It’s been close to three months since my last Roadtrip post, and that one wasn’t even about me. This should not be surprising: it’s been a full four months since I’ve been on any sort of trip, at least any that hasn’t transpired entirely in my imagination. In the meantime, I’ve been playing quite the homebody, spending every writing moment I can spare trying to finish writing That Damned Novel (short answer: no, don’t ask. Really).
But this morning I’ve found myself, for the first time since September, on the road. Wading through the indifferent line for airport security and drifting along like flotsam in the loosely swirling flow of travelers in Terminal One. Catching myself turning toward the cloying scent of waffle cones, the blaring useless television news, the overhead announcements asking Mrs. Christina Ortega to please report to a customer service representative.
It feels strangely like visiting an old neighborhood after time away: yes, there’s that ice cream place that I always meant to try; there’s the familiar newsstand, and that overpriced electronica shop still staffed by bored thirty-somethings trying much too hard to look hip at 6:45 in the morning. I remember it all, but as if from far away. I find an empty seat in the concourse between two yacking, plugged in commuters and look out into the unmistakable hush of pre-dawn light on tarmac. It’s almost instinct: I reach for my laptop and start writing. Yup, I guess it’s gonna be another roadtrip.
So where am I headed this time? Florida. Daytona Beach. Those who pay way too much attention to my perambulations may remember last year when I hooked up with the Collings Foundation, an amazing bunch of folks who barnstorm around the country in WW2 bombers and fighters. Their mission is to bring visceral, living history alive for the current generation of kids (and grownups) for whom the war is just a movie they’ve seen a trailer for. Kids who don’t realize that there’s any difference between Unbroken, and Fury and Star Trek and Halo. Kids who don’t really understand what their grandparents went through in service of their country.
It’s pretty transformative to help these kids climb up into the belly of the plane, across the catwalk and let them peer through the turrets. Ask them to imagine themselves, only a few years older than they are now, shivering at minus 40 degrees, 25,000 feet over enemy territory. Imagine trying to keep the plane on course through the flack and explosions while fighters are diving on them, punching holes as big as their fist through the plane. For real. And if you get hit? There’s no “reset” button. The kids get it, and when we fire those big radials up and fly away, I think they have a new appreciation for life outside those little glowing screens.
Even more rewarding are those elderly few remaining who actually flew in the war themselves. It’s humbling and inspiring to sit with them and hear their stories. And I always laugh when they thank us for keeping the planes flying – I like to remind them that we’re only able to be here now because they kept the planes flying back then; we’ve got the easy job. It feels like an enormous honor to be able to try and repay that favor, in whatever way we can.
Anyhow. That’s the Collings folks. I’m hoping to travel and fly with them on tour again this year, and it all starts with the annual ground school and some flight training in Florida. Weather’s a bit dodgy, but I’m going out a few days early so we won’t be rushed. I’ll keep you posted – you know you can count on that, right?