Friday, January 23, 2015

That One Time I Jumped Out of a Plane!

Back when I was young, and some say a bit thick-headed, I decided to jump out of a plane.

First, let me explain how this all came about...

Back in the day, I was a projectionist at a local movie theater. If I remember correctly, it was the first warm day of spring. Working in a projection booth is much like living in a cave, so I would make routine visits downstairs to try and absorb some radiation from the sun. On my second visit, my boss strolled in and immediately asked me if I would ever try skydiving? I thought a moment, noticed the twinkle in his eyes, and answered yes.

This was my first mistake.

I expected my boss to continue on about some marketing technique he just learned, or a show he watched over the weekend. But I was wrong. 

I come to find out that my boss had been planning to jump with friends for months, and they were going in a week!

What does this all have to do with me, you ask? Well, my boss informed me that one of his friends bailed out. Seems his friend's wife didn't think it was smart for a new father to be jumping out of a plane. Fair enough. My boss, needing to fill the last spot, asked me. I said yes. 
I'm gonna go ahead and need to you jump out of a plane with me.
I was now jumping out of a plane on Friday. It was Monday. I don't remember anything that happened the rest of the week. I'm pretty sure I started the wrong movie a few times.

I woke up at 5am on Friday, felt like vomiting till about 8am, then my boss picked me up around 830am. The ride to the airport was filled with false excitement by me and my boss. I could sense the panic in both our voices. But there was no backing out now. 

There was no way I was going out like Cliff. 
(If you've never watched 'Cheers' you're missing out.)

We entered a hanger and took a seat at one of those school-type chairs with the writing desk attached. A jolly man, with a bushy mustache, greeted us with roughly 3 pounds of paperwork and a worn-out VHS tape. He said his name was 'Blaze' while forcing the tape into the VCR. 

Then THIS guy popped up...
 This... is Bill Booth. Bill was instrumental in obtaining FAA recognition of the tandem-jump as a means of teaching skydiving. He's also an engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur in the skydiving equipment manufacturing industry. He's a brilliant man. Bill gave people, like me, an easy way to experience sky diving. But in that moment, all I saw was a crazy hippie with a death wish! 

Bill talked from behind a static-filled screen about his tandem-jump creation, and how it's the safest way to experience sky-diving. Then, when the tape ended, we proceeded to sign the 3 pounds of paperwork that protected the sky-diving school from being sued -  just in case we were maimed or killed while participating in the safest way to experience sky-diving. 

The pukey feeling returned. 

As we signed our lives away, a cheerful teenaged girl walked into the hanger and apologized for sleeping late (she was actually able to sleep). Before her stood 4 pale-faced men, who all suddenly gained false confidence. 
If this young, bubbly woman had no fear, then maybe we should all get our acts together! I pushed the burning vomit down into my stomach, put on the blue jump suit, and walked into the field, where the plane was waiting. 

The Plane...
Not the plane... but damn close.
When I tell people the plane was held together with duct tape, they think I'm exaggerating. I'm not...


Oh, and the pilot wore his own parachute. 
He was prepared... He knew...

We were shown how this was going to work. If you don't know what Tandem-Jump Skydiving is, it's best described like this: 

You piggy-back a professional skydiver while plummeting toward the Earth at roughly 170 mph.  
The plane could only carry 4 jumpers at a time. We were asked who wanted to go first. The teenaged woman fired her hand into the sky. While me and the other 3 'men' muddled over who should go, two Russian blokes strode into the field. Strapped with their own equipment, the two men asked if they could go first. We gladly obliged, then stepped back as the plane took off. 
Those Russian guys were hard core.
We waited with bit lips as the plane flew over head, then disappeared. Soon after, two parachutes appeared, then another. The two Russian fellows zipped past us at super speed, skimming the ground as they went, then landed safely. The girl, and her piggy-backed pro, landed next. 

There was still hope for us!

I boarded the plane with one of my boss's friends, and our two piggy-back pros. Then something happened, my boss's friend froze at the airplane door. He couldn't get on the plane. Up jumped the two Russians to fill the gap. My boss and his other friend said they would take the next plane up. 

I was going it alone... sort of.

We left the ground and rumbled into the sky. Wind tore through the duct-taped plane, making it hard to hear my piggy-back pro as he explained what to do. He hooked himself to my back and we waited. 3000 feet. 5000 feet. 7000 feet. Then, at 10,000 feet, the pilot gave the thumbs-up. One of the Russians looked at me, smiled, then said in broken english...

"Ready to Sh*t your pants?!"

I watched in awe as he kicked open the airplane door and both him, and his friend, fell into oblivion.

The Russians were gone. It was time. 

I shuffled to the door, arms across my body, held tight to the straps. My piggy-back pro pointed to the wheel frame, telling me to step out. The air was cold. The wind, harsh. My goggles lifted off my cheeks, causing my eyes to tear. I leaned forward and waited. Then... we fell.

There was no sensation of falling, more like floating on a bubble of air. It felt like I couldn't breathe, but I could. My brain was confused. The ground grew larger, but I was convinced I was flying. It was absolutely amazing.

45 seconds later, A tremendous pressure yanked me back into reality. The chute opened. The euphoric blur of wind and flight gave way to peaceful gliding. No cars, no birds, no people talking, just my thoughts and the slight sound of parachute fabric flipping in the breeze. It was beautiful. 

10 minutes later, it was over.

It was strange standing on Earth again. I jumped a few times, in an attempt to break the bonds of gravity... to no avail.

I wanted to go back up!

The two Russian men congratulated me with high-fives and a smack on the butt. I think they were checking to see if I did, in fact, soil myself.

 That's me - with my Piggy-back pro.

I vividly remember the walk back to the hanger. I remember the look on the faces of those waiting to jump next. I wanted to tell them it was going to be okay. That it would be one of the most amazing moments of their lives.

But some things... you have to experience for yourself.

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