Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriter: Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Vitalogy
Definitive Version: 10/5/00, Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2001.
Laurie left Las Vegas in January 2007 on Monday, press conference day at CES (I said that she was there that day previously, good ol’ No. 281, but I was wrong), and it was just as well. The arrival of Paul and Jin from L.A. the day before led to a fun reunion that might have been a little too fun for Laurie and Paul.
I’ll spare you the details, but it was bad enough that Paul completely blew off CES, staying in bed most if not all of the day. As for Laurie, well, there was a panicked moment when she couldn’t find her drivers license, which meant she wouldn’t be able to fly home. I went to the bathroom and found the license on the floor next to the toilet … along with the rest of her purse. Don the Mai Tai bartender at the Imperial Palace wasn’t playing.
I felt pretty much the same way later that night. Jin and I met at the sports book at the Venetian to watch the start of Ohio State play in the National Championship against Florida. The place was packed with fans wearing scarlet and gray or orange and blue, and the place erupted when Ted Ginn ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Wow, what a start!
Of course, Ohio State fans might as well have quit watching right then as Florida rolled them over. By the second half, we were on our way to dinner in the Excaliber, where she and Paul and my new little niece Bridget, stayed—my $10 bet ticket so much refuse.
After Laurie left, I could concentrate on work, such as it was. I referenced this a week or so ago, but it was insane. Before I went, I made a meeting schedule, where I visited a booth and spoke with representatives of various electronics manufacturers every half-hour from 9 in the morning, when the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center opened, to 5, when it closed.
I scheduled appointments in such a way that I went from the Central Hall to the South Hall second floor, to the Central Hall to the South Hall first floor. On the map, that looks like no big deal, but, in fact, it takes about 20 minutes amid a crowd to walk from one to the other, because the halls are so huge. By the end of the day, I was whipped to the point where even the booth babes weren't nearly as appealing as that chair over there …
My final day at CES was Thursday. After checking out from the IP and stowing my luggage for my afternoon flight, I went back to the LVCC one last time for media kit collecting, just grabbing everything I could pack in a single box and then shipping it back to my magazine for later sorting. Jin picked me up outside the IP just as she had Laurie a few days earlier for the flight home.
In a sense, I was ready to go home. That day, I felt mechanical—doing without thinking. I had been pushing it hard at work for the past eight months, and I was burned out. However, I wasn’t looking forward to my flight.
As I mentioned, the flight to Vegas had been a little hairy. Well, nothing I can do about it. I’ll just plug into my music and some computer work I can do to distract myself and get through it. (In truth, I’m less afraid when I fly by myself than when I fly with others. I guess I figure no one’s there to comfort me, so I have to buck up on my own.)
I ended up doing neither, because I sat next to a guy who was coming back from CES, like pretty much everyone else on the plane. He was feeling chatty, like pretty much everyone else on the plane, so we spent almost the entire four-hour flight talking about what we’d seen, what impressed us, how the thunder of the event had been stolen by Apple introducing this thing called the iPhone in California.
The flight was perfect … until we started our descent into Chicago.
It had been about a decade since I had flown into Midway Airport, and I had forgotten about how it seemed to be built in a wind tunnel. I was reminded of that as soon as we broke through the cloud cover. It wasn’t storming per se, but it was clouded over and windy as Hell. The plane began to shake … HARD.
The bouncing increased the closer to the ground we got. The pilots were fighting it, and the cabin grew increasingly silent with each bounce.
Just as we were coming in to land, the plane made the biggest bounce of the ride and then seemingly kept going. “We missed our window,” the guy next to me said as the engines kicked in again. Out the window—I was on the aisle—the rooftops of the neighborhood beneath us appeared no more than 200 feet below.
In that instant, I thought that my fear of flying was about to be validated: I thought the plane was about to go down, and we were all going to die.
I mean, we all ARE going to die—that’s the existential horror human beings face every day—but to me, the worst moment of dying when you aren’t ready for it is not the actual event itself but the realization that it’s about to happen. In other words, the fear of dying in a plane crash isn’t the crash itself—I’m pretty sure that in most cases, it’s over pretty instantly—it’s the recognition that it’s happening.
Now I thought I had reached that point. I imagined Laurie getting the word in the airport. That would have to be torturous.
It turns out that was a pointless exercise, obviously. I’m here. I’m telling you the story, so the plane didn’t go down. Instead we made probably the longest 1-minute circle around Midway as the pilot got another window—bouncing the entire time in the wind—before we came in and this time landed.
Then the pilots had to brake on one of the shortest runways of any major airport in the United States—with the help of every passenger applying his imaginary foot-pedal brake—lest we end up out on Central Avenue (which has happened before). We stopped and began the taxi.
Just like years before, a Southwest flight attendant came on the p.a. and said something like “OK, breathe, everyone,” and the cabin erupted in laughter and spontaneous applause. A guy across from me, a couple rows back captured what everyone else was thinking: “Four hours of calm followed by 15 minutes of sheer terror.” In the end, it felt like the opposite.
I was thankful to still be there, of course, but my face didn’t reflect it when I got off the plane. Laurie was waiting for me in baggage claim with a bouquet of flowers, just as I had picked her up a couple weeks before after Christmas (story to come). I barely acknowledged her presence.
Laurie wondered whether what she did was wrong, and although getting flowers felt a little embarrassing, it was more that I still was in shock. I recounted what just happened, and she said that explained why I looked as though I’d just seen a ghost. I thought I’d seen my own.
Not yet, not that day …