AirVenture, Day Last
Today was unusually quiet, though you’d never have known it by looking at me, zipping around on the golf cart, hauling boxes off to a shipping vendor, making last minute stops to see friends and business partners (usually both) one last time, and wondering why it was I couldn’t find a t-shirt I liked this year.
The aircraft camping areas (the North 40, and its counterpart, the aptly named South 40) were extremely thin when I got to the grounds this morning, and the display areas, especially the warbirds and vintage spots, were nearly barren. Even Jerry and his One Man Band were gone today, postponing until next year my plans to buy a CD chock full of accordion-synth-polka goodness – thank goodness I have that excuse to come back. For a while, I thought that even that one guy was gone, since he was 90 minutes late getting to the booth. Turned out to be nothing more sinister or mature than a nasty hangover.
I was dismayed to learn that the pilot lost in Friday’s crash was a close friend of two dear friends of mine, Tom and Laurel Lippert. Anything more than about one degree of separation among old airplane people (that is, people who like old airplanes) is uncommon – still, it was a bit startling to realize the close connection we had in common. Laurel wrote a great story about how they’d met a couple of years ago – I remembered the story well, but just hadn’t recalled the name. You can read Laurel’s story here – there’s a freebie membership required, but it’s painless and worth it. I’m glad to point to it here, even if only as a memorial.
I had a good chat with "Snort", who made a special trip to the booth to say goodbye. I ended up seeing him again later in the day, pulling up along side his P-51 in my not-quite-as-impressive golf cart as he was launching for his Heritage flight display with the F-22 Raptor. As always, he flew a flawless routine, and then left the area to take the Mustang home.
As the day wound down, I got all eleventeen of my boxes packed and handed off to DHL, while the rest of the group concentrated on uninstalling the FSX: Acceleration add-on … and then using retail copies of FSX to repair the installation. It seems the uninstall routine in the build of FSX:A that we brought conveniently leaves FSX itself unusable. thankfully, this build was an Alpha (the one before Beta, or Male), and there’s plenty of time to iron things out and polish it up.
I was a bit unsettled about the final teardown, since the computers and some of the monitors were going one place, the other monitors were going another place, and the crated booth structure itself was going … one of two places, and we didn’t know for sure exactly where, or when we’d know, and the guy who knew most of the things ended up running a bit late. Thankfully, he brought great news when he arrived just a few minutes later than expected: "You’re done. We’ve got it from here." With that, we walked away at 5:59:07 PM Central Daylight Time, just under one hour after the official close of the exhibit hangar. This is a new record, one that I suspect will stand for some time, if for no other reason than that the thought of breaking it sounds utterly overwhelming.
Dinner part one found me honoring a tradition – burgers at Shepard’s Drive In in Berlin (pronounced BER-lin), about 20 miles from Oshkosh. Berlin is a pitch-perfect take on the cliche of an idyllic middle-American town, but the joke’s on the visitor, since it isn’t a cliche at all. Dinner part two was a gift to my friend Brent, a rare opportunity, unavailable at home, to hit Taco John’s and discuss the merits of Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey and his trusty steed, a dog called Ben.
This show is exhausting, even just as a spectator. It can be beastly hot, except during the occasional liquid insanity that they call rain in this part of the country, at which time it becomes beastly hot and wet. The crowds are thick, it can take forever to get anywhere, and the days are long – it’s rare to leave the grounds after less than 12 hours. Even spoiled as we are as sponsors, with our golf carts, our VIP flightline passes, our access to special air conditioned havens of wi-fi and free lunch, just absorbing the event takes its toll, much less managing even our small slice of the logistical pie.
But I absolutely hate to see it end.
Somewhere around the second day of the show, when everything is setup, the things we remembered are working, and the things we forgot have been scrounged, and my routine is established, there’s a sense of happy, if complacent luxury. "It’s no problem, I’ll be here for the entire show". Whether I say it aloud to someone I need to meet with, or just to myself as I choose where and with whom to spend my time, it means the same thing: There will be enough time.
I know better than that.
No matter how well I plan (and I was simultaneously much busier and dramatically more efficient this year than in year’s past), there simply isn’t any such thing as "enough time". By day 6, suddenly I’m Burgess Meredith at the end of the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last", wandering around a barren landscape, no longer able to see the things I came for. In my case, though, I’m not stranded alone in a post-apocalyptic library with no reading glasses, but I do tend to mutter to myself and meander ineffectually.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, so many interesting things to see and be surrounded by in one place. Even more important than that, so many dear friends, many of them I’ve known for years, a few I’ve known for days, all here, all accessible to me every day. The chances it affords to connect the dots between and among those friends who know me but not each other is a dream for a professional common denominator like me.
I dread the sight of the deflation of this temporary city (whose visitors outnumber the population of Seattle by about 1.5:1), watching friends scatter back to the four winds, and the sudden switch of my weekly admittance wristband and credentials, my parking pass, and the golf cart from priceless to useless.
No matter how bittersweet (and mostly bitter) the ending, for one week out of the year it turns out that something close to heaven isn’t in Ray Kinsella’s Iowa, it’s up and to the right, just to the left of Lake Winnebago. (If you miss and hit Sheboygan, you’ve gone too far.)
And now, before I pass out and miss my flight from Milwaukee to Seattle via Minneapolis, some 21st Century digital imagery: