There is nothing like the campground experience at a fly-in to put you together with old friends and to introduce you to new friends. If you have a motel room in Tampa or Orlando, you get up each morning, gobble down the free breakfast and motor into the show. After you have exhausted yourself walking 37.5 miles at the show, you pile back into the car, motor back to the motel, shower, eat dinner and collapse into bed. Not much of an opportunity for social interaction.
Campground life is different. You have a compound of three or more tents with old friends. You roll out of your sleeping bags, eat breakfast together and, after a day at the show, you end up in a circle of camp chairs, discussing the wonders seen at the show, politics, religion and sex (or at least the memories of sex). These are flying buddies you have known for decades. Although you might not have seen them twice in the past year, you pick up your conversation like you never left off.
I met one such buddy, Ed Stembridge, at Oshkosh (before they called it AirVenture) nearly 30 years ago. It was hard to miss him, six foot five and wearing a Georgia Tech t-shirt. Being a fellow Georgia Tech yellow jacket, I called out to him. I found out that he lived only a few miles from me in the Atlanta area, that he had a wife and two sons, that he worked in industrial and graphic design and that he was a church goer. We became fast friends. Back in Atlanta we flew together, built airplanes together and became closer than brothers. Sadly, Ed and his family moved to Peoria, Illinois when he took a job as the chief graphic designer for the Caterpillar Company. We still talked on the phone, exchanged Christmas family newsletters and rocked on with our separate families and jobs. A few years ago, Ed retired and he and Beth moved to Tennessee. I just retired this past December. I called Ed and, within 5 minutes we hatched a plan to camp together at Sun ‘n Fun.
My other campmates, Bill Bell and John Morgan, both Atlanta Silver Wings members, adopted Ed into the tribe in about 15 minutes. The camp chair circle discussions have been epic. Of all the wonderful things the Good Lord has given us, campground camaraderie has to be near the top.
Yesterday morning two new guys were pitching camp next to our compound. I was on my way to the grocery so I introduced myself and asked them if they needed anything from the store. I got quizzical looks from both and one stammered out that they spoke very little English. Through sign language I established that they could use some water, so I gave them the thumbs up and blasted off in my truck with Ed. We scored a carton of Lemmon La Croix (fancy water) and left it on their cooler. Last night, during our camp circle confab, our new neighbors showed up with a plate of thinly sliced and heavenly tasting steak. All he said was “Brazilian steak.” Our smiles and thumbs up conveyed our pleasure. New friends. Today I am googling how to say “thank you” and “what do you fly” in Portuguese.
Wow! Steve and Ed together again – it’s old home week! Tell Ed I said hi.
Amen RE the campground experience, Steve! A great review & endorsement. So sorry we had to miss SNF this year — memories from the last 35+ just don’t seem to replace the experience of being there. Old flying friends and relationships are precious, no doubt we all agree. Hi to you, too, Jeff!…from out of the past, Mac & Donna Forbes