Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What they Don't See

You get that angsty what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here feeling every time you lower your butt into the seat in that darkened box—that place of toil and judgment you know so too, too well. 

As you settle in you get the creepy feeling that a gazillion electrons are running amuck through your body. You can smell their electrical breath and you want fervently to be somewhere in open air. Somewhere far, far away from here.

The sounds in this place—humming fans, thrumming hydraulics, metallic clinks of your belts and straps, switches being moved—bring on longings for music, bird songs, barks, anything wholesome and natural. This place ain't natural.

Its sights—row upon row of blinking and steady lights—green, amber, red—compel your eyes to yearn for far stretching blue sky. A lake or forest. Both are lifetimes from this place.

You're back again. Back in the sim.

We're in civvies—both wearing jeans, polos and sneakers. This contrast of technology and attire serves to link us to the saner world and for a moment we can imagine we're doing this for fun. We are private pilots, winners of a lottery, come here to play with the big iron. But this fantasy, we know, is about to be shattered with an onslaught of streaming demands on our brains and hands that borders on violence.

Today is a short one—only four hours and we're on our way back to the line. It's a refresher and an introduction to our new procedures, the products of the merger with that other company. They do things a lot different and it seems we are being compelled to do it their way.

“Okay, are you guys ready?” the IP asks as he closes the back door. The box grows even dimmer. We look across at each other with raised eyebrows. We nod.

Then the words from the IP's seat behind us that we've heard a hundred times, that we'll carry with us the rest of our days. “Motion coming on.” We feel the box raise high above the floor on its hydraulic legs. We steel ourselves. Remember Mose's prayer just before the Comanche charge in “The Searchers”? (Of course you do.)

Thank you, oh Lord, for that which we are about to receive.

What we're about to receive is that which passengers never see and hope not to.

The much revered Ernie Gann wrote about the box of cerebral torment 60 years ago, but he called it a “Link Trainer.” If only the passengers knew, he mused.

His truths still endure.