That morning. You know, the one that finally comes after a restless night. Hitting a REM state is almost impossible when all that anticipation is running through your veins. All night I tossed but now that it’s the time, the right time to open my eyes, my lids are suddenly heavy and tired. I ask myself, why now when it’s the right time do I feel not ready? I was ready at 3:00am, 4:00am, 5:00am, and now at 6:00am, its finally time, yet now I want to sleep.
I jump out of bed to see if anyone else is awake. Kids are sleeping soundly and Michael, my husband, is sleeping like we have nowhere to go. “Okay gang. Time to wake up, we have a cruise to go on.” The kids stir and Michael lets out an obnoxious, “I’m ready, as he yells through the yawn.” I’m already frustrated as I must move my cattle along without a prod as I don’t want to set off a negative mood. Let’s go little doggies, I yell out. Let’s get this show on the road…” Usually I would sing something like, Rise and Shine and Give G-d your Glory, Glory, old chorus hymn. But that’s more suited to a one at a time delivery and we had no time for exclusivity.
Finally, we all make our way out the door carrying our bags to load into our refreshed Ford Explorer. Oil changed, tires rotated, fluids topped off, even a car wash, trying to make this a seamless road trip.
Our itinerary includes 2 days in the car until we arrive at the port of call for our cruise ship. The first night we will stop very late probably around 11:00pm at a motel for 5 hours of sleep and then back on the road to arrive in Fort Lauderdale by 4:00pm at the absolute latest. The gangway is pulled by 4:30pm. The kids are dreading the drive and prefer to fly but I am not a flyer. I had a miserable and terrifying experience on a flight when I was 4 months pregnant with my oldest and that has prevented me from flying, ever since.
Landing without landing gear could prove problematic, I muse. I’m referring to a business trip in 1980 on our return from San Francisco to New York’s JFK Airport.
As we were on approach the landing gear was not dropping down. I heard the pilot trying to manually crank that sucker down over and over, it was an awful grinding noise. Clearly, I didn’t need to be an aviation expert to know we were in trouble. I look up to see the co-pilot sauntering casually down the aisle to the back of the plane with a flashlight in hand. I grabbed my sleeping husband and said, “This is it. We are done for.” His very calm and mellow attitude just looked at me like I was crazy. “Did you see that? The co- pilot just walked to the back of the plane with a flashlight! He said, “Just reee-lax, I’m sure it’s fiiinne.” “Are you freak in’ nuts, look at the flight attendants, they are all huddled together with jaws dropped”. “What the f--k do you think that means?” Within moments of the co-pilot returning to the cockpit; an announcement was being made. Hearing that dreaded DING before the announcement alerting you that some news will be delivered; stopped my heart. My stomach now flipping, hysteria overtaking my thoughts.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing an emergency situation. Our landing gear has not fully retracted, and we will have to prepare the aircraft for an emergency landing. Please remove all glasses and jewelry. Bring your seats into the upright position and place you head into your laps between your knees, as we circle the airport and dump fuel. The runway is being cleared as I speak, and the foam trucks are already in place.
The plane was eerily silent. Not a whisper, only the sound of tension joining forces with the roaring whirl of the engines. I dared to look up at other people’s expressions. Oddly they all looked fine. I thought I would see stress on their faces giving away their thoughts but just like my husband, everyone seemed to take this news in stride. Was it because I was pregnant that my emotions were wild?
Another dreaded, “DING!” Oh G-d, now what? A funky lightheaded feeling made me feel faint. Ladies and Gentlemen, the problem has been resolved and we believe that the gear is down BUT we are not confident that it’s locked in place, so we must fly over the air traffic controllers tower to have them “do a visual scan” see if it’s in its proper position. Since we are in the middle of a snowstorm, (Oh did I forget to mention that?) we are not sure if they will be able to observe the gear clearly as visibility is significantly minimized.
My eyes now closed as I pray for a safe landing. The intensity of the anxiety is gut retching and while in this space at this moment, I promise myself that if we get out of this alive, I will never put myself in such an agonizing position, ever again.
