Popo throws a curve


Popocatapetl said goodbye to me, after a fashion, as I left Mexico City in the summer of 1997.

I was standing in line at the airport to check bags and get my seat assignment for my 7:30 a.m flight when a voice over the loudspeaker reported that flights, which apparently had been grounded, would resume, though they would be delayed because only one of the two runways was in use. I puzzled over the report; I hadn't read the morning newspaper yet. It was only after I had checked in and settled in at the coffee shop that I read that the volcano, which had been belching smoke and water for some months, had erupted the evening before and the ash had blown north and west and settled onto some sections of the city.

Both of the runways had been covered with and at that early hour workers had been able to clear only one.

Nevertheless, we boarded our flight on time and it appeared we would depart on time. Then came the pilot's ominous "Ladies and gentlemen...." Because of the problem we wouldn't be pulling away from the gate for about an hour. That turned out to be a good estimate.

When the plane finally eased out onto the taxiway we could see the fine white powder on the ground, much like a dusting of snow, scarred with the wheelprints of aircraft and ground vehicles. I wanted to see Popo breathing smoke. The volcano is only about 50 miles away. But the cloud of smog over the valley hung so far down that we couldn't see the cone, and even when we were in the air it was hidden from us.

As the plane leveled off, the pilot came back on the intercom to thank us all for our patience in the face of the "the curve ball Mother Nature threw at us this morning."

Some pitcher, that mother.



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