My Flight From Honolulu to Oakland—Just Call Me Amelia

4 years ago

I left Oakland, California, on Sunday, March 10, for Honolulu, Hawai’i. Not piloting a plane—I wish!—but as a passenger aboard a Boeing 737. When I returned Wednesday night, flying from HNL to OAK, I realized we were following the same route Amelia Earhart had in 1935. That’s when she became the first pilot to fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland.

In March 1937 Earhart crashed her Lockheed Electra on takeoff from Ford Island, in the heart of Pearl Harbor. In June, she attempted to set a record for a transcontinental flight around the world. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, never made it. Many people believe her own miscalculations (or those of Noonan) did her in. When I boarded an Alaska Airlines jet Wednesday night, I didn’t think about the possibility of Earhart’s disappearance having been brought on by her own error in judgment—until the next day.

When I almost didn’t make it home. Because of my miscalculations. I mean really, who in their right mind would think it wise to schedule four flights in a 24-hour period, crossing six time zones in the process? Especially a pilot and a former member of Earhart’s club, the Ninety-Nines? Quite honestly, I don’t think I even realized I had done so, when I made reservations months ago after being invited to be a guest speaker at a conference. I just saw it as smart planning to drop in on family and friends in California, en route to and from Hawai’i.

The first leg of my trip home began at HNL at 8 p.m. Wednesday. I changed planes in Seattle, Washington, at 7 a.m. Thursday, boarded another flight and arrived at OAK about 8 a.m. After a quick visit with loved ones there, I boarded my third flight at 3 p.m. and headed to my final destination in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a brief layover in Denver, Colorado. That’s where I received some first-class medical attention, all because by then I was exhausted. And dehydrated.

The USS Arizona submerged beneath Pearl Harbor.

I began feeling ill about 11 a.m. while still in Oakland. My friends made sure I rested for the next two hours. I still felt a little out of sorts when I boarded the plane. So I slept most of the way to Denver. When I did wake up, the two deadheading Southwest employees next to me were still engrossed in the same tête-à-tête they had been when I boarded the plane. So much so I hated to ask them to let me to use the restroom, stretch my legs or get a drink. And when I finally did force myself to interrupt, their demeanor was definitely not friendly—mahalo very much.

All of which meant I didn’t drink enough water. As soon as I deplaned, it hit me. I was dizzy and felt like I might pass out. So I asked an airline employee if someone could take my blood pressure. I figured my blood sugar or blood pressure was low.

And that’s how I found myself on my back on the floor, my legs propped up against the floor-to-ceiling windows that give waiting passengers a nice view of the planes as they come and go. Did I tell you I was wearing a dress? Yep, I was. A little Hawaiian sundress I thought I’d impress my husband with when he came to fetch me from the airport. Which means the airline workers on the tarmac below probably got a nice view, too—if a fellow passenger and a Southwest employee, both women, didn’t wrap that shawl around my legs in time. (Then, I felt too bad to even care at the time. Now, hindsight being what it is and with the Steubenville trial behind us, I realize it’s possible my nether regions are now fodder for someone’s Twitter or Facebook feed. So if anyone has that particular photo of me, I’ll pay you good money just to make it go away.)

Paramedic Ben, who said my symptoms required an EKG to rule out any heart issues, had a great sense of humor. “I don’t have my appendix,” I said as he felt my lower right abdomen.

“No problem, neither do I,” Ben replied, clearly skilled at defusing tension in patients—like me—who are on public display in an airport terminal while hundreds of people walk by. After as thorough an exam one can have in a public airport, Ben ruled out everything but dehydration. I signed a waiver saying if I died in the air it was my own fault, then I boarded the plane and safely made my way home. By the time I retrieved my checked bags, it was 12:30 a.m. Friday. Even if I hadn’t missed my husband so much, I would have kissed him anyway—because he knew I’d be exhausted and decided in advance (all on his own) to book a room in a nearby hotel. Where I slept for hours and hours.

It’s taken me until today just to feel human again, and well enough to write about my journey. Speaking of which, did you know Hawai’i is both a state and an island? The state of Hawai’i is comprised of eight islands, one of which is also called Hawai’i. I went there because that’s where a violence and abuse conference was being held. It was in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Known as “the gathering place”, Oahu is the third-largest and probably the most popular island. It certainly has the most people, given that 75-percent of the state’s 1.2 million people live there.

I’d never been to Hawai’i before, so I was eager to experience it. Swim in the ocean, go snorkeling, attend a luau. Turns out, there was much more to do. For instance, for aviation aficionados and history buffs like me, there’s Pearl Harbor. I went twice. The first time to check it out, the second to take a tour and see the Pacific Aviation Museum. (I’ve been even more curious about the place since I saw Ben Affleck in the movie. Locals who grew up there tell me Pearl Harbor wasremarkably accurate in its portrayal of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. And I wanted to see the USS Arizona Memorial.)

