As I revealed in the previous installment, as soon as we learned that our gigantic metal flying tube—due to be our cramped home for another 10 or so hours—had lost an engine, the mood of the passengers around me changed palpably. Even though the pilot assured us that a fully loaded 747 can easily fly on three engines not everyone was completely confident in his assertion.
I leaned over to John and told him, “Well, he’s right; we can fly just fine with one engine out, but if we lose another one for some reason, we won’t be looking at trying to get back to Detroit. We’ll be looking for the nearest airport that can land a jumbo jet.”
“Oh yeah? Why do you say that? Do you think we might lose another engine?” He asked.
“Knock wood man. But whatever problem caused the number three to go tits up might not be isolated to that one engine. If we lose another one, our situation will go from bad to very bad in a heartbeat. It could be worse though…”
“What do you mean?” he asked worriedly.
“When I was a toddler coming back from Japan in 1959 our Constellation lost an engine just like this 747, only that one was on fire. Lucky for us we were close enough to Hawaii to make it back to the ground before the wing exploded. My parents told me that they weren’t much comforted by the fighter planes sent up to escort us in, but they were very happy to see the fire trucks waiting for us on the ground. Flying is so much safer these days than back then; there’s just no comparison.”
I noticed that people were now looking at each other nervously with every bump and new mechanical sound, where as before the captain’s announcement no one had paid any mind at all to all the same jolts and noises.
There was a definite morale shift. We had already covered a significant chunk of distance toward our destination and now we were going to have to cover the same distance just to get us back to where we had started from. And the question on everyone’s mind was: “Now what?”
John, ever patient and filled with acceptance, or maybe just a little snockered, simply leaned back and closed his eyes. I marveled at his serenity even as I cursed him when, as he fell asleep, he allowed his arms to spill out once more into my space. "Damn it."
I’ve never been like that. My little mind was already mulling over all the possibilities. Like: How long would it take to fix the broke engine’s oil quantity system? Even if it was a quick repair, chances are they’d have to tow the airplane to a hardstand where the repaired engine could be run through its myriad checkouts. All that takes time. It would take another 2.5 hours to get us back to Detroit before they could even begin to work on it. The crew was finished. They’d have to be replaced before we could take off again no matter what. Could they find a new crew that quickly? The best scenario would be a replacement aircraft, but what were the chances of a spare 747 just sitting around Detroit? Not likely, I thought.
And so my mind chewed up and spat out each possibility as John just napped and didn’t worry about any of it—the big bodied bastard. I envied him.
The pilot spoke to us again. He explained that as we approached Detroit that “we” would have to dump most of the fuel to get the plane down to a safe landing weight. I knew he was talking about spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of aviation gas into the air, and I marveled at the knowledge of it. I thought of the expense, it would cost Northwest tens of thousands of dollars to do such a thing. And then there is the environment—jet fuel is a toxic chemical soup of cancer causing agents and all manner of other nasties, and here we were spraying it in the air like a giant mosquito clouder.
It struck me that the pilot used the collective “we” when telling us that we were dumping the jet fuel. Perhaps it was his way of spreading the blame among us 400 plus passengers for having to do such a monstrously foul thing? How dare he!
I shrugged. Perhaps the pilot was correct. I broke out my book on President Lincoln and resigned myself to being part of an operation that was at that very moment releasing a huge misty fog bank of potent carcinogens into the Canadian North. And yet, I tried not to feel guilty that I felt even worse over the hours that I would be inconvenienced waiting to board a replacement flight. I realized that I was a horribly selfish person—one of millions. With people like “us” in the world, no wonder it sucks.
The hours we spent going in the wrong direction passed a heck of a lot slower than they did going the other way—funny how that works. I think one of Einstein’s theories covers it. Eventually though, we made our approach into Detroit and finally, one good thing came out of our situation. With one engine wasting space on its wing we had direct access to the runway. We landed with a straight in direct approach. Thank God for small favors.
