Leonid MAC 1999:
Although I really don't want this to sound like a diary, there were two things that happened on the first day of my journey that I would like to elaborate on--mainly for those out there that know me. Knowing that friends would want to hear what happened and that I was scheduled to give talks to the St. Louis Astronomical Society, MENSA, and local schools in the months immediately following my return, I was wondering if anything funny or unusual would happen. Well, they did. In fact, they happened so quickly I was worried my portion of the trip would be a disaster!
I was scheduled to take TWA645 from St. Louis to San Francisco at 2:10 p.m. (CST). At 1:50, while lined up waiting to be issued a boarding pass they announced that the flight would be delayed because of an engine problem. They said the mechanics were looking at it and would let us know at 2:30 if we could fly on that plane or not. They said no one could board because the engines could not be tested with people on board. I chose that moment to grab a soda and when I came back people in wheelchairs were boarding the plane. The time was then 2:00 and the board by the gate still said the flight was delayed. I wondered, "why they would let people with wheelchairs on board while the engines were being tested." A couple of minutes went by and the attendant finally announced that everyone could board. It was 2:05. "Okay," I thought, "so an engine problem was noted, the mechanics indicated they were going to take 40 minutes to evaluate, and then they board us after only 15 minutes had elapsed." There was no further explanation. I was sure everything HAD to be okay, but it did make for a tense flight. The plane left at 2:25. I vowed NOT to tell my wife about this incident until AFTER the trip had ended, because flying made her nervous and she became even more nervous when I flew!
During the flight I kept wondering what the people I was supposed to meet in San Francisco looked like. I figured everything would work out, as Chris Crawford and Klaas Jobse would probably have a sign or something. I hope!
Well, surprisingly, the flight landed in San Francisco 24 minutes earlier than expected! As we exited the plane only a couple of people were standing around waiting for passengers. I knew none of them were Chris and Klaas because they were both women with kids. I walked over to a nearby vending machine and got a soda. When I returned to find that several people were now standing around waiting for the rest of the people on my plane to walk off. I decided to stand in the back and watch. Slowly but surely people ran up and greeted those leaving the plane and soon only a few people remained--including two men directly in front of me with their backs to me. I eased closer so that I could hear what they were saying and I noticed one had an accent. I knew Klaas was from The Netherlands, but I could only hear enough to realize he wasn't speaking normal English. Eventually I noticed they looked bewildered that the person or people they were waiting for had not shown up yet. I took a chance and advanced forward to ask them who they were waiting for. The shorter gentleman with a hat said "Gary Kronk?" I responded, "you found me."
We walked around and waited for Michael Schmidhuber of Germany to exit customs and then we got our tickets for United Shuttle flight 2225 to Burbank. While waiting for the flight to leave, we got something to eat and got to know each other. I also took the time to call my wife and kids.
As we left the airport restaurant, something strange happened. Chris said he needed to use the restroom. Michael, Klaas, and I waited with our luggage in the entrance way to the series of gates that led to our plane. Mind you, we were not off to the side, but we were virtually in the way since we knew Chris would be right out. We had 30 minutes to catch the flight. After about 15 minutes of talking, we realized Chris had not come back. Klaas walked into the restroom and came back saying that Chris was not in there. At 10 minutes before the flight was to leave, our names were mentioned over the intercom asking us to report to the gate for takeoff. We ran up, gave them our luggage, looked for Chris one last time, and finally boarded. As we entered the plane, there was Chris sitting comfortably in a seat asking us where we were. My thought? Here were three experienced observers from three countries and we missed Chris who had to have passed within 10 feet of us when he left the restroom. Of course, he didn't see us either.
The flight was uneventful, and Klaas, Michael, and myself continued to hit it off well. Each of us had a sense of humor and, fortunately for me, thye spoke English very well. This was all quite good considering we would be spending the next week and a half working together on this mssion.
When we landed we got our bags and waited to be picked up. We had been told that someone from Edwards Air Force Base would be waiting. After several minutes we realized no one was there. Chris made a phone call and came back saying no one had been told to pick us up! We rented a van shuttle for $90 and had the driver take us to our hotel--the Inn of Lancaster, in Lancaster, California. It was a one hour drive and at times was more harrowing than any plane flight I had ever been on!
We got to the hotel and jokingly expressed our concerns to one another that someone may have forgotten to reserve rooms for us. To my surprise, not only did we each have a separate room, but they were suites! I had a huge bed, a couch, a kitchen, and a nice bathroom. I watched ER that evening and then fell asleep.
If you have any questions, please email me