Monday, September 27, 2010

Delta 4951

When I read about the Delta flight 4951 having an emergency landing due to a landing gear problem at JFK on Saturday night Sept 25, 2010, I gasped. I was just on that flight the night before. I had flown on Friday from San Diego to Atlanta. The second leg of the trip was from Atlanta to White Plains, NY. What made this notable was that 4951 had other problems on Friday night as well. When I arrived at Gate C-38 on Friday for a 5:30pm flight, we didn’t board at the scheduled time. As best as I can remember, we were alerted at 5:30pm that boarding time was delayed due to a mechanical problem. Two of the men standing nearby asked the woman behind the desk what the problem was. She stated that it was the alt….. Then her voice trailed off. One of the men standing near me stated that he had been delayed an 1 hour and a half late last week because of a mechanical problem. Shortly thereafter, the estimated departure time was changed to 6:00pm. When the men standing around asked for an update, she responded that the repair had been made, but they were waiting for someone to sign off on the job. The next time I looked, the departure time was changed again to 6:06pm.

Not long after this, a flight attendant came out the door to the plane with his suitcase. Recognizing this as a gate change, I immediately gathered my belongings to see where he was going. Then the woman at the desk announced the gate change to C-33. We all followed the flight attendant to that gate. When we arrived at the gate, the woman behind this desk requested that all the passengers for White Plains take a seat while paper work was completed for the plane change. It wasn’t long before we could board. After we were all in our seats, the pilot announced that we had to wait for the plane to be re-fueled. The pilot stated that we needed 14,000 pounds and he had only 3800, which would only get us as far as Virginia. His demeanor was very pleasant. While the wait seemed interminable, it was probably five minutes. Then a young woman came along and connected the giant fuel hose into the ground. After a long day, I really didn’t pay much attention to the flight once we were in the air. I think the pilot announced that the flight took 1hr and 55 minutes.

Regarding the news accounts on the Internet about the Saturday night emergency landing of Delta 4951, some people complained about a female flight attendant constantly calling for people to keep their heads down. If it was the same woman, Teresa, who was the flight attendant on my plane, I commend her for paying such good attention to the welfare of her passengers. During my flight the night before, I was a little chilled and draped my sweater across my chest. She noticed it in passing and offered me a blanket. I’ve never, in over 25 years, had any flight attendant offer me a blanket that I didn’t request. While some jaded travelers might think this is a little thing, her attention to detail was, again, commendable. Also, because of the narrow steep stairs for deplaning at White Plains, the male flight attendant, John, helped me by holding my bag and C-PAP (a small but heavy Sleep Apnea machine) while I climbed down and handed them to me when I was on the ground. That also never happened before. On this trip, it was noticeable how pleasant all the Delta personnel were. It really helps a traveler when they feel that the people running the show care.

I’m happy and grateful that no one was injured on Saturday night’s flight. However, in light of the men’s comments when my DELTA 4951 flight was delayed on Friday night, maybe the Delta CEO should do an “Undercover Boss” show in Atlanta.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Recollections of Sept. 11, 2001

No American civilian should ever have to experience the events of 9/11 on American soil. And, my experience of that day is in no way comparable to the heartache of the families of the victims. The following is just my personal recollection of that day.

As my train pulled into Grand Central Station that morning, I heard some buzz from other commuters. But, it was none of my business so I just got off the train and walked the underground tunnel to the Forty-fifth Street exit. As I walked up Madison Avenue, I saw a throng of people standing around a bank looking at a TV. As I tried to see that they were looking at, somehow I got the message that something happened at the World Trade Center. I remember looking in that direction, seeing smoke, and trying to use my phone, and then, trying my Blackberry. No signal. I proceeded north to my office on 52nd St. When I arrived, I saw that I had a message from my daughter who worked near the World Trade Center. However, I could not reach her since I had no phone service.

I proceeded to work. A short while later, I heard that there was a TV in Personnel. So, I went to that floor to see what was going on. After a few minutes, I squeezed into the room. The scene was incredulous. I decided that for me the best thing was to go back to work. Young people on my floor were just milling around. We were the IT (computer) department. They either had IT friends in those World Trade buildings or, like me, had previously worked there themselves. I tried to work, but at the back of my mind were all the tens of thousands of commuters who literally poured out of the ground from the PATH (a train from New Jersey). What happened to all those people? Many, many times I had walked through the underground shopping Plaza and the passage ways under those buildings as a shortcut to save time. Since my commute was 2 ½ hours each way from upstate New York, I was always running to be on time at work. In November 2000, a co-worker and good friend gave me a job lead that resulted in my leaving the World Trade Center and moving to 52nd Street. As an aside, I later heard that a very smart female executive of the Port of Authority ordered the trains diverted to the mid-town area of New York City, saving many lives. I thought of how I would take my lunch into one of the glassed-in areas of my building and look at the Towers. How magnificent they were. Of course, I was just looking at the lower floors. I thought the design was intriguing.

