15 May 2015

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's All of the Above!

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, there was a movie theatre on St. John’s place, just off Utica Avenue. The "Congress" was so decrepit we called it “The Itch,” but we went anyway. Hey, ya had to keep up with the serials, it was a short walk from our house on Carroll Street, and on Wednesday afternoons they gave away crockery.  We had a whole set in our house.

The NY-NJ Port Authority's LaGuardia airport is the airline terminal equivalent of “The Itch.” Like its namesake theatre, it is conveniently close by, though instead of cups and saucers it dispenses agita.

Last week Jesse and I used LGA to fly to another paradise spot, Detroit, on our way to Ann Arbor for  Jillian’s graduation ceremony. We departed from the armpit, err, airport on time, 2 PM.  We are scheduled to land in Detroit at 3:35.

As we climb to cruise altitude, Jess, sitting at the window, says to me “Hey, dad,  just saw a bird go by my window.” I shrug. A split second later, a slight thump. We look:

Looked to us like a small dimple and some bird goo. No problemo, right?

Wrong. The Captain gets on the intercom and in the casual faux Texas twang required of all airline pilots who grew up in Brooklyn, says, "Well, folks, we, uh, kinda hit a bird back there, and, uh, so we'll go back to LaGuardia and check it out. So just sit back and relax.  And, uh,... please keep your seatbelts on."

Few minutes later, another twang: ''Uh, folks, we're a little heavy, so we'll, uh, just fly around for a bit and burn some fuel before we land.  And, uh,... please keep those seatbelts on."

"Fly around for a bit" is airlinespeak for " Fly around for an hour."

Ultimately, we make a "non-Sullenberger" landing, i.e., when we do land, we land on land.

We get back on the tarmac at 3:25 PM.  As we  taxi to the gate, a gentleman from India who sits across the aisle from me, and who has maybe three words of English, leans across to me, holds out his boarding pass, points to the initials "DTW", and asks "Here?"  I shake my head from side to side, point to the initials "LGA" and say, "No, here!"  I wonder: do they watch The Twilight Zone re-runs in India?  Because that's where this gentleman was at that moment.

So our planeload of survivors floods the boarding gate, mingling with a plane's worth of would-be passengers who have not yet encountered their birds.  We are told to stay close, a decision on airworthiness will be handed down "soon."  "Soon",  of course, is more airlinespeak.

Half an hour later, I wander over to an adjacent gate, from which vantage point I can see our aircraft:

I am encouraged. I am confident the experts in this picture will look at the tiny dimple in the wing, and we'll be back on board and in the air in a trice.  While I was at the window, I spy our pilot and ask him if he thinks the guys gathered about the wing will likely agree the plane is airworthy. He laughs. "Those guys? They are from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and they need to do their swabs and analysis to find out what kind of bird it was. Only after they are finished will the maintenance guys even get to look at the plane and make a decision."

You cannot see them in this photo, but there is no question that the spirit-ghosts of Messrs. Christie and deBlasio are hovering over this scene.

As promised, AA soon thereafter wheeled out a replacement airplane.  Uh, another translation note: "Soon" in airlinespeak is 3.5 hours en anglais. 

Oh, yeah,  the Michigan graduation ceremony went off without a hitch.  As did the return flight.

Our bird strike out of LaGuardia was hardly a one-in-a-million occurrence. This was the second bird-strike emergency American Airlines had incurred out of LGA in less than a month! The previous one was an "engine ingestion", and that plane land was required to land at JFK. All these encounters have one thing in common: the suicide bird always loses. Whether the deceased then goes on to a place where it is entitled to nest with 40 virgin pigeons, I dunno.

The NY Post loves this stuff. Too bad they had to use a file photo because I didn't send 'em my pix:

Stay tuned. Who knows what excitement tomorrow will bring? One thing you can count on: all future LGA episodes will continue to be brought to by the management team that controls traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

A bientot.

