Thursday, March 17, 2011


I am not much of a flyer.  Heights scare me almost to a phobia situation.  George Carlin use to say "I am not afraid of heights, I am afraid of falling."  I guess I was as well but in order to fall you had to get up there and I did not enjoy getting up there.

I learned how to deal with my fear of flying over a two year period in the mid eighties.  Our company was working with a company in Berkley and Oakland on developing a new test system.  I was flying out to the Bay Area every two weeks during that time to help document the progress of the project.  When you fly that much you have to learn to deal with it.  I try to sit on an aisle seat over the wings.  The aisle seat keeps me away from the windows and the wing blocks any view that may sneak through indicating how high off of the ground we were.  It worked for me and I soon could fly without giving it too much of a second thought.

During this time of flying to the bay area and back I got to know two airports very well.  The Denver airport and the airport in Salt Lake City.  They were the layover spots depending on which airline you took between Kansas City and Oakland.  Both the airports were nice and I soon became at ease in them as I waited for my flight to head on to Kansas City.  Occasionally you would run into someone at one of the airports from back in Kansas CIty and so you would have a little visit time.  This didn't happen often, only two or three times, but it was always a pleasant surprise when it did happen.

Both airports were nice.  Salt Lake City had a wonderful view of the mountains outside of it's glass terminals.  Denver was equally beautiful but busier than Salt Lake so I had to deal with crowds of people when I flew into Denver.  Occasionally weather would make flights late getting there.  Twice the flights out of Denver were diverted to Dallas because of bad weather in Kansas City and I ended up spending a few hours in Texas waiting for Kansas City to clear up.  Then there was the day of the great Salt Lake City Fog.

When we left Oakland that morning they had said that there was fog in Salt Lake but were expecting it to lift by the time we arrived there.  No one gave it much thought until a voice came over the speaker announcing that the fog in Salt Lake was getting denser and that we would be heading south to Las Vegas to wait for Salt Lake to clear up.  I had never been in Vegas before and I wasn't really excited about it.  We would not be on the ground long enough to really do anything so it would be just sitting and waiting in a strange terminal.

As the plane landed in Vegas and started to taxi to a terminal the stewardess came on the speaker and told us that they were requesting that we not leave the plane.  They wanted to leave as soon as there was a break in the fog in Salt Lake so we would be taking  a chance of missing the flight if we deboarded during  the short layover.  The was a "however" to her statement though.  She explained that even though they did want everyone to stay on the plane they did understand that there may be some phone calls that needed to be made to let loved ones or acquaintances who may be waiting for us or leaving their houses to head to an airport to pick us up.

That was all the passengers needed.  As soon as the plane came to a stop and the seatbelt light went off, everyone on the plane stood up to get off.  Since I was in an aisle seat I had to get up as well and pretty much was pushed out into the terminal.  I was traveling with Gus on this particular trip and we both found ourselves in the small terminal area with a crowd of people who seemed to be in a hurry all of a sudden.  Gus pulled out his wallet and headed for the news stand.  This terminal was not very large and the center of it was filled with a fairly good sized news stand.  Then all around the terminal where chairs could have been placed were slot machines.  I had never played a slot machine before.  I hadn't even seen a slot machine before.  I am not a gambler and I began to look for a rare seat in which to sit.

Gus finally broke out from the crowd at the news stand with a hand full of quarters and was stunned to see that I had not gone to get some change myself.  We were here.  We were in Vegas.  At that time gambling was not as widespread as it is these days and Vegas was one of just a handful of gambling oasis' in country.  I told Gus I had never played a slot machine before and really didn't feel the need to now.  He was insistent though.

  "You are HERE, why not play just once?" he asked while holding up a shiny quarter to me.  He said it would be on him, but he couldn't imagine someone just being thrown down in Vegas and not playing the slots while they were there.

I took the quarter out of Gus' hand and walked over to a machine with Gus following close behind me to be sure I did play the slot.  I walked up to a machine and looked it over.  I took a little time to observe other players from the plane so I would be able to do it correctly.    I placed the quarter into the slot and pulled down on the handle.  I pulled on it a lot harder than was required but it was okay.  It didn't break.  I watched the little window go spinning on the front of the machine until it stopped.  I stood there.  Nothing happened.  No jackpot or anything of the sort.  So I told Gus that the experience was one of the most exciting ones I had ever had and walked back to my seat which had been taken by another passenger at this point.

It took Salt Lake a long time to clear up from the fog.  We ended up being in the terminal almost two hours so it was the right decision to get off of the plane.  Still I was certainly ready to get back on a plane and get to Kansas City as soon as I could so when they announced they were boarding for Salt Lake I was one of the first in line.

I walked onto the plane and sat down in my aisle seat over the wing and started observing the other passengers boarding.  There began to be a rhythm starting as everyone boarded.  With each step a passenger took there was a little sound like "chink" and another little "chink" with the next step.  I suddenly realized that everyone getting back on this plane had replaced their light paper money with heavy silver coins.  My mind began trying to do some quick math on how much extra weight the plane would be carrying because of the difference between paper and silver.

My fear of flying returned for awhile that day as the plane taxied out to the runway and then began it's run to try to get air born.  I wasn't so sure it would be able to lift off the ground.  I was sweating thinking that at anytime the extra weight on this plane could drag us downward into the Nevada desert.  I calmed down once we reached cruising altitude and was able to relax a little even though when ever someone got up to use the facilities there would be that now familiar "chink" to their walk every time they took a step.  It was one of the noisiest flights I ever took.  When we landed in Kansas City it was easy to point out the other passengers that had been on the plane with you because of their "chinky" walks.  It would be another twenty five years before I stepped into anything resembling a casino again.

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