Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Passenger of the Day: Falling from the Sky

It felt like summer when I left my house in Houston. I don't like it when it feels like summer in the middle of February, but that's what I get for living in Houston. I was happy to be off to Calgary, a little taste of winter for my 20 hours in the land of Canada. In the real summer, I escape to South America for their winter. Snow birds leave the cold of the northern part of America and head south. I'm Penguin. I enjoy going north for the cold. For just a bit, any way.

Penguin free-falling
The first thing I noticed about the tall young man walking down the aisle was that he was wearing shorts. He was in his twenties, handsome round face under what could have been a military hair cut, those little athletic socks that are barely visible inside his sports shoes and a nice gray sweater. As I said hello to him, he stopped and asked me about first class. He noticed there were a few open seats and had hoped to get an upgrade. I had a strong suspicion that he was not high enough up on that list to get one of the open seats. I reminded him that we were still boarding (in fact, we were still quite early in the boarding process) and that the agent would come upgrade anyone who was already seated in the back. For good measure, I asked where he was seated, just in case (wink, wink).

As it turned out, he was seated in the very last row. I always hate to see the taller ones getting seats in the last row. The seats don't recline much and in the back of the plane there are a few inches less between the seats than in the front of the plane which makes it tough on long legs, and one thing you don't want is to have a pushy flight attendant driving home the fact that the aisle space is ours and the seat space is yours, 'so stay out of our space!' It happens. Were there open seats, I'd consider asking if he'd like to upgrade.

I used one of my favorite lines when hearing that someone is in the last row, “If you were any further back we'd have to put you to work!” He laughed and thanked me for all the information on first class and sulked to the rear of the plane.

Later, he wondered how long I had been flying. I answered and asked if he was interested in working for the airlines. He informed me that he used to be a customer service agent for a Canadian airline and that he still had a few friends who were flight attendants. We struck up a conversation and I got a thrill from hearing that he had sponsors for his skydiving!
Suiting up with my instructor

“Oh, I LOVE to skydive. Well, it's been about 16 years since I've done so, but I've done it a couple of times and it was one of the greatest thrills of my life,” I told him.

I'll never forget the experience. I had driven out to Delaware with a customer friend from the Harley-Davidson dealership I managed. After a quick class, we took off in an airplane and leveled off around 9,000 feet. People often tell me they would never jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I respond with, “You didn't see the airplane from which I jumped!” It was a perfectly fine plane, but it was older, stripped of any seats and had seen many flights. Most people would have been leery to take off in that plane.

As we climbed, the instructor got ready and directed me to stoop in front of him. He connected our harnesses and together we scooted to the door. When it opened, I was just a few inches from the edge. I looked down at the ground. A sudden thought came to mind...there is nothing between me and the ground but 9,000 feet of air. I should be terrified, but I wasn't. There was very little time to obsess over the situation. I felt the tap on my right shoulder; the one that meant it was time to leave the airplane.

I tumbled out and we rolled a few times. I went into the free fall position I had been instructed to go into; legs spread with my soles to the sky, arms out and elbows at 90 degrees like I was being arrested, back arched, head down. Down we went. I was in love. I had expected to feel much like one does when on a roller coaster and the stomach drops. There was none of that. It was just a roll out of the plane and a feeling of weightlessness. Save the intense rush of air that flapped the skin on my face like a flag, there was no sensation of falling. I was flying!

All too soon, I received the second tap and the parachute opened up above us. Now there was silence as we gracefully floated towards the airport from which we had alighted just a few minutes prior. My instructor was a humorous man with white hair and he made a few jokes and then informed me that one of his 'things' was to serenade his students. He sang a song that thankfully only lasted a few seconds. For the most part, he just let me enjoy the fall, with the ruffling of the nylon chute over head.!

Landing was simple and disappointing, that my time in the air was over. I loved the fall; so much so that I repeated the experience a few months later in Maryland from 11,000 feet. This instructor let me pull the chord to release the chute, which is supposedly a big deal.
Happy Penguin after my skydive adventure

My new friend in the last row going to Canada introduced himself to me; Eric. He showed me a video on his phone of a jump he had made with a few friends. It was a great video and showed them floating through clouds on their way to the ground, grabbing the feet of the their friends, and falling feet first instead of stomach first. Eric eventually wants to train for BASE jumping and will soon begin training for a flight suit. If only I were I young again!

For me, the chance to go skydiving was one of the greatest thrills I have enjoyed in life. There is nothing to compare with falling free and then floating under canopy. If you ever get the chance, don't miss out.

As the passengers began to gather their belongings and enter the Calgary terminal, my flying partner asked me if it was cold outside. “Well, judging from Eric's shorts, I'd say no.” He looked over and laughed and told me his girlfriend would be waiting outside with the car warmed up for him. Good thing, as a blast of cold air hit as we left the airport and I was happy to have my warm clothes...and my memories of falling from he sky.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely story. I can almost feel the freedom of falling!