A few minutes before our quickie landing, a very harried stewardess, or flight attendant as I hear they prefer to be called, made one more pass down my aisle to collect trash from all her little “piggies.” I asked her what she thought our prospects would be. I was delighted when she offered the possibility of a spare bird.
“Oh yeah? You think so? I didn’t think these airplanes stayed on the ground long enough to be a spare.” I remarked.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “These airplanes are almost NEVER on the ground. They fly more than they sit.”
“I was involved with aircraft maintenance for a long time with the Air Force and its more amazing to me that the airlines don’t have more problems than they do with keeping these things flying.”
“Yeah, you got that right,” she assented.
I continued, “Looks like Northwest lost any chance of a profit on this trip, don’t ya think? They have to pay you flight attendants and the aircrew for a flight that didn’t go anywhere, and then there’s the fact that we just used up tens of thousands of dollars on the aviation gas. Bummer, huh?”
“Yep,” she concurred, “and I know you all are upset about this, but believe me, we are just as upset. This is hard on us too.”
I didn’t respond to that, since I wasn’t feeling a whole lot of sympathy for her or for any of the aircrew at that moment. I smiled and let it go.
After the “stew” continued her non-merry way up the aisle, the pilot made one last announcement. According to him, the best of all possibilities was in fact in the works—a spare jumbo waited conveniently on the tarmac for us. We would be back on the ground sometime around 9:30 p.m. with the hope of being back up and on the way to Nagoya by 11.
I did a quick calculation. We originally took off at 4. That meant we would be getting into Manila at least 7 hours later than planned. I had prepaid a driver service to pick me up in Manila at 11, but that was all a bust now. I needed someway to contact him and let him know not to show up until the next morning. Now how in the heck was I going to do that?
Our 3-engine landing was completely normal yet people were visibly worried during the approach. I found it amusing, especially when as the wheels hit with a thump and as an extended noisy shudder gripped the aircraft, applause began to ripple toward us from the front of the plane. I looked at John and grinned. Instead of clapping I made a quiet raspberry with my mouth, stuck my index finger in the air twirling it and gave it the old, “Whoopdeedoo!” Sorry, but I just wasn’t impressed.
As soon as John and I found ourselves back in the Detroit terminal we each had our own private missions to accomplish. I didn’t realize that John had his own “must do” until I looked over at the sturdy young fellow and saw a clenched look on his face. I recognized it immediately.
“You need a smoke, don’t you?” I accused him laughing. I found his obvious apprehension funny; because it was the first time I’d seen anything like it from him since I’d met him. “Aha! I found your weakness John! Now I know!”
He grinned and replied, “Yeah, I got really drunk before I got on the flight, but now it’s worn off and I need a cigarette, bad…”
“Ahhh… All you addicts are all the same!” I teased him. “I’ll see you later. I’m going to find an Internet café and try to get a message to my driver in the Philippines. I’ll see you soon. Good luck finding a smoking area…You crack baby!” I said waving.
It turns out I was extremely fortunate. I was soon to find out that airline terminals the world over tend to close up shop at 10 p.m. and Detroit is no exception. I pulled my wheeled bag up to a computer and a girl, the attendant/waitress, asked me if I wanted something cold to eat, since the kitchen was already closed. I told her I just needed to use a computer and she said I had just 15 minutes before they closed and that would cost me $5.25.
There was no Yahoo IM loaded on the computer, so I decided the best thing I could do was to send an email to several people in Angeles City and hope that at least one of them would open it in the next few hours and call my driver, Roger, and tell him of my delayed arrival. I had just enough time to send it and to check for anything important in my inbox. For that money I was determined to use up every minute.
It worked. Of the four people I asked, three of them called Roger. Sometimes I guess, things just work out.
John’s “mission” took a good while longer than my little task. Nonetheless, by 11 he joined me near our continuation gate looking a whole lot more relaxed. I asked him how it went.
“Well, I found a bar with a smoking area.”
“Oh I see, so you took care of two birds with one stone. Good going John!” He laughed.
