Plane ride creates tad of inside ‘turbulence’

Published 11:26 am Sunday, March 12, 2017

It is probably a good thing we cannot remember what happened 20 years ago. Such it is with this account we wrote for you good LaGrange people on August 19, 1997. I am sure the events that led up to this story had their share of, uh, “turbulence.” … Oh, wait! … My memory’s coming back. … There was a flight from Houston to Dallas, enroute to Atlanta … It’s all coming back … a thunderstorm … Oh my, what’s this? An impromptu hallelujah revival at the back of the plane with a group of ladies with hands raised high and voices higher! (I’m not making that up, either.) … The plane dipped … and things quickly got out of control …
They say that your life will pass right before your eyes before you come in for that final landing, so to speak. I don’t need the “final landing” for my life’s reel to start rolling. I just need the plane in the air.
Actually, the credits start running as soon as I walk into the airport. The sad thing is it’s so short at my age that I usually have to ask for a rerun. (As I said, this was 20 years ago.)
I went to the airport for a flight not long ago, and I made up my mind that I was not going to let my life pass before me this time.  I was absolutely in no mood for a short story. So I went up to the check-in counter and told the ticket lady that I’d be going to Atlanta.  She punched a few buttons and said to me in this impersonal voice:
“Will Atlanta be your final destination?”
I tossed her a look with swords in it, and said, “Ma’am, I don’t plan on it,” then snatched my boarding pass and turned to walk away, mumbling to myself.
“Sir,” she squeaked, trying to conceal that little smirk on her face, “You’ll be going out at terminal five,” then, unable to contain it any more, grabbed her side laughing. I looked back as I walked away, thinking: There’s something wrong with people who find some kind of morbid pleasure in using terms like “final destination” and “terminal” right there in the airport — and then laughing.
But I was showing a great deal of self-restraint this day (I’m not buying that, personally) … and even though that episode turned on the projector, I didn’t let the film of my life start rolling. I had made up my mind. I started thinking about other things, such as cotton candy; but somehow I couldn’t get all those bad thoughts to go away. A woman at one of the terminals was selling life insurance, and the credits of my life started to roll faster before I could hit the pause button. (Okay, this is more like it.)
A few minutes later, when it came time to board the plane, a lady with that same squeaky voice came on the intercom and said, “Final departure to Atlanta,” and before I could do anything the first few years of my life had flashed before me, all the way from the time I was born in a log cabin – that’s how I tell it anyway – to the day I cried when they sang “She’ll Be Coming ’round the Mountain” at my Callaway kindergarten graduation. (That actually is true.)
And before I could get the reel to stop I was buying my first car — a bright red 1965 Chevy Nova with a black interior and chrome wheels — and going to the eleventh grade at LaGrange High School. The calm voice of the pilot interrupted me there – for which I was thankful – and I realized that we were already in the air and he was giving the weather conditions in Atlanta. Atlanta’s weather didn’t concern me too much, as I was a bit more occupied with the big-time storm brewing over Mississippi, through whose air we were flying at the time. I tried saying M-I-S-S—I-S-S–I-P-P-I 10 times, and it worked … until I started hyperventilating and the flight attendants all gathered around me.
The plane was already dipping and dropping and rumbling, so the pilot came on again, to keep my life story from getting out of hand, and said in that calm voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re experiencing a little turbulence,” and if I hadn’t been hyperventilating, I would have said, “Yeah, and Custer must have said, “Boys, we’ve got a few Indians comin’ by for some tea this afternoon.”
There was more than a little turbulence on that airplane. Before I knew it, the reel was rolling out of control. I was engaged to be married and looking for an apartment.  Man, I was in trouble: years of bricklaying, having children, going to college, teaching school, coaching basketball … My whole life was unfolding right there before my eyes. I had to stop it, so I leaned over to the old gentleman next to me and tried to get a little comfort. It was just then that I noticed that he was white as leprosy.
“Sir,” I said, “help me out, please. Do you believe that if it’s your time to go it’s your time to go, no matter what?”
“Yep, sonny,” he said, his voice quivering, “but that’s not what worries me. What if it’s the pilot’s time to go?”
That’s all it took for the rest of my life to pass before me, and then it started in on the re-run. But I handled it well and probably would not even have passed out and caused so much turbulence myself if not for one thing: About that time the pilot’s life started flashing before me.
I have to say, that was all she wrote.