Wednesday, July 27, 2011

True Story--I went skydiving once

Skydiving: or Why Jump Suits Don't Have Pockets
Training: five hours.

Questions asked during traning:
Q: If your main chute doesn't open, how long do you have to decide to pull your reserve chute?
A: The rest of your life.
Q: If you land wrong, how do we pick you up?
A: With a spoon.

Everybody's a smartass, on the ground.

Tricia talked me into this. Tricia, and her husband Bob. It wasn't tough to convince me. I always wanted to jump out of an airplane. I had visions of the John Wayne jump: standing at the big door on the back of the plane and hurling myself into the sky with absolute faith that the chute would open and I would glide gently to the earth.
   The class started with a video: an attorney explaining that everyone just signed away their rights to suit if they died...ever...for any reason. Any. We studied. We joked. We watched tapes...some idiots trying to swim back to the plane....
   Tricia started out in a pissy mood and it didn't get any better. It was a hot day and humidity made her bitchy. For the millionth time I was very glad she had a husband named anybody but me. She had jumped before, which, if you asked her (and no one did) made her an expert.
   Here are the cliffs Notes from the class:
* You jump from 5,000 feet. You have an altimeter strapped to your chest. If it reads 1,500 feet and your chute isn't won't need it. It's too late.
* There's a lake 5 miles away. You have a small life raft on your back. Don't aim for the lake.
* You can steer a rectangular parachute. Pull on the handles in the direction you want to go.
* The chute has a forward airspeed of 35 mph. Add the airspeed to the wind speed of 5 mph (that day) and subtract it if its to your back.
*That's why you have to collapse the chute 15 feet above the ground. By the time you pull both handles down as hard as you can, you'll be about 10 feet from the ground and land softly.
* There is a 1-way radio in your helmet. We'll talk you down. We'll tell you when to collapse your chute.

So the time finally came. Tricia, Bob (her husband) and I boarded the little Cessna. There was a pilot, the jump master, Tricia, Bob, and me. I was the smallest. I would jump last. Remember the John Wayne and back door image? Forget it. You put your feet on a little metal plate outside the plane, go hand-over-and onto the wing strut, look up and let go. Then you're supposed to arch your back so when the chute opens, it goes straight up and you won't get tangled in it. Very important to arch your back.
   We're up in the air. The altimeter confirmed it. Damn guage rising. Rising. When it hits the red, some schmuck is going to open the door and expects me to climb out on the wing and leggo, trusting a different unknown schmuck's ability to stuff a piece of cloth, to which I shall trust my life, to his edcuation and skill.
   Tricia jumped without hesitation. She just wanted to get it over with. Her static line clunked against the bottom of the plane. The sound made me think she had hit the back wings. Panic rose within me. Bob jumped. Same Thunk. At least he had the decency to look scared shitless before he went.
   My turn. I was glad the jump suit was dark green. Hide the wet spot. I went to the door, looked at the plate I was supposed to but both feet on. It was about 6" square. The wing strut was way out there. A stretch. Was I worried about falling? Yes. Why? Dunno.
   I look down. Fields. Little squares of God's goodness. And a dude with a spatula...waiting. I think his name is Doug. If it ain' oughta be.
   So I go out on the strut. Hanging on. Let go.
   The world spun. I went into full, white-out, mindbobbling panic. Mindless screaming. No arching my back. I was swimming. The very idea seemed funnier than hell on the ground but it felt like a really good idea when I was watching the world and the airplane change positions.
   The chute opened. Felt like a kick to the balls. Good thing my mouth was closed then. My teeth held my intestines inside. I looked up, saw the glory of the chute, and shouted, "Thank you, God! Took ya long enough!"
   The radio in my helmet started talking to me. I knew it was 1-way, but replied anyway.
   "Dave. Your chute is open. You're fine."
   I know.
   "Take a right turn."
   Okay. I pulled the handle and turned in a gentle circle to the right. It was beautiful! Quiet. Slow. Relaxing. I was as relaxed as a man who just got is balls kicked up to his neck by a thing called velocity could be!
   "Take a left turn."
   "Good. Now we'll practice collapsing the chute."
   What? Why?
   "Pull down on both handles, count to three, then let them back up."
   I did. It's called FREE FALL! I counted to 3. Let the handles back up. Got another kick to the cookies as a reward. POOM! Take that, Steele! I had all sorts of creative names for the voice that could not hear me.
   They said a 200 pound man would be in the air for about 20 minutes. I weighed (and weigh) 120. I lost track of time, but I was getting bored. Tried to figure out how to fish a cigarette out of my pocket.
   The voice came back. "Dave, it's very important that you...sadkfjdsalkfj....!" Static.
   I started to look for the airpot. Couldn't find it. Saw the lake...not the airport.
   "skdkfhd! You...must...sdflksdjflsdk;fj!!!"
   Shit. I'm lost.
   I started whapping the radio in my helmet. It didn't help.
   Shut up. I'm thinking.
   The radio went blissfully silent. I think they'd given up on me by then.
   I found the airport! I was only a few hundred feet up. The wind was at my back, which meant I was traveling about 40 the wrong direction. I was running out of airfield. I knew it was too late to turn around. No time. They said 15'--the distance form the ground we were supposed to collapse the chute--is when you can distinguish individual blades of grass. I'm farsighted. Didn't wear glasses then.
   I collapsed the chute when I was 30' in the air...with the wind at my back. I landed hard, but unhurt. The wind filled the chute. Dragged me face-first over the ground. Bouncing. Bbbb! Bbb! I heard sirens. Didn't pay much attention to' em. I was too busy yanking on the lines trying to catch my chute.
   The sirens belonged to an ambulance. The ambulance was leading the crowd of people who were pretty surte I was dead. I wasn't, of course. Not even hurt. I'm not tough...but I'm durable. Like Tupperware.
   My wife says I'm not allowed to go sykdiving anymore. That's fine with me. And I'm sure it's fine with the good folks in Hastings, MI who had to watch me do it the first time.

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