039. Flying the Skies Over Waukegan
July 2009. On a relatively normal summer day in Wilmette, Kenny, a friend of mine invited me up to Waukegan to tag along for one of his regular flights in his Cherokee Piper - for those who don’t know, a Cherokee Piper is similar to a Cessna or any other small single engine, 4 person aircraft. I helped taxi the plane from the hanger onto the tarmac, do some of the preflight checks, and we were off over Chain-o-Lakes and the Wisconsin/Illinois coasts of Lake Michigan. Halfway through the flight, Kenny invited me to take the copilot side’s wheel/stick/whatever-lingo-you-prefer and, for lack of a better word, fly the plane for a bit. It’s not as if flying is a new experience for me, but being in control of something like that is quite different. Much like the first time that I drove a car on my own, there was a distinct feeling of trepidation on the verge of that new freedom. Some of you may think I’m being melodramatic, which is indeed possible, but the sensation I’ll try to describe merits something more than passing mention. So I took control, and Kenny turned around in his seat to get something from his bag, and in those tiny nervous moments I could move my wrist, and I could feel the world shifting around me. When I first drove on my own, I felt that absurdly cliche burst of freedom that follows having all of that new space and distance open to you, and I felt that same feeling in that plane, but on a much larger scale. On perhaps a mathematical or physical level, what changed was the addition of the z-axis - altitude. When driving, you can move backward and forward and right and left but you are constricted by gravity and asphalt, but in that plane, there is no direction unavailable to you. The world shifting around me is the best way to describe this new accessibility. As I adjusted the stick and the pedals (which controlled the rudder) I was watching and feeling this space and this magnitude of perspective augment and turn around me. Everything is possible in that space, I’m sure that there are more experienced pilots out there who can laugh off what I’m describing here as a very juvenile and unfounded epiphany, but as being a pilot is not on my list of things to do with my life, this moment deserves mention. Nothing can compare to feeling nothing less than unhindered. Obviously it was unrealistic to assume we’d be going anywhere else but straight back to the airport, but that feeling of being without limits, that feeling of being above street lights and stop signs and above the impossible pain of pining at the sky, that feeling of total possibility, devoid of whatever logic might disagree, everything was up there, everything was within reach.