Air Force Fiasco

April 15, 2008
By
“Where in the world is this place?” I whined.

“I don’t know, but it better be worth it,” Rachel grumbled from the front seat.

“I’m sure it will be fun, Honey,” Ryan assured her. “The advertisements said there would be food, shelter, and plenty to do.”

I was looking forward to ending this long car trip and arriving at the Petersen Air Force Base to watch the Thunderbirds and participate in activities like ring tosses and other fair-like games.

“Does anyone smell gas?” Peter asked. Shannon laughed.

“Boys,” Rachel glanced at the two of them through the rearview mirror.

“Not that kind of gas, natural gas,” Peter said.

I sniffed the air. “Oh yeah!” I quickly pulled my shirt over my nose.

“Gas!” Curtis cried next to me.

I looked out my window to find a fenced-in yard filled with gas tanks.

“Uggh,” Rachel grunted. “When is this line of cars going to move?”

I silently worried about Rachel. I knew that nausea would soon take over, and I didn’t know how much longer she could last by this gas.

Ryan announced that the cars were finally moving. I stared out at the endless fields of grass. We had already driven for thirty minutes and had officially reached the middle of nowhere.

“Thunderbirds,” two-year old Curtis muttered beside me.

“If we ever get there,” I commented.

A man flagged us into the open grass ahead. “We’re supposed to drive in the grass?” Rachel said unbelievingly.

She pulled the van out onto the open field. We bounced up and down; following the other cars out into I don’t know where.

The car sloped into a major crevice. Rachel’s bulging belly bounced.

“You’re not going to go into early labor here on us, are you, Rachel?” I asked, half kidding, and half serious.

Before I got an answer, she swerved the car into an imaginary parking space out in the grass. I saw a fence and a large building a ways off.

“Where are we?” Shannon asked his mom.

“They’re busing us,” Rachel pointed down a couple rows of cars to where a bus was pulling out onto the grass.

“What?” I exclaimed.

I swung the door open and stepped out into the windy air. The gloomy sky promised rain. I shivered. “It’s hardly ever this cold in June.”

“Honey, you want me to bring this food with us?” Ryan asked, holding up a bag of what was now warm cheese and salami.

Rachel gagged. “We’ll get something to eat here.” She got Curtis and the diaper bag out of the car. We started the long walk to the bus stop.

“Where’d they go?” Peter asked, staring at where a bus should’ve been boarding us.

“The next one will be here in a few minutes,” a stranger answered.

“It’s freezing out here!” Rachel cried.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll have tents set up for us to sit in,” Ryan patted her back.

The scent of bus exhaust filled the air. A bus screeched to a stop in the dirt. I took Curtis by the hand and headed up the steps.

I placed him by a window and sat next to him. Peter and Shannon sat behind me, and Ryan and Rachel across from us. The bus driver didn’t even bother to ask if everyone was situated before blowing off into the field. I watched nervously as we aced the fence by a few inches.

“Look, Curtie, there’s a-“

Bump!

“Oh my gosh!” Rachel cried, grabbing her stomach.

My bottom slammed against the seat as I tried to grab the airborne Curtis.

I took a quick look at the bus driver, who seemed oblivious to the fact that he’d almost taken our lives by going through a literal valley.

“Thun-der-er-bir-irds,” Curtis’s teeth chattered as we vibrated over bumps.

The bus swooped into a hole. My stomach nearly leapt out of my throat.

I turned to look at Rachel. I swear if we go over one more bump, that baby is going to come out on the floor.

“This is it,” the bus driver announced, barely stopping the vehicle long enough to let us off. Everyone looked around with a “where is it?” look. Before us stood six food stands, all with lines at least fifty people long. Two rows of outhouses lined the other side of the parking lot. A tall airplane garage sat over behind everything. A small airplane sat in the middle of the entire parking lot.

“I need to use the bathroom,” I said, glancing at the stalls. Lines, fifteen people deep, stretched in front of each one. Rachel and I got in line with Curtis while Ryan, Peter, and Shannon wandered off to see what there was to do while we waited for the thunderbirds to take off.

