My plane was grounded in New York for two hours due to weather conditions, so Tom was unable to pick me up as planned. Luckily, I had made plans with Anastasia, so she was able to pick me up. It was her neighbor Grover's car- the ultimate vehicle for someone in their 80's (which he was) to drive. We went to her beautiful apartment in Laurel Canyon and dropped off my stuff. I met her grandparents (they own the building) and had orange juice and delicious bread with garlic olive oil. They are both artists- sculpture and painting- and they proudly showed me their work.
Anyway, Los Angeles was fun! It soon became obvious that I could never live there, despite the little fantasies I had before. It seems like a sprawling strip-mall of a town that famous and very rich people randomly decided to inhabit. LA could be in the middle of North Dakota and be the same, shallow city. If it wasn't on the ocean with its pretty palm trees and flowers, it would be the biggest shit hole I've ever seen. Yet, Tom and I would go to Trader Joe's and get food and cheap wine, cook, listen to music, and have a great time.
Tom and I did our Dublab sets, had a nice dinner with Valida and her roommate Nadine, then headed to the Little Temple for Sketchbook. It was a real closure to the trip- or so I thought. The next day, after breakfast and ripping songs from Tom's computer, Anastasia picked me up in her new Volkswagen convertible and took me to Burbank for my flight. There was a pretty uneventful check-in, I was tired, sat in the waiting area and, well, waited. It's funny. I can't even remember anymore. I was sat at the last seat on the plane- 26E. A large businessmen named AJ was seated on the aisle, and we luckily had the middle seat free. Our flight attendant Judy was really cool and jokingly offered us cocktails. I swiped my debit card and bought "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," and it started soon after take off. About ten minutes into it, Brad Pitt's face froze, and the captain's voice came on in the cabin:
"Ladies and gentlemen, there was a problem leaving Burbank and our landing gear didn't retract. We are in communication with Burbank and New York and trying to determine the best course of action."
Brad Pitt went back into motion, and it cut to Angelina Jolie. What the fuck was going on? It didn't seem like a big deal. I looked over at AJ and we simultaneously shrugged our shoulders. I continued watching the movie but felt the largest uncertainty building in my stomach. It wasn't fear yet, it was just a question: why hadn't the landing gear retracted, and is that actually a problem? I mean, OK, so the landing gear is down- just leave it down and, when we get to NY, you won't have to bring it down again, right? Wrong. About twenty minutes passed, and the movie froze again.
"This is the captain speaking. We are going to perform a low-fly by over Long Beach and someone in the tower with binoculars will be able to ascertain what exactly is going on with our landing gear. We'll find out soon after where we'll be able to land- either in Long Beach or at LAX."
Fuck. I wasn't making it back to New York yet. I kept watching "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," trying to remain unaffected by what was still relatively innocuous news, and ignore the fear starting its slide up my throat. The cabin attendant lights in multiple rows lit as they sounded, and passengers started milling about uncomfortably. Everyone wanted to know what this meant. The stewardess was completely calm and assured us it was no problem. I believed her, yet still, people were tense, and some had already begun crying.
AJ recommended I stop the movie since we'd be landing fairly soon, so I started flipping around channels with my little armrest remote. On MSNBC, I saw footage of an airplane flying about in the sky, with the headline "Breaking News: Jet Blue Flight 292 Burning Fuel Before Preparing For Emergency Landing." It was our plane! I can't say my heart sank right away, and it wasn't even shock really. I thought to myself, this can't be a big deal. It's just getting blown out of proportion. People started tuning into the news and I laughed, "that's us" and pointed to the monitor. AJ showed me the same coverage on Fox, and we had made CNN, CBS as well. We more or less monopolized television programming for the three hours we flew in circles to burn off our fuel and lessen our chances of dying in a huge explosion upon impact.
I was now afraid. Tears welled in my eyes. It was completely out of my control. I was a lame duck broadcast into homes, bars, sports clubs, hospitals, and anywhere a television could be plugged in, and these viewers- myself included- were watching what could've been the last few hours of my life with predictions and commentary about what would happen. There could be a loud crash, the landing gear- which we learned was skewed perpendicular to our landing path- could snap off, causing the nose to skid on the runway, catch fire, and ignite the fuselage. I told Judy I needed that cocktail right about then, and she refused me. I still don't know why- what harm could I have done? I tried powering my phone on to call my dad, and waited patiently for a signal to no avail. AJ noticed I wasn't doing too well, and as he got up from the bathroom, he offered me a bottle of what looked like seltzer, smiling as he said "why don't you have some of this- it's leaded."
I took a sip and, shit- was it ever! He had made a very stiff vodka tonic! When I started drinking, the situation became much more surreal. I had gotten tired of listening to the paranoid news broadcasters and found the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I wanted to smile and laugh. It wasn't helping to see footage of myself. It made it too post-modern! You aren't supposed to see footage of yourself on television as people speculate whether you'll live or die. I did switch back and forth but, as I got drunker and the climate in the plane grew more intense, it was as if I no longer cared. I didn't think I was going to die and, even if I did, what good was it doing me to think about it?
They cut our television feed as the newscasters warned we'd land within fifteen minutes. People were crying, holding hands, talking with strangers and comforting them as if they were family. They moved people to the back of the plane, shuffling luggage around and doing their best to make everything fit. A woman named Nadi was sat in between AJ and me, and she began showing us pictures of her niece's wedding- the reason she had come to LA in the first place. Her parents had traveled there from Manila. The stewardesses started going over the emergency landing procedure, and we looked over the safety information card in the seat back as they came row by row to insure we knew exactly what to do. Then, we began our descent- slowly.
Nadi asked if I was OK.
I replied, "yeah, I think we'll be alright."
"No," she immediately said, "you know you'll be alright."
"Yes. I know I'll be alright."
I had stuck tissue in my ears to prevent hearing the "loud crash" the newscasters predicted, and squeezed my head against my knees, waiting for something to happen. There was an electronic voice that said "brace," and then, like a safety mantra, people kept repeating it as if to ease us into a better landing. I felt the wheels touch and it was so smooth it almost felt anti-climactic! Slowly, the nose descended towards the runway, and the touchdown was imperceptible. The smell of smoke and burning rubber filled the cabin, but there was no fire or danger on board! We ground to a halt- everyone safe with their heads on their knees or pressed against the seats ahead of them- and the pilot immediately came on with the news.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have safely landed and there is no fire in the cabin." Everyone erupted in cheers and tears of joy- we had made it!