One of the principals at the architect’s office was also a licensed pilot. She insisted that an up-and-comer like me would do well to follow her example and learn to fly an airplane. My boss pointed out that I would then be able to travel to remote jobsites, meet with clients or contactors at the airport and return home in time for dinner.
I didn’t say so out loud, but I was reminded of the Texan who showed up at the Emergency Room with his entire body covered in puncture wounds.
“What happened to you?” the intern asked.
“Oh I had a little accident,” came the reply.
“I can see that, Mr. Melton, but how in the world did you get all these stabs?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Doc. Me and Junior was out in the brush doing a little cactus jumping.”
“How’s that? You were cactus jumping?”
“Yeah, I know what you are probably thinking, but I tell you it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
I signed up for flying lessons with some reservations. The first day my instructor took me up in a single-engine, fixed wing with tandem seats. I learned a whole lot during the short flight over Albuquerque. I had been watching the small planes seem to float among the clouds and pictured myself at the controls, at one with the eagles.
“Ready to fly?” the pilot asked.
I nodded, climbed inside and strapped in for the adventure ahead. My enthusiasm was guarded, yet real, but my expectations were way out of line. The first indication that reason had failed me was the noise, louder than a tractor or a motorcycle, or maybe a tank. It was loud, and rough, shake-your-guts rough. I flashed back to an experience on a roller coaster at the state fair, holding on with white knuckles and a growing sensation that I might vomit before the ride was over. I imagined what it must be like to operate a jackhammer.
The landing felt like something that was supposed to happen on a trampoline.
“Sorry about that,” the instructor said. “It’s a little windy here this afternoon.”
“No problem,” I lied. My relief in being alive on Earth made it a genuine pleasure to hand over money and understand that I was buying the freedom to never again repeat the experience. Flying is for the birds.
Harpeth Rivers is a writer, musician, and happy homeowner still living and working in New Mexico. Check out his latest book, Proof, An Illustrated Fable on Amazon.