Unlike tent camping, dorm camping feels more routine, sort of like you are plugged into the hive. You awake early (because you are an old man and that’s what you do) to the drone of the Walmart box fan desperately trying to channel a little of that cool Wisconsin night air into your pill box. You trudge three quarters of a mile to the bathroom and back (it’s the third trip of the night, because you are an old man). You get dressed and then you walk the same path to Blackhawk Commons Dining Hall, where you will eat way more breakfast than you would at home in front of your wife. It’s crazy that you get into such a routine after being here only four days.
Then something happens. AirVenture happens.
My son, Drew and my incredibly bubbly grandsons, Jackson and Davis, rolled up in a rental car, parked in the deck on Osceola Street, and piled out, ready for a second day of fun. Being two of the most handsome and well-mannered grandsons imaginable, I knew that we were going to have an enjoyable day together. However, being children of the 2020s, they too were a little plugged into the hive. At the tender ages of nine and eleven, they each have personal iPads. Their parents keep trac of and govern the time they spend on their personal electronic devices, but there is no doubt that they are a significant information and entertainment portals for the boys.
There are signs. In conversations throughout the day, a grandson would come up with some completely random fact or statistic that could only have come from the rectangle of knowledge in his backpack. At one point yesterday, when we were on a tram, Jackson asked me if I could load a particular game on my phone so that he could play it in those few moments of downtime. I think that Jackson may be a little tentative in life because he meticulously researches every new endeavor and sometimes focuses on the potential dangers his research reveals.
We climbed onto the shuttle bus with about 40 other AirVenture revelers and made our plan. We would start with Kidventure, an area behind Pioneer Field dedicated to kid’s activities. After that, we would ride in a Bell 47 helicopter (think the bubble helicopter from Mash) around the AirVenture grounds. As we walked up to the Kidventure site, Drew quickly surmised that the line for the helicopter ride was quickly growing. He called an audible and we slid over to the helicopter hangar to sign up and wait in line. The volunteers there could not have been nicer. They explained how the flight would go, signed us up, and ushered us to folding chairs to wait our turn.
We had a discussion about flight logistics. Each ship held the pilot and two passengers. Drew and I decided that he would fly with Davis and I would fly with Jackson. The helicopters flew with the doors off, so the outside passenger had an incredible, if a little frightening, view outside. We had a discussion about who would sit in the middle and who would sit in the open door. Drew, an incredible trial lawyer in his own right, gently encouraged the boys to choose the open door and to embrace the adventure.
To date, the only flying experiences my grandsons had ever had were in an aluminum airliner tube with bathrooms and personal entertainment screens. All they knew about helicopters in general, and Bell 47s in particular, were facts and cautions they read on their iPads. Jackson sat next to me while waiting for our mission and I could tell he was a little tense.
Finally, our turn to fly came. We saw Drew and Davis load into the running 47. They waived as that mighty swirl of rotating steel and aluminum lifted majestically into a three foot hover, tilted nose down and climb out over the grass of Pioneer Field.
The next ship was hours. As planned, I boarded first in the middle seat. Jackson scrambled in behind me to sit in the open door seat. The smiling volunteer fastened the single seat belt across both of us. The pilot, who looked like a seasoned veteran right out of central casting for heroic and capable military pilot, gave me a nod and pulled on the collective. We never really came into a hover. Rather, we lifted off the grass, tilted over and began our diagonal climb in one fluid motion. Worried about Jackson, I looked over to him, but could not see his face because it was almost hanging out into the slipstream of the open door. The noises of the engine, thrashing rotors and whining transmission made voice communications very difficult. But then I heard it, the peal of unbridled laughter from Jackson. No iPad. No calculations of risk. Just the wind in his face, God’s landscape rolling under the skids and joyous adventure in his 11 year old heart. Yet another moment I will never forget.