On Monday, October 22, 2018, I found myself on a flight from Long Beach, CA, to Salt Lake City, UT, for a week of ripping all sorts of powersports machinery through the beautiful areas surrounding St. George, UT. As we neared the SLC airport, we were instructed, as is the norm, that we would begin our descent into the Salt Lake City area. Not ten minutes later, I look up from my book to see both flight attendants hurriedly searching their luggage loudly and frantically before pulling out bright yellow binders. I thought to myself, “Those sure do look like some sort of emergency scenario type documents.”
A mere seconds after pulling these foreboding binders out of their luggage, the flight attendants sped toward either end of the plane. With a shaky nervous voice the attendant near the cockpit informed us, that, due to an issue with the plane’s landing equipment, we were being forced to prepare for an emergency landing. We were asked to take the safety card out of our seatback pockets, choose one of the brace positions, and demonstrate it to the flight attendants as they made their way through the cabin.
Worried looks between strangers and those traveling together turned to tears and anxiety as the minutes, which seemed like hours, passed. Many of my fellow passengers began to turn off airplane mode on their mobile phones to send what they thought might be their last text – to try and call their loved ones to have one final conversation with the people who mattered most to them.
Perhaps 10 minutes after we were informed that we may as well be tumbling to our doom, the pilot came across the intercom with a message that would ease the nerves, at least somewhat, of many onboard flight DL4546. The pilot told us that the part we had been delayed for in Long Beach had not fixed the error the plane previously had shown on its way into the LGB airport. The previous flight had experienced the same “engine light,” if you will, that told the pilots the landing gear had malfunctioned and there may not be sufficient pressure in the brake lines to stop the plane after landing.
I don’t know about you, but for me, knowing that we would be landing on wheels rather than smashing the fuselage into the runway and skidding to a fiery stop gave me some sort of relief. The pilot went on to say that, obviously, the landing went smoothly in Long Beach so they expect it to be a faulty sensor, but would be following protocol for an emergency landing regardless.
We were told to listen for the pilot to say “Brace, Brace, Brace” over the intercom and assume (the) our positions. As we neared the runway, littered with fire trucks, ambulances, and rescue crews, the pilot came over the intercom in a monotonous deep and disheartening voice: “Brace, Brace, Brace”. Gone was the light-hearted voice who had assured us we would likely be just fine only moments ago.
The landing was uneventful. The experience, I’ll never forget.
It’s interesting the way you feel when something like that happens. The fear is palpable as you share the experience with a cabin-full of complete strangers, the last people you may see alive. Of course, the fact that I’m here typing this is evidence that I can’t fully understand the range of emotion that those who have ceased living in some terrible accident must have felt. Also, the fact that the landing went as any normal aircraft landing would, means, hopefully, that I will never know the mental state of those who have survived any sort of catastrophic accident, the type of accident that I know all of my fellow passengers were expecting in their collective minds.
It really was a peculiar experience. The relief upon our successful landing was expected and gratefully accepted. My hands shaking from the adrenaline rush, people wiping tears from their faces, and the “I’m gonna need a drink after that”, from the gentleman next to me, were all expected.
But all of us quietly disembarking the plane, going about our separate ways on to our separate lives and separate travels felt kind of… odd. All of these people, who, not thirty minutes prior, thought they might die together, had nothing more to say to each other. Maybe some were in shock? Maybe it really didn’t bother others? Nothing was said as we filtered out of the plane. Barely exchanging glances as we went off into the rest of our lives.
Greeted by the lines of impatient passengers waiting to board at our gate, probably our plane, the thought went through my head, should I say something snarky to the hordes of folks waiting to jet set to wherever? Something like, you’re not going to want to get on that plane, or maybe just a passing, are you guys at all curious why there are emergency vehicles in the corner of the airport platform where we landed? I kept my sarcasm to myself. These strangers, like my fellow passengers waiting to board that morning, would be kept oblivious.
Walking through the airport after speaking to my wife and describing the scenario, I locked eyes with a fellow passenger from my flight in passing. He was sitting in seat 16A, adjacent to my 18C. I had exchanged glances with him during the panic on our flight and after landing. As we locked eyes for a fleeting moment in the airport corridor, knowing fully what the other had just experienced, we said nothing. At that moment, I’d never felt more connected to a complete stranger. Though we’ll likely never cross paths, as with everyone else on that flight, I can only imagine the feeling with everyone else from flight DL4546 would be the same.
How can we be so disconnected from each other? Aren’t we all the same species of mammal? Can’t we learn and grow from one another? Why can’t we take the time to talk to each other? My favorite part of traveling, domestically or internationally, is the people I have the opportunity to interact with. The people, then, of course, the food.
As motorcyclists, we have an innate bond with strangers who share the love of two wheels. We’re connected in a way by the same appreciation of continuous explosions per minute erupting between our legs (or chemical reactions for our battery-based two-wheeled brethren) and by the power that comes with harnessing such power and riding on top of it. I’ve noticed this common fraternal mind-set deteriorate over the years since I’ve become a motorcyclist.
My last long cross-country ride from Wisconsin to Illinois and back to California left me puzzled with the lack of a brotherly (or sisterly) wave among my fellow motorcyclists. WTF is wrong with people?! We have segmented ourselves further and further away from each other in an attempt for what? Brotherhood? Unity? GTFO. We all have something to learn. We can all gain by broadening our horizons and listening to our fellow man and woman and experiencing the world with open arms.
A rather homeless-looking fellow stumbled his way into a Korean food joint I was eating at last night and no one would look him in the eye or even in his general direction. My reaction? I chose to talk to him. We talked about the bike I had ridden to the restaurant. Of course, he was interested in motorcycles! Chatting didn’t cost me anything and maybe, just maybe, I walk away from the situation with a more open mind or maybe a different outlook. Perhaps my new friend can walk away feeling more like a human being because not every single person he came into contact with that night diverted their eyes when he walked by. Where’s the humanity!? *Cue Where Is The Love by The Black Eyed Peas* Where’s the love y’all!?
Have you read Jupiter’s Travels? After years of traveling the world on motorcycles Ted Simon sums it up thusly, “Motorcycles have put me in touch with wonderful people and as a result of that, I have an elevated idea of about how good everybody in the world is”. Then go out and experience it for yourself. There’s no better self-help than traveling with an open mind and fully embracing other cultures that you come into contact with. Get out there. Ride. Whether it’s two towns over or internationally, your travels can be life-changing. It’s up to you to let them be. Don’t wait for life to pass you by.