Tuesday, July 8, 2014

a survey of Canadian cities in seven days: Calgary

Continuing my stories of each Canadian city I visited during my seven day sprint across the country:

My entire time in Calgary was spent at the airport.

My stop in Calgary on the way to my destination was very different from my stop on the way back.

On the way out:

When I landed in Calgary, it was my first time down south below the 60th parallel in six months. I almost felt like a prisoner who had been granted furlough. Maybe I have been watching too much Orange is the New Black.

I have one hour to find something to eat (because Air Canada won't feed us) and something to read that is better than this legal textbook I brought along from some reason. But it's overwhelming, all the choices. There are so many people here. People trying to sell you credit cards. People not smiling at you when you pass.  People speaking Korean! For the last few months I have been only speaking Korean to myself, usually in the context of swearing under my breath.

Finally I had something to eat and read: Tim Horton's and Shape Magazine, because Jillian Michaels did a nude photoshoot for this month's issue as a celebration of turning 40. There's something about reading Jillian's work-out routine while eating a hash brown. I have very complicated feelings towards Jillian Michaels, wavering between annoyance and admiration, somewhat like how I felt towards my piano teachers who made me practice for hours.

On the way back:

On my way back up north, I feel like things keep going wrong, tiny irritations that are insignificant on their own, but cumulatively amounting to what seems like a bad omen for this part of my trip.  Somewhat takes the last Starbucks salad that I had been hoping to buy. I get a manicure that is wrecked immediately when I scrape my nails against my purse.  The security line is ridiculously long.  Still, I remind myself that at least I got a manicure, that I can get a Tim Horton's coffee instead (my last one before I go back up north), and soon I will be in Yellowknife with a whole afternoon of shopping and exploring ahead of me.

mani-pedi time

my last Tim Horton's, and my new nails

And then there was a flight.

Because I have been on like five plans in the last six days and I still have many more to go, I sleep right through the take off. Even in my sleep though, I can feel a certain rockiness that I'm not used to, and a continuous whirring humming sound that does not sound right, and I am pulled from my nap.

Then there is an announcement from the pilot.  Unfortunately, I am still only half awake and the pilot has a very soft voice, so I can only make out part of what he is saying is that something is wrong and we are going to have to fly back to Calgary - not that we've really gotten very far out of it.

The flight attendant makes her way down the aisle, a calm smile on her face, offering cold beverages.

I casually turned my head to the man sitting next to me, who is also trying to act totally casual. He is flying north for the first time in his life.  I ask him if he understood what the pilot said. He shakes his head.

Then the pilot makes another announcement, his voice still frustratingly soft as ever, and we try to make out more words.  We are able to make out that the landing gears are stuck, but it is unclear as to whether they are stuck up or in the down position. We are going to fly over the control tower at the Calgary airport, who will make a visual assessment of where the faulty landing gear is at. Then we are going to attempt an abnormal landing, but, he assures us, all according to standard procedure.

I have a seat that is right over the wing.

People are talking quietly on the plane, while the cheerful flight attendant continues to offer drinks down the aisle. You know, we say to each other, it's not so bad if the landing gear is stuck down, because we'll be able to land and the mechanics will fix it.

None of us ask the question of what will happen if the landing gear is stuck in the up position and can't be deployed.

The pilot makes another announcement, simply noting that we'll be flying in circles for a little bit to burn off some fuel.

They don't tell us this, but the reason we're doing this is because it's dangerous to try to landing with a full fuel tank because things might go all explodey in flames. Do you know why I know this? Do you know that this exact same thing happened to me last year? Our landing gear got stuck and we had to circle around Yellowknife for hours and hours to burn off fuel before we could land.  That time, I also had a window seat over the wing and could see the malfunctioning landing gear stuck. I decided ever since then that I don't like window seats over the wing. I don't like having a front row seat's view of what is going wrong.

Well, here we were again, except that we're not on a propellor plane and no one can see whether the landing gear is up or down.  We don't know for sure how this flight will end.

Moments like this give you a sense of clarity about how you feel about your life.  You realize what is important to you, and what you regret.  Me, I was thinking that if I was going to die, that would probably suck but it could certainly be worse.  I am thankful that  I don't have that many regrets. My loved ones know that I love them. I have led an interesting life so far.  However, one thing was gnawing at the back of my mind: my Facebook profile photo was currently of me, as a child, stealing a popsicle from my baby cousin.  I wasn't sure that was how I wanted the world to remember me, forever and ever.

I realize that I have chewed right through my freshly polished nails.

The pilot comes on the PA again to let us know that we are going to attempt an abnormal landing, but it will all be according to standard procedure. He tells us there will be emergency vehicles waiting for us on the runway, but that is all just standard procedure. I wonder what is an abnormal landing according to standard procedure.

I still have trouble understanding clearly what the pilot is saying, but I take comfort in the fact that they aren't telling us to assume the brace position in case of a crash.  Which is good, because I never understood how you can assume the brace position when the seats are all so cramped and you don't actually have room to tuck your head between your knees.  I do wonder though, what is going through people's minds.  You don't want to panic too early, because if it turns out you're not going to die, you're just gonna look like an idiot.  But is there an acceptable point at which you know you are going to die and you call that person you love and leave them a message telling them you love them? But what an awkward message that would be if you didn't die after all.

I thought about a friend who told me that during the last earthquake in Ottawa, he was at his office. When the walls started shaking, he stood up abruptly and announced to his coworkers,  "I just want you all to know that I like most of you."

emergency vehicles

By the time I finished thinking all these thoughts, we had actually landed - very smoothly, actually - and as it turned out, the landing gears were stuck in the down position, thank God.  The emergency vehicles were all there on the runway waiting for us, but we were able to get off the plane without a fuss, where they handed us a $10 food voucher for any Air Canada flight as compensation for having to face our mortality.  Like I plan to fly Air Canada again any time again soon.