In the spring of 1978 I flew to Aspen, Colorado from Albuquerque, New Mexico in a small Cessna aircraft. The pilot was my fiancé Rudy’s friend Paul, who had made a fortune in the early ’70s Indian jewelry business, and taken up the rich man’s sport of flying. I was headed to Aspen for the weekend to visit with Paul’s lovely girlfriend, Johanna, and shop at the charming boutiques in search of a unique dress for my upcoming wedding.
Before leaving town, Rudy gave me his credit card and instructed me to, “Fly home commercial if Paul does anything weird.” Paul was a strange dude but I couldn’t imagine what he might do that would make me not want to fly back with him. Not one of my favorite people, he was the kind of guy who consistently appeared at our house at dinnertime uninvited and empty handed, and then spent the next few hours pontificating about all his financial success. Not only was he a bore, but he was also the cheapest SOB I’d ever met.
The ride to Aspen was sunny and uneventful. Johanna introduced me to all the chic stores, and I found a beautiful silk and lace camisole and skirt. Other than the fact that she and Paul had a weird eccentricity–hanging out naked around the house, the trip went fairly well. On Monday, the weather turned from sunny to stormy. I trusted Paul knew what he was doing when we drove to the small airport to fly home. It wasn’t raining that hard, and he spoke with staff at the counter while I sat in a plastic chair.
The minute we took off I knew it was a big mistake. We bounced wildly about in the air, and the rain started coming down in heavy sheets. We couldn’t see three feet in front of us. I asked Paul if we should head back to Aspen. “Don’t worry,” he said, “The instruments will guide us home just fine. I’m good at this even if I haven’t completed my instrument rating.”
Famous last words. The wind was whipping the Cessna all over the sky, and I felt my lunch arriving in the paper bag Paul had smartly provided me before taking off. Glancing at the wedding dress hanging in the zippered bag, I feared I would never get to wear it. I envisioned the headline in the Albuquerque Journal . “TWO ALBUQUERQUE RESIDENTS DIE IN PRIVATE PLANE CRASH IN ROCKY MOUNTAINS .”
I rarely pray, but I did so then, but not out loud. “Please don’t let me die, Lord. I promise I’ll be good the rest of my life, another Mother Theresa if you just let me live to get married and have a family.” Miraculously, four long, long hours later, we landed in Albuquerque. I kissed the ground and kissed Rudy. He had called the Aspen airport and learned that all the commercial airlines had ceased flying out of Aspen that night.
It turns out that Paul had made arrangements to lease out his plane the next day. He had risked our lives flying in a major storm to make a few bucks. I have never flown in a small aircraft since that day, and Rudy, my husband of thirty two years, lost all interest in his old buddy Paul.