Friday, April 15, 2016
What a Long, Strange Trip, Part I
Back in May 2000, not long after Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark was released, I accepted to an invitation to attend a gathering of Dark Shadows fans at Fire Island, NY. I anticipated it being an entertaining weekend spent in the company of some nice folks with a similar fondness for certain supernatural soap operas. I was delighted to find that Ms. Elizabeth Massie, my co-writer on the novel, would also be attending. The part about about hanging out with some nice folks proved true enough, but what I did not expect was a surreal, at times disconcerting experience that began the moment I left home and didn't end until my plane touched down safely again in Greensboro two days later.
At the time, I was the head game op on AOL's Air Warrior flight simulator, and it so happened that one of the other staffers with whom I'd gotten to be friends lived in that area of New York. We decided that, on the last day of my trip, he would pick me up at the Fire Island Ferry Station, we'd have a few drinks somewhere, and then he'd take me to the airport. A little bonus to look forward to before my return home.
My plane departed on a cold, drizzly Friday morning, bound for Islip, Long Island, by way of Philadelphia. The flight out was normal enough, though the turbulence was considerable. It was when I arrived at PHL to make my connection that things really went south. By now, the drizzle had become a relentless deluge, and my flight to Islip was on a tiny commuter aircraft that resembled a shoebox to which someone had glued wings as an afterthought. However, rather than at the main terminal, the airplane was parked on the tarmac somewhere at the farthest reaches of the airport, to which we few passengers had to take a bus. Our baggage followed in an open trolley, and as you might guess, my canvas suitcase fared rather poorly in that driving rain. Once the plane was airborne, some coffee seemed just the ticket, so I acquired a cup from the flight attendant. I had barely taken the first sip — hot! — when we hit the first serious turbulence. Fortunately, the seat next to me was empty, and I held my cup out over that seat to keep the scalding coffee from sloshing all over me.
And just in time too. WHOMP! Big air pocket, and the plane dropped a hundred feet, my stomach rushing to my throat, every last bit of coffee splashing onto the empty seat beside me. Beverage service was immediately terminated, and for the next 45 minutes, we bounced along in the air, my head every now and then striking the overhead compartment when we hit a particularly rough stretch. It was the landing, though, that almost put me off flying, for as we made our descent, the little aircraft began swaying mercilessly back and forth, occasionally so sharply that, through the windows, I found myself looking straight down at the earth below. Soon enough, treetops were rushing past at high speed, and then — WHAM! — the left tire touched down on the runway. WHAM! The right tire touched down. Finally — BAM! THUD! — the nose wheel came down, and my head hit the back of the seat in front of me hard enough to send stars dancing across my field of vision. People around me were screaming, and I mean screaming, and this I found far more upsetting than the pain of impact. But outside the window, I could see that we were rolling along on level ground, gradually slowing down. The worst, it would seem, was over.
Indeed, I had survived more or less unscathed, but when my suitcase and I were reunited, it appeared to have been salvaged from some underwater catastrophe. Inside it, everything — and I mean everything — was soaked through and through. Where I was going, I didn't anticipate finding a handy retailer to replace anything that had been ruined, but my spirits were far less dampened than my belongings. I caught a ride with a friendly limo driver who carried me to the Bayshore-Fire Island Ferry Station, now under merely cloudy skies. However, immediately upon our arrival, the bottom fell out again, a blinding torrent, and I really wasn't sure where I had to go to meet my party. Oddly, the parking lot was deserted. The driver and I appeared to be the only human beings at the ferry station. He offered to wait with me until Ms. Massie and the others arrived, but I saw in the distance what appeared to be a tavern called Molly Malone's, and it was open, so I asked the driver to drop me there that I might enjoy a drink while waiting for the Dark Shadows contingent. He obliged, but in the fifty feet between the limo and the establishment's front door, I ended up so drenched I might as well have leaped into Great South Bay. With my waterlogged suitcase in hand, I staggered into the tavern, immediately to encounter a young hostess who, upon taking in my appearance, gave an involuntary snicker and said, "Sir, you need a drink."
I quite agreed, and she led me past a crowded bar, where a group of clearly drunken, burly seafaring types were belting out "Sweet Molly Malone" at the top of their collective lungs. I think it was at this moment that I realized I had become an active participant in some surreal, possibly preordained scenario, and there was nothing for it but to go along for the ride and see where it led me. I ordered myself a Bass Ale, and, if I recall, I ended up having another before I saw, through a rain-splashed window, the arrival of a vehicle from which, blessedly, Ms. Massie and several other familiar figures emerged. For quite some time afterward, whenever it rained, I found myself craving Bass Ale, and now upon reflection, it seems a tradition worth revisiting.
As I made my way out of Molly Malone's, the rain stopped, and I met Ms. Massie, Mr. Bob Issel, and a few other folks whose acquaintances I had made at a previous Dark Shadows festival. We boarded the ferry, and, for the moment, it appeared that things might actually settle down and allow for a pleasant, mellow weekend at a cozy summer house on the island.
I only hoped I had some place to hang my soaked clothes and that they might dry out quickly.
Part II to follow.