Crisis is My Middle Name

I think it was Alice Walker who said you can always tell everything about a person by the way she handles a crisis.  God, I hate quotes like that.  Every time a crisis smacks into my life, I whine, moan, become hysterical, sulk, feel sorry for myself, retreat into fetal position, and generally lose every tiny shred of dignity I’ve managed to cobble together over the years.  It isn’t a pretty picture from the inside or out.

Which is why, precisely why, I was trying to hold it together and not make a spectacle of myself as I tried to leave Dallas on Sunday.  But it had snowed four inches on the first day of spring, for God’s sake, and I had already gotten up before dawn to clean off my rental car’s windows with a spatula.  I’d inched along the icy overpasses in a car so big and white it could have been called Moby Dick, even though driving on ice scares the hell out of me.  And finally, I’d made it to the airport — victory!  free at last! — when the traffic stopped.  And stayed stopped for an hour and a half.  During which time, my flight took off, with the business-class seat I’d somehow managed to secure.

Oh, but I was trying to be all zen and philosophical, sitting there in the great white car in the middle of a honking, seething traffic jam, as emergency vehicles surged past and giant trucks spread salt on the roadways.  I listened to NPR.  What could be more calming than NPR, except a lobotomy?  Then I looked down and noticed that one of my credit cards had fallen out of my purse and onto the carseat.  This spurred me on to looking through my remaining credit cards and noticing that my Mastercard was missing.  I frantically hunted all over the front seat; nothing.  I switched off the radio, since NPR — so calm, so measured! — was now driving me crazy.

The traffic finally started moving and I made it through the airport’s south exit, where I was charged a dollar.  “You stayed longer than an hour,” the parking attendant told me.  I could have argued, I could have screamed, I gave him the goddamn dollar.  I go spineless, Alice Walker, in the midst of a crisis.

I was feeling a little better when I dumped off Moby Dick and slid my way over the treacherous sidewalks to the rental building.  Behind me, a mother was screaming at her two kids to move fast so they didn’t miss their flight.  “We’re going to make it!” she shrieked.  “Keep moving!”

I called my husband to ask him to cancel my lost credit card.  I paid a surcharge on my new flight so I could get a coach ticket.  I was feeling, all in all, pretty good about myself for not totally losing it during my long morning.

I was doing just fine, as a matter of fact, till the plane came in for a landing at LaGuardia, the landing gear lowered with a loud thud, and we could see the tops of the trees.  Then, all of a sudden, the engines surged and the plane moved upward and we watched the ground recede farther and farther away.  Funny how silent an entire, crowded flight of people can be under such circumstances.  All I could hear was my own ragged breathing.

The pilot — so folksy and calm he could have probably landed the plane on the Hudson River, but let’s not press the matter — finally got on the intercom to note there had been another plane on our landing strip and, on the whole, the flight crew had thought it would be a little better to try again.  We circled, we landed, the brakes screeched and I staggered off the flight.  Alice Walker might not have thought much of me, but I was still walking upright with a tight, frantic smile that made my jaws ache.  Some days — most days, in fact — you take what you can.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about wanting to commit a crime after you’ve served on a jury

19 comments… add one
  • I think you deserve a medal, Ruth. I’d have been in a fetal position long before getting on the plane, and they’d have wheeled me off it in a straitjacket.

  • g

    Hate hate hate hate flying!! I just got back from a trip to Florida, with layovers in DFW. The best thing about DFW is that it’s laid out like two D-cup bras.
    We encountered rental-car policy Twilight Zone on this trip, where we were unable to pick up a car we’d prepaid for.  Why is travel so stressful?

  • Roberta

    OMG Ruth!  I’m so glad we caught up before your trip to Dallas.  Flying is not for wimps.  And I gotta say, whining and kvetching is totally in order.  I am most upset about your losing your business class seat since I just flew back from Newark sandwiched between two broad-shouldered men in coach.  That may sound like a sexy situation but it was not!  I was coiled like a bed spring for the entire 4 hour flight.  I’m just grateful for Wurdle, Brad Mehldau,  and my new Kindle.

  • I long for the day when someone invents a form of travel less horrible than airplanes.  Then I would have the pleasure of seeing all the airlines dissolve.  Alas, I’ll not live so long.  I suppose it could have been worse.  You could have had a seat next to a 400 pound man with a crying baby.

  • By gum, Ruth, you are a true — Alice Walker.

    But we already know how well you handle a crisis:  http://www.geezersisters.com/breast-cancer/local-woman-refuses-to-come-out-of-fetal-position

    Does this mean I am an official Ruth Pennebaker geek?

  • Oh God….sounds absolutely awful, Ruth. Traveling these days is much harder than it used to be. On the whole, you kept it together pretty darn well, if you ask me.
    I’ve also been several flights in a final approach that gun it at the last minute and take off again; usually for the reason you noted. It’s a weird feeling. Thank goodness those big, heavy planes can lift up when they need to!
    Great post. Made me laugh with recognition.

  • Robin

    Whenever I fly these days, which is pretty often, I feel abused.    Crowds, petty rules, lines, bumping into people, trying to avoid be bumped by people and carts, starved, rude people, too cold, too hot, delays, invasive questions and searches, squeezed into tiny spaces for hours next to who knows what seatmates…its like a day long stress test.

  • That happened to me on a flight once, and it is a very bizarre feeling like how-lucky-are-we-that-we-did-not-hit-the-plane-that-was-in-the-way-or- what!!!   I must say I admire your flying back and forth to Texas.  I have heard such nightmare stories about flying these days.  Any tips on how to  finagle a business-class seat?

  • Winston

    Oooooooo, I hate driving on icy roads also.  We might see only a day or two of ice per year in my part of NC, so I need to live until the age of 108 to get the hang of it I suppose. Anyway, I clenched my teeth through that whole passage, thinking you were maybe going to slide off the road at the loss of your MasterCard.  But you didn’t– Whew!

    I did take comfort, however, that you were ensconced in a four-wheeled Moby Dick.  Largeness at least seems safer.  Actually, I don’t like driving on anything but forgotten gravel roads lined with rusty wire fencing and honeysuckle vines, but that’s a different story.

  • That’s a rough day, for sure. I’m glad your crew spotted the other plane in time. Holy cow!

  • Wow. Kudos to that pilot. Hmm, I wonder if they had a child doing air traffic control again?!

  • You survived. There were no hysterics. Sounds like a clear win to me.

  • I would have lost the plot on that landing, Ruth. Makes me sick just thinking about it. Here’s to folksy pilots and their calm in a crisis.

  • I hope that was chesley piloting your plane. If I ever own a private jet, I want him to be my pilot!

  • Oh, my. That actually happened to my husband years ago and his pilot, too, was very calm. These are good people they have flying planes, I think. There would have been NO grace in me after a day like that!

  • Oy. Scary alert. Glad you were okay. These kinds of things are one of the many reasons I’ve been not wanting to fly lately…

  • Scary moments like these make me want to never fly again! (But, I will be getting on a plane shortly…and hoping for the best).

  • Thanks for taking a trouble-filled day and turning it into a laughing matter. I know you were scared but your post kept me smiling.

  • Unusually long posting gap for you…  We know the plane didn’t crash.  Were you run over by a baggage cart?

    I do hope all is well and there are no real crises.

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