I was raining. Not drizzling, not simply feeding the flowers. It was coming down in sheets, buckets and bushels. Toads were doing the backstroke up the moats which were building around the tents. The common denominator was mud. Everyone was standing, sitting, and slogging in the goo - good brown Wisconsin slurry was everywhere.
I was working my way through the crowds in the camping area and the deja vu was absolutely overwhelming. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had seen this picture before. People were everywhere. Really wet people were doing their best to make the most out of what should have been a miserable situation. Where had this picture been previously imprinted on my mind?
The amount of discomfort and physical distress varied wildly. The family grilling steaks under the awning of their Blue Bird monolith didn't appear to notice the young couple with their arms wrapped around each other, as they slithered through the mud in their EAA T-shirts and shorts. Some people came better prepared than others.
The comedy of watching people line up in front of outdoor showers, their towels in plastic bags to protect them from the rain, was obvious. One guy about halfway down the line recognized this and started soaping down where he stood. By the time he had worked his way to the front of. the line, he was rinsed and as clean as he was ever going to get. So he gave up his place and went on his way. But it was going to be several days before he dried off. This was so damned familiar, but I couldn't place the event.
The dicotomies of fun in the rain, Oshkosh style, were at times overpowering. I sat in one place for a few minutes watching a couple of guys wrestling with their tent in the rain and wind. They were soaked to the bone and were trying to figure out the best way to rope their tent to the various solid parts of the MU-2 turboprop under which they were camping. I saw the same scene repeated under a Cub, a Cheyenne II and an RV-3. Mother Nature had found a way to equalize the Oshkosh flightlme warrior: In the mud, there can be no social status.
Out on the flighline, queing for the air-show, common sense got squashed into the mud along with everything else. Rather than retreating to what little cover was available, legions of people kept streaming in, the brown plastic garbage bag becoming the accepted uniform for many who had trusted in the EAAs power to stay the rain and hadn't brought rain gear.
And everyone was laughing. They weren't ducking their heads trying to shield themselves from the rain and in so doing shutting themselves off from the rest of the world. Instead, they were talking to the rain soaked souls next to them and laughing about what fools they were to be sitting in the mud waiting for the entertainment to start. Little kids were stomping around in the puddles. making angels in the mud while their parents, the big kids. sat around waiting for other big kids to climb into airplanes to entertain them. Where had I seen this before?
Then it happened! A couple was sitting in a red coaster wagon. a sheet of clear plastic stretched over them like a two hole poncho, and they were grinning like loons. As I sloshed past, one of them looked up, the fortyish face a mirror of fun and contentment. and flashed me the two-fingered '~V" A peace sign!
At that second it all came together. Twenty years ago some of these same folks and a bunch more of their friends had conjured up the exact same images on Max Yazger's farm in up-state New York. The look was the same. The rain was the same. In those days the faces were a lot younger. but one thing was absolutely identical - the feeling of togetherness. The crazy feeling that, yes. we should be bitching and moaning but damn we're having fun. So it must be okay.
There are a lot of differences between what happened in that farm field in 1969 and what we were experiencing on the air field in 1989. But there were more similarties than differences. Ignore the gulf of politics. Forget the totally different stance on morals and social standards. Concentrate on the creative fervor. Try to picture an inexplicable bond that ties so many disparate people together, yet is an invisible bond un-explainable to those outside the circle. Try to feel an atmosphere where every one of the hundreds of thousands of people within sight are welcomed by the rest. Feel the sense of overwhelming understanding that lies like a blanket over a crowd larger than any which has gathered together since that long muddy weekend in August. two decades gone.
We have a natural tendency to look at Oshkosh and see it as a gathering of airplanes that a large group of people come to view, but that's not the actual show. What happens at Oshkosh is absolutely identical to what happened in' that field 20 years ago. At that time the music ceased being the main attraction as the spotlight of interest and attention shifted to the people. The people were the event, not the music. The same holds true at Oshkosh.
The airplanes are nothing more than an indication of the people. How can they not be? The machines are the tangible expressions of the intangible interests and feelings that flow through the crowd. All the airplanes do is form a reason for all these brothers under the skin to congregate with others of their own kind and, for a precious few days, belong to a nation of their kin. Then they have to separate and go back into a world in which many of them feel ill at ease.
It has been said that the children of Woodstock have never been the same and will always seek their own kind. Can anything different be said of the children of flight? We have, without meaning to, established a nation born of the sky, and Oshkosh is our Yazger's farm. We exist, as a nation, for a week and as individuals for a year. But, we exist. And we don't have to look back 20 years to the single time in which we banded together. Instead, we can look ahead to our own festival of flight, where we inhabit our own field each August. And age doesn't count. Commitment and interest do,
So, peace, brother, and don't trust anyone over 3000 feet. BD