(Photos by Ben Price)
Whether I was with my parents or grandparents the experience was the same—travel involved suffering. Oh, sure there are lots of pictures showing us smiling and doing vacation stuff, but friends, there was suffering in the journey. On family trips there was no stopping to eat or take in a view, ever. I remember a long drive to Wisconsin crammed in the back seat with my long-suffering teenaged sister. I kicked her all the way to Wisconsin. When we started snarling my mother would open an enormous cooler and toss food over the seat back to silence us. Liquids were generally doled out sparingly. Give me a sip of water and half an hour later I had to go. My mother was also responsible for wrangling my father who was the originator of road rage. ‘Oh, Bud,’ she’d say as she hurled a sandwiches at us, ‘Try not to get so upset.’ My father would whizz by mile after mile of enticing attractions, shout at drivers that didn’t meet his exacting standards all in a lather to ‘get there.’ Traveling with my grandparents was a different misery. Grandma would initiate endless games of I spy and license plate bingo, and she doled out starburst mints or butterscotch candies as a carsickness preventative. She was afraid of drafts, so summer trips were hot stuffy affairs as she only grudgingly rolled down the windows when the temperature reached 90 degrees. Hyper sugared and sweaty, at some point I swore to myself that I would never subject anyone to such a fate.
Now I’m in control and we ride with the windows up or down, with air conditioning any time we like, with dogs and snacks aplenty. We also stop along the way. Our first stop on this trip was to see friends Jeff and Laura who live in Petoskey Michigan. I was to learn from them the real meaning of suffering in travel. First though, a little about Jeff and Laura, and how they came to know Ben.
Jeff and Ben are buddies from their time at Northwood University. They exchanged Christmas cards but hadn’t seen each other for 50 years. Ben called them shortly before we left Ohio and asked if we could stop through. We were welcomed with open arms and a big lunch. They live in Bay View just outside Petoskey. Bay View is a Chautaqua community similar to Lakeside Ohio. Their home is a charming Victorian era “cottage.” We walked off our lunch with a tour and then Ben opened his scrapbook of pictures from the trip to Spain he Laura and Jeff shared. It was 1969, an auspicious year. Ben was a Junior and Jeff taught taught accounting at Northwood. Jeff and Laura had recently married when they learned of a tour group that had some cancellations, they saw an opportunity for a honeymoon trip. Since there were several spots, they assembled a group of students from Northwood, including Ben, to fill out the group. (I never did get exactly why newlyweds would invite a bunch of college students along on a trip. If I find out why, I’ll let you know.) They reminisced over pictures of the trip to Spain, but what bonded them together all these years was the shared experience of the plane ride from Spain to the United States. I heard the story from Ben but hearing from two people who’d gone through the same experience lent a
fresh level of reality to it. They flew out of Spain on a DC-8, and stopped in the Azores to refuel. The takeoff was rough, and the plane actually went off the runway before it lifted off. At the time, Ben had been taking flying classes and had gotten into the habit of timing seconds to takeoff, so he stared at his watch throughout the takeoff and began to realize something was seriously wrong. The plane strained to gain altitude and Ben, seated near the window, looked out to see fire. One of the engines had exploded into flames! The pilot was a heroic sort who not only put out the fire but then had to guide the crippled plane over water, dump a full tank of fuel to lighten the load and navigate back to the Azores while the crew prepared 210 passengers (including Ben, Jeff and Laura) for a crash landing.
Obviously all three of them are still alive. They didn’t crash and burn. Miracously the pilot guided the plane to a safe landing. When it was all said and done, it turned out that the rough takeoff was because the plane’s tires blew. A chunk of rubber from the tires lodged in the engine causing it to bind and flame out. The impact also damaged the plane’s hydraulics, making the plane difficult to control. At takeoff, the wheels of the landing gear were worn down to the metal hubs, so it was a miracle that the pilot was able to land the plane where he did—nearly a half a mile from the gate. All 210 people had to walk back to the terminal, but no one seemed to mind. The kicker to all this is that in addition to Ben, Jeff and Laura, a writer from the Detroit Free Press was also on that plane and wrote an article about the harrowing experience. According to Jeff the article was in the paper shortly after their return. Ben had never seen the article, but Jeff gave me enough information, and after a search of the Detroit Free Press archives, I found Art Funtunen’s article The Most Exciting Flight I Ever Took, and How I Learned to Live With It. You can find a link to
the article at the end of this post. In it the author describes seven ways the people on that plane could have died. At the time of the accident, Funtunen mentioned he was sitting near a guy who had been staring at his watch during takeoff. It was likely Ben, since they both saw the flames coming from the engine. What are the odds? You’ll have to check out the article—Mr. Funtunen writes a very florid account of the experience.
When you get home, there are photos, bumper stickers and other things that Ben calls “trinkets and trash” that are supposed to help you recreate your feelings days or years later. Today’s vacationers torture ther friends with instagram accounts the same way I was tortured with racks of Kodak slide presentations years ago. What really makes a reminiscence come alive for us, and for our audience are the stories about when everything went to hell—and we survived.
Here’s the article: The Most Exciting Flight I Ever Took, and How I Learned to Live With It.