02 December 2013

Embarrassing Moments - Boston, MA

Ever been in those situations where the world was spiralling out of your control and you feel totally and utterly helpless? Did you ever feel like you just wanted to disappear and never have to endure a particularly embarrassing moment? You’re not alone. Grab some popcorn (its a long post but worth the read) and enjoy my hopelessly mortifying moment.

On my recent trip to Boston, my friend planned a day that was designed to make an impression. And it did, just not in the way he'd hoped. He wanted it to be a surprise, all hush-hush and very cloak and daggery and cryptic. I was happy to play along. At one point a couple of clues escaped and I was so smug, I thought I knew exactly what the surprise was....oooh boy was I wrong!! The two clues? "Flight" and "Airport". I assumed my friend (who is one exam short of a pilot licence) was going to take me for a flight over Boston. If only...

We rocked up to a small airport and as we walking though one of the buildings my friend revealed that he had booked me in for an introductory flying lesson!!! His flourish and excitement about planning something I didn’t figure out was only matched by my utter astonishment and panic. I did not want to get behind the controls of an aircraft, I harboured no such desire, ever! What was he thinking?!! Yes I was a flight attendant and I do enjoy being on a plane, yes I skydived but being behind the "wheel" was a whole different kettle of fish! *queue panic attack*

I was not happy. I could feel the colour drain from my face and nerves set in but there was no way I could back out. I met the instructor and he was good, reassuring and very understanding...it didn’t stop my stomach from doing the Highland fling the whole time though.

Intro, safety and run through completed, we headed out to the plane. At that point my instructor asked me, "Do you get motion sickness?". And I don’t, not usually, but I wasn’t taking chances and popped a motion sickness tablet into my mouth. Checking the plane, instructions and other information took about 15- 20 minutes and then we were ready to taxi and take off. Did I feel calmer? Heck no. Knowing the instructor could take over in seconds if a royally screwed this up didn’t really ease matters in my mind. I gritted my teeth, listened to every word he said and tried my absolute damnedest to follow them to the letter.

Taxiing on a runway is not easy. You don’t use the controls in front of you; you use the pedals at your feet, and for an unco (uncoordinated) person like me, to make it worse, to go left your push down on the RIGHT pedal and to go right, you push down on the LEFT pedal*. God knows how I managed, I must have been zigzagging all over the place!

*Update 05 Dec 2013: My friend has since told me that the pedals are actually left for left and right for right and that i might have been using the breaks at the top of the pedals for steering, which do appear to work as i have described...i dont remember it that way (obviously) but he is the expert out of the two of us.

So, so far so good, i was still nervous and my emotions felt like they wanted to tear out of me like bats out of hell but I'd managed. No crash, no disaster, catastrophe or embarrassment and only a mental note to kill my friend later. My instructor radioed for clearance to take off and then guided me through take off. Surprisingly it was the easiest part of the whole thing - probably because he handled all the technical adjustments. Before I knew it we were soaring into the open skies. Looking back on it, I’m quite proud of all that, and that moment, being up in the sky and looking down, being behind the controls, it was pretty cool. At the time though, I was too caught up in not screwing up to really take it in for more than a second.

Reaching cruising altitude we noticed that it was slightly bumpy. Normally I don’t mind, but you really do notice the slightest bump in a small light aircraft and I constantly had to adjust to keep the plane level. We'd been in the air for about 10 minutes or less and my instructor thought it a good exercise to show me how to turn. He demonstrated a left and right turn for me before allowing me to try on my own. Halfway through my second turn I began to feel warm....

There was the heat, the heat that seems to come from nowhere and makes you crave a cooling breeze. The heat that causes you to feel slightly light-headed and breathless. I asked my instructor to take the controls for a minute. Usually all I need to do is get some fresh air, close my eyes and take some deep breaths. I put up my hair, adjusted the vents and tried to quell the rising queasiness. It didn’t seem to work. My friend handed me a sick bag from the back - just in case. The last thing I wanted was to be sick but it would be worse if I was and it went everywhere, so I took it. At this point I suggested we should probably head back, it didn’t look like I was going to improve. I'd also noticed that my legs and knees were numb and my fingertips were getting tingly. Last time that happened id been dehydrated so I asked for my bottle of water. I took a sip and felt it cool me on the inside. Id barely put the cap back on the bottle before I was hurling into the plastic bag and feeling chunks of my morning’s breakfast evacuate my stomach. My body instantly went from warm to cold, clammy and shaky and funnily enough I felt better. But it didn’t stop there...I was sick again in seconds.

All three of us were mortified. For the instructor, I was the second person to be sick with him that day. For my friend, he thought he was doing something nice (and he was) but it had left me sick and miserable. For me, I wanted to die, I was embarrassed, and wanted to dissolve into thin air. I have flown as a job daily. I have dealt with turbulence as though it were nothing more than a fun park ride or a gentle rocking to sleep. I have seen people be sick but was never sick myself. So what the hell happened?

My instructor took us back down and I was never more grateful to be on solid ground again - even if I could barely stand. I was so faint I had to hold on to the plane for support while they did their final checks.

Now here’s the thing...do you think it could get worse? Probably not right? Wrong! It turned out that after the lesson my friend and his family were flying us out to Nantucket (a small island about 30-45mins flight away) to have dinner at a really nice restaurant by the water. My friend’s father took one look at me and said "I’m guessing you probably don’t want to get on another plane right now do you?". So that’s two for two. I felt awful, so much planning and excitement and it all went kaput. Flying lesson gone wrong, very thoughtful dinner plans cancelled, and what should have been an amazing day gone horribly wrong.

Could there possibly be a bright side? Yes. It still was an amazing experience, it showed me how blessed I am to have such a friend and, once id gotten past the mortification, it gave me a very funny story to tell! I hope you enjoyed it!

Whats your mortifying story? Ever had plans go wrong? Leave me a comment or drop me an email, it would make me feel so much better!

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