The Lovely Becky, Libby, and I drove to the airport on Friday, ready to begin our Southern vacation. All three of us have had cabin fever, even our eight-month-daughter who doesn't know what "cabin" or "fever" mean.
As I mentioned on Friday, the UP had other plans. A blizzard rolled in, as if to remind us that Old Man Winter still runs this town. Still, the blizzard died down enough that it appeared we'd get out of town that evening.
We arrived at the local "airport," an old Air Force base where one converted hanger serves as the terminal. We piled into the tiny turboprop that would carry us to civilization. The plane had been sitting outside all day, and the pilot informed us it would take a little longer to get going because the crew had to do some extra procedures to make sure the plane was ready to go.
I could tell how bored my daughter is with being housebound during the winter, because she looked excited to be someplace new, even if that new place was the kind of flying craft I once heard Lewis Black describe as "one of those Buddy Holly-fuck planes." She looked around and watched as the crew outside hosed the plane with de-icer.
The right engine roared to life, but the left one couldn't get started. The pilot said that the engine was just cold, and that turning the plane away from the gate and into the wind would help get more air into the intake. The right engine revved up and the plane rocked a little back and forth.
"Uh, folks," said the pilot in the voice all pilots use when you should be moving but aren't. "It appears that the wheels of the airplane are frozen to the ground."
I've flown a fair amount, in good weather and bad, and have dealt with my share of meteorlogical, mechanical, and illogical disruptions. I have never, however, ever been delayed because my plane is stuck to the tarmac like a third-grader's tongue to a frozen flag pole. The pilot assured us, however, that it would be temporary, and that the ground crew were going to spray de-icer on the wheels to free us. "We should be underway shortly," he said.
A few minutes later, there was a puddle of orange de-icer under the plane, pooling like a melting slushee. The right engine revved up, the planed rocked back, and, after a few minutes, the pilot came on. "Uh, folks...." Apparently, we needed more than the power of one airplane engine to break from the icy grip of winter. A towing tractor would be summoned to give us a little shove. The pilot apologized, but said, "We should be underway shortly."
Outside, we heard the tow working. The plane rocked a little but kept do it's imitation of a tree planed in frozen ground. "Uh, folks...." The ice was not confined to just under us, but all over the tarmac, and the tow couldn't get enough traction to move us.
The ground crew tried other methods. They brought up big heaters to melt the snow. They tried the de-icer again. At one point, I saw a guy walking under the plane with a shovel. I would have brought my snowblower if it wouldn't have cost me $15 to check it. In the meantime, another plane arrived, unloaded, reloaded, and took off again. For a moment, I really hated those people. I didn't want anything bad to happen to them, but I hoped they had a really crappy time when they arrived at their final destinations.
The ground crew, after deciding that sacrificing a moose would likely not free the plane, decided to call the Bigger Tow, a device that must have been travelling the UP, dazzling everyone with its feats of pulling, because it took 45 minutes to arrive.
Finally, plane moved. It turned around and lurched toward the runway. The propeller on the left engine slowly started turning, faster and faster, and soon I was very greatful for the deafening, filling-loosening roar of 1920s-era aviation engineering. Three hours after we boarded our Buddy Holly-fuck plane, we lined up and took off for Detroit. I was so relieved to be moving that I found myself yearning to land in Detroit and welcomed the thought of spending the night there, having long missed our connection, because that meant we were no longer stuck to the runway.
(How did our daughter do? She smiled, she cooed, she ate, and five minutes after takeoff, she slept. She cried for maybe two minutes. She was far more mature than I was, as I kept peppering TLB with "my act" to help pass the time.)
We landed in Charlotte the next day and picked up our rental car to begin the first part of our trip: visiting my parents in Tennessee. It was a rainy, 40-ish degree day, but at least it was green and I didn't need my winter coat. On the road, my father called me. "You know, it was beautiful here a few days ago, and then you come here and bring this shit with you," he said.
"Hey, it's not my fault," I said.
The next day, big fat flakes fell from the sky, and the nearby mountains were hit with a winter storm. Perhaps my father was right and I was a weather monkey's paw.
We left the day after the storms, heading to Hilton Head to spend some warm vacation time with TLB's parents. As soon as we hit the Smokey Mountains, we saw snow from there until well into South Carolina.
"It looks pretty," TLB commented as we drove near Ashville.
"It does," I agreed, "because it's like a little, sweet, powdered-sugar snow. As opposed to the bag of flour we live in."
The snow stuck with us until we got halfway to Columbia. Even then, the temperature remained below 45 until we got near Hilton Head, when it crept up a couple of degrees. "If it it hits 50, I'm taking off my pants," I said to TLB. The temperature reached 48, then 49, teasing me, but never getting higher.
"Did it hit 50?" TLB asked.
"No, 49," I said. "I had a button undone and my zipper halfway down, but it's not to be."
The forecast calls for it to get warmer, and even possibly something known as "hot," a concept I vaguely recall but don't really remember. But I'm not going to believe it until my pants are off and the tingling I feel on my thighs is the warmth of spring and not the burning of frostbite.
At least I'm not stuck to the runway, though.