Monday, October 22, 2018

Neither rain nor hail nor lightning

Saturday was supposed to be simple. A four-hour flight to Detroit, landing at 2:30, would give us plenty of time to get to the expo for the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon before it closed at 7pm. We had to go in person because we needed to show our passports (!!!) as the race crosses into Canada and back into the US.

The timings were good -- we got up early, got to Sea-Tac, cleared security quickly, and then got on the plane to Detroit. The flight wasn't bad, I read my book about Harley Earl, design director for General Motors, and the time passed quickly.

About an hour before we were supposed to land, we were told that it would be bumpy going in to Detroit, so they were going to clear everything and seat the flight attendants early. So we all got our seat backs upright, our tray tables locked, and our electronics unplugged. ("There's a blue light in the aisle that we can see if you have something plugged in.") Then we hit the turbulence.

At first it was just some wobbles and sways. But then it got worse and worse. The plane got super quiet -- even all the kids were quiet, which was a pleasant surprise for all of us. The fight attendant came on the intercom to say that there were "little white bags" in the seat backs in front of us. I thought, "Well, I won't need one; I don't get airsick." Five minutes later I thought, "Well, it would be good to at least find the bag so I know where it is." And five minutes after that I thought, "Let me just get that bag and hold on to it." And five minutes after that I thought, "I'm gonna get that bag open and ready so it's there if I need it." Luckily, it didn't come to that. But I've never been so close to needing it.

The flight attendant also told us that turning on our vents would cool the air around us, which would also help -- which made me and half the plane reach up and turn on the vent. I even ended up taking off my long-sleeved shirt because I was really heating up as the plane lurched and shuddered.

We were circling Detroit for a long time -- and it seemed that we tried to make three descents. On the third one there was a very bright flash, and the captain seemed to accelerate quickly and climb. We had been struck by lightning -- but, apparently that happens at least once per year to most planes. Just a first for me!

Then we flew and flew and flew. Over big water for a while. And then we started to descend… this time too it was really rough, and the actual touching down felt like we got one wheel, started to tip, skid, and then righted ourselves. When we were rolling smoothly, the entire cabin burst into applause, and you could feel the tension release. It was about 3:30.

A flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, as you can tell we have safely landed. What some of you can tell is that we are not in Detroit… and I'm not sure where we are. When the captain tells us where we are, I'll let you know." Cue half the plane firing up their phones and looking on maps: we were in Toledo, Ohio.

Now, I don't know much about Toledo, apart from the phrase "Holy Toledo!" (etymology fuzzy); that Corporal Klinger from MASH was from there; and their minor-league baseball team is called the Mudhens. I have just learned that in 2016 the Mudhens played a game wearing a special "Holy" jersey. Bless.

Turns out that Toledo Jet airport isn't a big airport … it's shared military, private, and the occasional commercial flight. But they seem to have only one gate big enough for a 737, and it was about to be used. And they didn't have staff ready to handle an unexpected plane … so we came to a stop and just sat. And sat. And sat. For 45 minutes. While we waited for someone to be able to guide us somewhere out of the way. I suspect it would have been a longer wait except they had a plane coming in, and needed the runway. Seriously.

So we were moved to a space near the private aviation building, where we sat some more. Wil and I pondered our fate. Do we try to get off the plane, get an Uber, and rush to Detroit? Do we hope the plane would refuel and take off and try again to land in Detroit? Will they come with buses? What might our options be?

The sleepy little airport eventually sent someone out to give us some information. We could take the little shuttle bus to the terminal, but it only seated 12 at a time, so it might be a while. We could also get off the plane and get picked up at the private aviation office. Wil and I -- and a couple of other runners on the plane with the same idea as us -- got off the plane and ordered up an Uber. It was 4:30.

We met a nice woman named Semida and the three of us got picked up about 10 minutes later by Jason, our Uber Superhero. The four of us chatted and laughed at Jason's #UberHumor -- my favorite was when we were talking about how many races we'd run, how many states, etc., Jason said, "Umm, haven't you guys ever heard of cars?"

Despite some stormy weather, Jason deposited us safely at the COBA center a little before 6 -- plenty of time to spare! So of course we took this team photo:

We hugged everyone goodbye -- I mean, we had been THROUGH IT -- and then went in to the very well arranged expo. A big space to pick up your bibs and packets, all well signed, then a nice race merchandise area where I bought stickers and a pint glass.

Then the way to the exit was a nice, wide zig zag. No short cutting, but it meant that you had to walk past every booth to get out. This is my favorite expo arrangement. A one-way system with plenty of room.

We were still buzzing from the day we'd had, so set out to walk the half mile or so to our hotel. A few feet away from the conference center it started to drizzle. Wil wisely made us stop and Gore-Tex up … and then a few minutes later there was lightning, a thunderclap, and a sudden hailstorm. WHAT'S NEXT, FROGS?!?!?!

We dove into the first open establishment we passed -- a Ping Pong bar (?!?) -- shaking piles of hail off our shoulders and hat brims to the astonishment of the other patrons. A quick rum and coke later and the storm had passed, and we eventually arrived at the Siren Hotel.

Housed in the former Wurlitzer Building (who knew?), the Siren is in a "soft opening" phase. Guestrooms, a bar, a coffee shop, a bar, and a barbershop … but more is on the way. We were staying in a "Chamber" -- a very small room, but nicely appointed, and with a beautiful terrazzo-tiled shower. And I'm not the sort of person who either sleeps well in a hotel or waxes poetically about sheets, but WOW, that bed was comfy and the bedding was glorious. Seriously.

We went around the corner to Wright & Co., a buzzy "gastropub" -- which really is a restaurant with a big bar running along one side. But we took seats at the bar, got some spectacular cocktails, some great food, and clearly timed it right because the bar got RAMMED about 15 minutes after we arrived.

After dinner we walked around Detroit a little bit, admiring the architecture, and wishing we could have spent the afternoon there.

Back at the hotel we wanted a nightcap at the Candy Bar in the hotel; we're both still fuming a bit at the mediocre drinks, frankly terrible snacks, and poor service we totally overpaid for. But lessons learned.

Back up to the room by 10:15, and in bed at 10:30. Race day the next morning!

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