Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Yahoo! informed me calmly this morning of what brought about the demise of the pop duo Wham!  Although it never concerned me in the late 80s, and I can’t conceive why journalists felt there was a need to shed light on it now, I ended up falling for it and took a look at what became of the other side of the group, the not-George Michael, Andrew Ridgely who, at the age of fifty, looks like a tan 60-year-old surgeon more than a former international teenie-bopper singer.  That was about all I got from the piece.

      That and the fact that I was once again reminded of just how long it has been since I arrived in Spain the first time way back in January of 1988.  Twenty-five years ago.

       On that occasions, I flew with a Spanish charter company called Spantax.  It was the air carrier chosen by my university program, Saint Louis University, and in retrospect I now realize that the Dean of the school had little care about whether his study body made it for spring semester or not.

      Up till that point, I had always enjoyed air travel, but like any good citizen of my country, I was suspicious of putting life, limb and luggage in the hands and of a foreign airline.  Hell, we had invented the goddamn contraptions, God only knows what these Europeans were capable, or incapable, of doing.  Plus, a company whose name sounded to me like something you wear to an S&M engagement provided little encouragement.

      And yes, my deepest fears came true.  My first flight over to Spain would serve as more than an excuse for never wanting to board a winged vehicle again.  Not even a Pontiac Thunderbird.

      I was not alone in my travels that year.  My good friend John from college had also decided to brave six months in the wilderness of Spanish-speaking humans, but first he had to face the leap across the ocean, which was going to be a challenge enough for him.  Up to that day, the closest John had ever been to flying was when he sprang off diving boards in the summertime.  He confided in me this secret just two days before takeoff in an offhand sort of way which was so characteristic of his way of dealing things.  It wasn’t British stiff-upper-lip-ism, but more like Virginian low-key-ism.  I appreciated his demeanor and was proud to be the first to accompany him on such a monumental moment in his life.  Not being a veteran like me, he naturally had reservations about the feasibility of an 800-ton metallic canister becoming airborne.  So, to ease his nerves, I patted him twice on back, told him to relax, and then went back to stuffing boxer shorts in my suitcase.

     I guess my words of soothing must have lacked the kind of convincing one needs in those hours of anguish because the very next morning John went out and bought a carton of cigarettes and by dinner he was already running out and asking if we could go back downtown to get some more.

     “Take it easy John,” I said as we shared a shivering January cig outside my house.  “It’s no big deal.  Just think of the thousands of planes that take off every day and don’t crash into a billions pieces.”

     “I’m cool man.  I’m not worried at all,” he replied and let the silent night air reign.  We scanned the skies and observed the beauty of the universe above us.  Billions and billions of Carl Sagan’s twinkling baby stars blinked and winked away happily.  Two human beings awed beneath the hushing nighttime heavens.

      Suddenly there interrupted from the north a flashing red light.  It was just at that angle where you couldn’t tell whether or not it was moving horizontally or vertically.   Soon enough, though, we could discern it was a plane.  From the other end of the indigo dome approached another soundless projectile.  Two aircrafts coasted over the continent, softly like clipper ships coming into harbor, and headed for their destinations, wherever they were.  They were heading for their homes, for a place to rest, for a goodnight’s sleep; they were heading for…for…straight for each other!

        It was too late to scream at them to change directions, so we just gawked and sat back to watch the imminent disaster unfold before our very eyes.  I wasn’t going to be able to save any lives, but at least I could tell my friends and family I had witnessed it, and that can be very important in modern times.

        The red beads neared and neared until for a moment, they became one.   I held my breath in anticipation of a raging expansion of energy, a sunburst, a dying supernova, something loud and spectacular.  It was going to be awful, but from a distance, eerily beautiful.

      The explosion, however, would never appear.  Soon the tiny intermittent flashes parted and sailed away with the same calmness they had met before, as if nothing big had happened.  As if they hadn’t even seen each other for that matter.

       John and I stared at the exact dark spot where the catastrophe should have occurred.  We were speechless for a few seconds before he finally broke in again.  “Uh, do your folks have any valium hanging around?”

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