On heat, Cheese Doodles and rabbits in the back yard

By Minx McCloud

The Experimental Aircraft Association recently held its Young Eagles program at Central Jersey Regional Airport, giving area youngsters a chance to take a free airplane ride.

Last year when I covered this event, several of the pilots offered to take me up in their planes, an offer that I declined. You don't even want to know what led up to my fear of flying, but I'll tell you anyway, because I love to whine.

It began when I was in college, circa 1972, on a courier flight from Mattituck on Long Island to an airport outside of Boston. I had never been in an airplane before, but my friend (the courier pilot who had asked me along) had been a fighter pilot in Vietnam, so I figured I was in able hands.

One friend told me it seemed to her that the only thing that didn't happen during that trip was the sighting of a shaggy creature crawling around on the wing, a la "Twilight Zone."

The plane was very small -- a two-seater something, and we had almost reached Boston when we hit a freak thunderstorm that scared the bejesus out of me. Supposedly, you're safe because the plane isn't grounded, but in the middle of a storm, there's still a whole lot of shaking going on. A temperature inversion (or something like that) cloaked the small airport in Massachusetts in fog, and we were told to go back to Bradley Airport in Connecticut to land.

I seem to remember that we were almost out of fuel, but that may be an embellishment developed in some 30 years of retelling this story. One friend told me it seemed to her that the only thing that didn't happen during that trip was the sighting of a shaggy creature crawling around on the wing, a la "Twilight Zone."

One thing is certain though, once we were safely on the ground and I had kissed it several times, there was no getting me back on that plane. Bill pleaded with me, threatened me, and ultimately plied me with whiskey sours in a local bar (no, he did not have any), but he flew back to Long Island alone. I took a series of buses to New London and took the ferry to Orient Point.

Amazingly, I actually went on two more flights in the ensuing years -- one seaplane and one commercial airliner -- and I vow to you here and now, I will never fly again.

The seaplane flight took place in Maine and I should have known better. It was a hot day, the green flies were buzzing, and the pilot was one of those taciturn Mainers ("ayuh," "nope," and "cash only"). The flight was nice at first, but the pilot started buzzing trees, going in for a "closer look-see" and, in short, doing his best roller coaster imitation. My husband told me my face progressed from white to gray to green.

Finally, Jim took pity on me and told the pilot to cut the trip short. Yes, we would still pay full price. Geesh. You want to see one of those stoic Maine old-timers lose their cool? Throw up on their pontoons.

I didn't fly for another 10 years and then Jim tempted me with a trip to Florida. This time I was prepared. I read all I could about commercial airliners, including crash statistics, and convinced myself that the odds of anything going wrong on "just this one little trip" were infinitesimal.

I got scopolamine patches from my doctor for airsickness and some sort of glorious, mind-bending prescription drug to calm my nerves. Calm my nerves? I spent the entire trip draped over my husband and, alternately, the gorgeous guy on the other side me, who was surprisingly nice to me considering I fell asleep on his shoulder and drooled on his sleeve.

When I arrived at the Orlando airport, I told all who would listen that that the flight was wonderful, marvelous, and I would never be afraid to fly again. I was so pleased with my first commercial air flight that on the way home, I blithely waved away the scopolamine patch and the lovely drug.

Do I really need to relate the details of our trip home? Turbulence, hijackers, crying babies, drunks, some crazy woman yelling, "We're all going to die" -- oh wait, that was me. Anyway, it was awful. Still no monster on the wing, but a nightmare nevertheless.

I've been told that my plane fear technically is not considered a phobia. You see, according to a friend of mine (who has undergone heavy duty therapy), phobias are defined as irrational fears. According to him, I have perfectly good reasons for my fear.

Last year, my newfound friends at the EAA listened to my tale of woe and then laughed heartily. Why, flying is the most wonderful feeling there is, they said, safe as sleeping in your own bed, and they proceeded to describe the sensation in ways that made me almost want to get right onto one of those planes and take a ride off into the wild blue yonder. (Hey, when you were a kid, did you ever wonder what a "yonder" was? I remember looking up at the clouds when I was about 10 and saying to my dad, "Wow Dad, look how blue the yonder is today." I wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.)

However, I couldn't bring myself to take them up on their offer.

I don't intend to fly in any sort of plane ever again unless the plane is attached to a heavy chain and God himself is firmly hanging on to the other end.

Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at mccloudnj@aol.com. To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with permission.

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