Mark Danger Powers

drummer • educator • author

No Fumar, por favor

We’re finally moving. Here I sit, wedged quite uncomfortably between an elderly man (who reeks of the half-smoked cigar sticking out of his shirt pocket) and an even smellier retired church pastor. The former speaks no English; the latter is clearly excited to have this opportunity to practice his. Our wheels are just about to leave the tarmac at José Martí International Airport when I glance out the window and notice a plane (altogether missing its front wheel, mind you) resting nose-down along the side of the runway.

The first thought going through my head: “hmmmm . . . that’s odd.”

Right as our old metal bird is taking flight, I see another plane sitting alongside the first. Let me rephrase that. I see the charred remains of half of another plane sitting alongside the first! Somebody, sometime, obviously completely crashed-and-burned. Rather than removing the blackened remains from the scene, they were just swept off to the side of the runway. In plain sight of all incoming and outgoing airline passengers. Talk about helping a guy feel safe and secure . . . geez!

The first thought going through my head: “yikes . . . that’s a little scary!”

Time to lean back, close my eyes, and think happy thoughts. But nothing I had observed through our small, dirty window was as terrifying as what awaited me when I returned my focus to the inside of our cabin. Just a few rows ahead of me, a huge, thick, steady stream of pitch-black smoke was billowing into the aircraft! Coming from near the right wing, the smoke was rushing right over the legs of those seated in that row, and shooting straight down the center aisle, past us, and into the rear of the plane.

The first thought going thr- . . . “F#@*%!”

I couldn’t believe it . . . I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. Even after the countless pre-flight safety instruction demonstrations I’ve sat through over the years. I’ve always been pretty confident that if trouble ever were to arise, I would be one of the few cool, calm and collected individuals onboard. HELL NO! I learned that pretty quickly- instant panic mode. I hastily looked around the plane, and saw several other foreigners who shared the horrific fright-filled face that I too must have been wearing. Then it hit me . . . only the foreigners? Sure enough. A quick survey of the passengers brought the realization that none of the Cubanos were bothered by the smoke at all! They were carrying about their discussions, one or two fanning a bit of it away from their seats. Merely a nuisance! As scary as the entering smoke was to me, it apparently seemed to be common, and came as no surprise to anyone but we few silly foreigners. Sit back, calm down . . . breathe . . .

Moments later we were over the Yucatan Channel. Whew! For some reason, the threat of an emergency water landing was just a bit less terrifying. Besides, I’ve always thought it’d be fun to try out those yellow, inflatable slides they show in the seat-pocket safety brochures! But oh, wait . . . I’ve still yet to perfect that whole ‘swimming’ thing . . .