My Fear of Flying

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I’m just about getting fed up with this nonsense and I’m sick and tired of it.

Many years ago, before I came to Japan, I worked as a salesman for a very famous insurance company in America. I was hot stuff, the “Top Gun.” I was the young “Tom Cruise” type-of-guy: A high-flyer who got all the chicks.

I was working on a sale to a prospective client, named Tim Dawson. Tim was rich. Tim worked doing something or other for Hollywood movies and stuff. He had a huge house, a beautiful wife and handsome children.

I had met Mr. and Mrs. Dawson several times and proposed some very good “investment” plans. Mr. Dawson was considered a “high risk” client because he had his own airplane, so it was difficult to find a company that would insure him. My company would, though — for a very hefty price.

Many times I thought I had the sale locked up it only to be rejected by Tim telling me:

“Let me think about it.”

But I was not about to give up so easily. I remember there was a used car salesman named Cal Worthington on TV all the time back in those days. Cal wore an old time “vaudevillian” straw hat and he had a dog named, “Spot,” which was actually a Siberian tiger. ‘Ol Cal would often say on his TV commercials:

“I’ll stand on my head, I’ll do a back flip, I’ll get on my hands and knees; I’ll even eat my hat… I’ll do whatever I have to do to get you to buy a car!”

Cal was impressive. I took pointers from him.


Cal Worthington: Sales “God”

The next time I went to see Tim, I decided to play the “Cal Worthington” gambit. I told Tim:

“Mr. Dawson, I will do anything to get you to buy this plan. I’ll wash your car, mow your lawn, anything!”

Tim leaned back in his chair, grinned and said:

“Anything?… I don’t buy anything from anybody, unless they’ll fly in my plane.”

“Fly in an airplane!? Why that’s not a problem in the world, Tim. I’d be proud to fly in your plane with you.” I mean, what’s the problem in getting a free airplane ride, right? Sounds like fun.

“Alright. You fly in my plane, then we’ll come back and I’ll sign the contracts.”

“Oh, stay my beating heart!” I thought. I tried to act cool as those delicious commission dollar signs were floating about my head.

Tim and I hopped into his truck and we drove to the diminutive Camarillo Airport — not 30 minutes away.

When we got to the airport, we just drove in the gate. Tim parked the truck and, next thing I knew, we were in his little airplane.

I think those kinds of tiny one-propeller jobs are called “Cessna” but I’m not too sure about that. I sat right behind Tim and as we taxied down the runway, he shouted over the engine noise to me:

“Mike, you’ve flown in planes before right?”

“Yeah. 747’s. My dad was a Marine, so I have also flown in helicopters a few times… Even been on an aircraft carrier a few times.”

“You ever get sick flying?”

“Nope!”

“Alright then, see that wing? He pointed to the left side. “See those struts underneath there?”

“Uh-huh. Yeah.” I shouted back.

“Well, those are not ordinary struts! Those are special struts designed to withstand enormous stress and pressure!… Because you see, Mike, this is no ordinary plane…”

“Uh-huh. Yeah.”

“You know that I work in Hollywood movies, right?”

“Uh-huh. Yeah.”

“Well, I’m a professional stunt-pilot.”

Now, right here, most people might need a package of “Depends” adult diapers. But not me. I was totally into it. Not only was I going to make a big sale, but I was going to get to ride in an actual stunt plane; write about it years later; and really cash in on the story…

Well, three out of four ain’t too bad.

Tim started us off easy: First we did some light climbing and slow diving. No problem. Then we did some wide “barrel rolls”; yes, my blood pressure began to go up a bit. Then we did some faster and tighter barrel rolls. I didn’t really like that too much. But I thought:

“Be tough, Mike. Suck it up.”

“You okay back there?” Tim shouted.

“No problem, Tim! This is great!” Sweat was pouring down my brow by then. But I couldn’t be a wimp! Good thing Tim couldn’t see my face from the pilot’s seat, I was probably whiter than a ghost.

