For the first day of this new decade, I offer a story...an extraordinary true tale of a wondrous series of events. These events happened to a pilot friend of mine while in a plane last night on New Years eve. He has generously agreed to let me send it even further into cyberspace. So find a cozy seat, grab a cup of tea (or whatever suits your fancy) for this is a bit of a long one. But trust me, well worth the read. You might hang your hat on it, too...
Hello Family and Friends --
I recently read that the reason most New Year resolutions fail is because not enough people know about it to keep the pressure on. I really want this one to work, so have decided to enlist cyberspace to get mine out there. Unfortunately for you, I am not prone to one-liners. And besides, this one has a story to go with it. So here goes...
Something unique happened to us last evening, on New Years Eve, as we were departing LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] in our Boeing 757 headed for Guatemala City. More accurately, I suppose you could say we caused it to happen, with a bit of luck and maybe even some divine intervention thrown in for good measure. Nothing earth shaking. No water landing or terrorist threat or anything like that. Just a simple and perhaps, to some, mundane event, yet something positive that I can hang my hat on (along with the ever increasing melancholy that seems to be accompanying my advancing age) as an omen that 2010 will be a good year, a welcome event to the start of a promising new decade.
We pushed back our flight right on schedule at 2345 (11:45 pm for you civilians) and the thought occurred to me that if we timed this right we could possibly be the first official departure from LAX of the new year, and therefore the new decade, on a beautiful night lit up by a "once in a Blue Moon."
I took a moment to reflect back on the fact that I was born and raised just a few miles east of this exact runway where, as kids, my brothers and I would run out into the back yard every time one of those new fangled "jets" would come roaring down final (The Boeing 707 - proudly flying Pan Am colors), which was exciting and fun to catch, as it only happened about once a week, and then once a day, and then once an hour, until we got tired of the game and such marvels became a part of our everyday lives.
No, it is not since then that I "always wanted to be a pilot." That happened more by accident than anything else. But my remembrance convinced me that this New Years takeoff just had to happen, and it had to happen right at the stroke of midnight.
As we were starting the engines, I mentioned my idea to the First Officer (another LAX-based pilot, but whom I had just met and never flown with before) unsure of what he would think of my old man meanderings. To my delight he became the definition of "getting in to it" and together we started formulating our plan. We were not the only piece of tin rolling around on the airport at that time, and much of your fate is in the hands of the ground and tower controllers barking out instructions on the radios. But the aircraft will only roll as slow or as fast as I will let it, so we used that to our advantage.
As we approached Runway 25R for takeoff it became apparent that this thing had a chance of happening, and after checking in with the tower controller we requested if he could arrange for us to be the first departure for 2010 from LAX. His response was, "You bet I can!" and he gave us an official time hack of 23:57:23 and directed us to "taxi into takeoff position and hold."
Precisely at the stroke of midnight we received the following clearance. "The first official departure from LAX for 2010, is cleared for takeoff runway 25 Right, fly heading two one zero, Happy New Year" and we poured the coals to the engines and blasted off into the Blue Moon night. All of this, of course, is over the radios and audible to all other aircraft on frequency. As we were rolling down the runway we heard an aircraft being cleared for landing on the parallel runway, 25L, whose response to the tower was, "That makes us the first official landing of 2010, right?" to which the tower responded, "Affirmative." Everyone was into it.
I suppose that after all is said and done, what this boils down to is just another uneventful takeoff. Happens tens of thousands of times around this great country of ours every day. But we chose to look at this one slightly differently, acknowledging its uniqueness amongst ourselves, even as a more powerful yet unspoken sense of what it meant to each of us individually filtered through the atmosphere.
To me, it was the first takeoff of what will be the last decade of my flying career, and it happened 3 miles from where I was born, and at the stroke of midnight on one of the most unique nights in history, a Blue Moon on New Years Eve. It cannot happen again. Ever. Whether or not this means anything is up to me. My New Year's resolution is to make sure it marks the beginning of a new and better time for our family and our country. I sincerely hope you have a "once in a Blue Moon" to hang your hat on too. If not, make one up. Probably works just as well.
Happy New Year and God Bless This Country
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