Saturday, August 28, 2010
Other people's birthdays and conquering fears
I'll bet you're wondering where I found that nice photo of our fair city.
Well, I took it.
Or, my husband took it. I'd already taken a few, but I was in the back seat and the wing was in my viewfinder. So he snapped some photos from the front seat—his birthday seat of honor.
He turned 40 today. I tried and tried to think of a nifty gift, and then I remembered that I know I certified pilot—a calm, capable, experienced fellow who'd volunteered at my last workplace. I felt out the husband in casual conversation: have you ever been up in one of those little, bitty planes? Ever wanted to? He was gung ho, thought it would be fun, and that sealed the deal. I contacted the pilot privately and the covert planning began.
Except I figured I'd just send my husband on the flight, because the mere thought of being up there in a tiny propeller plane, at the mercy of buffeting winds and unpredictable drafts, was enough to make me hurl. Then I thought, perhaps I'll let Marcus go, too. He'd love it. He's transfixed by planes and helicopters and flying in general. But I realized quickly that would be a disaster, because if that plane went down, there goes my life too, plus or minus an eternity of survivor's guilt. So. Nix that.
But I'd already asked my friend the pilot if he'd take a child, and he was delighted. "Kids are the most fun," he said. The idea was planted. I told him I'd think about it. He told me it would be a shame if my boy missed the ride because "his mother was a chicken."
Well, the gauntlet was thrown. And I, with much hesitation and trepidation, picked it up. And thought many times about throwing it down again. Thank goodness this little idea came together quickly, because since I've learned it would be a reality, I've felt slightly sick. I mean, I've flown before...but in commercial aircraft, the big guys, the ones with phenomenal safety records. And I don't like those trips, either.
The momentous morning came, and somehow, the boy and I had both managed to keep the secret. I told Todd when we were leaving and to be ready. We departed, and as I drove, I remembered the JFK Jr. accident, the recent wreck of a small plane carrying Alaska's former governor and others, the long list of light flights that inexplicably fell from the sky or crashed into mountains or resulted in cannibalism. Fun stuff to consider, whilst you drive to your doom.
We got there, the pilot was waiting, and Todd figured out our scheme (after sharing his slight alarm at the thought that we might be dropping him out of one of these things). We went into the office to pick up necessary headphones and paperwork; I hit the ladies' head and called home to leave a message detailing where we kept the last will and testament. We stepped outside (no excuses there, because the weather was absolutely perfect) and I saw the tiny craft we'd be squeezed into. Wow. Small.
Gary, the pilot, was completely in his element. He showed Todd the plane, the gas tanks, the rudder, all the moving parts. He had already been up in the air earlier that morning, so the machine was checked and tip-top. Without much delay, we were loading Marcus into the back seat, adjusting his headset, and then it was my turn to squeeze my much larger self in beside the child. We buckled up, waited for Todd to climb in and do the same, and then watched Gary go through his checklist and start 'er up.
You taxi just like any other plane... but you feel everything. And you can see the birds that have built nests in the shelter of the runway lights and signs, because you're pretty much on the same level as those birds. You begin moving and speed up just like on a commercial flight, but it doesn't take nearly as much time or speed to lift up into the sky. I was amazed at how quickly we were zooming above the trees. The whole thing was honestly sort of surreal, from the climbing-in moment to the perfect landing. Looking out the window was akin to looking at simulation screens, in that I couldn't quite grasp that we were, indeed, flying over the mall, downtown, stadiums and rivers. It was insane, and great, and scary, and nauseating at the same time. (I forgot to buy Dramamine. I kept the birthday secret, the kid kept the secret, but I forgot to buy motion sickness pills. Don't worry, though—I'm the only one who needs them.)
We all survived. I'm glad I went. It was definitely out of my comfort zone, but Todd loved it and Marcus did too. And I enjoyed it, honestly, except for the last ten minutes when I had to stare at my own thigh to fend off barfing. But other than that, it was awesome. Mostly, I just felt a teensy bit proud of myself, as I climbed out of the plane and hunkered down with head between knees. This little foray into the near sky was not easy for me, as you might have guessed. No regrets, though. (Of course there are no regrets; I'm still here to tell the story.) It was a fun way for our family to ring in Todd's 40th, to round out the summer, to celebrate a glorious August day, and to try something challenging and different.
Still? If it never happens again, I'd be okay with that, too.