I decided to ride him a little on his nasty little habit: “You really need to find a way to quit one of these days buddy. For the last four years I’ve been helping a lot of old vets with their disability claims and I’ve seen closeup what two or three decades of smoking will do to the human body. I know you already know this man, but it ain’t pretty. It ages your skin, yellows your teeth and fingernails, makes your hair fall out, gives you bad breath, and eventually, it takes away your ability to breathe, period! If you’re lucky it’ll just be a slow horrible way to die; if you’re not so lucky, it will take you down quick with a heart attack or cancer.”
“Yeah, I know…” He said almost sullenly, not looking at me, with that “I’ve heard it all before” look.
I chuckled, “Too bad men don’t get pregnant. That’s how most women give up smoking these days.” This time he laughed, probably trying to imagine himself in his third trimester.
We didn’t take off for the second time at 11 as promised, but we did go at midnight. So, we ended up being a full 8 hours behind schedule. Nevertheless, we landed in Manila only 7 hours late having made up the hour by leaving sooner from Nagoya.
We got into Nagoya later than I’d ever been there before—I think it was after 2 in the morning. There were no stores, bars, or coffee shops open—nothing to do but wait impatiently. With the Japanese men being inveterate smokers though, John had no problem finding a place to indulge his aching need for nicotine. But without any alcohol to “wash it down” with, he was soon sitting next to me once again at the far end of our waiting area.
“John, I don’t think you know what you’re in for when you arrive at your friend’s home in Rizal. Do you know if they are very rich, or just so-so on the economic scale?”
“I don’t think they are all that rich. Why?”
I snorted and sniggered, “Dude, you’re single, and the word is gonna get out in your pal's neighborhood. There’s going to be a veritable PARADE of available females from miles around, all with the express purpose of getting a look at you and trying to get you to get a look at them. I wish I could see it. You’re either gonna love it or you’re gonna hate it.”
“Oh really?” he seemed delighted. I realized then that he wasn't going "to hate it."
“That’s why I asked if your buddy’s family is rich, because the very rich folk there look down their noses at people like you and me. On the other hand, the rest of the population, which is most of it, look at bagging an American son-in-law the same as winning the lottery. Can I ask you something John?”
“Are you interested in meeting a girl for a possible serious relationship or are you just going there to meet girls for fun? The reason I ask is that the Philippines is a very conservative country. You’re going to find some of the sweetest, most beautiful girls in the world there, but most of them want nothing more than to meet the love of their life and settle down with an armful of babies. Then again, if you want to meet some “pok pok” girls and just "fling fling" during your whole trip, then you can easily do that at Boracay. My point is, don’t confuse the Boracay girls with the dozens of girls you’re going to meet in Rizal.”
He smiled, continuing to be delighted at BOTH prospects.
“I think I might very easily be ready to meet a girl and start a family,” he admitted shyly.
I chuckled, “Dude, there will be a lot of very happy young ladies to learn of that!”
In Manila, I felt beat and groggy standing in the long line at the immigration booths. It took a half hour for my turn to come and I saw that the immigration lady behind the glass looked tired too. I asked her if she had waited long for us. She frowned and said yes. I apologized for her long night and was rewarded with a pretty smile and a final stamp on my passport.
I wished John good luck on his three-week vacation and bade him farewell after pointing out the taxi kiosks.
After a wave through at customs I wheeled my two small checked bags down the sweeping curved ramp to the “pick up” area and searched in vain for my driver. If only I had a cell phone. 'From now on, I will have one,' I promised myself.
A uniformed young lady working in an information booth asked me if she could help me. I told her I needed to send a text or call my driver. At first she showed me how I could buy a phone card out of a vending machine to use in one of the phones lining the wall next to her booth. I didn’t have the correct local currency and finally she just asked me what my driver’s number is. Using her own cell phone she called him for me. I tried to give her a hundred pesos for her trouble and she wouldn’t take it. I was touched at her small bit of compassionate generosity thinking to myself that she had just made me fall in love with the country all over again.
By mid-morning I was back at my house in Angeles City. My Phil-ward journey and my overall USA trip back home was over.