"Getting to Cambridge"

Skip Dechert
Gladwyne, PA
April 14, 2006

I was truly looking forward to the Alumni Chorus trip to England and even anticipating the flight across the Atlantic with our group, which included nine 1962 classmates.

Sunday, February 12, I got up, breakfasted, packed, bundled up with hat, earmuffs, scarf, overcoat and gloves, checked out, and found no cabs. So I trekked with my two heavy bags through 18" of snow trying to follow the plowed roadway for about 1/2 mile to the Hendrie Hall rehearsal location. I was sweating profusely by the time I got there. What better way to start a long day than by singing?

Although buses were supposed to take us to JFK at 3:00 pm, the bus company refused to honor their commitment for liability reasons, so our producers and tour organizers first obtained 140 reservations on Amtrak to Penn Station, but then found two buses just in time to avoid the train trip. So, somewhat earlier than planned, after a greatly reduced rehearsal, we headed into the snow for JFK, with the overflow traveling in private cars.

The Blizzard of 2006 kept most people home, so traffic was light on the main roads, and we reached JFK in good time, and even boarded our plane at 7:30 pm — only about 45 minutes late, but unfortunately, a Turkish Airlines plane had slid off the runway as we were waiting to take off. The reduced staff at JFK valiantly tried to repair that runway and/or clear another runway, but finally around 4:00 am (yes, that's almost nine hours on the tarmac), when we were told the conditions were too dangerous, fuel too low, and crew too long on duty, so our pilot gave up, and said we were joining the queue of 50 planes to get back into a gate.

5:38 am Monday Morning - Departure Lounge - JFK - Peter Clark '62

At that point they started the movies, and fed us a snack. We eventually did get to the gate shortly after 5:00 am having, in my case, no sleep — partly because we were keeping our seat backs upright so we'd be ready to take off, and partly because my delightful young seatmate from '02 was so talkative!

The need to be ready to take off also was also the reason they never fed us a real dinner, but there was good news: at 6:00 am the McDonald's in the departure lounge opened, so I got in line. The bad news: the line took an hour. The good news: BA gave me a $15 voucher, and the breakfast was actually pretty good.

Through the morning, many were trying to sleep in the corridors and chairs with blankets and pillows borrowed from the plane. I tried but couldn't. Finally, at 11:30 am we did some rehearsing of the Russian music in the lounge — ignoring the bemused looks and the persistent public address system announcements that were so loud that was all we could hear.

Shortly after noon we found out that the 3:00 pm Monday flight we'd been moved to was canceled for mechanical problems, and that British Airways had secured buses to take us to Philadelphia where there would be room on two planes leaving at 6:30pm or so, and 10:00pm Monday evening. As a Philadelphian, that was about the last place I expected to have as a destination.

5:37 am Monday Morning - Departure Lounge - JFK - John Gerlach '62 and
family - a little glum now, but his spirits (as did everyone's) quickly recovered
to meet the challenges ahead

I did get an hour of sleep on the bus. I thought of calling my wife, Nancy, and saying, "Quickly, look out the window, our bus is going by the house!" but decided she was already feeling so miserable with sympathy for us that I wouldn't attempt humor. Unbelievably, WE were in fine spirits. Probably nervous energy.

At PHL I was fortunate to be assigned to the earlier plane, but the agent was aghast at the weight of my carry-on luggage (10 pound personal bag with cameras etc., and 20 pound carry-on bag with computer, more lenses, toilet kit, spare clothes, etc.). There is a ridiculous coach class 6 Kilo limit for BA international flights — that's about 13 pounds.

She insisted that I check the carry-on. I refused, as politely as I could, citing the tragedies that would result from loss of that bag, so she had no choice (she had to save face) but to upgrade me to Business Class (heh, heh), which allowed more weight for carry-on. But to make her point she then insisted that I move some items to the checked bag. I chose some empty water bottles, and one book. Actually, since BA was trying to squeeze 140 of us onto this flight and the later one, and knew they had to put some of us in Business Class to do it, she just MIGHT have been jerking me around, as they say. I'll never know.

Sitting in a reclining Business Class seat on a Boeing 777 is actually very comfortable, and I went to sleep shortly after take off, and didn't wake up until we were approaching Ireland, missing dinner (more accurately, not even knowing it had happened).

Shortly after I woke up I noticed Dave Jaffe, Yale '82, who's a medical doctor, carefully assisting an almost unconscious passenger, inches at a time, by my seat toward the bunk-like accommodations in the forward cabins. After confirming his MD status, the crew was relying on him to confer through the pilot to on-ground medical team to determine the passenger's condition, and decide whether to do an emergency landing in Ireland. She had passed out, and there was suspicion of a heart attack. Dave was able to tentatively conclude a probable hyperglycemic condition, and the crew took corrective steps. His medical opinion was that landing in Dublin was not necessary as long as we could go directly into Heathrow with no delays, which we did, arriving early (!).

His medical conclusions were later enthusiastically applauded by his fellow Yale passengers, and at a breakfast announcement session a day later he was awarded a commemorative T shirt with the initials of the singing organizations (YAC and CUMS) on one side, and the phrase "in England" on the other. We arrived at Heathrow, boarded buses for Cambridge, had a great breakfast at our hotel, and went into rehearsal.

David Jaffe M.D '82 receives YAC CUMS Shirt Award from Mark Dollhopf '77
for his quick response to a collapsing passenger on BA 293 where his medical
judgment averted an emergency landing in Dublin (but did result in a direct,
no holding pattern, landing at Heathrow)

Admittedly our sleep deprived state was probably a bit dangerous from a good health point of view: Sleep deprivation can interfere with memory, energy levels, mental abilities, and emotional mood, causing pessimism, sadness, stress and anger, as well as a depressed immune system. But, we were determined, and we were being called upon to perform at a very high level. So we did. Wow!

Onward to the photos or to "Yale's Singing Tradition Thrives". For the complete set of Skip's photos of the trip, visit www.yale62.smugmug.com.

(Skip's email address is skipyac@planlogic.org.)