“No,” Lindbergh said. “It may get cold where we’re going, and the kitten might die.”
Needless to say, contemporary humane organizations hailed him for his compassion.
So I wanted to remind you about Lindbergh’s selfless act, before I tell you about my own adventures in feline flying. I was 20 years old and had my first cat with my future Ex. Houston was an amazing black cat who would ride in the car with his paws on the door frame, staring out of the window like a dog. (Who’d heard of cat carriers in 1974?) He genuinely enjoyed going for a drive. Whenever the car slowed down or stopped at a light, Houston’s inner Siamese would emerge and he screamed at decibel levels that now require ear protection.
So Ex, a brand new private pilot with 50 whole flying hours under his seatbelt, decided to rent a Piper 140 so we could spend Christmas with our families in south Texas. Flying would be cheaper and way faster than driving the 300 miles, he convinced me. What could possibility go wrong?
I hated takeoffs and figured Houston would, too. Shouldn’t the kitty be in some kind of container? Naw, Ex assured me, he’ll just think it’s a noisy car. So Ex did a preflight check, filed his flight plan and confirmed that we would be well on our way to San Antonio before the cloudy weather moved in. The three of us climbed on board.
I was all dressed up in my brand new polyester satin pantsuit (all the rage in 1974). My mom sent it to me for my birthday. This was the first time I’d ever worn it and I wanted to show it off when she picked us up at the airport. But I digress.
I held Houston in my arms as we rolled down the runway. The takeoff was textbook perfect. However, as we lifted off, screams filled the cockpit. First Houston screamed; then I joined the chorus. Houston knew this wasn’t a car. He conveyed his displeasure by emptying his full bladder on my virgin pantsuit. (Did I mention I didn’t bring luggage because I was going to pick up the rest of my clothes from my parents’ house? Not a stitch! My little flight bag only contained cat food and cat litter.) Houston quickly settled down on my lap and went to sleep.
I smelled like cat pee.
Remember Murphy’s Law? Anything that can go wrong will? And then there Sod’s Law…Murphy was an optimist. This was the night of Sod’s Law. We had just left Dallas airspace when the clouds arrived. Ex-y couldn’t fly above them because they went all the up to God, and, since they hovered just 600 feet off the deck, we sure couldn’t fly below them. (And who wants the newspaper article to say, “When the bodies were removed from the plane’s wreckage, the female smelled like cat pee.”?)
To add insult to hysteria, the rental plane’s artificial horizon went on strike, laying down on the job at a 45-degree angle. Ex explained our dilemma to the Waco tower and they talked us safely down.
With Houston in my arms, we took a cab to the first super cheap hotel we could find. In a juxtaposition of the client/taxi driver relationship, the cabbie occasionally sniffed the air and asked, “Do you smell that?”
When we arrived at the roach hotel, I washed my clothes out in the sink using bar soap. Did you know bath soap has no affect on cat pee at all? The next morning, my clothes were still dripping wet…and they smelled like cat pee and Camay.
With the clouds still brushing the building tops, we went to the bus station. Did you know Greyhound doesn’t permit cats on their buses? It was Christmas Eve. The boarding kennels were either full or closed. I dumped the contents of my beloved flight bag in the trash, poked a bunch of air holes in the bag, and, ta da, instant cat carrier. (If only I’d done that before we climbed aboard the Piper.) The three of us boarded the bus, the fragrance of cat urine wafting in our wake.
Once we were on our way, Ex opened up the flight bag, and Houston sat quietly with his head poking out. Only then did we learn we hadn’t taken a nonstop route. The bus dropped off or picked up passengers at every wide spot in the road. And every time the bus slowed down (about every 30 minutes), Houston announced his excitement. “Are we there yet?”
Fortunately, there were no Grinch’s on that bus. Halfway through the trip we quit muffling Houston’s travel commentary. And finally, about midnight, we rolled into downtown San Antonio, a mere 30 hours after we took off from Dallas Love Field. You know what they say, “Time to spare? Go by air.”
We never took Houston up in the plane again. But he even after his traumatic experience, he still loved a good road trip—at least at street level. A few years later I took up skydiving to assure I never had to land in a small plane again.
So, on this anniversary of Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris, I salute both the great aviator and the cat he so humanely left behind. As far as I can tell, after his groundbreaking flight, history mentioned the little tabby no more. And in looking out for Patsy’s best interest he inadvertently protected his own image. Can you imagine what the history books would say had Lindbergh climbed out of the Spirit of St. Louis, and someone in adoring crowd waved his hand in front of his nose asked, “Do you smell cat pee?”
Editor’s note: Sadly, every word of this is true.
About the Author (Author Profile)
There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.