|Laguna Beach, CA, WPPilot, (Wiki.)|
I don’t believe in luck. It is true that your life can change in a moment. Sometimes it’s for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worse.
Back in the autumn of 1984, I was sports editor of a small weekly paper in southern Ontario.
Every year at the same time, they had their Harvest Festival, where they blocked off the main street, with carnival rides, attractions and food vendors. I was working that weekend, and the editor, a guy called Mark, gave me a schedule of events and some words of advice. Then he told me that Ted, our publisher, had a bit of a treat for me. His son-in-law, who shall remain nameless, had flown up for the weekend with the in-laws. The guy was going to take me up for some aerial shots of downtown.
He told me to take lots of pictures.
I ended up in Nixon, Ontario. They had a little grass airstrip running up the middle of a cornfield. We took the passenger door off the fellow’s Cessna 172 Skyhawk. It was his suggestion, and what the hell did I know?
I was in the right-side seat.
We took off, climbed out to 1,200 or so feet and I was shooting like mad. Farmhouses, fields, tobacco kilns, everything was amazing from up there. I had a five-hundred millimetre lens on the camera and we flew over the town. I changed film once or twice, shooting a good three rolls of film. I shot pictures of Main Street and everything I could see, practically, because I hadn’t been up in a plane since I was about twelve years old.
At some point the pilot suggested that I could stick my foot out onto the wing strut, bracing myself in the slipstream. I was shooting with ASA 400 film, and it wouldn’t have made that much difference. The pictures I got were well-focused going by the (eventual) results. Neither one of us was an expert.
When I stuck my right foot out the door, the hundred and ten mile per hour slipstream took my leg. It took me completely by surprise, and I had both hands on the camera. The wind spun me around in the seat so I was hanging halfway out of the plane. The worst thing was the loud, metallic clang sound of something hitting the side of the fuselage. Looking down, to my horror, I saw that the lap belt had come undone—and the wind had taken it out and smacked it against the side of the fuselage. I was back in the seat in a flash. Grabbing the belt, I pulled it back in, snapped it into place and looked into the rather shocked face of the pilot.
On the Cessna, the lap and shoulder belts were separate. Not like a car, where it’s one piece and one receptacle to click in. On the Cessna, there are two receptacles. My shoulder belt stayed on, probably the only thing that saved me. For whatever reason the lap belt hadn’t been properly snapped in. I remember looking down from an altitude of six hundred or seven hundred feet. We were flying above a swamp, with dead trees sticking up like big black knitting needles. I might not have died instantly, hitting that swamp, although I’m sure I would have made a pretty big splash before quietly drowning in the muck and the mire.
It’s a good thing that shoulder belt was properly secured.
In the same town, only a couple of weeks later, I was living in a motel. One day, I got off work, and in my usual fashion, headed straight for the bar and grille, where I would have a few beers and eventually, take a table, order a hot beef sandwich or whatever.
The owner had a bit of news for me.
“Some girl called here.”
I perked right up.
“Yeah, and I thought I’d better give you a bit of a heads-up. I didn’t know who it was, so I said, hey, is this Alice? And she says, no, this is Jane…”
Jane calls from down home and the owner says, “Is this Alice?”
Yes, I was in trouble, ladies and gentlemen.
I lost two relationships that day. It was all over soon enough, and I ended up quitting that job and moving on.
Looking back, they were both very nice ladies. I liked them a lot. They were good people and they were both hurt and disappointed. And I did that. It was all me. There was no one else to blame, not really. This is what happens when you’re greedy, and shallow, and selfish and stupid. It didn't take too long to understand what was a pretty hard lesson...
I might have ended up marrying either one of them, and who knows, it might have worked out.
You think about that sort of thing years later, when you’re alone, you’re down and out and no one cares any longer what happens to you…
There is no doubt that in both situations, I was ultimately responsible for what happened—or what almost happened to me, or what didn’t happen to me.
This is one good reason why I don’t believe in luck.