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About the Writer:
Cindy Amelung

With a warm heart and a joyful spirit, Cindy reveals Godly principles and heavenly purposes for the circumstances of life. Her honesty before the Lord and in her writings help her readers connect, learn, grow and develop a contagious hope that God will bring good things from astounding situations.



The Initiation

By Cindy Amelung

Let me establish, right up front, that I am a flag-waving, card-carrying member of the White Knuckle Club. You will notice I left out the word ‘proud’ – the reason why will become obvious. That fact established, let me tell you about my initiation into this club. And, be forewarned: it is not a pretty story.

In the fall of 1991, I boarded and 8 a.m. flight at Sea- Tac Airport in Seattle, innocently believing that it would take me to my destination of Lambert Field in St. Louis. Ignorance truly was bliss in this instance. Had I know what horrors were ahead for me, I would have walked back to St. Louis!

I got settled in my seat, Sony Walkman – complete with the latest Kenny G tape – at the ready. I was a reluctant flier prior to this flight, so I was already familiar with the distraction techniques of music and books. The flight attendants dutifully described the emergency procedures – including that tricky seat belt maneuver – and we were ready to fly!

The problem was we weren’t flying. We weren’t moving. We were strapped in and motionless. We were also starting to get warm. After thirty minutes (my new definition of eternity) the pilot announced, “We have a minor problem.” Now I’m no rocket scientist, but when it takes thirty minutes to establish that an airplane has a minor problem, it is NOT a minor problem.

As my anxiety level began to increase, the pilot further announced “It is a mechanical problem. A mechanic from another airline is being brought over for repairs and we should be on our way very soon.” My anxiety level continued to rise. “I want to reassure you, ladies and gentlemen,” the voice continued, “this mechanical problem is minor (there’s that word again) and only involves the ventilation system. The engines, landing gear, radar and entire flight control systems are in good working order.”

“Great! I’m SO glad to hear this! The plane will fly just fine. I just won’t be able to breathe is all!!!” My thoughts became as rapid as my asthmatic breathing. Bingo!! I was instantly an official member of the White Knuckle Club! See how fast it can happen?! In just an instant, that little mental “snap” occurs and there you are: initiated.

Members have very distinctive thought and behavior patterns once initiated into the White Knuckle Club. Don’t be frightened if you don’t know what they are. They are bestowed upon you in the exact moment you are initiated. How’s that for neat and tidy?

Who is this mechanic? Did he graduate first from mechanic school? What about his family: are they upstanding citizens?

Is he having a good day or will he see his teenage son’s face every time he tightens a nut or bolt?” The amount of torque achievable on an average wrench can shear off a bolt, you know?

Or worse, did he have a fight with his wife that morning? He could still be simmering from that. Is his brain distracted by visions of his teenage son suffering at a military academy where Daddy enrolled him? Could he be anxious about fighting again with his wife at the end of his work day? I reiterate my statement about the average wrench and its achievable torque.

Another truly terrifying possibility occurred to me. What if this mechanic is in the union and that union wants to strike for higher wages? If we crash, the airline looks bad. The mechanics union will take the position that if this poor mechanic had been paid a decent wage, he could have done the quality repair necessary to have kept us in the air.

The pilot interrupts my panic attack to tell us that we must deplane. (What kind of word is deplane?) He also reported that the repairs will take approximately three hours to correct the problem. Little tip here (free of charge) take all approximate times and multiply them by 2.

I was standing alone in Sea Tac Airport again, my friend having already gone home, wondering what to do. I never had to kill time in an airport before so I concluded that this was also part of my initiation. People-watching was usually an entertaining activity, so I decide to indulge. I watched as my fellow passengers scrambled to book other flights: this was the first omen I ever missed!!! Second tip here (also free of charge) = when two-thirds of your fellow passengers bail on you, pay attention!

As I people watched, I discovered that “white-knucklers” were pretty easy to spot. Remember, we have those distinctive behavior patterns instilled at initiation. We pace, we drink alcohol, we talk incessantly to total strangers and our favorite topic is the weather. We are hyper vigilant. I personally supervised that mechanic through the plate glass window for a good hour and a half! I wasn’t alone: ‘white-knucklers’ will find each other and bond. We may appear glassy-eyed and in a trance, but beneath our calm exteriors, we are repeating the mantra over and over again: I don’t want to die!!!

