Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2291011-Three-Miles-High
Rated: E · Short Story · Experience · #2291011
A story about a young man's first time flying a plane.
         The very first time I ever flew in a plane, I was the pilot.
         Well, it might be more honest to say co-pilot. Actually, I’m not sure how much of the flying was my doing at the age of eleven, but it doesn’t change the fact that my very first time, I held the controls.
Up to that point, the only controls I held were attached to a gaming system, and my only experience with planes had been watching the one of my dreams: the Tornado. That red and white biplane, piloted by a two-tailed fox & a blue hedgehog, going toe-to-toe with the genius of an beyond obese madman who treated nature like his experimental machinery lab. I’d flown with Sonic and Tails many times, but only vicariously. At the end of almost every game, Sonic would stand triumphantly on the top wing of the plane as birds flew past in grateful acknowledgement of their hero. The clouds would drift past as Angel Island floated high into the sky, set once more in its rightful place. That was always such a peaceful moment, seeing everything as it should be. After the relentless tumult of running through each and every different stage, the sky at the end held a promise of sweet freedom.
         This wasn’t the reality I faced each day, unfortunately. School had me in a hellish recurring nightmare scenario, and the only planes I ever dealt with were the pages of outdated and ripped up textbooks, some semi-watered grass on the empty playground that looked like it could catch fire wet, and every single day, some god awful math homework where it was apparently crucial that I help Sally or whatever-her-name-is determine the square footage of her bedroom so she could paint it hot pink. I always thought that was ridiculous. First, no ten year old is painting their own room by themselves. Second, most of the girls I knew didn’t even like pink. I liked it, but it would be a cold day in hell before I’d let anyone know that.
         You’d be surprised how easily a young kid can resign themselves to an endless droning routine, but I’m being redundant: I already told you about school. It’s not necessarily that I was a bad student, I just stopped caring. When that happens, most of the adults in your life don’t respond very well. They tend to schedule appointments for you, try to talk and relate to you, find out what’s wrong…all that nonsense. And it gets even worse when you don’t have any friends. They start throwing around words like “abnormal.” Who doesn’t want to be abnormal? Normal is boring, and that’s what school was. The last bell of the day sounded the call of freedom for me. I saw it as my own personal liberty bell.

After a few months of mediocre grades and a seeming lack of interest on my part for the normal things (like making friends,) my parents did what any respectable loving parents would do: they tried to relate to me.
         “Son, is school too hard sometimes?” Mom said.
         “No, it’s just boring.”
         “Well, you know, maybe making more of an effort would be rewarding if you actually tried it.” Dad said.
         “Yeah, maybe. But I hear you talk about your job all the time, and it sure sounds like your effort isn’t making it more rewarding.”
         Then came a few moments of silence.
         “...you need to hang out with some new friends. I have a great idea.”
         Usually, when Dad had a great idea, it involved me doing something he did when he was younger. Mom and Dad signed me up for the Boy Scouts.
         I’d never in my life hated my folks before, but that conversation gave me symptoms akin to the flu, and the thought of forced interaction with other dudes my age was enough to consider for just a moment putting diuretics in my parents’ morning coffees. On some level, I think I understood their concern. Their slightly overweight goblin child, tall for his age and prone to the teen boy regimen of boxers only while subsisting on mac & cheese and video games, might need some human contact. I needed some friends, and even like-minded ones if it came to that.

