Part One: Emotional Flight
talent show. I wanted to, but I was too shy, and backed out the week before. That missed opportunity haunts me.
Every kid wants to fly. That’s why “Space Jam” and its leading song were so amazing.
Part Two: Time Travel
I had to wait nine years to fly on my first plane. In the months leading up to my inaugural air journey I longed for the skies with deep anticipation. It was an exciting time to have a first flight because this was the summer after 3rd grade when “Space Jam” had so deeply effected my culture.
My first experience with air travel was fairly unique. The first flight was from St. Louis to Chicago, a short journey with as much time spent taxing and boarding as spent in the air. My second flight followed a few hours later and took me from Chicago to Tokyo. This flight took over 13 hours and was also my first experience in time travel. Following a long layover in Tokyo I boarded my third flight to Manila.
This was a heck of a way to start flying. Over thirty hours spent in planes and airports traveling as far as you can go without starting to come back.
One of the crazy things about flying to the Philippines is that you time travel. The Philippines is exactly 12 hours ahead of time in St. Louis (depending on daylight savings). My family left early in the morning on July 14th, flew into future time zones, skipped a day and landed at 11:30 pm on the 15th. A friend of ours on the flight had a birthday on the 15th, a day that only existed a couple hours for us.
When you fly back from the Philippines to the States the opposite occurs. A day lasts forever. You can start your flight one day, travel 30 odd hours, and arrive the same day you left. Crazy. What’s even more bizzare is that you can have a flight from Tokyo to L.A. that leaves in the future and arrives in the past.
Since 1997 I have flown on hundreds of planes all over the place. But, for a 9 year old kid, that was an awesome way to start…a time travel flight across the world.
Part Three: Falling
As a kid I was physically timid. I was athletic, but pretty reserved when it came to bodily danger. I didn’t like climbing trees too high or jumping from too high into water. In the Philippines I had to face those fears and conquer them head on.
I was freed of my fear of heights in a moment I’ll never forget. My family and some friends were at a waterfall named Tinago. The waterfall was surrounded by cliffs on three sides and had dug a deep pool of clear, cold water at the bottom. One of the cliffs had a ledge, about 30 feet up, that was a perfect jumping platform. My older friends had been scaling the cliff and leaping, free and smiling, into the pool below. I envied their freedom deeply.
Finally, I decided that it was worth the risk. I told my friends I wanted to jump. So we climbed the wall (a very difficult climb) until we reached the ledge. Here’s the thing that was so perfect for me in this moment. There was no way to climb down…only up. I was stuck until I jumped. So I did. I didn’t think about it. I hardly looked. I just fell. Free. Beautiful. Flight.
I haven’t been controlled by fear of heights since then. I’ve since jumped from cliffs twice as high and didn’t even feel a flutter of worry.
Part Four: Giant Kites
Buboy Pabia was a Filipino who worked with my parents for much of the time we lived there. I don’t have too many memories of Buboy from my childhood that stand out, but I have one that I don’t think I’ll forget. One morning Buboy and his son picked me and two other friends up in their family jeep and drove us to the beach. It was storm season and the sky was warningly grey and the ocean was rough and choppy. Wind howled off the sea and blew the smell of salt water violently through the air.
Buboy unloaded five massive kites from the back of his jeep. The kites were made of multiple layers of industrial trash bags strung across thin (but strong and flexible) rods of bamboo with long tales of colorful, thick plastic and heavy duty fishing line. We were each handed a kite by a beaming Buboy.
The winds were very strong, but the kites were excellently made and withstood the beating. Besides Buboy we were all still small and skinny at the time and the kites lifted us into the air and carried us across the beach with feet only touching the ground between huge, impossible leaps.
It was an exhausting and wonderful morning.
Part Five: Co-piloting
My dad’s first cousin owns a private flight school in Michigan a bit outside of Detroit. I’ve only been up to his house once that I can remember, but it was an extremely memorable trip. He took my family up in one of his planes and flew us over the city on a private tour.
After that first flight he took me back up in the air with him in a smaller plane. I sat in the co-pilot seat on his right with a head set on, and a set of controls in front of me. After we had taken off and were soaring through the air he took his hands off the controls and said, “why don’t you fly for awhile”. I nervously reached for the controls and he talked me through a couple of gentle maneuvers. After a few minutes he took over again and steered us back to his hanger. And then he asked me to land the plane. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but I knew I couldn’t possibly say no. So with him talking me through it (he was able to override me at any point in time with his controls) I landed the plane. So cool. A boys dream come true.