There is no better place to gain new inspiration than to be in the nation’s capital with 750 portrait artists under one roof…it was a big roof. But I’ll start with the end of the story; returning to Houston in a storm. The flooding was on national news. Here is my personal story.
It was…well…a bit horrific. I had booked a flight from Washington, DC to Denver then a connecting flight to get home to Houston. Not the most direct flight, right? Anyway, my flight to Denver started with the airplane backing out from the gate in DC on time only to be interrupted by commotion coming from the back of the plane. A flight attendant was insisting that a passenger sit down, that they would not be allowed to go to the bathroom while the plane was taxiing, that they would have to wait until we were in the air, that the pilot would have to be alerted if they continued to insist on using the facilities. The passenger began vomiting and the flight attendant quickly relented. Visions of Ebola crept into my mind. The pilot was notified and regulations forced us to return to the gate and wait for medics to come on board and approve the passenger for flying. We were delayed about an hour and a half for the whole episode to play out, which included refueling. After a very bumpy ride through bad weather down the entire middle of the country, the flight arrived in Denver to a snow blanketed airport. Not a sight seen in my neck of the woods, so I enjoyed the scenery over a quick airport dinner and caught my connection flight to Houston around 9PM.
It didn’t occur to me that the bumpy weather my previous flight had flown through was the weather I was now headed back into to get to Houston. My flight was to land just after midnight…more bumpy flying through lightning filled skies. To quote Bulwer-Lytton, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets…” Except in my case the wind gusted across the runway. It was in no small way the most terrifying ride I have ever experienced. We were on our approach to land at Hobby airport, wheels down, tops of houses passing quickly beneath us. The plane lurched side to side, and all of a sudden the pilot gunned the motors. We zoomed pass the airport and went climbing back into the storm. The plane felt as if it would come apart, struggling to gain altitude, shuddering against the wind. We seemed to be turning to the left, to perhaps circle to make another landing attempt, but the winds were fighting the idea. Yes, this is the point at which your life passes before your eyes and you have complete clarity. I told God I was ready to die, but I reminded Him (as if He needs reminding about things) that it was my son’s birthday, and I would really prefer he not have this memory associated with it. Then it seemed the plane began climbing higher, regaining its strength. The pilot announced that it was too dangerous to land in Houston and we were headed to New Orleans.
An hour later (around 1:30AM!) the pilot landed us in the Big Easy and came out to tell everyone about the conditions in Houston, why he pulled out of the landing attempt, and described his new plan: refuel with enough fuel to return to Texas and circle Galveston waiting for a break in the weather to allow us to land. After refueling and the pilots filing paperwork for the return trip, we finally found ourselves pushing away from the New Orleans gate. We were flying back into a storm and so it continued ” a dark and stormy night”. There were no announcements during the entire return flight, no flight attendants in the aisles, and very little light in the cabin except for the lightning bursts in the clouds around us. I don’t know how long we circled Galveston, but around 4:30AM, without a word from the crew, we landed safely in Houston. The plane erupted in applause! My sweet husband had waited at the airport (and various closed gas stations) for over four hours, and the morning brought the news of flooding seen by people across the country. That afternoon I stepped up to my easel where a portrait commission awaited my attention. I worked with new inspiration from having attended the portrait conference and grateful to be alive to do it.
Over the next few days I will publish some of my favorite moments from the Portrait Society of America Conference.