14 January 2004

Home, but only just

Ah, Las Vegas. It seems like only a couple of weeks since I was last here.

I left Cambridge on Sunday. The taxi company called back at 09:30 to tell me the taxi was outside. I looked, and told them it wasn’t, that I was sure, that I could see the entire length of our street from the doorway, and that I was standing on the front steps of the house.

I then got to hear the taxi dispatcher bawling out the driver. “You had me call back, and you’re not even there!” She repeated the address, and explained to him that the word “Seven” in the street name really was part of the street name. “He’ll be there in a minute.”

He was. He seemed a bit sheepish. I think he must be new to taxi driving, because he took the most bizarre route to the airport I’ve ever seen, zig-zagging down back streets until he hit the Charles River, then crossing the bridge and going via the new Big Dig tunnels which have finally opened.

I got to try a new airline this time. America Worst… Sorry, America West. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re not quite up to (or down to) the standards of AirTran, in that they do actually have their own gate at Logan, and real electronic flight boards rather than ones with little plastic letters. Nevertheless, their gate area is about the size of our apartment, and has no bathroom, so I sat in front of the ticket desks for a while and went through security close to boarding time.

The flight to Phoenix Arizona was straightforward, and they were good enough to warn us they wouldn’t be serving any food and that we should come prepared. On the flight I heard people talking about the beauty of the areas around Flagstaff, and I found myself pondering the mad idea of abandoning the whole eBU thing and hunting down Gita in the desert.

I found the gate at Phoenix easily enough, but when they plane came in they announced that it was broken. Some men with helmets on stood on ladders and poked the ailerons a bit, then they announced that they would need to find a replacement plane. They told us that this one had been vibrating unusually, and would need a complete test flight before they would be allowed to fly passengers in it.

I stretched out on the floor to give my back a rest; they were estimating that it would take them a couple of hours to get a replacement plane in place. I’ll give them one thing—their estimate was spot on. As I lay there I overheard other announcements. I couldn’t help noticing that there were two other America Worst flights delayed by hours because of mechanical faults, just in the nearby cluster of departure gates. An old woman was telling anyone who would listen that the America Worst plane she had arrived on that morning had had no heating working, and that it had been freezing cold at cruising altitude. Another old woman one-upped her with a tale of woe involving an America West plane and malfunctioning undercarriage.

Now, I’m sure that there are a lot of people who would have been praying at this point, but I was pretty calm. Sure, I was doomed to be hopelessly late arriving at my corporate event, but I was deep in the realm of Things Which Are Somebody Else’s Problem. There was absolutely nothing I could do, so I found an AC outlet and recharged the iPod, and played a couple of games of Snood on the GameBoy Advance.

I didn’t think about mechanical failures, because I know that it’s not rational to do so. On a statistical basis, I put my life in more danger when I cross the street. If I have any faith, it’s a faith in the power of random chance, chaos and probability.

So I certainly didn’t worry when they told us our flight had been moved to gate 13.

The replacement plane turned up, we embarked, it took off, it flew for around forty minutes, it landed in Las Vegas. Nothing untoward happened at all. It makes for a boring story, which is why you usually only hear about the times when strange coincidences do in fact foreshadow disaster. So next time you hear about an eerie coincidence, remember the canny and explicable tale of Flight 547.

© mathew 2017