Flyover completed. "DING"
"Okay, we have been cleared for landing. Seats upright, seat belts tightly fastened. Here we go...”
The landing was the smoothest, silkiest, most amazing landing ever. I never even knew when we touched ground. Wow. He put that plane down like it was the finest leaded crystal on cement. The relief was so visceral that I spontaneously jumped up and cheered. I was the only one to do so. Where were you people, were you not on the same plane as me? All eyes where upon me as they maintain their silence, suggesting I needed to be committed. I sat down in humbled humiliation. Not one empathizer.
That was 20 years ago, and I still don’t understand where everyone was, including my husband. Because of all that, I don’t fly. There you have it. My kids think I’m crazy and hate the driving, but I love the drive. We are free on the open road, a bit of a 1960’s nonconformist mindset perhaps. I continue trying to sell it, we can stop in different places and eat different foods. Okay so the bathroom breaks suck but that’s only a moment in the entire journey. We do stay at a motel with our own bathroom by nightfall, so there’s opportunity for other necessities.
Okay gang, here we go. I drive the first few hours before we stop for lunch and switch. Once we are out of New York and onto the Jersey Turnpike, it’s like a vacation already. Well sort of if you interpret driving along a boring, barren road like the New Jersey turnpike a vacation. I will say and appreciate anything if my feet are securely on the ground. Also, in case it was not realized, hence the reason for cruising verses more illustrious and exciting trips like Europe or Vail.
Singing, playing GHOST, and enjoying our time together. Yes, I was cheerleading as my teenagers were more interested in sleeping then indulging me with my happy family togetherness. We stopped for lunch and gassed up and got back on the road in Virginia. I noticed a strong smell of gasoline and casually mentioned it to my husband. I thought it might have been a result of gassing up and perhaps some got on his shoes or hands when he pumped. He started noticing it as well, which always brings concern when he notices something. The fumes were not dissipating and even more problematic was the gas gauge reading went from full to half of a tank in just minutes. The kids now awake as they sense tension and notice the man in the car in the next lane, waving and trying to get our attention. We observed him wearing a military uniform. It took a moment and then it dawned on us that he was trying to tell us something. We put down the windows and he was frantically pointing to the back of our car. He yelled, “Pull off the road.” “What?” “Your leaking gasoline!”” Pull over, he insisted.” Crap, we pulled off the road.
We had no idea what was going on as auto mechanics is not in our DNA. This tall, young strong handsome marine pulled over with us and offered to drive us to safety, but we were so concerned about meeting our time frame that we needed time to think out an alternative plan and leaving the car on the side of the road, felt completely out of control. We told him we would be okay and that we would get some help. We thanked him profusely. He seemed uncomfortable leaving us, as he hesitated and asked repeatedly, “Are you sure you guys are going to be, okay?” We reassured him and waved as he drove off. He smartly suggested that we stand far away from the car as we wait for help to arrive. We called AAA and several local gas stations, but no one was available to get to us in short order. The four of us stood on the roadside a healthy distance from our metal gasoline bomb and waited for help to arrive. Our daughter with sensitive dermatologic issues was being eaten alive by swamp bugs. We all just kept swatting her legs as the sunsetting made the little suckers more aggressive. What a scene, roadside in North Carolina under 30-foot pine trees, our car 40 feet away, crowding around our oldest and swatting her legs. We stood vigilant as we were filled with anxiety that a passing car might throw a cigarette butt out of the window setting our wheels into a blazing inferno. There we were scanning for airborne butts while trying to save our daughter from being overtaken by an infestation while maintaining a safe distance from our fuel leaking getaway vehicle. Tension, stress, did anyone say vacation!
Finally, we called a taxicab. Brilliant idea. My husband dared to drive the explosive box, which was almost out of gas anyway, perhaps a good thing, following the cab where the kids and I were safely seated. The cabbie led us to the closest dealership. We dropped off the car and the cabbie took us to a motel where we all waited for the call on the prognosis of our vehicle.
