Flying Journal - Third Strike and I was Out!

Last month I told about a great flight to Indianapolis and another with Bill Cheek to St. Louis for lunch at Annie Gunn's. As I said, it would have been a great flying month if I'd quit while I was ahead. My third flight of that month turned out a disaster.

I thought that I had done well to get United Express, a regional jet, direct from SGF to Chicago, with only a one-hour layover and then United direct to Albany, NY. So far, so good. I picked up my rental car (only three dollars to upgrade to a Nissan Altima, with remote locks and all, so why not?) found the motel, checked in, washed up, got to the Conference on World War II at the History Department of Sienna College just in time for cocktails and dinner.

At my dinner table, in addition to the academic types from colleges in the US, the Philippines, Canada, and Germany, was a local pilot and WWII veteran. Sienna College has been sponsoring this conference for 16 years and many locals with interests in the war attend also. We had a pleasant visit. I soon felt at home and most of my dinner companions promised to attend my session on Friday.

In the morning I sipped my coffee as the audience filled the room. I was quite nervous, worried what all these World War II history experts might find wrong with my paper. I had worked with a woman from my church editing some of her family's journals and letters from the War when I got an idea for a paper for this conference. Since my field is writing and the use of language, I analyzed passages from her brother's journal and some related editorials and articles from their hometown newspaper, the Sedalia Daily Democrat. My finished paper was entitled, "A Public and A Private's Rhetorics: Journals and Journalism Interpret World War II."

I was pleased and surprised when the conference accepted my paper, but now I had to face the scrutiny of much more experienced scholars in the field. But it went well. They laughed at the parts I thought were funny and after my reading asked some pertinent questions. One woman had made some similar observations about the use of language in some newspapers she had researched in Iowa, so I felt somewhat validated, and several people asked for copies of my paper.

Now I could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. Of course the conference was done at 3 p. m. Friday and since the airlines require a stay over Saturday to get a reasonably priced fare, my return flight wasn't until Sunday morning. I had hoped to visit with some friends who lived a couple hours farther south, but they were out of town. It rained Saturday, so I stayed around the motel, grading some papers and watching a couple old movies.

Finally, about four o'clock, the clouds broke and I went for a drive. I drove up the Hudson to the Saratoga National Battlefield Park and took a hike on one of the trails. Then I drove through the lovely old spa town of Saratoga Springs. Finally, I drove a little ways into the Adirondack National Forest, just as the daylight faded. I enjoyed seeing some new countryside and looked forward to flying home in the morning.

Sunday morning looked a little rainy, but I knew it wouldn't be a factor for the airlines. With over an hour before my flight, I left the motel, which was only about two miles from the airport. The only thing left to do was fill the rental car with gas. I planned to stop at a station on the corner of the airport property. I pulled under the overhang and parked by a pump.

First trouble on the entire trip--I couldn't figure out how to get the door open to put fuel in the car! There was a little lever beside my seat, but the decal was worn off and when I lifted it, the trunk popped open. I looked around at the other locations I had seen fuel door releases. Our Chrysler van doesn't have a locking door, and my Honda has two levers, one for the hatchback and one for the fuel. I even looked at the remote on the key chain in case there was a button for the fuel door, but no luck
Of course, as a trained pilot, I thought to look in the operating manual, so I sat in the car again and opened the glove compartment. Sure enough, a manual. I dropped the keys on the seat to pull the manual out of its sleeve and search the index. Ah, hah, you lift the lever for trunk, push the same lever down for the fuel door. I pushed the lever down, hopped out, scanned my credit card and started fueling. Sometime during fueling I had the sinking realization that the keys were sitting on the seat by the glove box, and all the doors were locked. I never heard the click of the electric locks or anything and the door opened to let me out, but now it was locked up tight.

The clock on my cell phone showed I had 53 minutes to my flight. I immediately called the rental car office at the airport. She asked for a number in the back window of the car. There was no such number, but she said she'd drive right down. Another sinking feeling. This car had North Carolina plates. If it had been one of their local cars, they would have had a spare key.

On my first phone call, she had also given me a number for a local locksmith. I talked to his answering service. I tried to call the 800 number on my AAA card. It rang over 20 times and no one ever answered! The rental car clerk came and went. It started to rain. Now it was less than 30 minutes to flight time. Finally, about 20 minutes before take-off, and after three pages, the locksmith called me. He was in another town changing the locks on a house on Sunday morning (I'll bet there's a story there, too!). He said it would be about 45 minutes. By then I knew I was going to miss my flight anyway. Briefly, I thought about breaking a window with the big fire extinguisher conveniently located on a pillar near the gas pump, but I didn't.

I went into the convenience store, bought some coffee, read a newspaper and tried to be philosophical. I thought about the chain of events that usually precede an aircraft accident or probably auto accidents, too. I heard a jet take off right over my head, into a thunderstorm. Trying to be philosophical, I thought you never know when you'll be glad you didn't get on a plane.

The locksmith was quite a character. He said they have a lot of trouble with remote locks. They all work different ways. One winter, a woman went out and started her car to warm up. It was about 20 below. She left the car running, locked it from the outside with her remote, and went inside. When she came out, it wouldn't open, even with its own remote. Turns out even the remote wouldn't open it when the ignition was on. We often leave our van running for the AC for the dogs, but it opens when running with its remote. The locksmith said what is really confusing is that some cars nowadays you can reprogram how the various lock functions operate so you never what you may encounter.

My Honda doors unlock when you open them with the handle from the inside. On our next trip (which maybe I'll talk about next time) I experimented and discovered on our Chrysler mini-van (which we've only had for 3 years) that you can open the doors and leave the car with all the locks still engaged. That must have been what happened on my rental car.

Anyway, I learned some new information, and I got to the airport having missed my first airline flight ever. Then I found out there was only one more flight from Albany to Chicago that day but it already had 114 people booked for 90 seats! She waived the extra fees and put me on a flight the next morning. So another day of motel and rental car (this time they gave me a Hyundai with manual locks!) and sightseeing in Albany before the uneventful flight home, and my students missed an extra day of class.

Fly safely, and keep track of your keys!

[Copyright 2001 - Earl Holmer]

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