Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Are The Chances

Planned events are fun, but it’s the unexpected adventures that stay with you. Friday was just such a day. I was scheduled to do my night cross country lesson with Rich, which required us to go at least 100 nautical miles away from our point of origin. We decided to fly to Atlantic City International Airport, with a little sight-seeing on the way. Because of restricted airspace around BWI, I needed to prepare two flight plans in case we did not get permission to fly through it.

Come Thursday afternoon, preparing properly for our flight while also putting in another full day at the office did not seem feasible, so I decided to take Friday off. Gillian and I celebrated my decision Thursday night with a level of commitment that would make even Canadians proud (with the possible exception of our parents). While Gill went on a guided tour of Arlington National Cemetery the following morning, I plotted our flight course to take us past Baltimore Harbor, into Atlantic City International Airport, into Philadelphia International Airport, and then back home to Gaithersburg.

Around 5:30, I saw an email from our flying club reporting a potential problem with 5135R[omeo], which we were booked to fly that night. The nose strut had collapsed earlier in the day, and there was some concern that it would not hold the air that had been pumped back in to re-pressurize it. Pilots were instructed not to fly the plane unless there were 2” of strut showing.

I finished flight planning on the assumption that we would fly, and Rich emailed around 7:30 to say that the strut looked like it was holding. Gillian and I were already en route, but running a tad bit late – undoubtedly because of some last minute thing Gillian had to attend to. When we got to the airport, Rich and Eddie were enjoying the sunset from the back of his truck. It was a picture-perfect evening. Fortunately, my faithful photographer was back in town, and took some nice sunset shots.

I couldn’t resist taking the camera back to catch a few pictures of my flight crew, however, who made themselves useful while I pre-flighted.

Gillian held down boxes, while Rich helped Eddie prepare for his film career by practicing fake dog attacks.

After we took off, we headed North and flew past the Baltimore Harbor. The camera doesn't do it justice, but the view was incredible. The weather was crystal clear, the moon was full, and the baseball stadium was lit up like a beacon for the Orioles home game.

We soon crossed over the river and continued on towards Atlantic City. Gillian amused herself for a while in the darkness by taking photographs of us.

Apparently, not happy with the quality of the “no flash” setting, Gillian switched on the flash somewhere over the nothingness between Maryland and New Jersey. It took me a moment to realize that we weren’t being hailed by an alien mothership. Rich took the opportunity to remind me of the importance of closing my eyes each time the cabin was lit up by the blinding white light so as not to ruin my night vision.

I’m pretty sure it was about then that Gillian started listening to her iPod and ignoring us, but I could be wrong.

It wasn't long before the control tower at Atlantic City was directing me to turn to a 130 degree heading and land on runway 1-3 at my discretion. There was a bit of a crosswind blowing as we came in, but Thursday’s morning pattern practice paid off, and it was a smooth landing. (And no, I’m not just saying that in light of what we later discovered.)

As we taxied past the 747s, I couldn’t help but smile. I almost felt like a real pilot. The ground crew directing me with their light sabers made the 10$ landing fee worth every penny. We soon piled out of the plane, feeling much like a family at a rest stop along I-95 eager to stretch our legs, only we were parked next to leer jets, helicopters, and crazy-expensive-lazer-tag-rental-airplanes (pictured below) instead of minivans and SUVs.

After we went inside the FBO, we borrowed a pilot’s courtesy car and made a midnight sugar/caffeine run to the local WaWa’s. Rich and I repeatedly inquired whether Gillian was impressed with her first trip to New Jersey. She repeatedly agreed that it was the best parking lot she had ever seen.

After a quick picture with the local airport fish – who appreciated my “I grew up in the 80’s peace sign” almost as much as Gillian does – we headed out to pre-flight Romeo.

I soon realized the strut had collapsed again, and indicated the same to Rich. We stood staring at it for a good two minutes, hoping it would re-inflate through sheer force of will. When I came to my senses, I’m pretty sure my first words were, “You’re telling Bob!” (When you grow up with an older brother, you learn to say, “You’re telling Dad!” pretty quick). However, according to Gillian, there was no communication between us. So surprised was she by our decision to suddenly walk away, that she took our picture before running to catch up with us.

We explained our tale of woe to the helpful folks at the FBO, but soon realized there was little that could be done until morning. Calling a mechanic had a starting price tag of $600, which was out of the question. So, we decided to send an email to our club, “Having Fun In Atlantic City; Wish you Were Here,” and hoped that a mechanic from our club (with strut pump) would fly out and rescue us in the morning.

