Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flight out of Panama

Terry and I piled into a cab outside Alison's apartment building at four in the morning. The streets of Panama city were relatively quiet. At the airport there was a long line at the American Airlines counter. Why were they all up so early for? We waited to cheek our bags. Security was the usual hassle, removing shoes, getting the tablet PC into a separate storage bin to go through the x-ray machine. My assortment of art supplies usually sparks curiosity and a second search. This time I just had to put up with a pat down. Terry said the female security officer felt up her breasts.

Terry is usually nervous flying so she took a prescribed tablet to calm her nerves. We checked into the Admirals Club which is much quieter than waiting at the gate. Terry was out like a light. She slept while I sketched until a patch of sunlight crawled along the wall and then shined right into her eyes. At the gate people pushed and formed a long line when section A was announced for boarding. I stood at the back of the line and Terry walked up to the front of the line. She waved me up. She asked several people if they were in section A. They weren't. We cut in front of everyone. Terry explained that she had lived in Venezuela for a year and in Latin America everyone pushes to the front of the line. Bureaucratic courtesies like road signs were ignored.

Terry immediately fell asleep on the plane. An hour late, the plane taxied out to the runway and stopped. Half an hour later the pilot announced that one of the six fuel pumps wasn't working. The air on the plane shut off. The cabin gradually started to heat up. I wished I had worn shorts. I started sweating. People stood in the aisle talking nervously in Spanish. The plane taxied back to a runway and continued to wait. Still there was no air. I was getting lightheaded. There was less oxygen and too much CO2. I calmed my nerves. I might be hyperventilating. They could always deploy the oxygen masks, couldn't they? I was seated right next to one of the exit doors over the wings. I imagined I could force open this emergency exit before I passed out. But what if I passed out first? Terry was sound asleep. The pilot announced that they hoped to get a portable air system trucked in from another airline. An hour later the air turned on. Everyone raised their hands to check the flow of air. Several people stood putting their faces up to the air nozzles inhaling deeply and turning their faces into the breeze.

I don't know if they ever fixed the fuel pump. Three and a half hours late, we accelerated down the runway and took flight. We missed our connecting flight in Miami and had to get our bags to go through customs and head through security again. This time I had to stand in one of the new full body scanners. A bright light bar whirled around me as I stood with my arms up in the sign of surrender. I didn't get to see my nude scan, I was curious. At the Orlando airport we waited forever at baggage claim. Terry's bag arrived early in the process. Everyone else picked up their bags and left. Then an orange cone that said, "Last Bag" showed up on the moving beltway. We went into the office and found out that my bag was still in Miami. I had left a camera in that bag so I didn't have to carry it. What a mistake! A day later my bag was delivered to my doorstep with several new rips and the zipper handles removed. Luckily the camera, which I never did use on the vacation, was safe and sound in it's protective case.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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