The plane suddenly drops, leaving my stomach three to five feet above my head, then lifts just as suddenly before the right wing lowers a bit and we all seem to slide down to the right before it bumps back up again. It’s going to be one of those flights. Sigh.
This is really no surprise. Our flight out of Dulles, headed for Chicago, had been delayed an hour waiting and hoping the weather would at least settle enough to allow planes to take off. It did, but not by much, and when the announcement was made that we were going to be able to board and take off, we were also asked for our cooperation and speed in the process to “make sure we didn’t miss the window.” Later in the day, a funnel cloud and water spout would both be spotted in the Washington DC metro area and suburbs, there would be traffic snarl ups with standing water and hail, and a number of cherry trees would give up life and limb to winds. It was going to be no joke of weather day.
Here we sit, my 16-year-old daughter and I, trying to bob and weave our way to the Windy City.
After my first leap-the-dips adrenaline rush starts to wane, and the turbulence doesn’t let up, my brain casts about for something besides impending death to focus on, and I glance to my right. My girl, who has been gazing out the window with a completely impassive expression and with nothing about her communicating her notice of our peril, glances at me and laughs nervously, hand coming up to cover her heart in a universal sign of anxiety. Her transformation from unconcerned to anxious smiles is so sudden I am wondering why she was looking so unflappable first, only to change with eye contact.
Beyond her sits a young mother holding her toddler son in her lap, pointing out the window and making encouraging ‘isn’t this fun’ sounds. He’s completely unimpressed and would really like to get down and crawl on the floor.
I glance to my left, and the woman across the aisle is reading her newspaper with a fervent determination that seems to insist that her refusal to acknowledge the air pockets will render them powerless over our plane. If she’s actually reading a word of that paper, she has stronger eyes than I, because I certainly can’t keep anything I pick up to peruse in focus.
Behind her is a big, athletic guy. His large headphones are securely in place, his hands pinned under his thighs as if to keep them trying to get away. His eyes remain somewhat disturbingly fixed on the flight attendant in our line of sight, watching for any sign of concern, I suppose.
Farther back the aisle still sits a woman with her head resting on her tented hands in a universal position of supplication.
The flight attendant, who sits strapped in her seat, her back to the forward lavatory and clearly in all of our lines of sight, is talking animatedly with other crew members I assumed are strapped in out of view. At no time does the “Oh no worries at all! We’re just chatting and totally at ease! I can’t wait until that worry-wart captain lets me pop up out of this seat and bring you one of our scrumptious snack options and complimentary beverages!” smile plastered on her face slip. She knows we’re watching.
As we clear the layer of turbulent air and the flight smooths out, my daughter loses herself in a book while the mom and her son are absorbed by a video on her tablet. The newspaper reader puts that away an instead focuses on a crossword. Athletic guy and praying woman each pull out newspapers and begin reading and turning pages. The flight attendant? She is indeed loading supplies on her rolling cart, and is soon offering snacks and beverages, seat after seat. But the chipper smile that never faltered during the drops and lifts earlier, has been replaced by focused efficiency with a slightly harried edge. The stressful part was at least interesting, the mundane has returned.