Thursday, July 26, 2007

Where reality and fantasy meet

There's a sameness to AirVenture that is quite often comforting. Most of the vendors are in the same place each year, we certainly see the same people, for the most part the airshow is the same, and if there's been any upgrade to Porta-Potty technology, it hasn't reached Eastern Wisconsin.

Here it is Thursday and I still haven't spent any just me walking around looking time here, and Thursday is the day I head to the laundromat (free wiFi) to both clean my laundry and take a giant step foward to improve the aroma of the tent after two days of occasional downpours. And this evening, the great folks at Trio Avionics have invited me to the home they're renting on Lake Winnebago for happy hour, so there won't be time to do any today either.

But that's OK (unless, of course, I really needed to buy an engine and a bunch of avionics I can't afford this week), because the show comes to you here. While we were "breaking down" the BBQ site this morning (more on that later), the F-22 Raptors arrived. They usually put on a show doing what they do, one over the runway, and another over Camp Scholler (the campground). Unfortunately it was low scud weather-wise, so they could only do flybys, but that was OK as one came out over my tent.

Right around then, coincidentally, standing under the "big top," (the tent we had for the BBQ) was Scott Fechtig, who works for the Navy and told me about the software that makes these jets (and the F-18s) do the things they do.

I told him my nephew is an F-18 driver and asked if what he was telling me that the software means that he has as much input into what his jet does as I have here, right now, with my laptop, in the Oshkosh Maytag Coin-Op laundry? No, he said, but the "pilot only gets one vote in the decisions," he said.

I took my campmate, Warren Starkebaum, down to his plane... wayyyy down in the South 40, past the end of the runway. Some big government jet (actually it was a little government jet making a big noise) was taking off, as a Cessna 172 was landing adjacent on the taxiway. I wondered about the wake turbulence of the jet.

I headed to the laundromat when two screaming jets (which I couldn't see at the time) passed low over my car as I drove on the road near the departure end of the runway. A minute later they filled my windshield -- two MIGs. Where else would you see that?

A minute later a screaming aerobatic biplane zipped by. I didn't even have to look (although, of course, I did), knowing it was Sean D. Tucker, my favorite airshow performer, going out for morning practice.

I often wonder why there aren't more rear-enders on the streets of Oshkosh, what with everyone looking up while they drive.

Well, then, let's talk about the BBQ. First, I don't have many pictures -- I have almost no pictures (and the ones I have aren't very good) -- as there's very little time for taking them. But everyone has said they'll send me CDs of theirs (hint) and I'll put them on the slideshow on the BBQ site when done.

I won't be able to tell you all of the people I talked to, but I remember every conversation, and most of them couldn't last long enough, as I was usually trying to get something done.

It was a pleasure to meet James Clark of the Palmetto EAA chapter in South Carolina. He's another one of my RV heroes and recently was with a gaggle that flew to Yellowstone. He asked me if I was interested in freelance writing work, and of course those are the magic words -- as long as the subject is aviation -- and he said, "I want you to meet someone." But I was on my way to important duty -- I was bringing the required cooler of beer to the cooks, and I never got back to him.

So there go, kids. When faced with living a dream (maybe) or delivering a cooler of beer, drop the beer.

After the BBQ, I talked to Paul Merems quite a bit about canopy fitting tips and realized that getting your canopy just right on an RV is a matter of dumb luck. Usually after Oshkosh, I'm anxious to race home and work on the plane. Not this year.

The BBQ went great and we got lots of good comments. There were a couple of things that kept me up. We pitched a lot of food and I realized that while we came up with an ingenius idea of distributing the buns for whatever folks were eating -- thus limiting them to one on the first pass through the chow line (that kept the line moving and the lines small), I neglected to tell everyone that they could make a second, or third, or fourth pass through.

I also forgot to mention a couple of sponsors on my way-too-long speech -- which shouldn't have been too long since it was the same one I gave last year -- including Harmon Lange of LangAir, nor did I get a chance to talk to him, which is a shame since he was on my list.

Others can talk about the BBQ per se, but, as usual, I'd rather talk about wayward thoughts it creates. And here's mine today: politics stinks.

We don't realize how infected our lives are with politics, and I'm not here to argue that politics -- the good of the country and the people and all that -- isn't deep and important. It is. But it destroys us, bit by bit. We choose who to talk to, who to like, who to care about, based on politics, and that's not what families, including a family of 300 million, should do.

I talked to 500 friends last night and we don't talk politics at the RV BBQ (and many other places) for a good reason. Everyone knows what politics does.

These BBQs, for a lot of people, I think, are magical. In that tent last night, we no doubt had Republicans, Democrats and a few Socialists, we had electrical engineers, airline pilots, Air Force test pilots, the lead flight director of the space shuttle program, the guy who makes the software for fighter jets, an unusually high number of cops and ex-cops, news editors, professional photographers, aircraft designers and on and on and on.

At one point in these BBQs, the first question used to be, "what model of RV are you building." I don't hear that that much anymore. Instead I hear, "how's your father doing, I heard he was ailing," or "how old are your kids now," or -- in my case -- "how's your vertigo."

Somewhere along the line, these issues dominated and, as you may know, these are the issues that families talk about when they're not talking politics.

Now broaden that a bit. Imagine if we could stop polarizing ourselves with politics, and focus on something non-political, until we got to relate to each other as "family"? How different would the relationship we have with each other in this country -- on a broader scale, I mean -- be?

I come to Oshkosh for one week out of the year. And for one week, I don't know who the real me is. Is the real me the guy standing on the back of pickup truck in a field in Wisconsin, pouring my heart out to 500 people, not giving a rip whether the Indians won their game with the Red Sox (they did, 1-0, suck on that, Boston!), or that I've got lots of unfinished projects at home that I've got to do? Or is the real me the one for 51 weeks out of the year who walks into a room and sucks the air out of it?

Don't get me wrong. I like both of these guys just fine. But it's something I'll have to noodle over the next time I'm folding laundry and watching MIGs and biplanes out the window.

1 comment:

  1. Bob -

    That's the absolute beauty of aviation, and one of the most rewarding things that I get out of it.

    Flying friends have an automatic, built-in shared passion for flying, so there is never any need to fill conversational time with politics and the like - there's so much to say about flying/building/lusting over new gadgets and time like that is simply too valuable to be wasted with unimportant, ground-bound topics.