Well the “honeymoon” was over right then and there. Tim took us into some other stunts that really began to freak me out. The stunts got more and more “hairy” as we went along.

For the first time since I was born, and I’m serious here, I feared for my life. And believe me, folks, I’ve done some wild stuff in the past and lived to tell the story. But this time, I wasn’t so sure: I thought I was going to die. Tim was maniacally laughing the entire time.

“Had I gotten into an airplane with a cracked mad-man who had a ‘death-wish’?”

The final straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when Tim took the aeroplane on a straight up climb and then stalled the engine. The noise stopped. All I could hear was the sound of wind rushing by the plane. We were pointed straight up towards the sun and the engine was off. The plane was not moving. I looked to my side and I could see the tops of mountains hundreds of yards below us.

The plane slowly started dropping, tail first. Then it turned around and started hurtling towards the earth. Oh sure, I wanted down; but not that way. We sped towards certain death for what seemed like minutes. I was screaming:

“Turn the engine on! Turn the engine on!”

Tim was just laughing and a few seconds later, the engine kicked back on and the plane started flying level again. But that didn’t matter to me I was already in a state-of-panic and in a full-blown hysterical break down.

“Don’t do that again! Don’t do that again! Land the plane!… For the love of God, man! Land the plane!”

Tim’s space madness grew worse the more I shouted. His frenzied laughter only served to confirm my worst fears: I had indeed gotten into an airplane piloted by a raving, uncontrollable lunatic: I was flying with Satan himself.

Tim said nothing, he only continued his insane laughter. Suddenly, without warning, the plane began a steep ascent again.

“No! Tim! Nooooooooooo!”

We climbed high into the sun. Tim was Icarus. I was “Dead-elus.” The engine stopped again. The wind rushed by. I saw the mountains. Deja-vu. I held onto my seat as hard as I could. I was surely a goner this time…. I searched for a parachute, there were none. The plane sank back towards certain death. I saw a Lear jet fly by us at a lower altitude than we were at!

But once again, through some miracle, the planes’ engine started up. I was in a near delirium. By this moment, I didn’t care if I died. I wanted to die. I never wanted to do that again.

“Please Tim! Land the plane! Please!”

I wasn’t getting through to him. I kept hearing the words, “May-day! May-day!” running through my mind.

Tim was now silent. His transformation complete: he had become the Grim Reaper.

And then the unthinkable happened: the plane began once again its nocuous, straight up, climb into the heavens.

I shouted to the alien creature that was now piloting the plane:

“Stop! Please stop! I’m going to be sick! I’m going to throw up!” But by this time things were getting blurry. I was probably mumbling the words so that only I could hear them. I slumped over.

“I’m going to throw up….I’m going to throw…..”

I was done for. I began to pray to God:

“Please God. If you get me down from here alive, I promise to be a good person. I promise to go to church each and every Sunday. Please God! Please! Help me! I’m going to be sick. I don’t want to die!…”

Maybe I was praying in a loud voice because suddenly Tim heard me and interrupted my prayer. He shouted:

“Don’t get sick! Don’t throw up in my plane! Please don’t throw up in my plane! We’re going down right now!”

I continued my prayer to God and said, “Thanks God, but never mind. I’m okay now.”

We landed the plane and I have never been so happy to be back on solid ground in my life. Later Tim and I signed the contracts and I had made the sale.

It was a success.

But I tell you one thing: I will never, ever, for the rest of my life get into one of those little airplanes that can do high speed climbs, dives, barrel rolls, stop in mid-air, or any other kind of stunt. No way.

“You ain’t getting me in no flying machine!”

I think anyone who would do so willingly has to be either completely crazy or totally drunk.

So that’s why I don’t want to hear anymore of this nonsense about George W. Bush being too afraid to fly or being too drunk to fly. Why, hell yes! Anyone with a lick of sense would be the same way!

There’s a big difference between being brave and being stupid.

Vote Bush in 2004.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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