07 May 2015

The Big Apple Bites Back

It was not enough that Mayor de Blasio delivered up a welcome home celebration for us by arranging a spurt of hail, snow, and freezing rain at JFK on our arrival on April 23.  He continued to pile it on. The following is an actual account of our re-introduction to life in the Big Apple:

A few days after we unpacked, we made our way downtown to visit Steph and the kids.  We hailed a yellow cab in front of our apartment house on Sutton Place. Ya take what you can get, and what we got was one of these ridiculous miniature cars, formerly seen only in the circus. But no clowns came out of this car. Instead, we had to get in it.  The cramped conditions in the passenger compartment of these cars is a scandal.  How have we come to this?  I will remind you: 

Mayor Mike, despite his diminutive physical stature,  fostered a change in taxi fleets. He pushed legislation requiring all NYC medallion owners, upon retirement of their current vehicles, to replace them with a specially designed Nissan cab that had superior leg room, luggage space, superior a/c and heat, etc. It was called “The NYC Cab of Tomorrow”.  But as Bloomberg's last term expired, his would-be successors did what politicians do to get elected: they solicited campaign contributions, and DeBlasio took a lot of money from cab companies who hated the Bloomberg taxi law because the new cabs cost more than the clown cars. DeB was good to his word: after he was elected, he did everything possible to spike the new taxicab law, with the result that the small cabs still prevail.  

DeB is 6’6'', and handles the circus cabs with aplomb: he rides in a limo that the good citizens of New York provide for him. Screw the rest of us.

Okay, so Pinks and I squeeze into the little yellow toy and I put on my seatbelt.  Or at least try to, but it doesn’t work. I do everything but disassemble the vehicle. No soap. By the time I give up and tell the driver the seatbelt does not work, he is speeding down the FDR drive and there’s not a lot he can do about it. Happily, there is no incident, but I am pissed off the cab company put lives, especially mine, in jeopardy.  In the cab is a plaque that has the i.d. number of the cab, and suggests you can reach the Taxi and Limousine Commission by dialing 311 (another Bloomberg innovation, but now, of course, administered by DeB.) So when we reach our destination, I do my civic duty and dial 311. 

After a computer menu leading to taxicab issues, I get a live person:

311 Operator:  What is the nature of your complaint?

Me: I just rode in cab # xxxx and there was no operating seatbelt in the right rear seat.

He: No seat belt?

Me: Well, there was half a seat belt, but of no value to me.

He:  (Pause).  I am sorry, sir, I cannot take your complaint.

Me: Huh? Aren’t taxis required to have seatbelts for passengers?

He: Sure,

Me: So I was a passenger in a yellow cab and I am reporting that it did not have a passenger seatbelt. What’s the problem?

He: It’s not on my computer.

Me: Huh?

He: There is no category for seatbelts on my computer, so I cannot take your complaint.

Me: So what do I do now?

He: I have no idea.

Me: Okay, let me speak to your supervisor, please. If he is not there, I’ll take the Mayor.

He: Hold, please.

Minutes later:

He: Okay, I can take your complaint now.

Me: What happened? You speak to the Mayor?

He: Well, my supervisor said to put it under “Required Equipment”, so I can take your complaint now.

I give him the info he requires, i.e., cab number, time of day, pick-up location, drop off location, where I was sitting, my name, address, apartment number, telephone number, everything but the number of freckles on my ass, and then he says:

He: Are you willing to testify at a hearing before the TLC?

Me:  A hearing? What are you talking about? They just have to inspect the cab, see there is no seatbelt, have the owner fix the problem, which will probably take all of ten minutes. What do you need a hearing for?

He: Sir, if you will not agree to testify at a hearing, I cannot take your complaint.

Me: But you already have all the information. Can't you just send what you have to the TLC? I am the good guy here. Why are you making this difficult for me to report a safety problem?

He: Sir, if you will not agree to testify at a hearing, I cannot take your complaint.

Me: I surrender. I will testify.


I have now thought this through.  I hope they call me. The TLC does not appreciate with whom they are screwing. "Hearings" are my home turf.  Red Meat. If I am going to attend a hearing, I am going to call witnesses. There is a 6’6” guy who is number one on my list. I can’t wait.

A bientot.