The Crate Escape
In 1965, Brian Robson was a 19-year-old from the U.K. who flew to Melbourne, Australia, on an assisted immigration program to work for Victorian Railways. He got desperately homesick after a few weeks and wanted out. To quit his job, he would’ve had to break his two-year contract with the Australian government. And since the government paid for him come, he’d owe the money back to them.
That’s when Robson and two buddies whom he met in Melbourne hatched a nutty plan. If they could stuff him in a wooden crate and fly him back home, he’d avoid the expense connected with going AWOL. The three bought a wooden crate into which Robson could fit — barely. They nailed him inside for what they anticipated would be a 36-hour flight, including layover time. With Robson went a bottle of water, a flashlight, an empty bottle (for obvious reasons), a small suitcase, a pillow, and a hammer to break out.
Stickers on the outside of the crate read “FRAGILE” and “THIS SIDE UP.” Robson ended up being in the crate for 5 days. With limited oxygen at times and, for one 24-hour stretch, held completely upside down, he would pass in and out of consciousness. It was a dreadful experience. “I thought I was going to die,” he reports in his book, The Crate Escape, due out soon. Although he considered breaking free, he didn’t want to embarrass himself and be discovered. It turns he got only as far as Los Angeles when an airport worker saw his flashlight beam through a hole in the crate. “He looked me straight in the eye,” Robson recalls. “If there was an Olympic Games going on at the time, he’d have won for a backflip. I’ve never seen anybody back-flip so far.”
Dehydrated and weak, and quickly surrounded by FBI and CIA agents, Robson was discovered to be no danger. Pan Am airlines ended up flying him home first-class to London. Today, Robson is alive and still wondering who those two buddies were and if they’re still alive. He can only remember their first names.
When I heard this story, I laughed at its bizarre twists and the luck of this one-time teenager. I then thought of how this year of pandemic endurance has felt much like being stuck in a crate. The strictures. The fear. The aloneness. The lack of oxygen behind a mask. The uncertain arrival date on the other end.
But now with spring in the air, a vaccine inside of me, and restaurants and other places opening up thoughtfully, it feels like we can begin crawling out of the crate. Darn, it was cramped in there! I didn’t like the experience any more than you did. We’ve still got a ways to go, of course. No first-class flight to book for home just yet. But inhale some good air. Do your part in getting vaccinated. And give thanks to God for the life you and we have together.