Lisa’s first emergency (and my first heart attack)

OK, it wasn’t really an emergency. And I didn’t really have a heart attack. But we both had a heart-stopping moment, that’s for sure. Here’s the Tale…

As regular readers know, the official Plane Tales airplane has been down for maintenance for a loooooong time. For so long, in fact, that new readers can’t be blamed for wondering if I fly at all. They probably think that I’m just one of those pretenders who puts on an aviator shirt each morning before he hits the tequila. That’s actually true, but I’m also keeping my skills from atrophying, thanks to the kindness of my plane pal Lisa, who lets me fly her Warbler once a week after her solo practice session. Lately, I’ve been working on improving my Lazy-8s.

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This week, to save MoGas, we drove to the airport together before dawn. I helped her preflight her plane as the sun rose, then off she went. While Lisa taxied out, I busybodied around the hangar. I changed a light bulb, restocked the fridge with water and the humidor with fresh cigars, and I killed four scorpions. Like hangars everywhere, we have spiders, but being a desert ecosystem, we also have their more primitive cousins. Personally, I have nothing against scorpions, but I’m unwilling to share my sacred aviation space with them.

Warbler’s engine warmed up and the runup done, Lisa made her radio call and pulled out onto the runway. I stepped out of the hangar to watch her takeoff. I heard Warbler’s engine smoothly increase in volume and watched him steadily accelerate down Runway 19. Lisa rotated, leveled off into ground effect for a short time, and then started to climb. About mid-field, his engine suddenly went silent.

So too, did the rest of the world.

No dogs barked. No cars honked. No crickets chirped. Time stood still.

But gravity didn’t.

In dead silence Warbler drifted back down out of the sky and disappeared behind the trees.

Still, silence reigned.

That’s when I had the heart attack. Then, that out of the way, I dashed for the handheld. Did Lisa have enough runway? Or was she down in the Juniper trees off the end of the threshold? Or worse yet, in broken, scattered pieces in the canyon just beyond? Trying not to sound panicky, I made a radio call. “Niner-four-one-one-six, Santa Rosa Unicom.”

Silence.

“Niner-four-one-one-six, Santa Rosa Unicom, do you read?”

More silence. Whereupon, the handheld, which hadn’t been in its charger, let out a burst of static and died.

Seriously? I bolted for my car, tore out of the hangar side of the airport, shot up Airport Road, blew through the stop sign at U.S. 84, barreled down the highway to the official entrance to SXU, and set a new land speed record getting to the gate at the Terminal. As I frantically punched my ATM code into the gate control, I saw Warbler taxi leisurely by.

Relief flooded over me. Relief, followed by a brief flare of anger. Obviously, his engine was fine. What the hell? If she was going to practice an aborted takeoff—and who does that?—she should have announced it on the radio!

Rules be dammed, once through the gate, I turned on my emergency blinkers and pursued her up the taxiway. She didn’t return to the runup area. Instead, she crossed 19 on Charlie and headed back for the hangars.

OK. So something was wrong. But what could it be? I hung on her six and we crossed the airport as if she were towing me with an invisible rope. Back at the hangar she shut down and I jumped out of the car.

“What happened??” I demanded, climbing up on the wing.

“Didn’t you hear my call?” she asked, perplexed. She had heard the call I made right before my handheld died, and responded. Who knows why I didn’t hear it. She was on the far side of the airport, that’s nearly two miles away, and there’s no straight line of site. Maybe it’s too much to ask of a handheld.

“I lost my airspeed indictor,” she said, pointing at the instrument panel. Apparently, the takeoff had started normally, but as she made her post-lift off scan she was shocked to see her airspeed indicator giving her the middle finger. It read zero. She had no clue how fast or slow she was flying.

Lisa said she remembered the time it happened to me, and decided in a flash that her best option was to get down fast. She chopped the power and put Warbie back on the runway. “It wasn’t the best landing I ever made,” she said, sheepishly.

I disagree.

I think it was the best landing ever.