Finally, the moment came when we could all return to our assigned seats, on our ‘newly repaired’ plane, and continue to our destination. White knucklers are notorious for their boarding behaviors. We strut down that little walkway to the plane confident that we shall be just fine. However, our eyes give us away. When you see someone with that ‘deer caught in the headlights’ look, don’t tap them on the shoulder. It is embarrassing to be observed whimpering, curled up in a fetal position sucking one’s thumb in an airport. And, as you callous, non-white knucklers step over us as your shake your heads only adds to our shame.

The pilot announces (to our small audience), “The mechanical problem has been corrected. However, (a very bad word) you will smell smoke and the cabin may fill with smoke when we take off. This is a temporary condition; I assure you, and nothing to be concerned about. It is just the residue from the repairs.” Then I knew this mechanic was no good. He couldn’t even clean up behind himself. He left residue!

My full fledge initiation into the White Knuckle Club continue d – complete with the sight and smell of smoke as we left the ground in a roar. The fun was only beginning…

Forty-five minutes outside St. Louis, Mother Nature decided to mess with me in the form of the most intense thunderstorms I’ve ever seen. We circled St. Louis for ‘approximately’ fifty minutes (remember to multiply) before being diverted to Kansas City, MO. During that ‘approximate’ time, I had the great fortune of being seated in front of another airline pilot. He was unable to fly because of a cold, but that cold didn’t prevent him from being quite chatty. Talk about your ultimate backseat driver! He regaled me with stories of fellow pilots who attempted to land in stormy conditions similar to ours, and the maniacal gleam in his eyes as he described there ‘spectacular’ (his word-not mine) crashes would have made Stephen King weep with fear. I made the mistake of admitting my membership in the White Knuckle Club. Next to feeding spam to Julia Child, I could not have insulted this pilot more. He rattled off all the ugly statistics about flight being safer than driving in a car. You know the spiel. I finally had to ask him to quit speaking to me. I don’t care what anyone says, but I think anything as large and as heavy as an airplane should not be five miles above the earth. This is NOT natural! Car crashes are instantaneous. When a plan crashes, you have a five mile decent to think about your impending death. This is the ultimate cruelty by anyone’s standards.

When we arrived in Kansas City, we were told that all inbound flights to St. Louis had been diverted elsewhere because of the storms, and we would be there for ‘approximately’ (don’t forget!) three and one-half hours. And, as a bonus, we would not be allowed to leave the plane! My little pilot friend had a field day working that captive audience!

Seven hours later, I was no longer a teetotaler and all the passengers exchanged names for a Christmas card list. I heard rumors of a reunion flight being planned for the first anniversary, but was never able to confirm them.

The pilot announced, “We are cleared to return to St. Louis. The storms have passed for the most part, but we will rock ‘n’ roll all the way home. Be sure to stay strapped in.” Luckily, I had mastered that tricky seat belt maneuver in Seattle.

However, the pilot neglected to mention there would be a repeat of the “sight and sound smoke show” first experienced in Seattle. Fortunately, my child-like whimpering alerted my seat companion and he assured me I would not die in a cornfield in route to St. Louis.

Apparently, Humorous Chatter 101 is part of the Pilots-R-Us curriculum and my pilot earned an ‘A’ in the class. He demonstrated his mastery of this course all the way back to St. Louis, hoping to distract us from the “rock-n-rolling’ of the plane. At least, I guess that was what he was doing: I couldn’t hear him while I was screaming out my mantra.

As the tires touched down in St. Louis, my fourteen hour flight from hell finally came to an end. Reciting my mantra and supervising that mechanic worked! We were alive! Life is good! Terra firma is good! Deplaning is extremely good!

Crumpled Christmas card list in hand, I stumbled from the plane and demonstrated the White Knuckle Club’s most recognizable behavior. Like the Pope, I kissed the ground.

Initiation complete!

Copyright © July 1992 – Cindy Amelung. All rights reserved.


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