Grassroots Budd Davisson, October, 1993
Hats are like people's dogs...they say alot about the folks who paid good money for them. Or, in my case, they simply say I shouldn't be wearing a hat at all. Not, if I have any pride, that is.
You see, I have this chipmunk shaped face (complete with acorn filled jowls), so, no matter what kind of head gear you put me in, I wind up looking like Mr. Potato head wearing a hat.
You can't imagine how frustrating this is.
Just about everything my heart is involved in, from flying airplanes to cowboy shooting, goes better if the head is inserted into the right type of container. In fact, fly-ins practically demand some sort of hat, if only for cranial protection.
It is an unwritten law that he who goes to a lot of fly-ins needs a hat with the famous "50-fly-in crush." It has to look like it has been "there." It should show character and be decorated with pins that clearly indicate where the wearer's heart and head are at.
Most important, it should have something written across the front that explains something about the wearer. It may be the type and "N" number of his airplane (this is so just in case his hat and airplane get separated, they are gaurunteed of getting back together. Also, for posers, it is much cheaper to buy just the hat and skip the airplane).
The hat may also display a company or product he feels strongly about. I had a favorite that said, Funk's G Hybrid, but only my fellow Cornhuskers had the slightest idea what it meant.
Hat language is often what draws people together at fly-ins, especially if the hats say something about someone's non-aviation interest. I remember glancing up as a "Hillegas" hat flashed past. I turned around and asked the guy if he had a car to go with the hat and he said I was the second person to recognize the famous 1940's maker of midget race cars. The hat-guy had a Hillegas midget and so did I, so we wound up standing in the middle of a fly-in crowd talking old-time circle track cars. A non-aviation hat at an aviation get-together is an invitation to a conversation.
The conversational invitation attached to a hat also holds true for aviation hats at a non-aviation thing. Clevenger and I were at a machine gun shoot in the boonies of North Carolina and he asked a shooter wearing a Warbirds of America hat if he had a matching airplane. The shooter said he had a couple of L-5 Stinsons and in a matter of minutes we had a half a dozen shooters (there were no more than 15 in attendance) standing around talking airplanes.
My fly-in hat for the past decade or so has been a snappy looking (to me at least) black baseball hat with a bright yellow "Nikon" logo and four carefully placed pins; an American flag, a Wedell-Williams pin, a Pitts S-2A and a silver buffalo skull made by my old roommate and long time guitar playing partner, Jerry Faires. It's not overly pushy, but the subtle montage says it all: In that hat I have created a small, elegantly artful, microcosm of me and what I'm about. A tasteful presentation, if ever I saw one. I'm proud of the understatement.
The only problem with my Nikon hat is that everytime I pass a mirror wearing what I think is The killer fly-in hat, even I have to laugh. My kids always cracked up, when I put a baseball hat on and, looking in the mirror, I can see why. The subtitle of the picture should be, "Mr. Potato Head and His Dumb Hat Go To a Fly-in."
The foregoing may be why no one ever stops me at a fly-in to talk photography. They may see the world famous Nikon logo, but then they see the hat-to-head mismatch and start snickering. It's not my fault my carefully chosen hat makes me look like an overstuffed seven-stripper.
You ought to see me in a brain bucket! I have a few pictures of me playing hero in airplanes that demanded a military helmet complete with all the accoutements. You'd think those pix would be my prized possessions. Wrong! If you think this set of cheeks looks funny under a baseball hat, try compressing them into a hard hat! Cheeks like that aren't meant to be squished together. They take on a vaguely obscene look and the visual definition of "cheeks" gets perverted until it is noticed I look like a moon-shot with a nose.
Probably my biggest let down in the hat/face arena has been the losing battle I've fought with cowboy hats all my life. This has become especially painful since I moved out here to Arizona. I've been a borderline cowboy my entire life. Hickock and Custer, Cody and the James/Younger boys were all part of my upbringing in Nebraska. I have a birthright to wear a cowboy hat. And I have lots of them.
But, you'll never see me in public in a cowboy hat.
I have this great Stetson I've worn for years. My late brother, Gary, gave it to me and I made a hat band out of one of his bandanas as a form of living memorial. I've stood out in the driving snow splitting firewood until the hat was absolutely soaked. It has endured the blistering sun, while I wore it cross country for thousands of miles. I wear it constantly in the house, especially, when writing, and it has taken on a form and look that can only come from having been a part of my life for a long, long time. It would be a great and imminently practical, fly-in hat.
I repeat: You'll never see me in public in a cowboy hat. Not even that one.
The real saving grace at fly-ins, however, was beautifully summarized by my Jennifer when 4 years old: I was asking her how I looked in a particular hat and she said "Don't worry, daddy, it's impossible to look stupid at a fly-in."
So, look for the chipmunk in the black Nikon hat. But please be kind and snicker in private.