Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot

Older Faster

If you're running as fast you can it doesn't do any good to look at your watch

As with so many century-shaping events, it seems as if we now date everything as having been before or after, September 11th. Everything has changed, and even this long after the event, the images remain strong in our minds and hearts.

The day after the bombings I was taking a much-needed break from the emotion-draining TV marathon and was scanning the notes I’d made while interviewing a pilot at Oshkosh. In one section he was explaining why, after starting his own business and being without an airplane for many years, he decided to buy one, even though it didn’t make good financial sense. One of his comments leaped right off the page at me. He said he decided to buy an airplane because “…I looked round and realized I was getting older much faster than the work was getting done. So, I did something about it. I bought an airplane.”

“…I was getting older faster than the work was getting done.” For some reason, although the logic is crystal clear and borders on being a cliché, at that instant, it seemed almost clairvoyant in its meaning and it has been ricocheting around inside my head since.

For the first week or so after 9-11, as the lights slowly came back on in various segments of aviation, I found myself looking at the sky with un-characteristic longing. At the time I had students who had traveled some distance for flight training. They came from Holland, Belgium and England (purely coincidental, as they didn’t know each other) and we alternated between staring at the TV and the sky. Then, late on the second Friday the ban against dual flight training was lifted. I had been watching the NOTAM process so closely, that when I contacted the ground control for permission to taxi, they asked if I had been sitting in my hangar with the engine running, because I appeared so quickly after the airport was officially re-opened.

We were the first airplane in the air and, even though it was an otherwise normal Friday evening, it seemed somehow special. The sky was a little cleaner, the air a little denser. Even the airplane was smoother and more powerful than she had been only ten days earlier. Something had changed. It was subtle and impossible to quantify, but something had definitely changed.

The attacks came in the middle of a fairly intense period of flying for me, so it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been in the air for months. In fact, it was shaping up to be a fifty-hour month, so I had already spent plenty of time strapped into my bright red merry go-round. Still, as the airplane rocketed down the runway and clawed its way into the air, it was as if I was discovering both the airplane and flight for the first time. All of this seemed to dovetail perfectly with the “…getting older faster than the work was getting done…” theme that my brain had begun working on. The attacks had caused us all to reprioritize our lives, but that seemingly innocuous statement served to make me focus even more closely on what was important to me personally and what wasn’t.

As a chronically unemployable rag-leg who has lived by his wits for over three decades, it’s hard not to let the hunt for the next buck become all-consuming. In fact, since my only security is to keep running like an idiot, frantic activity becomes the norm. It also makes it difficult to slow down long enough to sniff the marigolds. However, somewhere between the World Trade Centers, that innocent statement by a fellow pilot and the tragic death of one of our close friends, an annunciator panel in my brain began flashing and it read “Slow down. Enjoy.”

As I look back and read what I just wrote, I almost have to laugh, it’s such a cliché. But then, as I think about it, and analyze what I’ve been doing since that epiphany I have to laugh again. Yes, I’ve slowed down considerably. I try to cut the workday off at 13 hours and the workweek never runs over six days. And yes, I do enjoy. In fact, the other day as we were falling towards the runway in a hard slip at something like 4,000 fpm, I heard myself say, “Damn, I love this!”

It was about that time that I realized how everything is relative. The definition of “slow down,” for instance, is based on how fast you were going before, not how fast the rest of traffic is moving. Also, as I glanced up at my student in the mirror on the center section and saw this teeth-gritting, eyes-bulging expression the slip was producing, I knew that the definition of “enjoy” was also relative. Even though he was about to hyperventilate, he was having the time of his life. And so was I. If I enjoyed myself any more, I would bust a gut.

It’s been a tragic, wonderful, challenging, happy and sad last few months for all of us. The ups and downs have been extreme. Still, the thought that I’m getting older and the work’s not getting done stays with me and I now carve out a little piece of every day that is strictly mine and isn’t designed to yield a profit. Sometimes it’s spent hammering out a part for my little hotrod roadster. Or maybe my next novel gets a few pages edited.

At any rate, I’m still getting older faster than the work is getting done, but you know what. I don’t really care. In the long run, no matter what any of us do, the result is going to be exactly the same. So, we might as well enjoy life, however we chose to define “enjoy.” In my case, I don’t lay around the pool sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them, but believe me, I’ve slowed down. And I enjoy. I also try to keep a flower in my pocket so I can smell it on the run.