Over the Fence: The third time's a charm
The expression "The third time's a charm" has always meant that if you try to do something right and fail at it, try again and fail again, then success surely awaits you with the third try.
I thought about this little piece of philosophy recently while I was on a riverboat cruising down the mighty Mississippi. It had been a relaxing, uneventful trip right up until a young and nervous-appearing cruise director took the mic. In a solemn voice, he said "Ladies and gentlemen. I'm afraid I have some bad news." The news was that tours scheduled for the next day would have to be canceled due to an approaching tornado. Suddenly the life vest drill we did at the beginning of our voyage seemed much more relevant. A chill made my neck prickle as I contemplated being on a boat in the middle of a large river while a furious storm raged outside.
This was our first trip of any consequence since we returned from Portugal just before the pandemic. My husband Stiles and I flew home via Charlotte, South Carolina, and the flight, like the boat trip, seemed uneventful — that is, until the pilot (like the cruise director) picked up a mic and addressed us in a solemn voice. He began by telling the flight crew to take their seats immediately. This raised eyebrows among the passengers, and we looked at each other quizzically. There was no noticeable turbulence and we certainly weren't scheduled to land so soon. What was the problem? I had barely completed that thought when the pilot came back on and again urged the attendants to take their seats. It was clearly a command, and his voice cracked a little with tension.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he went on, "This is your captain speaking, and I want to tell you that this has never happened to me before. We are leaking fuel rapidly and will need to make an emergency landing. The closest airport is in Kansas City, which is about 25 minutes away."
Needless to say, his words did not inspire confidence. My breath caught as I looked around. What I saw was a group of pale and scared people trapped in a narrow metal cylinder flying at 25,000 feet and slowly descending.
Stiles and I were seated just in front of the wing and watched as fuel poured from underneath the wingtip. We found ourselves suddenly having to contemplate the unthinkable. It seemed a strong possibility that the fuel would run out before we could land.
I have always been a nervous flier, often imagining scenarios of my untimely demise. I've been reassured by family and friends that it is more likely that a person drown in a bathtub than be done in by an airplane. However, now that there was a chance of my becoming an unlikely statistic, I was in a state of shock. This couldn't be happening, could it?
We were still twenty minutes away from Kansas City, flying at low altitude (no doubt in case we needed to find a convenient country road or cornfield to land in). From our seats by the wing, Stiles and I watched with alarm as fuel continued to spew from the wing.
Finally, the lights of Kansas City appeared in the distance. As we slowly approached the airport, we could see fire trucks and ambulances lining the runway. We were aware enough to figure out that we had been diverted to the farthest reaches of the airport in case there was a fire or an explosion. Not a happy thought.
The landing itself was unremarkable, but none of us was breathing easy yet, as we knew there was a possibility of fire, or worse. So, we sat on the tarmac until every last bit of fuel was bled from the plane, a process that seemed to take forever. At last, we were given the okay to deplane. I would have kissed the ground in gratitude, if it hadn't been covered with fuel.
We were lucky. We ended by dodging the proverbial bullet, just as we did with the aforementioned riverboat. In that case, the tornado bombarded New Orleans, where we had been only hours before, missing us by a hair. Those two incidents led me to think about how one usually expects to have light-hearted stress-free times while on vacation. I don't have those expectations now. On the other hand, I figure my next bit of venturing will break the string and we will get it right next time. I want to and have to believe that the third time's a charm.
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