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Leaving Plane Phobia Behind
by Ann Ipock

When my friend Kimi called, inviting me to speak and sign books at her sorority meeting in Springdale, Arkansas, I jumped at the chance--then I panicked! I asked myself, "What have I done?" After all, that meant FLYING, and I hadn't flown in thirteen years, not since a business trip on a small, company plane. I nearly passed out from claustrophobia then. In fact, I never flew until age twenty-six. Takeoff horrified me with the plane's sharp, vertical incline and the shrill, cicada-like engine noise. So, yes, I was "plane phobic."

We met Kimi and Timi, forty-something-year-old twins, when my husband, Russell, and I went on a Carnival Cruise. As always, we DROVE to Port Canaveral. I reasoned that driving was more economical: A motel bill and a couple of meals versus two plane tickets. In truth, I avoided air travel at all costs--no pun intended--worrying about things like a wheel falling off, the pilot falling asleep, or the cabin pressure failing.

Before we even laid eyes on the twins, folks asked us, "Have you seen THE TWINS yet--the beautiful, tan, shapely twins who wear hot pink or turquoise?" One said, "Picture blonde Delta Burkes." Another said, "I firmly believe they're movie stars, traveling incognito."

I searched everywhere for signs of the divine diva duo. On the second night, just before we entered a cocktail party, the elevator opened and OUT THEY STEPPED! I felt faint, like a giddy high-school kid with a crush. These dazzling twins were surrounded by their "staff"--I surmised: a manager, agent, press secretary and fashion consultant (they later turned out to be friends and family). Their million-dollar smiles, genteel Southern drawls and raspy, boisterous laughter intrigued me. Over the next five days, we bonded like sisters. I learned they weren't movie stars after all, but rather, smart, passionate women with families, active in their community, with careers "on hold."

We chatted over Bahama Mamas on the pool deck at sunset, remarking how similar our childhoods were, growing up in family-owned businesses. We posed for photos at a luau, sharing stories of birthing babies, best friends, and birthday bashes. We attended parties, discussing the merit of hair extensions, and the bother of organic gardening. On the final day, no one wanted to leave. We cried and hugged, and cried some more, promising to keep in touch through e-mails and phone calls and pledging to one day meet again.

Flash forward one year to Kimi's phone call. Even though my lips said "Yes," my heart skipped a beat, sensing possible flying fiascos: Standing in long lines for hours at security, setting off an alarm with my clunky silver jewelry, and alerting drug dogs who sniffed out my birth control pills.

Several months passed before Timi verified the date. In the meantime, I worried. On the one hand, I certainly wanted to see the twins. On the other, I did not want to fly! Asking Timi to book my flight made me feel better. Hey, if I didn't even want to think about flying, how could I talk intelligently about flying? Now, understand, I had no fear of traveling alone, speaking in front of seventy-some women, or being gone from home a full week, I just didn't want to climb 30,000 feet in a plane to do it. A good friend said, "You'll be fine; just take a Xanax before boarding. Everyone does!" "Even the pilot?" I asked, my voice cracking.

To add to my pre-flight anxiety, my itinerary was rather complicated. Flying out of Myrtle Beach meant three layovers and nine hours of travel. Instead, I picked an easier flight out of Wilmington and I visited my parents in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the day before. When my parents drove me to the airport, darned if we didn't get lost. Running late and nearly starving, we skidded into the parking lot, only to discover the airport restaurant was closed for remodeling! I prayed that the runway, air traffic tower, or cockpit weren't also "being remodeled." Then Mom asked, "Where are you sitting on the plane?" I glanced at my ticket. "Oh, in the middle, it looks like." "Good!" she said. "That's supposed to be the safest place." Right, I thought. After all, Mom flew to Hawaii in 1964 and then to Las Vegas ten years ago. (Now I know where I get my "infrequent flyer" status.)

I said goodbye, then Dad pried my hands loose from his shoulders. I nervously inched my way through the jet way, being denied any possible (and perhaps final?) breath of fresh air. Finally, I boarded that big, bad jet.

Five pretzels and a few ounces of cola later, I thought, piece of cake, even though they actually never served any on board! But, when we arrived thirty minutes late, I couldn't find my friends. "Yoo hoo! Sweetie! Over here!" Kimi squealed. My eyes watered with the exhilaration of seeing her again--that, and I needed a bathroom.

After dinner, they drove me to the Hampton Inn where they spoiled me rotten with a humongous gift basket and floral arrangements in hot pink and turquoise. They also "inspected" my room, making sure it was perfect--non-smoking, two queen size beds (heck, I felt like a queen!)--then offered to help me unpack. I slept like a baby and woke up feeling refreshed.

The next day, after lunch, their friend dropped me off at the motel. But, when I walked into the lobby, I shook my head, thinking, Where am I? Something was different! The front desk was on the wrong side, the breakfast area was gone, and there were new plants hanging on every balcony. I felt disoriented; and to make matters worse, my feet hurt. I called Kimi on my cell phone, but had no reception. So, I walked outside and that's when I saw the sign that said Holiday Inn Express. Sitting perpendicular, fifty yards away, was my motel, The Hampton Inn. What's next? I thought. What if I ended up getting dropped off at the bus station instead of the airport terminal? What if this whole trip was a dream, and I didn't really get on that plane in Wilmington, after all?

Before leaving the Springdale airport, I discovered another problem: My flight was overbooked. So, now I'd be arriving five hours late, at 10:00 p.m. Thinking this inconvenience could work to my advantage, I asked about a direct flight to Jacksonville and, surprisingly, that worked!

On the flight home, I met another new friend, an orthodontist, who was looking for a speaker for her dental group, also in Arkansas. I gladly accepted the invitation, even though I'll be flying again. That's okay; anyway, it seems there's more to worry about these days on the ground than in the air, especially for me.


The story above was first published in Sasee Magazine (August/September 2004).

Today's Grandmothers...
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Sushi in the South
Salute to SouthMouth
Aging mailbox...
Family follies...

Ann M. Ipock, author of Life Is Short, But It’s Wide (In The Southern State of Reality) can be reached at amipock@sc.rr.com.

Ann is a biweekly humor columnist with the Georgetown Times, South Carolina’s oldest newspaper.

Whether we are hearing about Ann’s unspeakable accident—the time she got the mayor’s mustache caught up in her dental hygiene polisher, her view on prissy Southern women who actually resort to toothpicks after meals—(those thick fake nails just can’t possibly remove spinach from one’s front teeth), or her frustration with sticking to a budget—the normally-$100 supper club night she hosted which turned into a $2400 remodeling job (blame it on the new carpet), we can only think of one thing to say, “Tell us more!”

Life Is Short, But It’s Wide (In the Southern State of Reality) is Ann’s second book of humor columns. Published by Carolina Avenue Press, the book was released in September, 2003. Her first book was entitled What Was It I Was Saying? She is a regular contributor to Sasee Magazine, and she also writes for Pee Dee Magazine, Strand, and Gateway Publications. She is active in community theatre, where her favorite role to date was that of Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias. Her day job consists of being a home-based, self-employed medical transcriptionist for twelve years.

Visit Ann’s WEB SITE to read more of her delightful columns.


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