In a parallel universe, one in which I’d chosen to listen to the right soundtrack–something John Williams scored during a dark moment, maybe–we probably all would’ve died.
A crowded airport terminal in Nassau. Nothing is comfortable and everyone has a thin layer of sweat between their skin and traveling clothes. The weather in Miami is spinning travelers in and out of planes as fast as the suspected tornadoes over south Florida. Eventually a flight attendant will talk about having just experienced the worst turbulence of her career while nervous fliers look out the window at the electric show above the clouds. But for this moment, everything seems like it’s all going to be okay. No one is going to die unless its of cabin fever or food poisoning.
I’m reading a book a friend wrote in French and translated to English, and I’m listening to a song that begins with the line, “Danger, I’ve been told to expect it.” Every light above my head goes out. The airport terminal has glass walls, so we don’t slip into darkness. It’s almost better for that half-second without the fluorescent lights–less manufactured and airport faux-sterile. I have just long enough to wonder if it’s just the lights or the airport’s entire power system before I turn and look at the Delta gate LED screen and see it’s gone dark, too. I have another half-second to worry that my flight will be delayed and I’ll be forced to spend another night on the island.
That’s when the face of the woman sitting across me turns into a mask of terror. Her mouth drops open, her eyes grow comically wide, and her index finger points over my left shoulder. I don’t know what to expect. My noise canceling headphones have revealed nothing but a driving guitar riff. No one in the terminal is running or looks even vaguely scared. In another half-second I process that I’m looking at the woman who has first seen whatever is going to kill us all.
Like my ear is attached to a string and the terrified woman is my puppeteer, I jerk left and follow the direction of her finger to the side wall of the airport terminal. Just past the Dunkin’ Donuts, just on the other side of the glass, just 50 yards away from where I sit there is a three-story column of billowing black smoke. It’s pushing against the window glass like a frightened child who wants inside, like the gray cloud is scared of whatever it is concealing. Through the smoke, it’s impossible to tell what’s afire or what is going to burn the building with us alive inside. It’s a disaster movie set to the wrong soundtrack, a director’s joke–the world is ending, but check out this rock and roll, man. I don’t have time to process anything else, least of all that fact that, if I’m going to go out, listening to rock and roll isn’t the worst way to go.
The scared woman’s husband was terrified for that half-second, too, but now he’s smiling. I don’t know why. I can’t hear anything but a song that was recorded nearly 13 years earlier in Prague. As near as I can tell, I’m going to die to the wrong soundtrack and no one will ever know that my last thoughts were, “Why is that guy smiling when we’re all about to die?”
I look once more over my shoulder and see a space clear out at the bottom of the death cloud. Beneath the horror show is the source of the smoke, the terror engine of a worn our island traveler: the Nassau airport’s industrial generator kicking on just in time to restore the minimum amount of power to put me on the next plane off the island.
Five minutes later, I’m on a plane, the smoke is gone, and I’m going home with my disaster interrupted.