War Journal 08: Plane Truth

You should see how they treat passengers.

My intermission blues are over.  It’s now time to return to Baghdad.  I had my flight all arranged and I present my passport and orders to the guy at the desk.  He looks at the passport and tells me it’s close to expiring.  “Exactly why I gotta get to Baghdad,” I reply.

But the weather outside is frightful.  It’s overcast with a chance of sand.  Plus the wind is blowing like the Temptations Greatest Hits.  An hour before my flight is destined to depart they say the two words that any person desperate for a flight does not want to hear:  Weather Hold.

Weather Hold is basically a nebulous, amorphous state of existence.  You can’t go back to your room and try again because the flight could leave.  You can’t go anywhere to get something to eat because, again, the flight could leave.  But more often than not the flight doesn’t leave… but you’re stuck at the terminal waiting for them to invariably tell you it’s not going anywhere.

That’s where I was, stuck at the terminal for over 4 hours.  But at the end of that 4 hours they called for us.  Hooray!

We get to the plane, a C-130 (depicted above), and it’s silent.  Everyone whose been in the field knows this is bad news.  And this time is no exception.  We’re waiting in the bus for upwards of 20 minutes.  But they finally load us in, and we’re packed to the gills.  The chairs, which are designed to be collapsible so that the Army can load big stuff like tanks in it, are made from a hammock type fabric.   You’re sitting side by side with your back against the walls of the plane in the hammock chairs.  It was designed for transport, not comfort.

I’ve always admired the heavies, the biggest planes at the air show like the C-130, because when you see them get off the ground it’s like a miracle of aviation.  They’re like flying whales taking up the whole sky… I’m forced to stare at it in awe and say “is there nothing man cannot do?”  But the appeal of the C-130 ends the moment you have to sit in one.

Anyway, they sit me next to tourist guy.  Tourist guy is the dude that is enjoying the Iraq theater of operations like it’s Euro Disney.  He takes pictures of everything he can, posing with the guy trying to sell him bootleg movies, thumbsin’ up and cheesing.  No, not tourist guy.  He wants to look out the window while the plane moves on the tarmac and in the air.  Dude, it’s night.  You can’t see anything out of those little portholes in the daytime, let alone now.  But he’s twisting at odd angles, and since we’re all wearing 30 pound plate body armor, his back plate keeps brushing up against me.

I can’t tell him to stop.  The roar of the engine is lord here.  You can’t even hear yourself think in the belly of a C-130, let alone turn to your neighbor and say “Sir, your armor is brushing up against me and scraping me up every time you decide to ooh and ahh out the window.  Would you mind sitting the fuck down already?”  Sign language is the only viable option, and I couldn’t think of the appropriate signals to convey this message to Tourist Guy.

Meanwhile, C-130 pilots are sinister fiends.  They fly these things like guys taking jeeps off road.  More often than not, I have to close my eyes to fend off nausea.

The whole time it was scrape scrape from the tourist, bump jostle shake from the pilot.  The only thing that got me through was going through my iPod, full of songs my wife had uploaded for me during vacation.  Her appreciation of music is legendary, her taste in it unrivaled.  A lot of the songs she loaded I had no idea what they were.  I settled on Sven Van Hess, one of the dudes I had never heard of.  His album “Exotica” got me through the plane ride, it got me to Baghdad without choking out a tourist and screaming “You too close!”

I kept replaying this song.  Cause while traveling with your eyes closed in a C-130 with tourist guy, it takes you away.  Trust me.

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