By Tim Hayes
As my consciousness burst forth from what had been a sound sleep, I could tell I had somehow become airborne.
Or, perhaps more appropriately, earthbound.
Twisting like an Olympic diver, I saw the nightstand whiz by. After my jaw had smacked off and been scraped by the sharp metal corner of it, that is.
“Wow, I think I’m in free-fall,” my subconscious whispered. And sure enough, a second later, I lay sprawled, contorted, in pitch darkness with no glasses to see anything, in a crumpled bleeding heap atop a well-worn hotel carpet in Detroit, Michigan.
“Sure, why not?” I said aloud to the inky blackness. It seemed the only appropriate observation to utter after falling out of bed for the first time in more than a half-century.
Many things flash across your mind while in mid-flight from an unfamiliar mattress to an unforgiving floor. And I had so, so very many things to think about as I tumbled, disoriented, surrendering to gravity, as all things must.
My middle-of-the-night hotel room crash landing came near the end of a three-day odyssey to get back home – during which I think I heard every reason why an airplane could not fly. Allow me to explain.
A major client had sent me on an assignment to a remote outpost among its global locations – a small town near the northernmost point of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Surrounded on both sides by Lake Superior, this location, I learned during a week on site, featured some of the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet, a tight-knit sense of community, and more snow than I had ever seen in one place in my 59 years on this earth.
Before making the trip, someone at the client’s headquarters said the tiny airfield serving this location had a 50% chance of having flights leave or arrive. And we’re not even talking 50% arriving or departing on time. No, no, no. This was a 50-50 chance your plane would even make the attempt to get off the ground or land from somewhere else.
My experience would soon prove that 50% figure to be laughably optimistic.
By some miracle, the trip to the plant came off without a hitch. No delays, no issues, other than having to walk halfway across Illinois to make my connection. Or at least it seemed that far, hiking from one end of O’Hare Airport to the other.
At the end of the week, it was back to the little airport for a 6 a.m. flight back to Chicago, then my connecting flight home to Pittsburgh. My fellow passengers and I walked across the dark snowy tarmac and up the stairs onto the commuter plane at 5:45. Nearly an hour later, we still had not moved an inch when the pilot came into the cabin, telling us we couldn’t leave for a while because the plane was too heavy.
I repeat: The plane was too heavy. That sure was a new one. That actually meant, in this particular case, because the runway had so much snow on it, the weight of passengers, luggage, and fuel made the wheels sink. The plane, therefore, could not muster enough speed to achieve liftoff.
My troublesome claustrophobia threatening to boil over the edge, I asked to get off that plane and wait for an early afternoon flight. Good thing, because those folks sat onboard for five and a half hours before finally taking off. I would have been chewing the seats by then.
The joke was on me anyway, though, when that backup flight got cancelled, so it was back into town for another night at the hotel. The next day, both flights were cancelled, so I rented a car and drove about a hundred miles to another small airport, slightly more south, for a 6 p.m. plane to Detroit, which ultimately did not take off – due to mechanical delays – until about 11:30 that night.
Having reserved a room at the hotel attached to the Detroit airport, I finally collapsed onto the bed around 1:30 in the morning. Two hours later I hit the pavement, so to speak, leading to the “Sure, why not?” comment spoken to no one in the darkness. The perfect exclamation point to an arduous trek home.
The next morning, the flight from Detroit to Pittsburgh left on time and went as smooth as glass. I never was so glad to see the inside of a jetway as when I walked down the familiar concourse of my home airport.
I can only hope it’s another 50 years or more before I fall out of bed again. Waking up halfway to the ground is no way to spend an evening. Although it does give you the chance to do a lot of thinking.