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Never trust the friendly skies

To say that I’m not a good flier is kind of like saying Lady Gaga is a bit eccentric. Sure, I hate flying. I admit it. I’ve faced the truth, and the truth has set me … in a car. Or a boat, or a train, or a bus, whatever, as long as it’s not more than 20 feet above sea level.

Because, there is absolutely nothing that can convince me it’s possible for a jillion-ton piece of machinery to leave the ground, and the fact that many do is simply unnatural. It’s just a matter of time before some airplane looks down and says, “What the (expletive) am I doing up here?” and falls right out of the sky.

Of course, people will tell you that flying is much safer than driving, to which I reply, maybe, but after a car crash I could walk away laughing. After a plane crash, no one walks away laughing except the birds, who steadfastly maintain that they are the only creatures who should be airborne, anyway. Which is why I’d rather walk most places, including Italy. I figure we only get so many times to beg and plead hysterically for a chance to get our feet back on solid ground, and who knows how many I have left?

However, I understand that situations can arise where flying is necessary — where time must trump terror. And, I can deal with it if I have to. Friends advise me to drink heavily before and during the flight, but I don’t do this, because even greater than my fear of flying is my fear of belting out at my fellow passengers a maudlin, bleary-eyed version of “Nearer My God To Thee” at the first unexplained noise I hear. I mean, what if I did that, and then we didn’t crash?

I’m not afraid of terrorists, like that underwear guy. In fact, I’m warning all you potential boxer-bombers: If you are idiot enough to try something on any airplane I’m in, you will be eating said boxers as your complimentary snack, while I flog you unconscious with my rosary.

What scares me is when, in the middle of a flight, the bubbly attendant says cheerfully, “The captain has illuminated the seat belt sign, because we anticipate a little bumpy air, nothing serious, but for God’s sake don’t leave your seat!” OK, they don’t say that last part, but it’s implied.

I had to fly recently — and, trust me, I had checked out every possible way to avoid it, including that ever-hovering colonoscopy. Then, even though it was a beautiful day here, after boarding we sat on the plane for 45 minutes, because the weather out West was “iffy.” (“Iffy” is something you never want to hear from an airplane pilot, my friend — or a dentist.) I didn’t mind waiting. I would have waited, like, a couple of weeks, just to ensure a nice sunny day in Texas.

Suddenly, the co-pilot announced we had clearance to take off, but a window of only two minutes, so buckle up! I knew it was the co-pilot talking, because the pilot had his hands full skidding the plane into a half-circle before gunning us down the runway at twice the speed of light. And, I was the only one gently urging second thoughts:

“Window?! Window?! We can’t get this big plane through a little two-minute window, are you crazy?!”

I looked around frantically for support, but all I saw were people reading, talking or — I kid you not — sleeping! Since I was being hurled into the air, I let it go, although the words my mother said to me the night before my wedding echoed in my head: “Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Halfway there, we started bumping … and swaying, and lifting, and dropping, and shuddering and — this was just me personally — sobbing.

At one point, the flight attendant, who’d started down the aisle with her drink cart, flailed backward and fell to her rear. Reaching up to grab the mic, she chirped: “We won’t be having beverage service today, due to the slight turbulence.” Please. If it were slight turbulence, she wouldn’t be making this announcement from the floor!

So, no, it’s not terrorists that worry me, it’s flying. It’s flying through thick clouds, blinding the pilots, so that we have to land on instruments, and the instruments have no idea what they’re doing, one instrument yelling, “Head down and to the left!” and the other instruments scoffing: “Left? Are you out of your mind? Who installed you? We need to go up and to the right!” thus causing the first instrument to lose self-esteem and back off, leaving the other instruments to direct the plane — right into the Atlantic!

Meanwhile, FYI: My will is in my sock drawer.

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at vwentz@mindspring.com.

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