 

A welcome escape

I was at GSP, a lovely little Class Charlie airport midway between Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina. The blue shirts had just decimated my luggage, thanks to the bastards at American Airlines, who punished me for getting a reasonable airfare on Expedia by not including my TSA Pre✓ known traveler number on my boarding pass.

Shoes off.

Computer out.

Flightpad out.

Crap, no zip lock bag for my single tube of toothpaste.

Don’t you know you have to take projectors out of their cases? How would I know such a thing? I’ve been Pre✓ for years, plus I don’t see a sign telling me this. Smile at the nice blue shirt and apologize for being so ignorant.

Swab for explosives.

Re-x-ray.

Don’t you know that you have to take speakers like these out of their cases? How would I know such a thing? I’ve been Pre✓ for years, plus I don’t see a sign telling me this. Smile at the nice blue shirt and apologize for being so ignorant.

More swabbing. More x-raying.

Finally, satisfied that I was no threat to national security, they handed me back my bag. Open. Its contents heaped high on either side, overflowing over its aluminum sides. Granted, fitting all the gear, cables, and adaptors I need to schlep for a Rusty Pilot Seminar into the case requires finesse that combines three-dimensional thinking and jigsaw puzzle skills; and—like a Rubik’s cube—is a process that tolerates no miss-steps. I gathered the dismembered remains of my luggage into my arms and sought out a bench to re-assemble it.

It had been hot and humid out, leaving me wilted; my day had just hit the 14-hour mark; and my flight didn’t board for another two hours.

I needed a drink.

The first thing I encountered in the “grand hall” of the GSP terminal was a Chick-fil-A. They don’t serve booze at Chick-fil-A, and besides, they were closed. I guess because it was a Sunday. Next door was a hotdog place, but as I’d stayed at a Drury the night before. I’d had my quota of hotdogs for the year. Not that I’m complaining. There was also a Wolfgang Puck. But it was crazy-crowded, and somehow looked more expensive than the typical over-priced airport eatery & drinkery.

I continued my patrol. At the far end of the grand hall a large sign said: ESCAPE. Actually, I’m really not feeling all that trapped, but thank you anyway. As I closed in, I made out a second, smaller word: LOUNGE. Ah! Now you are a-speakin’ my language. A vague memory percolated through my head. I’ve seen an Escape Lounge before. It was at Reno-Tahoe. I recalled it being waaaaay over budget for me. Still, there’s no harm in asking…

I sauntered in and inquired what the scoop was. The young lady manning the fort asked if I had a Platinum American Express card. If I had one, entry was free. Or maybe not. That damn card has a $550 annual fee. No, I have no Amex, I have no Amex today. All I have is a debit card from the First Bumpkin Bank of New Mexico, and an AOPA Mastercard.

Not surprisingly, neither of those granted access.

She showed me three pages of other cards that would give me a discount. I don’t know what’s in your wallet, but none of them were in my wallet. I’d have to pay the standard walk-up fee of $45 if I wanted to escape the grand hall. I dunno…I asked for clarification on what I’d get for my dinero. Access to the bar and the buffet. A cozy retreat with a view. High-speed Wi-Fi. Bountiful charging ports.

OK: Down to the business at hand. Tell me more about that bar.

It’s a two-tiered bar. There are complimentary offerings and premium offerings. You pay more for the premium, but I gotta say, at least at my end of the economy, I found the complimentary offerings to be pretty primo. Robert Mondavi Private Select cabernet sauvignon, along with white and sparkling wine options. A choice of bourbons and whiskeys: Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, Jameson, or Canadian Club. Three Svedka vodkas. Beefeater gin and Bacardi rum. Johnnie Walker Red scotch. Jose Cuervo Silver tequila, plus Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, and a cognac I’d never heard of: Remy Martin VSOP. For beer drinkers they had Michelob Ultra, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Creek Trifecta IPA—all draft.

Hell, a man could live there for years!