It was an inverted carburetor filter or something like that. Of course, it happened when we had the car serviced as we were trying to do our due diligence before a long road trip, and someone put it back in upside down. Good news, it was a quick fix and no charge, just precious time lost. Back on our way. We hustle, forgoing stopping for any sort of breaks as we fly down Interstate-95.
Our real journey begins…
Weary travelers. We were so grateful to walk on the ship’s gangway. That beautiful sensation of relief. Upon entering, our senses calm, the lovely salt air with the humid breeze, tells you, you are on vacation. We are told to go to the sky bar and relax as the porters bring our luggage to our stateroom. The sky bar sits atop the ship, front, and center. The bow visible with flags waving in the ocean air. A server brings us our drinks and a snack while the whistle blows 1 long blast and 3 short blasts alerting the world that we are setting sail. Feet up, laid back and watching as we are escorted by the tugboat into open waters. We all just want to let out a big, “AHHHHH.”
Day three of this lovely and relaxing experience as evening arrives, we are pleasantly strolling to our dinner when a sudden movement throws us a bit off balance. We all smile at each other as if to say a collective, I’m okay, and we continue toward the dining room. Enjoying our meal together as a family we comment on some overt movement. The wait staff rolls around a bit, trying to catch breakables as they stumble and serve.
"DING“ The dreaded DING. I gasp. My head goes right to that moment on the plane. My heart stops. Panic sets in. It’s the Captain. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, I am foggy now and my brain is swirling. He continues, “We are trying to go around a hurricane that has wound up in our path. The hurricane is at a substantial distance however, it does affect the calmness of the waters within a significant radius. Because of our location and the need to circumvent the most turbulent waters, we will not be able to go to the ports of call as scheduled. My apologies for any inconvenience and I will be continuing to inform you of safety measures as and if they become necessary along with weather updates as they are received. Thank you.”
“Are you freak in’ kidding me?” “Don’t these ships have stabilizers and stuff to right the balance and forge through rough waters?”
Trying to continue and enjoy our dinner as the ship makes some significant moves. Like a high wire act teetering from one side to the other. That side-to-side roll is really a very unpleasant sickening motion. As the movement becomes more violent, the dining room empties. The staff barely hanging onto anything in their hands as they need to remain upright which requires them to grab the railings purposely placed around the tables and hold on with one hand while trying to serve with the other. The crackling of glasses and dishes separating from surfaces and sliding down onto the floor brings noises that indicate chaos. Starting to feel slightly nauseous, we all decide it’s time to go back to our stateroom.
“DING.” That damn ding. My heart jumps into my throat and my legs become weak with every subsequent DING. Like Pavlov’s dogs I react well trained and succumb to the prompt. “This is your captain speaking, Please, return to your stateroom. We expect the worst of the storm shortly. Secure all loose items and stay clear of flying debris and windows.”
This enormous ship nosedives downward into the angry sea while simultaneously rolling from side to side not allowing for anyone to remain on their feet. We were enthralled in 25-foot swells enveloping this huge floating island. The portholes covered in water momentarily as the ship rocks starboard. Our safe space meeting the angry ocean briefly anticipating its next roll port side and holding on as we bend forward into the swells. All this movement happens simultaneously building more than nausea within our bodies as real fear enters our minds wondering whether we will come out of this alive. Each minute is an hour, and each hour is an eternity. A very long night ahead.
“We should have flown somewhere, then all of this would not have happened, chanted my harmonious group. “Sleep is our only salvation hoping that when we wake, we are on tenable waters.
Sunlight streams through our porthole. With broken and little sleep, we jump up to look out the tiny, rounded window. Four faces pushing into each other hoping to see that it’s all over. Calm glistening over the seas with the sun dancing a jig along the water’s surface. We are clear and circling back toward home, the long way. No port of calls to visit this time, just a maritime experience of what life at sea could entail. With the drive still ahead of us to finally arrive home, we were all grateful for our own vehicle as we were once again captain of our own ship where there aren’t any, “DINGS.”