September 10, 1999
I had to make a trip last week that took me south of the border
and through Cleveland.
I'm a pretty calm traveller. I know an airport is one of the
worst places on earth. If there is a hell, it must be like an
eternal departure lounge. Just like in the real world, in an
infernal airport you'd be forced to drag your luggage through
crowds of extended family members waiting for loved ones to arrive
and blocking all exits.
Wherever you have to go to catch your flight, it will be as
far as physically possible from where you are standing. As soon
as you get there, they'll change your gate to back to where you
All the book store will have is Stephen King novels you can't
remember if you've read before, and a pack of gum will be five
Unlike hell, airports punish both the good and the bad without
distinction. And you can go there more than once.
Experience has therefore taught me not to not be surprised
by much when travelling by air.
I was wrong.
When I got to my gate at the airport last week I thought there
was some mistake. Sitting out on the tarmac was a propeller plane.
It immediately brought up images of World War I fighter pilots,
walking out into the grim dawn, wondering if they'd ever return.
And just my luck, I forgot to pack my silk scarf and flying goggles.
My wife, who is also a good sport when travelling, just shrugged
her shoulders and climbed aboard to join the rest of our thirty
During the pre-flight safety talk I thought they were going
to hand out parachutes. In the event of engine failure, I think
we were supposed to roll down our windows and flap our arms.
A few minutes later, the engines were roaring and we were
trundling down the runway, dwarfed by the big jets standing in
line. The one good thing about propellers is they make so much
noise you can barely hear the screaming children.
I was sitting across from the flight attendant a very
nice American woman. As we started the take-off she began talking.
At first I thought it was a last minute announcement, but she
wasn't using the microphone. I leaned forward because I thought
maybe she was talking to me.
I was wrong. She was praying.
She was asking God to look after the airplane and all of us
flying in it.
Now, normally I m happy to be included in anyone's prayers.
And I know I'm going to hear from people thinking I'm not respectful
enough about the power of prayer.
But what are you supposed to think when your stewardess begins
to pray out loud during take off? What does she know that you
It's like driving behind someone with a lot of religious medals
on their dashboard. I'm nervous when anyone needs that much divine
intervention to drive a car.
I figure God already has His hands pretty full with Kosovo
and everything, so I don't like to bother Him with the day to
Still, if He took time out of His busy schedule to make sure
we landed safely in Cleveland, I'll be the last to complain.