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But I still hesitated. Then the hostess had a light bulb moment. Was I a triple-A member? Why, yes, yes, I am. Will that get me in for free?

Of course not.

But AAA, combined with a “first time visitor discount” would drop the cover charge from $45 to $35. I was powerful thirsty, and this was starting to sound like a pretty good deal for an airport terminal, post-security. All you can drink and eat, plus refreshments for my thirsty electronics? I whipped out my First Bumpkin Bank of New Mexico debit card, wondering for a second if I shouldn’t have used my AOPA card. It has some sort of rewards program I’ve never been able to wrap my head around.

But I have to say: What a wonderful escape. It was quiet. Comfortable. Cool. There was a fabulous view of the apron out the windows, and the inside walls were bedecked with gloriously silent big screen TVs displaying a real-time map of inbound and outbound flights, alternating with the arrival and departure screens from the concourse.

I got my much-needed drink (followed by a refill… or two or three). Then I checked out the food. It tended toward small bites, but they were delicious and there’s no limit on how much you stuff into your face. The onsite chef had prepared steak chimichurri, grilled salmon, truffle risotto, devilled eggs, watermelon feta salad, a charcuterie board, a wicked-good spicy tortilla soup, chicken almond salad, pretzel bread sticks, muffins, cobblers, pies, and cakes. And because it’s the south: Boiled peanuts. Don’t knock them until you try them. Plus, sodas, tea, etc. It all tasted as good as it sounds.

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It sure beat the hell out of hanging out in the concourse, and cost me no more than a typical airport meal with a drink or two.

According to their website, Escape Lounges are also found at: Bradley, CT, Minneapolis, Oakland, Providence, and Sacramento; as well as in the United Kingdom at East Midlands, London, and Manchester. One thing’s for sure: Anytime I’ve got a couple hour layover at any of those airports you’ll find me making my escape.

Do you think they’ll give me a frequent escaper discount instead of a first-time visitor discount?

 

That’s baloney!

The flight plan called for us to proceed up Airport Road, turn north to a heading of 350 degrees, pass between the truck stops, go over the hill, under the interstate, and park at the dollar store.

Yeah. It was time to replenish the airport snack baskets.

Regular readers may recall that my plane pal Lisa adopted the SXU terminal back in the winter of ‘17. It used to be one of those ratty, Third World kinda terminals that we cross country fliers are all too familiar with. In fact, it was that very familiarity that inspired Lisa’s adoption. After seeing the worst—and the best—that small local airport terminals had to offer during our SARL travels, she took things into her own determined hands and gave our little terminal a serious makeover. Now visiting pilots often tell me what a nice little FBO we have.

No small compliment.

Some of what she did was simply cleaning. Some of what she did was organizing. Some was hanging art on the walls, and hanging shear curtains to frame the windows. Missing light switch covers were replaced with new ones that look like cockpit instruments to create the appropriate aviation atmosphere.

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But a lot of the transformation came down to amenities. The fridge is now always stocked with bottles of water and a variety of soda—both regular and diet, some with caffeine and some without. There’s now a microwave, and one of those Keurig coffee pots you find in high end hotels—the ones with the instructional hieroglyphics on the side that make one cup of coffee at a time.

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Image: Amazon

In the bathroom, a shiny, round metal tray holds a glass bottle of mouthwash with one of those little metal pouring spouts, and a stack of Dixie cups. And then there are the snacks. Lisa found two large baskets and filled them with all manner of “snackage.” Chips. Cookies. Candies. Crackers.

I never realized until just now that most snacks start with the letter “C.”

She also got Cup-a-Soup (there we go again) to sustain those weathered in for a few hours. Now most of you know Lisa as an amazing aviation photographer, but that’s actually a very small sideline for her. Her day job is that of a part-time Adjunct Professor for a community college. That means slave wages and no benefits. So while she didn’t mind some sweat equity, and even absorbed the startup costs of the project, she could ill-afford to be the airport’s benefactor. Accordingly, she set out some donation jars.