Later that morning, I finally heard from my daughter who was with her co-workers at an apartment in lower Manhattan. One of the workers just took his whole department to his home. I advised my daughter to stay right where she was with her co-workers unless they were evacuated. Then, I was contacted by a great friend from Merrill Lynch inviting me to stay the night at her place since the City was in "lock-down."

Being in Computer Security, I decided, since I had no phone, to try sending emails to get messages to my children. I thank the good Lord for the “Information Highway.” Being able to contact my family in an event such as this is why I feel so strongly that there should be no Government interference with the Internet. I emailed friends in San Diego requesting that they contact my family. My children thought I still worked in the World Trade Center. Exactly where I worked was not one of their concerns. I didn’t know my son’s work e-mail address, but decided to create the addresses in different ways. Surely, one of the emails would get through. Not knowing was going to happen next, I wrote to my son that his sister and I were OK. I gave him the address and phone number for the apartment where she was staying. Then, I gave him the phone number of the friend with whom I would be staying. Without being melodramatic, I thought this might be the last communication we could possibly have. It brings me to tears when I think of it.

Around noon, I went to the bank to get money since I couldn’t get home that night. The sea of people walking, shoulder to shoulder, north out of the City on both sidewalks of Park Avenue was at least five people deep. It was an amazing, yet fearful sight.

Around 1pm, my daughter, accompanied by a co-worker, walked the 30 blocks to be with me. Her hair was covered in ash. I got her in our “locked-down” building. When we reached my office, the phone rang. It was my son in Los Angeles. My daughter, wide-eyed and in shock, told him what happened….her words just spilling out. I tried to calm her down. Her only response to me was, “You weren’t there.”

Then, my daughter told me we just had to get out of the City. She kept pressing. As far as I knew, we couldn't go anywhere. I decided to leave and walk to Grand Central to see if any trains were moving. I never in my lifetime had been prepared for what I saw.

As we walked the now eerily empty Park Avenue south to the train station, we were met with men with megaphones ordering us where to go. We walked a sidewalk cordoned off with safety tape into what seemed like the only open entrance. Other than the sea of people in the great expanse of the center of the building, I don’t remember much except that my mind kept reeling, thinking that something else could happen at any moment. Before long, we were on a train leaving the City.

That evening, watching TV, I saw the real events I knew nothing about because I tried to work that day. I realized that I, being the kind of employee I was, would have returned to my desk in one of those buildings when the “All Clear” announcement was given.

My daughter and I were now safe, but what about those people who died. What about their families? Even today, my heart goes out to them

I realize that this is a sharp contrast to my usually light-hearted and hopefully informative blog. I will always remember my daughter walking 30 blocks to my uptown office, covered in ash from those collapsed buildings….wide-eyed and in shock, having seen death and destruction not many American civilians have ever seen. And, as I said in the beginning of this writing, no American citizen should ever have to experience the events of 9/11 on American soil and no one should ever forget.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

San Diego Zoo at Night

I went with my daughter and her two children to the San Diego Zoo tonight for a program called, Nighttime Zoo. Our main quest was an art show and a bird show that the children saw last week with their Dad and Mom.

When we arrived we were able to see the art show, called "Splash! Animals". The performers danced to music while painting a picture of an animal's face. During this process, as they are still painting, they encourage the children to guess what the animal is. The audience really enjoyed watching the performers and their talent.

Then we wandered through the zoo to see what we could see since it was beginning to get dark. First we checked out the Lost Forest and saw a large red Orangutan. I told the children that he looked like a judge sitting in court. Just then, he got up and went down into a cave, as though he heard my remarks. The children liked watching the young Orangutan swing from rope to rope. Then, off we went into the Parker Aviary followed by the Owens Aviary at my request. It was eerily quiet since most of the birds were probably sleeping, but we did see a lorikeet (a very colorful bird) enjoying its meal at a tray feeder. We stood just two or three feet away.

The next place we visited was the Asian Passage where we saw two Sun Bear cubs playing. Then, on to the Panda Exhibit, which is usually very crowded, but not tonight. It was like tiptoeing into a baby's room to check on him or her. The attendant spoke very softly and we watched as the largest Panda, in one area, and a baby, in a tree in another area, slept. A woman standing next to me lamented to her friend that the Pandas were not awake. Just then, a third Panda moved behind a large rock. He was sorting through some cut bamboo branches just like a picky eater. We quietly joked with the 3 year old that the Panda wasn't the only picky eater we knew.

At this point, we made our way to the bird show called, "SOAR: A Symphony in Flight." The show had different kinds of birds (some large, some exotic, and some comedic). This show was thoroughly enjoyable. I can see why the children, as well as my daughter, wanted to see it again. I was able to photograph the Owl as it landed on a perch near our seats.

The Nighttime Zoo will be ending on Sept. 6, but is well worth checking out next summer. I will definitely revisit. Exploring the zoo at night is fun.