ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tornadoes, Hail and Fleeing Airline Attendants

Last Tuesday I flew into Dallas and experienced fist-size hail, tornadoes and disappearing airline employees who were fleeing for their lives. This is my story of those 24 hours.

0400- It all starts at my mother’s house in Tucson. Having arrived the night before from Salt Lake City at 1000 PM, I spend the night with the moms rather than drive 80 miles home and then 80 miles back the next morning in order to make my 0620 AM flight. I can’t sleep so I wake up and take a long hot shower.

0500- I leave moms house and drive to the airport. I’m hopeful that the trip will be uneventful. Oh, If I had only known.

0620 – I board the aircraft. It’s an American Airlines flight on an MD80, like all the aircraft I fly with American.

0625 – A stewardess comes and whispers in my ear and bumps me to first class. After a mimosa and a bran muffin, I am certain the trip is going to be splendiferous. I nappy nap.

1030 – Flight lands in Dallas. I get off the plane, trod happily to gate C35 and await my 1230 flight.

1230 – I board the flight and sit happily in seat 18D listening to tunes and hoping to get another whisper. No such luck. No worries. Life is grand. Life is great. How bad can it be? I write long hand for awhile as we pull away from the gate and get in line for take-off to Washington D.C.

1245 – I look up when someone mentions the green clouds outside.  Green?

1250 – Rains cats and dogs and hippos. Pilot says there’s weather moving in and that there’s a delay. I think I actually see a hippo fall from the sky.

1258 – WTF is going on? I take off my headphones. Sounds like I’m in the inside of a popcorn machine. Fist-sized hail hammers the fuselage of the MD80. We all stare outside in stunned silence as huge hail splashes all around us, piling up on the ground and not even  pretending to melt.

1310 – I take a video using my phone. (Note that my speakers on the phone are terrible and it is easily five times louder than that. At the end I say something in a normal voice right next to the phone and it's almost drowned out by the sound.)

1320 – It’s stiil hailing. Are you kidding me?

1321 – I tweet how surreal it is.

1322 – @RussDickerson tweets back about flying cows  - a clear Twister movie reference. There is no place to hide in an airplane.

1322.5 - @marcyrockwell tweets about crazy tornado footage and asks me to be safe… Yikes.

1322.75 - @VanHalen1970 tells me to take cover --- er --- where?

1323 - Someone pulls down a live feed on their phone showing real twisters near the airport. I look out at the 30 planes I can barely see through the deluge and know that if a tornado struck, we’d be noting but children’s toys in a hurricane.

1324 – Pilot gets on and tries to be funny. No one laughs.

1330 – Pilot still isn’t funny, but they do bring us water.

1400 – The sun comes out, melts all the hail and everything seems to be okay, except that it’s still raining.

1430 – Pilot says that we have to return to the gate to be inspected for hail damage. Hail damage? Can a plane be damaged by hail? If we fly through a hail storm do we land for inspection or keep going? Has my life been in jeopardy all this time?

1455 – We return to the gate and are told to grab our things and deplane. We get into the airport and not a single airline employee is within sight. We’re told to stay away from the windows. There’s a tornado warning in effect, but a guy tipsying with a martini is our good Samaritan.. Not that the airline told us anything. They scurried into the shadows like rats leaving the ship.

1510 – It becomes apparent that things aren’t as they seem. Not a single airline employee is around. Not a single vehicle moves on the tarmac. I begin to feel like I’m in The Langoliers.

1520 – Fuck it. I’m not going to be left hanging. Whenever the airline employees return—if they return—I’ll be one step ahead of them. My traveling partner and I begin working the phones. I call and get the next flight out, then so does he. We make tentative hotel reservations in Dallas, wary of cancellation fees and times.

1530- Next flight is AA1476 and departs from C30 at 1755 PM. We’re set. We settle into a bar for a couple drinks. My partner shoots tequila and beer. I have a huge snoofter of cab… or two… maybe three. While I'm drinking I watch coverage of tractor trailers being tossed about and imagine that they are airplanes. I close my eyes until the scene goes away.

1545 – The PA system says ‘American Airline Employees All Clear,’ several times. As they reappear like they’ve been kicking back and having a great old time behind the walls of the airport, I realize that the airport placed the safety of American Airlines peeps above the travelers. Nice! 'Preciate that DFW!

1630 – We check the flight. Good to go. More drinks.

1655 – Whoops! Flights cancelled. In fact, all flights are cancelled. Nothing going to D.C. until tomorrow.

1656 – We hit the phones. We cancel our hotel in D.C. I manage to get on Flight 808 leaving at 1155 the next morning. I manage to get a boarding pass, but my traveling partner doesn’t. We’re informed that our bags are unreachable, so we exit through security, intent on making it to the hotel so we can decompress.

1700 – 1745 – We stand in line to get a boarding pass and watch humanity at its best. People cut lines. Men scream at each other. Women cry. Children tug at their parent’s hands, wanting nothing more than to go into a corner and lose themselves on their laptops and revel in the creepy pornish universe of Teletubbies. The asshole in all of us come out. Which is a good thing for me.

1746 – Our turn. We pour on the nice. Juxtaposed against everyone else’s assholery, we are the shining stars of what humanity should strive to achieve. The man behind the counter loves us. He appreciates our deep and honest love for him. He whispers to us about a flight leaving in a few hours for D.C. It’ll be the last flight. Do we want on it? Hells yes we do. We both get standby tickets. I am #5 and my traveling mate’s is #36.

1800 – We manage to choke down some pretend Italian food.

1900 – 2010 – We stare at the ever shifting standby board.

2012 – A surreal moment pause. We’re joking around about how much this is crazy when an old yokel straight from the farm comes up. In an almost intelligible Jed Clampett drawl, he disses the government and spins the problem to be their fault. I look at his dirty fingernails and his overhauls and just nod my head in sympathy; after all, this poor old soul just doesn’t have any idea. They call for Double Platinum to board and he pulls out his boarding pass which reads Double Platinum, excuses himself, then boards the aircraft. WTF?

2011- Everyone boards the aircraft.

 2019 – I board the aircraft, cancel my hotel reservation in Dallas, and remake mine in D.C., as I walk to my seat. And it’s an aisle! YEAH!

2026 – My partner makes it onboard and does the same. Sardines in a can. Sweaty but happy, we take off with glee.

0130 – We arrive in D.C. and low and freaking behold our bags are there.

0150 – We get a rental car.

0230 – We make the hotel.

0245 – I’m in my room.

0300 – Damn it. I can’t sleep.

0400 – I finally fall asleep.

0700 – Alarm goes off. Oh hell. Here we go again.

I learned several things that day. The first is to remain calm and not to be THAT GUY. So many folks freaked out, didn’t know what to do, and just stood there waiting to be told what to do. I’m neither THAT GUY nor am I THAT GUY. I am THIS GUY. And in the end, I got to where I needed to be, albeit with a little more excitement than I wanted.

I also learned that it’s everyman for himself. American Airlines proved that when they disappeared without even a word. I helped those I could. I gave advice when I saw the need. And I let the assholes be assholes.
There’s an old saw that says ‘The measure of a man (or woman) is not derived from how they act day to day, but how they react to adversity.’

I’ve lived by that for a long long time.

Good article on the Huffington Post about the storm.

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