At first things went well. Passing pilots donated generously, and when the snacks ran low, shee had the funds to replace them. Then, over the last six months, things started to change. Donations dropped off. Coins became more common and bills rarer. Then, donations nearly dried up. To make up the short fall, she passed the hat among the local pilots.

Which, of course, is just the two of us.

That wasn’t sustainable. We discussed the problem. Are we suddenly getting a rash of cheap pilots? Or did the visitors think, as they were buying gas, they were entitled to some free snackage—not realizing that the airport had nothing to do with the amenities? Or was it that most people don’t carry cash anymore? Or… worst of all… could someone be stealing money from the jars?

I didn’t want to think that.

One day, not long ago, we came to the airport to find the food cleaned out and exactly 12¢ in the jar. Lisa blew a gasket. Well, three or four gaskets, actually. Reluctantly, I went online and found a secure donation box, which Lisa—literally—bolted to a table so it couldn’t be stolen. Well, at least not easily stolen.

In the first two weeks the new box collected $54. All bills. No coins. Yeah. I guess we were being robbed. By whom? Who knows? Maybe by some ex-city worker with a grudge and the gate code. Maybe by one of the trash truck guys. Maybe by outlaw drug-smuggling pilots who are down on their luck.

But, that mystery never to be solved, we now had the funds to do a serious restocking of the snackage. Hence the flight plan to the dollar store.

And it was at the dollar store that a can of bologna caught my eye. Yes. A can. I’d never heard of canned bologna. I mean, bologna is typically in the cooler section with sandwich meat, hot dogs, and those fake cheese slices that are individually wrapped in plastic, right?

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But of course, sandwich spreads come canned. Anyone over the age of 45 will remember Underwood Deviled Ham, which the dollar store still sells for fifty cents a can.

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And Vienna sausages come in cans, I realized. As does tuna. And White meat chicken. Hams are sold in cans. And, of course, there’s Spam in a can.

So why not bologna?

Heck, what did I have to lose but a dollar? Plus, although I was stuck on the ground, the can was offering me a way to continue to visit distant new horizons, and experience new adventures. If only in a very small way. I snatched up the can.

Lisa thought I was mildly crazy, but she knows I get a little bonkers when I can’t fly (and for the last two years I’ve been getting increasingly loco as long periods of maintenance-induced groundings take their toll).

When I got home with my new treasure, Grandma Jean, the original adventurer, was enthusiastic. Rio, cautiously so. My wife, on the other hand, was having nothing to do with bologna in a can. She called Texas to check on the progress of the plane’s repairs.

After searching for about half an hour for our rarely used can opener, I clamped the plier-like tool on the edge of the can and twisted the handle, recalling that at one time canned goods were such a part of our culture that most households had electric can openers. The top off, I turned the can over and gave it a shake. Thump!went the solid mass of meat as it fell out of the can and onto my cutting board. It was bologna-colored, but only smelled vaguely of bologna.

I set the disk of meat product on end. Like jellied cranberry at Thanksgiving, the lump of bologna had the ridges of the can’s lid embossed in its surface. Taking a knife, I cut the disk into four thick slices. It cut easily. Smoothly. More like butter than like meat. Of course, I’ve never sliced bologna before. It generally comes pre-sliced. All you have to do is pull the red paper off before you put it into a sandwich.

How’d it taste? Not quite like traditional bologna. The flavor was milder, but pleasant enough, with—as they say in wine tasting—notes of Vienna sausage. And the consistency was different, too. It was softer than traditional bologna, but not as soft as Vienna sausages. All of that said, I enjoyed it. It has a boxed mac & cheese comfort vibe to it.

Grandma J liked it, but Rio, usually a fan of all food not jicama, was uncertain. He didn’t hate it, but didn’t give it his seal of approval either.

That said, he ate his entire share.

Lisa was in the same cockpit as Rio in her evaluation. And in her lack of left overs. Maybe she would’ve liked it better with a can of wine. And yes, they sell wine in cans now, and they’re not bad either.

No baloney.

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