Friday, October 31, 2014
I think most of us have a dream of flying, not just in first class from New York to Paris, but to be in the cockpit at the stick. I still occasionally have dreams of stepping into a small jet and taking off from a grass field, fear rising in my belly as the plane yearns for the sky. I wage an internal struggle between the dueling ideas of “I don’t know how to do this!!” and “I got this, no problem.” Once airborne, my spirit soars with the plane and I am tuned into the sky forgetting the hard reality of landscape below. Intuitively I sense not only where I am going but how to get there. The fear doesn’t re-enter my belly until the inevitable thoughts arise - “I may know how to fly, but I don’t know how to land!!” and “Landing’s the easy part.” Sometimes these returns to earth in my dreams have been accomplished Fred Flintstone-like with my feet as landing gear, most times the landings are much more conventional – and I always make it. These dreams color my perception as an adult in the only place they can, behind the steering wheel of my car. Each time I put on my seatbelt, a small part of me is strapping in for instrument check and take off.
This reminiscence came about today as I was driving and I pulled into a merge lane. I looked in my rear view mirror and an SUV suddenly slipped in close behind me, a bit too close. The driver appeared to have taut Aryan features, short blond (almost white) hair, and he wore reflective sunglasses. He seemed ageless. The name Richtofen sprang to mind as I kept a wary eye to my rear while looking for space to maneuver. It was a tight chase for half a mile before I shook him by slipping into the lane to my left. I toyed with the idea of sliding in behind him as he flew past, but I had proven my mettle and the game was over.
I stay observant as I drive, and the pilot mindset helps to always keep my mind fresh and my eye sharp. It is not always dog fights and evasion out on the road. Quite often it is keeping a watchful eye out for amateurs and show offs who compromise traffic patterns when their egos are writing checks their bodies can’t cash. This evening my wife and I were making our way to American Furniture Warehouse on a cargo run. We were hoping that the third time would be the charm for the new armchair we were to exchange. When I got the chair home on Monday and unboxed it, I found there were no legs. On Wednesday when I was able to pick up the legs, we found out that the legrest when at full extension was prone to a sizeable roll (invigorating in a positive “g” banked curve, but very disorienting for stationary activities). About halfway there, we were in a holding pattern at a stop light. The two lanes to our left were designated for turning onto the highway, and the car in front of us decided to make our lane into a turn lane as well. The car roared to life into an aggressive maneuver from its standstill and abruptly shot around a truck and made a perilous dash for the ramp. Even though the maneuver was successful, I think I have shown it as something not to do.
Keeping a weather eye out and not simply relying on instrumentation, helps keeps me safe, but has on occasion provided me a good laugh. Several years ago, I was driving our van back from a wedding delivery. It had been a long day, and I was anxious to make it back to the deck and catch some rack time before I had to return later that evening to pick up the rentals. However, traffic was tight, and it was not time to be a slacker. Suddenly, there in front of me were two small sedans filled with even smaller elderly people. They were slow and overly cautious, with one following the other. What tipped me off to potential danger (besides their slight swaying motion in the lane) was that the lead car had on a right turn signal, and the trail car had on his left turn signal. I tapped my brake, giving myself room for the unexpected – anything could happen. Hesitantly the trail car drifted right and pulled beside his wingman. His wingman then made a sudden and stuttering left hand turn! I stared in amazement, foot poised to pound the brake if necessary, and hands tight on the wheel as from the right hand lane the other driver jolted left to follow his wingman. These events executing in the slow motion only very old or very young drivers can accomplish. Meanwhile, in the back seat of the car turning left from the right hand lane, I could make out a little old man with his hands hard on the roof, his eyes wide as saucers, his neck craning around crazily to see if anyone was about to ram them. He looked to me for all the world like Slider (Iceman’s rear) trying to follow and find the two Migs that just executed a supersonic flyby. I couldn’t help but smile at the image even as I cringed and hoped that God really did watch over fools, drunkards, and Americans.