         At the first meeting of my new troop, I could already feel the intense discomfort all over my body, much less in my head. Scratchy green pants, a paper thin tan shirt, socks thicker than my patience, and something posing as a necktie while choking me made the experience lovely. At least I was allowed to wear whatever shoes I wanted, almost. Had to wear sneakers.
         This was the beginning of summer in beautiful California. If you live anywhere more than ten miles from the coast, it’s hot. We lived somewhere in the middle area, and besides the constant itch of my clothes in places I couldn’t publicly scratch, I also had the pleasure of being in a room with a bunch of other boys ages eleven to seventeen whom I’d never met before, but I knew from the smell some of them didn’t know what soap was.
         I sat at the table set up for the younger scouts, which in my troop were put in the Raven patrol. There were three patrols and three tables: Ravens for the new and younger guys, Hawks for the middle group and on-up-the-ranks guys, and the Eagles, the older, taller, scary guys. Some of these dudes were bigger than their dads, and their dads seemed to like that. The shortest dad actually had the tallest son, which made me wonder. They didn’t look anything alike.
         It didn’t take long to get into a routine. We started every meeting in line with the flag ceremony, the oath, the law, stuff you memorize and try to be sincere about because, America. Then we took our seats soon after we were briefed on the tasks of the day. We’d learn some rope knots we hardly ever used, practice putting up tents in the parking lot, and if there was time, we might have a game or two of basketball or some team activity.
         I was ready for the next meeting to be pretty similar, my sixth one up to this point. But after the opening of the meeting, the Senior Patrol Leader (that’s the leader guy) had us sit at our tables without briefing us on what we’d be doing afterwards. That was enough to have some of us moving around in our seats, bored but with a nervous energy. You know, the kind of feeling you get when your routine is thrown off. Doesn’t matter if you hate routine. When it’s thrown off, no one’s happy.
My buddy Tyler leaned over towards my seat.
         “Well, that’s out of the ordinary.” he said.
         I sighed pretty loudly in response. Us men like to communicate with noises sometimes. Tyler was always a talker though.
         “Maybe there’s something they have to tell us.”
         “I bet the troop’s gonna disband.” said Jackson, across the table. “Not like we’ve been doing anything cool recently.”
         “Now that you mention it,” said Tyler, “the scoutmaster seems more restless than usual.”
         “It’s probably nothing.” That voice came from the seat next to me. Jason, who wasn’t prone to talking much.
         “Eh, what do you know?” said Jackson. “He’s always restless. His enthusiasm makes me gag sometimes.”
         Tyler looked at Jackson puzzlingly. “Don’t you like Scoutmaster?”
         “He’s all right. Just can’t see how someone gets excited over stuff like knots and first aid drills.”
         I looked over at Tyler. “Don’t you guys ever go fishing or something?”
         “Well, sure! We usually do that during summer camp.There’s the merit badge and plenty of chances to do it there. But we won’t be going until mid-August.”
         It was Mid-July. Camp would take place the week before school started, which sounded nice, but it also sounded like a last minute arrangement by the assistant scoutmaster, who at times seemed like he couldn’t be bothered.
         The Senior Patrol leader made his way to the front of the room and made the scout sign with his right hand, a sign that the talking should come to a stop. We mimicked him like the obedient soldiers we were supposed to be as he began to tell us what was up.
         “Hey guys. So normally we’d be talking about our plans for the day right about now, but first, I’d like to introduce you to a gentleman who you’ve never met before. His son was a part of our troop when I first joined six years ago, and he had just got his Eagle rank. He’s come back with some exciting news! Please welcome Mr. Shanes!”
         We mustered up a bit of a random mix of applause. Jason and I applauded normally, Tyler was his normal enthusiastic and loud self, and Jackson sat with his arms crossed.
         “Hello, boys. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” said Mr. Shanes.
         “Hello, sir.” We all responded.
         “I was just talking over the phone with Scoutmaster Mason about what your guys’ next merit badge was going to be. He’d been hoping to try out something we haven’t done in a long time, and lucky for all of us I happen to be able to help in that area.”
         Scoutmaster smiled as he stood on the side of the room, and looked at us with great anticipation. I have to admit the suspense was killing me a bit.
         “How many of you guys have ever flown in a plane, whether on vacation or otherwise?”
         A few of the older guys and Jason raised their hands.
         “Ah.” whispered Tyler. “Perhaps we’re going somewhere further than the mountains.”
         “Doubt it.” said Jackson.
         Scoutmaster cleared his throat at us to pay attention and that always worked.
         “Well,” said Mr. Shanes, “Scoutmaster and I have decided that your next merit badge will be about Aviation. Should be lots of fun!”
         The older scouts looked excited, with shouts of “yeah!” and “alright!” as they high-fived each other. For some reason, I had no idea what the word meant, but Tyler beat me to the question.
         “Excuse me, sir. What’s aviation?”
         The other scouts laughed at Tyler as he shrank back a bit. Mr. Shanes shook his head as if to say “ignore them” and it seemed to make Tyler feel better about having asked.
         “Good question, young man. What’s your name?”
         “Tyler, sir.”
         “Tyler, Aviation is the study of airplanes and everything to do with them. I happen to have my own private airplane for four to five people at a time. I’m going to teach you guys all about airplanes and how to fly them.”
         I almost fell over in my seat. Jackson actually looked like he didn’t hate the world, for once.

         My Dad usually had to work late, so he would come pick me up after the meetings were over. I had a copy of the Aviation guidebook in my hands that the troop provided for each of us, and I had a big smile on my face. Dad looked intrigued.
         He rolled down the driver window.
         “Looks like you had a good time today. What’s that in your hand?”
         “It’s a guidebook on aviation. This guy came in today. He’s the Dad of a scout who used to be in the troop and he said he’s gonna teach us how to fly a plane!”
         I’d never seen my Dad’s eyes brighten up so much before.
         “Dude, that’s cool!”
         Also never heard him say dude before, but it was cool. He got out of the car and walked around to open the door for me to get in.
         “When do you guys start?”
         “Next meeting!” I said as I got in.
         He closed the door and walked around to get back in. “Can I see the book?”
         He leafed through the book pretty quickly and made a lot of “wow” and “mmhmm” sounds as he browsed the pages.
         “Looks like the guy wasn’t kidding, son. There’s tons of stuff to learn about in here.”
         That was the moment that reality hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to learn more than just how to turn the wheel-thingy…there was a whole plane involved.
Dad must have sensed my mood change because he looked at me with that kind of pity your parents give you when they know what you’re thinking.
         “Hey, it’ll be alright. You’ll have plenty of friends to help you and I’m sure…what’s his name?”
         “Oh, Mr. Shanes.”
         “I’m sure Mr. Shanes will make sure you understand everything before you fly.”
         Then he made a small gasp and said “Ooo, maybe he’ll let the Dads go too!”
         I laughed and Dad smiled. “We’ll see.” I said.

