belize are very friendly to Americans, in fact..."

Gunfire suddenly split the air. People screamed and I heard a high-pitched whining. Looking up, I saw a rather large man wrestling with the hijacker, whose gun was firing wildly, mostly in the direction of the cockpit. An abrupt change in our angle of flight was all the impetus I needed to get ready for an emergency landing.

"Oh God," Corey screamed. "We're going down!"

"Hopefully, we're trying a water landing," I said, trying my best to keep her spirits up.

Corey turned to me, grabbing the front of my shirt. With her other hand she began unbuttoning her top. "We'll have to hurry," she said huskily. "I don't want to die a virgin."

* * * *

Sadly, I didn't see Corey after the crash. With the way the aircraft broke apart and tumbled, we all ended up pretty well scattered. The group I ended up with, there atop the mountain, were less "livers of life," shall we say, than my lovely new friend. I must admit, I could have used her joie de vivre with this bunch of snivelers. I only hoped her clutch of survivors were less of a drain on her than this bunch was on me.

"Where are we?"

"We're going to die, aren't we?"

"What will we do?"

Oh, for some companions with a well-honed sense of adventure. "First of all," I said loudly, getting everyone's attention, "we figure out who is well enough to try to make it to safety. And then we separate the sick and injured from the healthy and strong."

I had been lucky enough to escape with only a superficial scratch to my left forearm. Sadly, it began on the crystal of my new Titanium Swiss Army watch. There's $600 down the drain.

"What then?" asked the man who had wrestled the terrorist. He looked like he had been hurt pretty badly. Serves him right for trying to be a hero.

"Well, you injured people will have to draw lots."

"Lots? For what?" hero boy asked. "For who goes for help?"

The sun was getting lower in the sky, my Jack buzz was wearing off and the fact that our in-flight snack had been hijacked along with the plane was making me edgy.

"Well, I don't know about anyone else," I said, dropping a lit match into the small pile of wood at my feet, "but it's getting late and I'm starving."


Content © 1999-2007 Jeff Drake