Monday, September 24, 2018

storm chasers

Today I flew to the wrong airport.  Back when I was still following pointless news, back in the days of The London Paper and then the Evening Standard, there were stories like these:  A woman takes Ryanair to Rodez, gets off, and asks for the beach.  There is none.  This is not Rhodos.  A man's request for a shuttle into London is met with incomprehension.  LGA is not London Gatwick.  Kids without tickets make it onto planes all the time.  My story isn't like these.

I needed to be in Regensburg for a chemistry conference.  Regensburg is a bit out of the way by Germany's standards.  The closest airports are Munich and Nuremberg, both more than an hour away.  The train from Switzerland is not an option.  In Munich, the annual binge and puke festival had just started.  Flights were correspondingly expensive.  I chose to fly to Nuremberg.

Buckled up for landing and with our seat backs in their upright position and our tray tables folded away, we were alerted by the captain to the meteorological situation on the ground and above.  A storm front was passing through Germany, bringing 70-knot winds and buckets of rain.  Right now it was centered just below us.  Nuremberg airport was temporarily closed.  There were no take-offs or landings.

Our plane, a shaky Dash 8, turned around and headed to Munich, 100 miles back.  Maybe I've been lucky in my years of flying, but these fifteen minutes turned out to be the worst ever.  The plane jerked like a derailing roller coaster train, rolling and pitching and bouncing up and down.  Only by focusing on stationary objects near the horizon did I keep my stomach inside.  We landed surprisingly smoothly and were then rudely dumped at Terminal 2.  There was no one there to help the stranded crowd.

Since Munich had been my first choice anyway, I knew how to proceed, and ten minutes later I sat in a van to Regensburg.  I was lucky that two bookings had been canceled because of a delayed arrival.  The driver headed into the night with the courage of an ancient warrior.  On the radio, talk was how the eye of the storm was moving from Nuremberg to Regensburg.  It started to rain.

On the road, nothing changed.  Traffic embodied the vain belief in the superiority of technology over nature and the knowledge that bad weather happens elsewhere.  In England, snowflakes close Heathrow for days and leaves close railways, but in central Europe, weather's no bother.

Up ahead, strobes of lightning flashed across the night sky.  The rain came down harder now.  Gusts of wind were buffeting the tall van.  Heading straight into this mess, our driver was just doing his job.  On the lane next to us, someone towed a wooden shed on a trailer.  The line between stoicism and idiocy is sometimes very fine.

Was I an idiot for disinterestedly observing the ride and the storm instead of seeing the risks and getting freaked out?  Fallen trees had closed the motorway parallel to ours.  What if an oak came down in front of us?  The road already looked like artisanal gin, infused with all sorts of botanicals.

And just like this, we were in Regensburg, almost on schedule.  The storm had moved on.  With just a drizzle remaining from the tempest, it was almost a pleasant evening, though my carry-on trolley got repeatedly stuck in the debris on the sidewalks.

"How was your trip?", the night manager asked when I arrived at the hotel.  "Indirect", I said, "but relatively uneventful."

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