An indescribable odor drifted into my nostrils as we got to the front of the line.

“Do you think there’s a place to wash your hands in there?” I asked Rachel, pointing to a stall a woman walked out of.

“I’ll look.” She handed me Curtis. “I’m gonna gag. Please take him and try to find a tree or something.” She pulled her shirt over her mouth and nose and headed for the door.

“Go quick, and don’t look,” I called after her. I scanned the parking lot, unable to spot a tree for Curtis.

The door to Rachel’s stall blew open. She stumbled out gagging uncontrollably. “I looked. I couldn’t help it.” She took Curtis from me. “Good luck.”

I cautiously stepped into the stall, instantly feeling claustrophobic. I couldn’t control my eyes. They instantly looked into the hole. “Gross!” I cried, hurriedly trying to get this over with.

I ran out to find Rachel standing with the boys. “There wasn’t any sanitizer or anything,” I gasped.

“Really? I didn’t even look,” Rachel said.

The wind whipped a violent gust into my face. Rain sprinkled the ground.

“It’s raining,” Shannon announced.

“I think it’s sleeting,” I looked at the crystal balls in my palm.

“We’ve got to get some cover,” Rachel said.

Ryan pointed to the model airplane. I could see people sitting in the seats inside. “Maybe we could get in there.”

“I don’t know where else we’re going to go.” Rachel scooped up Curtis. “Why didn’t I bring the stroller?”

We hurried up to the front of the plane to find some people waiting.

“Is this the end of the line?” Ryan asked.

“No,” The man pointed way across the parking lot, “That is.”

“No way!” I cried.

“This is ridiculous!” Rachel shifted Curtis to her other hip. “We’re going to have to go in there.” She started walking toward the airplane garage.

“But we can’t see the thunderbirds from in there!”

“We’ll come out when it stops raining.”

It seemed that everyone else had the same idea as us. After all, what other idea was there to come up with? The garage was the only source of protection from the rain and wind.

Some people sat in chairs, others on blankets. “Why didn’t we bring our chairs?” Rachel asked.

We found a clear spot on the floor and laid a baby blanket down. Rachel and Curtis sat on the blanket, the rest of us on the floor next to them.

“I thought there would be stuff to do,” Rachel said, “You know, games to play, food to eat, places to sit.”

Ryan patted her back. “I’ll go get some food.”

“You’re going to have to wait in line,” I said.

He decided to go anyway, taking Peter and Shannon with him. Rachel pulled an airplane book out of Curtis’s diaper bag. We spent the next fifteen minutes looking through it.

“Where are they?” The food lines appeared endless. Rachel and I grumbled until, forty-five minutes later, Ryan, Shannon, and Peter came back. It looked as if their attempt to get food had been unsuccessful. Shannon held a little eight inch pizza in his hands. It was divided into four microscopic slices.

“The lines were too long, and I didn’t want the pizza,” Peter said.

“How much did you pay for that?” Rachel asked Shannon.

“Four dollars.”

“Four dollars!” Rachel yelled, annoyed.

Shannon shoved a tiny piece in his mouth.

Rachel’s stupefied face looked up at Ryan. “You let him spend four dollars on that thing!” She turned to Shannon. “You better enjoy it.”

We all stared at him, our stomachs growling.

“Oh man,” Shannon griped. “It’s disgusting, and frozen!”

“Well, you’re gonna eat it now,” Rachel said.

An overhead roar shook the building. “Thunderbirds!” Curtis hooted.

Rachel and I didn’t even bother to get up. The sleet was still coming down, and the sky was as gray as ever.

Ryan and the boys raced outside to see it. Ryan stayed outside with the camera and Curtis, hoping it would return. Shannon and Peter returned to us, bored.

Rachel looked around the room. A few tables handing out free junk lined the walls. “Why don’t you two go check out the free stuff?”

They didn’t look thrilled but trailed off anyway.

Rachel groaned.

“You okay?” I asked.

