Monday, May 29, 2006

A Mere Blimp On the Horizon

I was probably about 11 years old.  My dad told mom and us to get in the car and to not ask any questions.  We lived north of New Orleans in Metairie, and we drove for an hour or so south and east to a spot I had seldom seen.  We drove right out into a large open field.  At some point we spotted the Goodyear blimp.  It loomed huge as we drove near it.  I remember wondering why Dad was so secretive about us going to see the blimp.  We had seen it before flying lazily along above a vast Mardi gras crowd.  It was certainly a special treat to see it up close.  But why all the secrecy?

My two brothers and I sat in the car with my Mom while Dad got out and walked up to some guy and chatted with him.  After a moment he walked back and said, o.k. let’s go.
We piled out of the car and walked toward the blimp as several guys struggled to hold it in place with ropes that trailed down toward the ground.  Underneath the blimp was a little passenger compartment that seemed about the size of a VW bus.  Steps were tossed down and we climbed in!  For reasons I could not fathom, my mom chose to stay behind at the car.  Soon I saw the guys holding the ropes letting us ease up higher off the ground.

They can only do this if there is very little wind, explained my Dad.  So he didn’t want to get our hopes up and then find out that we were canceled out due to weather.  He had worked for Goodyear for a long time.  This was a little perk that a few employees got to enjoy when the blimp was in town and not busy flying over a parade or a football game.

The blimp rose up rather slowly. I was seated just behind the pilot who seemed as if he were driving the VW bus.  A low rumble turned into a loud roar as the propeller engines that pushed the blimp were throttled up to push us lazily along.  It was the first time I had flown. It is the only time I have flown in a lighter than air vehicle.  My most vivid memory is one of seeing kids playing on a swing set down below us.  We were high enough that they were tiny and seemed to be rushing forward and backwards beneath the pole of the swing set.  For however long the flight lasted, we were absolutely transfixed by the sights rolling slowly along below us.  I have flown on many airplanes of various sizes in the decades since.  I have never experienced anything quite the same.

Tonight I have taken some time to remember that flight. It was so absolutely unexpected.  To this day, when I tell the story, I have never met anyone who said, “Oh yeah, I did that too when I was a kid.”  As I consider the years since, I realize that many other equally unexpected things have happened.  Some of those things have been wonderful.  Some have been terrible.  Many, many things that I could never have predicted!

Why then do I fail to understand that the next minute may hold a surprise still greater than all those so far?  Why do I feel that I am plodding along a well defined path when every step I take is new territory, time never lived before.  The number of possible outcomes for each moment is vast beyond knowing.  I am hurling through space at thousands of miles per hour.  It is impossible that I will ever be mired within the small scope of my imagination.  I praise God for the adventures ahead.
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