The golf ball sits in Pearl Harbor, so I could see it up close and personal. A 28-story-tall defense radar system, it cost $900 million and helps protect the United States from rogue missiles. I saw it every day from LeAnne’s house and was mesmerized by it. It’s gigantic in itself, but it sits on an even bigger Norwegian oil platform. Yet when it isn’t at dock, it floats.

Early morning sunrise at Diamond Head

While on Oahu, I went on a dinner cruise and got some spectacular sunset pictures in return. I was dining solo, so I could just soak everything in. Since my fellow passengers were from all over the world, it turned into a cool people-watching evening for me. (The young college couple next to me was from Connecticut, and want to come hear my TEDx talk next month at Connecticut College. That was a cool coincidence, as was meeting a Virginia couple the following morning. They live in the same town as Ken Lanning—the retired FBI special agent who wrote the foreword for my book. That and their son is in law enforcement.) Oh and I didn’t just watch a hula dance—I was in one. The best food on the cruise? A taro (or poi) roll, made from the purple taro root. It wasn’t just pretty, it was yummy.

Back on dry land, my new friend LeAnne took me to the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market on the North Shore. We met some of the nicest people and sampled some of the best local food there. Musubi, the thing I turned up my nose to, turned out to be the most delicious. With just four ingredients—a block of rice, a slice of grilled Spam, nori (dried seaweed), and some sesame seasoning—it’s cheap and simple to make. This small but mighty market was next to the Waialua Estate, where we sampled coffee from the homegrown beans, and saw cacao (chocolate!) growing in the pods on a tour. (I can’t believe I originally balked at LeAnne’s suggestion we visit a farmer’s market, thinking if I’d seen one, I’d seen them all. Nothing could be further from the truth.) And now that I’ve tasted thechocolate-covered Waialue coffee beans, I’m hooked. I swear they’re the best ever!

Another new friend, Candy, treated me to a delicious Thai lunch and took me around the island. We went to Nu’uanu Pali State Park, where during the 1700’s Chief Kamehameha fought a decisive battle. He became Hawaii’s first king after driving more than 400 opposing troops over the edge of a cliff. Myra, yet another new friend, took me out on the town Saturday night. We went to a street fair, where we saw some unusual street performers and a fashion show; drank delicious vetiver tea; met Joy, a local artist who sells cool jewelry on Facebook; and listened to some lovely native Hawaiian music. The first group, Olamana, was very popular in the 1970’s, Myra insisted. The second, Kapena, continues to gain popularity.

My one-mile hike up Diamond Head crater ranks near the top of my favorites list. I experienced an absolutely stunning 360-degree view of the famous Waikiki coastline, as well as great views of the Pacific Ocean. This area (which was where parts of the hit show Lost was filmed) was formed from a single volcanic eruption 300,000 years ago. Diamond Head once served as both a lookout station and a lighthouse, and bonfires burned at the edge of the volcano. During World Wars I and II, Diamond Head served as a military observation point.

David, our Diamond Head tour guide, said the vast majority of plants aren’t native to Hawai’i, and the palm trees and coconuts were brought there during the ancient Polynesian migration. I checked and he’s right about the coconuts. But the rest? Not so much. One type of palm tree is quite native to the islands, and his claim that Oahu owes its beautiful beaches to Australia isn’t true, either. But the sand was shipped from California during the 1920’s and 30’s. (Any sand shipped from Australia was for construction purposes.)

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

It’s hard to name my top Oahu memory. There were so many! But I think it was making new friends, like Candy, Myra and LeAnne. And being treated to such lovely hospitality while there. From the aromatic leis LeAnne placed around my neck at the airport, to the delicious feast she prepared that night to welcome me. From taking me to wading in the lagoon on Pupukea Beach to showing me some of the best parts of Oahu, including the painted trees (Rainbow Eucalyptus), I’ve learned a lot. Namely, that I want to be this kind of hostess, when friends visit my home. I want to show such genuine love and warmth that my visitors never want to leave. Like I didn’t, when it was time to go.

Nothing about my trip to Hawai’i or my flight home was planned, other than the speech I gave. But isn’t that when you get the greatest gifts in return? Life is about dealing with the unplanned, uncharted and often turbulent waters swirling around us. So plan for the unexpected, and live a little. Or live a lot and go out kicking and screaming. Either way, you’ll be glad you did. Aloha!

Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. She invites you to join her when she gives her first TEDx talk in April 2013. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (in paperback) can be found at bookstores everywhere, and the e-book can be ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout”.

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