I intended to mark that numeric oddity in some way, though not with airplane problems. In fact, earlier I added an appointment to my calendar for that moment, writing only “noteworthy time.” Indeed.
When I boarded my flight out of Dallas, the slow shuffle of passengers placed me in the doorway to the plane. It occurred to me that I had a rare opportunity to lay hands on the skin of a plane and I did. I wondered if anyone would find it odd that a man paused to spread his hand flat over the outside of the airplane. Not that my personal magnetism actually had anything to do with the mechanical — and procedural — difficulties that had already begun.
I shuffled to my middle seat way back in row 30. Eventually, my row mates arrived, took their seats, and pulled out their electronic shields. On my right, the Artist (according to the tattoo across her nape) read her iPad while listening to tunes on her iPhone. On my left, the woman closer to my age pulled out a binder like those I used as a teacher but quickly replaced it with her iPad and Android phone. I would have activated the third cone of silence by pulling out my Windows 8 tablet (the only one on the plane, surely, and possibly the only one in the Dallas airport), but it was drained. We sat. Eventually, two of us snacked healthily.
The captain turned off the seatbelt sign, though most of us remained seated. The tall and lithe woman I had noticed at the gate came down the aisle towards me. She must be a dancer. She ducked into the small galley next to my row and began to stretch like an athlete or a thoroughbred horse before a race. I was alarmed as the somewhat severe-seeming flight attendant approached. What rules were broken by a passenger in the galley? Almost immediately they were both smiling and laughing. Even I laughed when the dancer looked at me and arched her eyebrows so expressively. She may be cursed with a beauty that makes her unapproachable to most men but she has the kind of heartfelt laugh I love.
I no longer remember how much time passed between the announcements that got worse. In summary, an exit sign by the door had been knocked loose, a window by the copilot was cracked, and a panel with two screws was loose under one of the wings. Good news came eventually regarding the exit sign (fraught with symbolism) and the window (probably symbolic, as well), but we were screwed regarding the panel. Unfortunately, it took two hours to realize the screws weren’t replaceable. In fact, the captain announced that corporate had been contacted to see if it is OK to fly without that panel. I do not like being reminded that my life is in the hands of a faceless corporation, our age’s golem that would crush anyone for a penny.
My neighbor on the left introduced herself as Doreen. I’ll respect her privacy here, though I absorbed some details of her life. We had a long, lively conversation over a wide range of topics as fast friends. She has no idea how rare that is for me. It was a pleasure. It was nice of the Universe to give us enough time to get it right.
Everyone recognized the implication when the captain announced the door was open and anyone was free to leave who wanted to make other arrangements. The dancer took advantage of the exit. Eventually, Doreen left, as well. We all would meet again.
A different voice came over the speaker. Had there been a coup? No, but the gatekeeper (more symbols) said a new plane had been arranged for us on the other side of the airport. We disembarked and moved as a herd to the shuttle and reunited at the other gate, where people expecting to fly to California were informed they’d been bumped to a third gate. Flying is not the fun it once was.
I saw the dancer again, long legs lotused. The Artist was near the front of the crowd, although she would leave no sooner than the last person in line. I spoke with Doreen and a few others. I saw the older woman who looks like a cancer survivor and her doting husband. The couple from the row in front of me had time to buy sandwiches and coffee. There was the very young woman whose hair was braided with yarn and held in place by numerous knitting needles. The rancher with hat, boots, jeans and the flat ass men acquire with age. Another woman announced it was her birthday and someone said she’d always remember this one.
Everyone was more tolerant and good-natured than I would expect in such circumstances.
We boarded again, perhaps unconsciously more efficiently than the first time. It was déjà vu and how are you, don’t I know you from somewhere. My mind flew with the notion of parallel universes and time loops. In another world, our plane left on time — then what happened? (Nothing of note.)
We were more than ready to go when the captain announced that a mechanic had observed five loose screws under the wing to the right. He admitted no one could make up such a story. The screws were turned and eventually we left the ground three hours late.
Doreen mentioned Groundhog Day and we talked about the ripple of effects in all the lives delayed and all the people we affected in turn. Only god or a supercomputer could follow the riplets to their ends. Or is there an end — will someone be born or die years from now because of that delay?