Anatomy of an awards banquet

Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been when I actually won a big award. Things like that don’t happen.

Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been when I allowed the station flight-booker to book me a three-leg flight to Atlantic City.

Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been when I watched a fire truck follow my third-leg plane into the gate.

But the first sign of warning came when a pretty girl named Melissa smelled something that had the scent of cooking biscuits. She and her foster puppy, a black lab named Dawson, sat at the front of the plane. She was charged with putting him in social situations before he received his formal training as a guide dog. In my opinion, Dawson got enough socialization Friday night to last a lifetime…no matter that a dog year equals seven human years.

The biscuit smell was actually smoke. Something on the plane was burning while we flew over the Atlantic. Dawson didn’t stir much as the pilot indicated we were turning back. We didn’t know there was smoke in the cockpit and he wasn’t telling us. After the biscuits the first real sign of trouble was the line of emergency vehices waiting for us on the runway. I snapped this ugly picture after we stopped (the stewardess let out a sigh of relief and didn’t bother asking me to stop).

By the time the smoke cleared, we should’ve been in Atlantic City. Most people on the plane were just thankful we were back at Reagan National instead of the Atlantic. Their moods changed a lot by the time I snapped the next picture.

That’s two hours later as we stood waiting for someone to pick us up and take us to a hotel. By this time it was nearly 1AM Saturday. We were still in D.C. and had recently been told we wouldn’t arrive in AC until after 1PM the next day. We were nonplussed.

Forty-five minutes later, three shuttles picked up the 20 stranded travelers. Pictured here are the shuttles, a Navy man who held his temper pretty well, and Dawson the Dog (who also was holding his temper pretty well).

We all felt pretty good about living through the night before until the next day when my partner Don Jackson opened the Washington Post. Notice, he seems a little concerned.

It could be because it seemed like the Post had pulled a little Dewey-Truman trick. Maybe we’d been closer to death than we thought.

Nevertheless, we boarded the plane that looked exactly like the one we’d been on the night before…

…and took to the skies. The entire time I’d been feeling unsafe, I had been so close to the heart of the nation’s defense and didn’t know it.

Later, I gave a speech I don’t remember and accepted the award.

All in all, it was a pretty good trip.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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