January 13, 2007
Lightning in a bottle (of terror)
On Thursday, AEJ dropped me off at LAX so I could fly to Oklahoma City to work with the Central Oklahoma honor band on a new piece to be conducted by Rick Clary. I got to the airport, checked in, bought a bottle of water, claimed a seat on the floor next to a power outlet at my gate, plugged in the DS, started to play Animal Crossing — and my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the caller ID number, so I ignored it. Hell, even when I do recognize the number, I usually don’t answer my phone. I hate talking on the phone when it’s work related. If somebody wants something, I’d prefer they email me. Part of this is because I can be a hard ass via email, but I tend to agree to just about anything on the phone.
A few moments later, I get the little chime informing me that I have voicemail. The message is from Marc Mueller, the organizer of the honor band in Central Oklahoma, telling me that due to the forecast of severe weather — an ice storm was reportedly coming on Saturday — they were going to shorten the whole rehearsal/performance time period from two days to one day. The new plan was for me to fly in as scheduled, arriving Thursday night, then rehearse with the wind ensemble on Friday morning at 10am. The concert — not just including my piece, but several other pieces — would be at 4:00 that day. Not ideal, especially for a premiere, but the weather forecast seemed pretty bad. Fortunately, the storm wasn’t likely to arrive until Saturday. Marc changed my return ticket to fly me home on Saturday morning instead of Sunday, easily getting home by the time the storm hit.
The flight into DFW was fine — until the landing. Roughest landing ever. The approach was really fast due to 30 knot gusts, and we just hit the ground with a huge bang — and then proceeded to bounce up and turn slightly to the left before bouncing on the ground again. I was a little surprised that the rear landing gear could handle the impact, and I wasn’t the only one. The couple sitting next to me said they, too, had never felt a landing so hard. Oh, and there was some kind of medical emergency on the flight, so when we landed, everybody had to remain seated while the paramedics came on board to get some teenage girl off the plane. Fun, fun.
The flight into Oklahoma City was uneventful. Marc picked me up and took me to dinner with Rick, the other conductors, and several other people. I had a Shiner Bock. I know I wasn’t in Texas, but it still felt like an appropriate beverage choice.
The next morning, I got up at 7am — Central! — to speak with Marc’s students at Moore High School. I turned on the TV while I got ready, and the news was all about the pending ice storm — now expected to hit within hours. This was the kind of storm that weather forecasters love — where they can talk about the likelihood of power lines downed by the weight of the ice, and tell you that if you must go out, you have to take a blanket in case you get stranded — otherwise, you’ll freeze to death. There they were, the full Weather Team, standing outside as the sleet started to fall, each equipped with thermometers that they could stick into the ground or wherever else they’d fit. The storm, it seemed, wasn’t coming on Saturday. I was coming right now, and it was going to be a doozy, if they were to be believed. And for once, the weather forecasters were spot on.
While it had been in the 60s on Thursday, when I walked out of my hotel room on Friday morning, it was below 30. Marc’s wife picked me up and took me to Moore, as at the time, we were planning to just stick to the schedule. Here’s one I haven’t seen before : my name on the high school marquee!
(I’m sorry I missed the Lion King Pageant the night before.)
The students at Moore were really nice. I didn’t get long with them — probably 10 minutes with one band, and 10 with the other — but they had great questions, and were really enthusiastic. Some of them even took my picture!
One student named Dustin talked to me for a few minutes after class. He wanted an autograph, but the only thing he had for me to sign was… well…
That’s RIGHT! That’s my autograph on the cover of Eric Whitacre’s score! HA! STICK IT, ERIC! (I’m kidding — there’s no need to stick it, but this was the funniest, most surreal autograph signing ever.)
From there, Marc and I headed to the university for rehearsal — as the sleet came down more and more heavily. On the way there, a few schools pulled their students from the honor band due to the weather. I got on the phone with American Airlines and found that there was one seat left on one flight out of Oklahoma City that day. Sensing that the whole festival was going to be cancelled, Marc gave me the go-ahead to book the flight.
William Wakefield, the Director of Bands at the University of Oklahoma, drew the short straw and ended up driving me to the airport. Bill wanted to make sure that I got out of there okay, since the weather was already getting bad, so he parked and came inside to check on me. As I was waiting to check in, American cancelled all of their outgoing flights. It appeared that I was going to be stuck in Oklahoma City for presumably days, as the storm was likely to last until Sunday, and temperatures wouldn’t get above freezing until possibly Thursday. Bill did something that I still can’t believe he did. He offered to drive me to Dallas so I could catch my connecting flight back home to Burbank. I had plenty of time — I was going to have a 4 hour layover in Dallas anyway — and this was an incredible gesture.
It was slow going getting out of Oklahoma City, but we eventually made it to Dallas. My flight was delayed by two hours, but it did eventually take off.
And then it got hit by lightning.
I shit thee not. We took off out of DFW, flying through the storm that was then drenching Dallas with flash floods, and about two minutes into the flight, there was a huge crash outside of the plane — it sounded as if an engine had exploded — and a blinding flash of light through all of the windows. (Lucky for me, this was one of the few times when I had a window seat, so this was extra fun.) Moments later, certainly aware that the 140 people on board were convinced we were about to perish, the pilot came over the PA and told us that we’d been struck by lightning, but the plane was totally fine, and he wanted to make sure we were all okay, too. Later, after we reached cruising altitude, he told us that American Airlines flights are hit by lightning about once a week. It’s scary (boy howdy, it’s scary), but not a big deal for the plane itself.
I can’t thank Bill Wakefield enough for driving me all the way — all 190 miles — to Dallas, just so I could get home last night. If I hadn’t gotten out yesterday, I’d be stranded for days. Every flight out of Oklahoma City was cancelled again today, and hundreds of flights out of Dallas were cancelled, too, due to the weather. (The ice storm hit them today.) So, thank you, thank you, thank you to Bill.
I’m going back next year to try this whole honor band premiere again, and I’m reasonably sure it’ll go fine then. I mean, what are the chances that lightning would strike twice?