Friday, December 4, 2009

This Time of Night

Mild hallucination often sets in―this time of night.

You're weary and stiff, butt-sore, and numby. Coffee lost its appeal hours ago. But you force down a last cup of the putrid stuff on the promise of it's poisonous jolt. You blink hard and rub your sandpaper eyelids.

Only an hour left and you strain to see the glow ahead; you'll touch down just as old Big Eye trains his laser at you from the far Atlantic. But for now it's the darkest its been all night, except for stars and passing jets. Some of them flash their lights. They want confirmation that you see them, that you are here with them, feeling crappy with them. A brotherhood, of sorts.

A glance at the clock, the fuel, the guy across the cockpit, him glancing back, with a shrug, a sigh, a cuss. “Livin' the dream, man, livin' the dream,” he mumbles, unlatching his belt and casting it off. “Head Call, for me. I'm goin' to the back."

The door opens and a flight attendant appears, he disappears, she slams the door, hands me more vile black liquid. “Here, this is fresh-brewed,” she says, forcing a tired smile. She wants me to stay awake. For me to sleep is her death. I try to be thankful and pretend to drink. “One hour left,” I blurt, knowing the question is coming, knowing she already knows it, and knows I know that. It's that kind of night.

“What beautiful stars,” she says, trying to make small talk. I nod and turn the lights down so that we can see them better. “Wow, look at that one,” she says, pointing straight ahead. I look. It's big and bright. It flashes at us.

“That's no star,” I say with a chuckle. “No, that's a plane coming at us. Looks to be slightly high to us. He's flashing. See?”

“Oh. How nice,” she says.

I show her the light switch and tell her to flash him. She toggles the switch and giggles.

“Do you always do that?” she asks.

“Not all the time,” I say. “Just sometimes.” Talking gets burdensome this time of night.

“Look! He's still flashing,” she says.

So he is. A persistent guy. I wonder which airline he rides in the nose of. She flashes our lights again.

“Cool!” she cries. "He's got colored lights!"

This girl is hallucinating, I fear. It's that kind of night. But forward, I lean, crusty eyes widening, trying to focus. Damn! He does have colored lights. Flashing amber now, then pale blue. Now orange.

Just as the tone sounds, alerting me that the first officer is ready to come back up, it hits me. I'm glad of the tone. There will be no more discussion with this woman. She disappears and closes the door, to tell to her peers of the marvelous lights.

The first officer sits, sighs, runs his fingers through his hair and leans forward peering ahead. “Wow!” he says. Venus is really booming tonight.”

I nod and smile. Silly girl. She flashed our lights at another planet.

Yeah, mild hallucinations often set in―this time of night.

Here's a lamentation for you intrepid RJ pushers:
The Seat
by Richard L. Barlow

The Seat
It's ugly and worn,
lopsided and torn.
It's lumpy and wet,
from coffee and sweat.
"It reeks so bad!" they'll all say,
from no APU with a nine leg day.
It's too hard when you're too soft,
remember those hours you spent in the LOFT?
But it calls you back, it knows your name,
whispers, "the view from here, it's just not the same."
With all of this, it still can't be beat,
you're PIC now, so strap in the seat!


amulbunny said...

That's kind of cool.

My kid who works air freight adjacent to 25R at LAX has a question. When there are simultaneous t/o and landings on the 25's, is all the landing traffic headed to 25L and t/o 25R? He's asking this because the other day he saw a UA 757 plop down on 25R in front of a conga line of noses. He says that was the first time he saw anyone during rush come in over there? Since you fly out of lalaland often, I thought I'd ask you.

And with the lights, sure you weren't having a close encounter?


Bob said...


Another awesome post. I absolutely love the imagery of the quiet flight deck at night. Honestly...I mean I love it. Ever read Guy Murchie?

All the best,

Lakotahope said...

Long ago, I and a partner in crime that night, sat and wondered all kinds of things about this plane's lights.....we thought it must have been a 100 miles away as it hardly seemed to move...It did move and we saw it, BIG light shining towards us.....Luckily, the sun came up.

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Curdle1 said...

I liked how you described the coffee. Sometimes I feel exactly the same way but luckily my flights aren't as long for me to need it to stay awake.

Alan Cockrell said...

Amulbunny: Sorry I'm taking so long to respond. 25L and 24R (the outboards)are the normal landing runways at LAX but if traffic is light sometimes the tower will let us land 25R or 24L (the inboards). It's rare though. And I'm sure it was Venus.
Bob: Yes, I have read Guy Murchie. I'm sure you see some of his style in these pages.
Fusion: Uh, thanks.
Curdle: Stay awake.