Saturday, May 26, 2007

The view from the bench

(This is RV-airplane related. To see my new blog on RV subjects. Go to "Letters from Flyover Country")

The bench I'm a big fan in the power of the bench. Unfortunately for my airplane-building project, I'm not talking about my workbench. And unfortunately for my youngest son's auto insurance (which I pay), I'm not talking about the judicial bench (my day of RV airplane building last week got eliminated by the need to race around Stillwater, Minnesota, trying to get his motorcycle out of impound after he got stopped for riding it after dark.).

I'm a big fan of the power of the park bench. My family gave it to me a few years ago for my birthday. It's your basic Home Depot-Menard's model. Lots of other people have the same one, but after several years, I notice theirs are all weathered and unused.

Mine, on the other hand, is gorgeous and used all the time. Why just last Sunday, my canopy frame work was cast aside while I dragged it up out of the basement (where it spent the winter), and began sanding and refinishing it, and then spent several days applying several coats of polyurethane, so it can withstand this summer's weather.

See, you flying-RV folks have your "magic carpets." I've got my bench. In a way, we accomplish the same thing. We go places.

As I mentioned last week, I'd be flying by now if I didn't stop so often to look up at planes flying over. It's not just that. I'd be flying by now if I didn't daydream so much.

But I don't feel particularly bad about it because I like daydreaming; certainly more than I like deburring canopy frame rails.

My bench is an integral part of my RV building tool-kit. There it sits on my front lawn (I believe backyard decks and central air conditioning have singlehandedly destroyed American communities). It's there I've sat for hours -- over the life of the project -- studying the plans and reading the manual ... partly to understand what it is I need to do, but partly for the pure joy of reading the manual and studying the plans. It's there I sat with a stack of wing ribs, deburring each one by hand after my old air compressor had broken. (That, by the way, was the low point of my project. I never want to deburr wing ribs again!.) It's there I've sat with large fuselage skins, deburring each hole and sanding the edges smooth.

But, more often than not, it's there that I've daydreamed and watched the parade overhead. I live in a really great spot for airplane watchers. Lake Elmo (21D) is 7 miles to my north. South St. Paul (SS)) is 6 miles to my south, and St. Paul Downtown (STO) is 8 miles to my west. And overhead, the MSP Class B begins at 1,400 AGL, so everyone is scrunching down underneath.

Usually I see Cubs and Cessnas from the flight schools. Occasionally -- but not occasionally enough -- an RV will zip by and I'm reminded again what a little hotrod the things are. They're unmistakeable when they fly over because I react the same way when a Harley drives by with that deep-throated engine. Or when the "cool kids" drove by in high school -- the football players on their way to the ice cream shop with the cheerleaders.

When you're flying an RV -- take it from those of us on our benches -- you're one of the cool kids.

In the gentle breeze of a prevailing wind and the welcome shade of my ash tree (now being decimated by some varmit insect that's sweeping the country), I dream about where I'll go in my RV after it finishes building itself -- apparently -- in my garage.

Fortunately, I've had some assistance in this area. I'll sit on my bench and leaf through old issues of Pilot Getaways Magazine. A few years ago, it had an article about the little airport at Hampton Beach, N.H. Some of my most joyous moments as a kid were spent on Plum Island in Massachusetts. We'd go over to Hampton Beach a lot. Yes, that's where I want to go. I want to fly my RV over the beach I played on as a kid, and then land my RV at that fantastic little strip, and have lunch at the airport cafe.

Since my family is mostly in New England, I dream a lot about flying back East. I've printed out some RVers' trips in that area and sat on my bench. Dreaming. Dan Checkoway's flight around New England a few years ago was ... well... the stuff dreams are made of, I tell you.

Yes, I'd like to fly over places I'm familiar with. But I also dream of going to places I've never been before. Paul and Victoria Rosales' trip reports are fabulous for this, and my yearning for more of their work was answered this week when I noticed they've added a new trip -- to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Yes, that's a trip I've long dreamed about.

In fact, years ago -- before I had my pilot's certificate -- I was a big Microsoft Flight Simulator fan. We had a group on the old CompuServe (when CompuServe was today's Internet and Web). Our group would fly the route in real-time and as we arrived in Puerto Rico, we called in to connect to CI$ (as it was then known), and, using some function available in MSFS at the time, allowed the "controller" to "see" my plane on approach. After 18 hours of "flying" over several days, though, I accidentally spilled my beer at my desk in my Berkshires hideaway and as I raced to clean it up, I hit my joy stick and I crashed for all to see.

When my RV and I are making this trip for real, it'll be hard not to be thinking of that moment. Memo to self: When landing in my RV, don't spill the beer.

I've never traveled much in the southwest -- or even the far west, for that matter. So Larry Pardue's travel stories fill in the gap there. In fact, this week, I found a recent one from the Carlsbad RV-6 driver. Sitting on my bench in "flyover country," flat and plowed and all, it's hard to imagine the earth is so different, just a few hours -- as the RV flies -- from here.

These are all places I hope to see someday. But from the sanctity of my bench (and thanks to WiFi) , I've been to places I'll never actually get to. The west coast of South Africa, and Botswana come to mind.

Occasionally, my daydreaming is interrupted by a screaming Lear heading East out of St. Paul. Where are they going, I wonder? So I fire up the laptop and check. I imagine who they are, and why they're going.

I can't ever remember watching an airplane flying overhead and thinking -- sometimes out loud -- "there's a guy having a good day."

If I were ever to start another RV online project -- and I don't intend to -- I'd build a whole site of nothing but RV travel stories. No forums, no threads about primers, no questions about how to get part A to fit into part B... just flying stories; dream-makers, if you will.

To be sure, my bench is for more than just flying-related dreaming. I've sat there at midnight, some summer nights, after my children left home, wondering how they would fare. I've watched birds tend their young and wonder if they think about them and their futures the way humans do. I've looked at Monarch butterflies, and rabbits, and all other things of nature and thought about time. If there isn't a higher power, my question goes, then when did time "start"? Who started it? And why is everything subject to it? Who or what started the clock and why have a clock at all?

As builders, we are told -- and wisely so, I guess -- to "get back out there and pound those rivets." But I've never looked upon my project as something that had to be finished by a date certain; I've got enough of those projects. I call them "work." My RV project is a process, and I value everything that surrounds it.

Even if it's sitting on the bench, doing nothing but day-dreaming.

Notes: I'll be in Cleveland next weekend -- June 1,2, & 3 -- to watch the Indians play the Tigers. If there are any RVers in the area who'd like to get together, I've got an extra ticket for each game. Just let me know, and it's yours.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mother's Day moments

I was going to sit down this morning and write a hysterical piece about the stuff kids bring home for Mother's Day. But I ran out of time. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I need your Mother's Day stories... either as a recipient or giver, preferably at a young age.

Answer in the comments section and I'll take it from there.