“I’m starting to get cramps.” She massaged the sides of her legs.

“Let me go and try to find you a chair,” I offered, heading off into the crowd of people.

I passed several people in metal folding chairs. “Excuse me, sir, where’d you get that chair?”

He pointed to a corner in the enormous garage. “They’re probably all gone.”

I stomped off to the other side of the room.
“I can’t believe they’re all gone,” I grumped aloud, “what person doesn’t have the decency to offer their chair to a pregnant woman stuck on the cement floor.”

I slammed into someone and nearly let out a scream. Darth Vader stood before me, deep breathing and all. I quickly moved past him, shaking my head. This day was getting stranger by the minute.

Thankfully, I grabbed one of the last metal chairs and returned to Rachel. “Sorry it’s metal, but it’s better than the cement floor,” I helped her into the chair and sat down on the blanket. “What are we going to do?”

Rachel sighed. “It doesn’t look like the thunderbirds are coming, so, unless we want to walk all the way back to the bus in this miserable weather, we’re kind of stranded.”

The boys returned, showing us their Popsicle stick planes and rock-hard gum. They said they’d entered some kind of contest.

Once Ryan and Curtis returned, Rachel and I went outside to try and get some food. We got in the hot dog line, but the wind was so strong, we gave up.

On the way back to the garage, we passed a stand selling little toy airplanes.

“I’m going to get one for Curtis.” Rachel walked up to the desk and pointed to an airplane.

The woman told her it cost ten dollars. “I can’t believe I’m paying ten dollars for a plane, but I am,” Rachel said to me. “And I’m going to buy a stroller if I see one for sale. I don’t care how much it costs. I’m not kidding.”

“You need to come around-“the woman at the stand cut herself off when she saw Rachel’s enormous belly. “Never mind, I’ll get it.”

She returned a minute later with the ten dollar plane, which Curtis was very excited to see when we returned. We decided to “face the elements” and try to get back to the bus.

Rachel looked at her watch. “I can’t believe we just wasted three hours sitting on a garage floor, and for nothing!” She threw her hands in the air. Her hat blew off her head, Curtis’s following. Ryan chased the hats while I stopped in the outhouse one last time before we left. I told myself not to look this time, but didn’t have to. The pee covered seat caused me to gag all by itself.

“Kelli, carry me,” Rachel begged when we’d reached the bus stop. The wind nearly swept me off my feet.

“Look at you.” I nodded to her. Curtis rode on her back with the diaper bag on her arms. “You’re carrying both your boys and the diaper bag.” I patted her stomach. She smiled.

The seating arrangements on the bus were the same back. Curtis and I sat together and watched the bolts of lightning coming out of the black sky over the prairie. “Let’s get home,” I sighed.

We encountered another bus.

“We’re gonna hit!” I screamed. Mere inches separated the two vehicles, and both drivers were determined to go first. I closed my eyes, praying we’d pass without more misery than we’d already endured.

The bus somehow avoided disaster and safely let us off where our cars were parked. Crowds of people waited to board the bus.

“Don’t you just want to warn them?” Rachel asked me. We piled back into the van and were stopped by a couple whose battery was apparently dead. Ryan wired our car with theirs.

“Can you imagine being stuck out here with no escape?” I commented to Rachel while squeezing oodles of sanitizer into my hand.

Ryan got back in the car, and we drove off into the grass. Black skies surrounded us.

“Mom, I need to go to the bathroom,” Shannon said.

“Well, you’re gonna have to wait, honey.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and settled back in my seat when we pulled out onto the paved road. Curtis had already fallen asleep next to me.

“One day, we’ll laugh about this,” I said.

“One day,” Rachel replied.

“It’s definitely not going to be today,” I added.

Two years later, I look back and laugh hysterically at these events. One of the most wasted days of my life created some of the best memories. A week after that day, Rachel received a telephone call, learning that she’d won Mr. Bigg’s passes from the contest Peter and Shannon had entered. So, I guess that if we came out with anything, it was that, a handful of laughs, and a heart full of memories.





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