         At the very next meeting a week later, Jackson, Jason, Tyler and I had been sitting around the table for what felt like forever, quizzing each other on the details of the instruments of the plane, proper safety techniques, air traffic control, etc. Mr. Shanes spent the first hour of the meeting working with us, showing presentations and videos about aviation and showing us the plane we’d be flying in, which he called a Cessna. Now it was up to us to peruse the information inside the guidebooks and see what we could work on together.
         “This is ridiculous.” said Jackson. “I seriously don’t have the brain power for this.” He lifted up his hands in frustration and pushed himself back in his chair, almost falling backwards as he caught himself just in time.
         “You don’t say.” said Jason.
         “Oh, shut it. I know I’m making an effort. I can’t even tell if you’re breathing at times.”
         Tyler giggled a bit. Jason didn’t take it too well.
         “What’s your problem, gigglebucket?”
         Now we were all laughing, and Jason and Jackson calmed down a bit after that. Tyler’s face was beet red, and I couldn’t tell if it was from hearing the word “gigglebucket” or embarrassment. As we settled down, I started to feel pretty hopeless about the situation.
         “I get it, you guys.” I said. “This is some of the hardest stuff I’d ever had to study for. I don’t see how we’ll be ready to go in a few weeks.”
         Just at that point, an older scout came to our table to check up on us. He was the Troop Guide, and it was his job to help out the younger guys when he could. His name was Nate, and he wasn’t that bad at all. His fiery red hair was something to behold, though.
         “Hey guys!” he said. “How’s it going so far?”
         “Not so good.” Tyler said. “We’re have a little trouble.”
         “Yeah, that’s an understatement.” said Jackson. “I’m feeling downright stupid over here.”
         Jason smirked. I knew what he was thinking, because I thought it, too. But now wasn’t the time.
         “What’s troubling you guys?”
         “Well,” I said. “This is a lot of stuff to learn in a short time.”
         “Oh, I agree. But you guys know, you don’t have to be experts before you go on your flight.”
         We looked at him in surprise. “What?” said Tyler. “What do you mean?”
         Nate replied matter of factly. “You only need to try. That’s it. Mr. Shanes will be your co-pilot so if anything goes wrong, he’ll know what to do. Just learn the most that you can and enjoy yourselves. No one’s expecting you guys to be perfect.”
         “Well, that’s a relief.” said Jason.
         “But I get it.” said Nate. “I’m one of those guys who always feels like I need to know everything about anything before I get started, or that if it doesn’t come easily to me, then it’s not possible and not worth it. It’s all a big lie. Hard things take time, and the effort is usually very much worth it.”
         “Yeah, I think I can relate to that.” said Tyler.
I wasn’t going to say it out loud, but I sure could relate too.
         “Take your time, guys. You’ve got this.”
         As Nate walked back to the Eagles table, the four of us looked at each other, each feeling a bit more confident. Jackson unsurprisingly spoke first and said: “Well, I don’t come to these boring meetings for nothing. Let’s keep at it.”
         We all nodded in agreement and pushed on.

         After three weeks of intense study and locking down the crucial information, we were set to go on our flights the week before summer camp began. My Dad volunteered to drive three other scouts along with himself and me to the airport, so Jason, Jackson, and Tyler came with us. We met at a local burger stop and went from there. The whole car ride, all of us were unusually quiet, and my Dad noticed.
         “Are you guys ok? I thought this would be way more exciting for you!”
         I spoke up for the group.
         “Yeah Dad, we’re all really excited. And scared to death.”
         “Ah, that’s alright you guys. You’ve been preparing for this day just fine and you’re gonna do great.”
         Tyler noticed my Dad sounded really happy and said, “Mr. Ricardo, you seem really excited about this too.”
         Dad smiled and said, “Well that’s because I just got news that Mr. Shanes is gonna let some of us Dads give it a shot, too!”
         I put my hand on my head and shook it back and forth, you know, like jerk kids do when their parents embarrass them. Of course I was actually happy for him, and I think he knew that as he shook his head and smiled and kept on driving towards the airport.
         As we arrived, we walked through the airport towards Terminal 3, where we were to meet Mr. Shanes out by his airplane. I always thought it funny that the last word you see before boarding a plane is the word Terminal. Whose bright idea was that?
         As I stood there staring at the word, my Dad snapped me back into reality. “Devin, come on! We’re gonna be late.”