Heading into Atlantic City to gamble the night away at the casinos was briefly considered, but we knew Eddie’s ability to play a convincing guide dog was limited at best, and feared they would not let us in. When we learned there were no beds in the pilots' lounge, we started exploring hotel options. We finally settled on the Jacuzzi suite at the Best Western in Pleasantville, NJ, based on solid Intel that the rooms were situated in such a way that sneaking in our furry four-legged friend would not pose a problem. We then lounged in the lounge, waiting for our taxi cab to arrive.

On the way to the hotel, we managed to convince our cab driver to let us make a beer stop. My new shirt caused a bit of a stir with the bouncers at the local watering hole (with attached beer/wine store), but they eventually let us in.

Our momentary unease soon melted away, as Gill and I walked into one of the coolest bars this side of the Mississippi. We started lining up shots on the bar, before remembering that Rich and Eddie were waiting in the taxi. So, we instead posed for a few pictures, paid for our beer, and high-tailed it back to the cab.


With liquor in hand, we soon found ourselves enjoying one of the finest hotel suites Best Western has to offer. According to Rich, the pull-out sofa bed left something to be desired, but he can be a bit of a hotel snob.

We watched a movie until the idea of going to bed almost didn’t seem appealing anymore. Almost. As we lay in the darkness, I suddenly thought of Ferris Bueller, and reminded Gillian, “And you thought we weren’t going to have any fun today. Shame on you.” We all dissolved into late night “I want to cry, I’m so tired” laughter. For Gill and I, it brought back memories of a vacation 13 years earlier when we had been asked, nicely (given that it was about 2 a.m.), by Gillian’s mother, “PLEASE GO TO SLEEP NOW GIRLS.” Rich didn’t have to ask us to be quiet, however, as we all succumbed to sleep shortly thereafter.

The next morning, Eddie was awake first, which meant Rich was awake second, and I was awake third. You haven’t really lived until you’ve been woken by a wet dog nose shoved purposefully in your face. I tried my best to ignore Eddie until he figured out that biting my knee would get me to scratch his head. It wasn’t long after that that my cell phone rang.

It was Bob – the President of our flying club and resident mechanic – so I quickly threw the phone to Rich. After all, I had called it. Rich had to explain what had happened.

Before we left Atlantic City for good later in the day, we decided that somebody ought to take advantage of the Jacuzzi for which we had paid a premium hotel fee. We drew straws, and Eddie won. You can tell by the look on his face how excited he was.

Back at the plane, my faithful flight crew made themselves useful once again. I, for one, think they did a wonderful job of holding down the tarmac.

Gillian eventually roused herself and took a picture of me “looking like a real pilot” as I pre-flighted. I was pretty chuffed with her comment, until she later told me that she would never fly with me unless Rich was in the plane to “catch stuff.”

Little sisters are so endearing.

Rich took off and we followed the shoreline down past Atlantic City. It was another picturesque day. Although the City may leave something to be desired from the ground, it was absolutely beautiful from the air.

I had a hard time picking which of Gill's photographs to include in this blog.

My favorite, once again, however, was the view looking out the back of the plane. Ironically, when I flew with Greg, his favorite photo was also the one I took looking straight back. I suppose pilots rarely get to see this while flying.

On the long flight home, Gillian took photographs of her chauffeurs and Eddie. This time, however, she wasn't hampered in her creative endeavors by our "no flash" rule.

Eddie, ever the faithful companion, watched on from his spot on Gillian's knee.

We all enjoyed the views, particularly the aquamarine sand quarries.

Of course, Rich also enjoyed his real estate paper. It’s tough being a flight instructor.

After Rich did one of the sweetest soft-field landings any of us had ever had the hono(u)r of witnessing, Rich and I closed down Romeo. Gillian found one last photo-worthy item, much to hers and Rich's amusement.

The only draw back to our Atlantic City adventure was that Gillian and I were late for the Caps v. Flyers game by the time we landed. We stopped at my condo just long enough to put on clothing to “Rock the Red.”

And rock it the Caps did -- defeating the Flyers and tying the series at 3-3.

As we staggered home Saturday night, eager to lay our heads, Gillian captured the previous 36 hours perfectly.

“It feels like a dream.”

I agreed that it did. A very good dream. The kind that stays with you long after you wake up.


At April 21, 2008 at 11:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the adventures continue. Reading the account and seeing the pictures is almost like being there. Talk about "flying high"! thanks for sharing with those of us on the ground! Mum

At April 22, 2008 at 3:34 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

You are such a nut, which is probably why I love ya! Loved the story, although it is still amazing that you are a pilot! I always thought you would grow up to be a professional beach bum; of course I always had that dream for myself too! You know one day you are going to have to explain turbulence to me and why pilots haven't figured out how to avoid it!!

At April 24, 2008 at 10:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog once again Amy. I'd have to agree with your is as though I were there with you guys. Continue to fly safe and looking forward to seeing you soon :)


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