Sunday, January 20, 2008

Comedy of Errors

With a dead plane and a live truck, I headed south to Sebring, Florida for the Light Sport Expo. Well, that was the plan. It got a bit delayed by insomnia, sleeping late, and the the one-year-old niece fell and bumped her head. What I would just shrug off as another patch of skin missing is a very big deal on a child smaller than my torso, especially on her face, so off to urgent care she went. (Lord, I know genetics, environment, and your sense of humor are against me, but may she please grow up to be as good a pilot as my brother and I - without being as clumsy as we are on the ground?)

So finally off to the airport to disconnect the charger, verify I can buy the same type of battery, brand new, from the FBO, and then off to Sebring.

Just to point out, though I've flown pretty far and wide, this is only the third time I've driven somewhere more than two hours away, and it was a four hour each way drive. No, I don't like driving. If I was flying, I would have gotten there when the expo was open on Saturday. As was, I arrived an hour after it had closed for the night, and only barely caught the FBO manager as he was leaving for the night. Completely ignoring the female security guard's statement that storms were coming and I should get a hotel room, I presented him with my plight: "The plane's broken in Georgia, so I borrowed a truck and drove the rest of the way. Is there anywhere I can camp under-wing, without having the wing to camp underneath?"

He checked the motorway next door (did you know there's a 12-hour-long car race in Sebring? Apparently I should have.) However, in the rapidly darkening night (sunsets and twilight are a lot shorter down south, though the amount of sunlight is longer), he couldn't find it - so he put me out at the corner of the airfield, in the grass off the very end of the concrete ramp. Before going home, he told the EAA chapter's vice president that I was there, and security as well. So I had company who came over, curious, as I set up my tent and rain fly. Security showed in the form of a great guy, really friendly, who made sure I knew the storm line coming in was supposed to be bad, and am I sure that I don't want to sleep in the lobby, warm and dry?

The promised thunderstorm came, and was awesome. Sleeping on the airfield, in survival gear you know means you'll be comfy if you need it? Priceless.

The very nice security guard came back after the storm, checking on all three of us campers to make sure nobody's tent got soaked or flattened in the storm. (It was gusting probably around 35 to 40 in there at one point). Mine didn't, but another guy wasn't so lucky. After reassuring him, I was drifting off to sleep when I heard a strange loud clunk as his car drove away.

The next morning I took down my tent, and headed out to the airport cafe. Or, that was the intention. The 3-foot-deep hole where the water undercut the sandy soil at the edge of the concrete pad was neither marked nor visible, as the vegetation in it had grown to match the surface around it. I went straight in at about 3 miles an hour, bent the rim, and popped the tire off the bead. So I headed to the airport cafe, where the guy who drives the fuel truck and another volunteer on a golf cart drove back down to my truck, and started contemplating how to fix it. Then the security guy came back - before I knew it, there was a collective crew of helpful men pulling my truck out, directing me to slowly drive it halfway onto the concrete pad around the invisible hole (now visible where I'd crushed vegetation, and from the indention where the security's vehicle had caught one edge of it the night before).

I would have died from embarrassment had everybody not been so calm and helpful - the security guy freely admitted it had almost gotten him the night before, and while this all went on, somebody fetched another orange cone to mark the ege of the pad by it as unsafe. It probably helped that the day was starting out chilly, for Florida, windy and gusty enough to nix any but the bravest and heaviest of planes from flying, so they weren't pressed for crowd control.

We left the truck at an impasse - a bent rim, and the spare tire locked under the truck - and I went to get breakfast at the airport cafe. Questioning the FBO manager about an ATM, he disappeared into the back, and then handed a key to me. "Just head down the road to the Sheraton. This is to the green Explorer." The Sheraton's ATM was broken, so I went down the road a little further, and topped off the gas tank while hitting a gas station's ATM.

Back to the Expo, I looked at and discussed four airplanes, found the booth and told Shawn the Zulu video was hilarious, and was enjoying a great conversation when a golf car pulled up outside with a tanned man who had blond hair in a ponytail longer than anything I've ever managed, and a handlebar mustache. Excusing myself, I went to see V about a grinder to get the lock off the spare tire. Ultralight aviation in the Carribean and Florida produces - or attracts - some fine examples of interesting characters to rival anything in the Alaskan bush, and V was no exception. Roughly five minutes later I was in a bus, drinking coffee flavored with bushmills and baileys (very, very tasty), and listening to an intense debate about different paints and dopes for wings, anti-corrosion techiniques and products for ultralights based in saltwater, the viability of an electric motor for an ultralight, and tangents on motorcycles, yachts, and how best to hustle tourists, selling rides.

After the other two parties to the debate were on their way, V pulled an assortment of tools out, jacked up the truck, pulled the tire off, and pounded the rim back into shape. Then he refilled the tire, checked it, put it back on my truck, and had me drive over by the bus to check that it was good - before sailing off again with me on the golf cart all around the expo, checking on people, plane, the guy who's made the aforementioned electric-motor ultralight... When he motored off to go throw his clothes in the laundromat in town, I felt like I'd been through more of a whirlwind than the thunderstorm the night before.

I barely had time to see a few more planes as people were packing up and tearing down before the Expo was well and truly over - though I made sure to find each of the wonderful gentlemen who'd been such a help and say thanks again before driving carefully back to Valdosta.

After dark fell, on I-75, it was starting to get really boring and tiring, so I started punching scan on the radio. 100.5, Resurrection Radio, alternated rapidly from Voltaire to industrial, EBM to Sisters of Mercy, glancing past Trance and rebounding off Darkwave and Nerdcore to land back in Industrial. I found that bouncing happily along to the beat really loosens up muscles that get stiff and sore from the fixed position of driving, and now I really, really, really wish there was a good place to go dancing at home, or at least a similar radio station - almost all of the good (and bad, and indifferent) industrial and EBM was new to me. I miss dancing.


  1. I'm about 50% of the way of considering forbiding you to fly here. You seem to be haveing great luck with people (the pilot community is so great) but your mechanical luck... frankly... sucks.

    Rockies + Mechanical failure = bad.

    This has nothing to do with me having crappy mech luck today either noe... nu-huh...

  2. MEEP! I am so glad you are having so much fun girl! Mechanical insanity besides. And driving more is good for you. Anyways, the demon and I both send Kisses. (she is currently atempting to do my taxes for me)