Friday, January 16, 2009

Hero pilot looks like a hero, bummer

Well, I guess we can all surmise the identity of this month’s US Airways employee of the month. It’s Chesley B. Sullenberger III.

I prefer my heroes to be a little more offbeat. Sullenberger looks exactly like a heroic pilot's supposed to look.

But come to think of it, most every cockpit cowboy I’ve ever had looks just like him, too. They’re tall, handsome. They’re males. And that’s stereotypically generally very reassuring.

In fact, if I boarded and saw a wormy little pilot who looked all jumpy and nervous I’d strap myself in and immediately demand the flight attendant start bringing multiple shots of high-test liquor -- for me and the pilot.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the pilots we see when boarding were all actors hired to reassure passengers that the real pilot wasn’t some nerdy little twitch. And I’d be fine with that.

I’ve long argued airlines should plant on every flight actors dressed as clergy to say heartfelt prayers as we taxi down the runway. I flew with a nun once and she said a wonderful outloud prayer about a safe flight and the requisite bit about forgiveness before takeoff. I was immediately reassured. I knew with her on board, the Big Guy was our copilot.

Plus, I spied an opening in her pitch for manifest forgiveness. I saw it as a sort of license to sin and spent the entirety of the flight boozing and roguishly hitting on the poor flight attendant. It was a great, fun flight.

For me, at least.

A couple of the early news reports about the miraculous flight are intriguing. First, it apparently took just 90 seconds to empty the entire plane, an often painstaking process that usually consumes 10 minutes when the plane lands on terra concreta. That’s why I’m hoping pilots will implement Sullenberger’s urgent, “Brace for impact!” before even the most routine landings. It would speed things up.

Second, I heard a couple of passengers were, of course, gumming up the emergency procedures by retrieving their stuff from the overhead bins.

The knee-jerk reaction is to castigate the self-important bigshots who dawdled over their laptops and whatnot as Hudson River water started splashing against the ankles of the peons back in coach.

But who are we to judge?

Maybe, like me, they were simply tidy passengers. I retrieve even the peanut wrappers rather than leave them for the overworked flight attendants.

I tried to think of what I’d linger to retrieve and came up near blank. I travel light, rarely taking even a laptop with me. I do have a computer bag to make myself appear important, but its contents are usually some magazines, a banana and a Louis L’Amour book from the local library.

I’d probably dig around for the library book, but only because our librarian’s a tyrant.

So, it’s a wonderful and blessed day. We should all feel better about ourselves knowing we share seminal DNA with men and women like Sullenberger, the first responders and the passengers themselves who could easily have turned on one another but didn’t.

Still, I’m a little chagrined when the hero isn’t someone more unexpected. Like the guy we remember from Puerto Rico to Virgin Gorda charter flight a bunch of years ago. He was perfectly oblivious to the world as I contemptuously studied him as they were preparing the rickety little six-seater for take off.

He looked like a guy who rarely bothered to bathe. His hair was a vulture’s nest of scraggly dreadlocks. He swayed as if the Caribbean breezes were blowing exclusively for him. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear I could see fresh marijuana haze wafting off his tie-dye T-shirt.

I was quietly calculating the odds he’d wind up being my seat mate when he shocked us by hopping up into the cabin and began expertly flipping switches.

Ya, mon, he was da pilot!

I was rooting it was him when I heard a heroic pilot had just saved 155 lives and inspired a nation with his cool-headed actions. I love it when an atypical guy like that just smashes all our stereotypes of what a hero is and how he or she is supposed to look.

I just don’t want to sit next to him.


Anonymous said...

Very descriptive Chris. I can see your 'Island' pilot. Still very very happy all were safe on this indeed most blessed flight!

Chris Rodell said...

News like that is so just so joyfully energizing. Isn't it great!