         After Mr. Shanes gave us a quick tour of the plane and showed us the wings, rudders, and the instruments in the cockpit. We all got ready to begin the first round of flights.
         “Alright,” said Mr. Shanes. “We’ll start with the younger guys. I can take four with me, so Jason, Tyler, Jackson, and Devin, climb on in.”
         We four excitedly climbed into the cockpit one by one. I let the other guys on first because I was trying to hide my nervousness, but it apparently didn’t work! Mr. Shanes stopped me with a hand on my shoulder before I got on and said, “You look nervous.”
         “Yeah, just a bit.”
         “You’re going to be great. Besides, looks like your friends set you up.”
         I looked at the plane and saw that Jackson, Jason, and Tyler took all the back seats. They made faces at me and stuck out their tongues. I was this close to making a gesture when Mr. Shanes interrupted.
         “Well, pilot, looks like you’re taking us off.”
         I reluctantly climbed in and sat on the left front side of the cockpit. All of a sudden, all the information I had studied felt like it had leaked out of my brain. Everything looked like gibberish on the meters. Mr. Shanes asked me to check the gas, the starting positions of different meters, the usual safety routine before takeoff. Surprisingly, as I calmed down and focused, it all came back to me. Mr. Shanes started up the engine, which was deafeningly loud. He gestured for all of us to put on the headphones that were hanging off our seats.
         “Can you guys hear me?” he said.
         We all replied “yep!”
         “Show me a thumbs up if you can hear me.”
Four thumbs went up.
         “Alrighty, then pilot, let’s go.” He looked at me and smiled, with a twinge of mischievousness.
         I remembered first that we needed to taxi the plane onto the runway. My legs barely reached the pedals but I managed to get us onto the road. It took a good two minutes as my breathing started to become erratic again. We were inching closer and closer to the main runway.
         Mr. Shanes radioed in to the control tower to let them know we were ready for takeoff. They signaled the ok.
         “Alright, Devin. Here we go.”
         Mr. Shanes got the plane move forward with increasing speed.
         “I’ll let you know when to start pulling back on the yoke.” That’s the steering wheel, if you please. Pulling back on it causes the plane to lift up.
         After we made it past halfway on the runway, he said “Go for it.”
         I might have pulled a bit too hard at first because as soon as he said it, I pulled, expecting the resistance to be more difficult than it was. He said “whoa” and used his co-pilot yoke to correct the angle a bit as we took off. He smiled and said “it’s alright, keep going!”
         Slowly and surely we climbed into the sky as the ground below us seemed to be getting farther and farther away, and everything looked as if it was shrinking. My heart beat so fast I wondered if I was going to hurl. But the sight of the sky took all that away.
         As soon we reached a high enough elevation, about three miles high, Mr. Shanes took control of the plane and told us to look out at what we could see outside the plane. It was indescribable. There weren’t too many tall buildings in my town, so the chance to see it from far above was breathtaking. I couldn’t help but remember all those scenes from the video games. I felt like I had just conquered the enemy and flown into the sky, a hero.
         Tyler and Jackson were in the back going “whoa” and “awesome” the whole time, and Jason laughed a bit in his throat.
         “What’s so funny?” said Tyler, looking at him with a smirk.
         “I kind of want to step on the buildings, they look so tiny.”
         Jackson and Tyler and I laughed as Mr. Shanes shook his head and smiled too.

         We each got a chance to switch places in the cockpit, and Tyler was the one who landed the plane. As soon as we got off, we ran back into the airport as the next group of guys was getting ready to go. The whole troop, Scoutmaster, and Assistant Scoutmaster were waiting there, including some of the Dads and my Dad. I ran towards him with a big smile on my face.
         “Was it as awesome as it looked?” My Dad asked excitedly.
         “Sure was!” I said. “Can’t wait for you to try it, Dad.”
         Mr. Shanes counted the next group and noticed there was going to be one extra seat left.
         “Well, looks like I can take a Dad with me, now. Mr. Ricardo, why don’t you come with? That way you can get a chance and then you guys can take off when you’re done?”
         My Dad’s eyes widened and he took off towards the plane. He looked back and said, “You gonna be alright?”
         “Of course, Dad. Go for it. I’ll hang out here with the guys.”

         Moments later, I saw Dad taxing the plane onto the runway. As they started to take off, I thought I could see him pulling back on the yoke with the biggest smile on his face. I think he needed to fly as much as I did. As the plane climbed into the distance over the city, I smiled and waved. I don’t know if anyone even saw me, but as soon as they climbed high enough, the plane’s wings rocked back and forth as if waving goodbye.
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