Friday, December 21, 2012

Confessions of an Airport Bum

I used to hang around airports--little ones. My first airplane ride was in an open biplane. It had been painted red. I remember a pilot new to the plane took it up one day. He rolled it. An object fell from the plane. The guy next to me said, "Look, he dropped his cigarettes. I'll catch 'em." He took off his ball cap and held it out. I saw his eyes widen as the object got bigger. It was the unfastened seat of the plane, about the size of a car seat. It hit the earth with a boom, sending up a ring of dust.

They were parachuting one day. Before the men jumped the pilot would drop sticks to gauge the wind. They were pieces of broom handles with cloth attached. But this time the pilot misjudged the wind. His man jumped and drifted off course. We got into an old hearse to retrieve him. There he was in somebody's back yard, trying to unhook his parachute from a children's swing set with a clothesline prop. A woman had her back door open staring at him.

"Wanna make a jump?" I was asked. I confess that I was afraid of heights. Anything higher than a step ladder frightened me. But I said yes. I was scheduled for next Saturday, at a different airport. The locals here had had enough. I was taken to see my chute packed. The packer had very long masonite tables in his basement. He dumped a tangled chute onto a table and patiently picked debris off it--grass and leaves. He stuck out his lower lip and blew. One of the parachute panels ballooned up and then settled into place. "Saves me a walk down the table," he explained.

On his walls were pictures of him jumping. One of them was a triangular chute. "You have to jump a chute you packed to be certified. "

We drove to a nearby air field with my newly packed chute. They were ready to take me up. A door had been removed to let me out. At fifteen hundred feet I stood on a little metal boarding step. I looked at the pilot and he nodded. I had my hand on the ripcord handle as I let go. I closed my eyes as I counted out loud, "One, two," and pulled the cord. When I felt the chute open I remember saying, "Lord, you've been good to me."

Below, I saw my friends get into a convertible to pick me up. I landed in a corn field. The chute lay atop the stalks. My foot had stepped on one plant and bent it. But I was ok.

It's amazing what a little faith can let you do.

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