Ups and downs
"There's an airshow in Alamosa next weekend, would you like to go?" A satellite dish repairman had come to the door of the ranch I was caretaking, high in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. It was a gorgeous but isolated place. The ranch was 12 miles from the nearest town and some days, my main communication was with the dogs and horses. Despite the fact that he was a stranger, and I didn’t have so much interest in airshows, I said yes.
The satellite-dish repairman was (fortunately) innocuous, and not unkind, but we’d barely left the ranch before it became clear that we had little in common. He grew up downriver, now worked for his dad, and he hoped to start a family soon. He had every intention of staying in rural Colorado for the rest of his days. He couldn’t quite fathom that I was living alone on a huge ranch and he didn’t know how to respond when I mentioned I was recently divorced and that I’d likely return to California in the fall.
Nonetheless, we carried on with our plan to attend the airshow, the biggest thing going on in the region that weekend. Still, after less than an hour of wandering around the airstrip looking at WWII airplanes and making small talk, we were ready to go. Then I noticed a pilot was offering rides in his biplane for $40.
Now this was interesting.
I spoke to the pilot, climbed into the passenger seat, and waved to the satellite-repairman who looked slightly aghast as our plane rolled away down the runway and lifted off.
It was a thrilling ride. The San Luis Valley itself is at an elevation of 7,500 feet and encircled by 14,000 foot mountain peaks. There were a few clouds building over the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range to the east but otherwise the weather was glorious. We could see the high peaks of the Sangre De Cristos and the San Juans, the Great San Dunes and the sageland of northern New Mexico. I turned back once to signal my enthusiasm, the pilot grinned back, then made a wide loop up, up and over, putting the plane in a steep dive, before turning the nose up again. I’m not sure how many loops we did. The ride was over too soon.
Back on the ground, I could tell my date was annoyed, but between the view, the adrenaline rush and the pure novelty of the ride, I was too high on adrenaline to be bothered. After a quiet lunch, and a quieter ride back to the ranch, he dropped me off with a polite goodbye.
I never saw the satelite-dish repairman (or the biplane pilot) again, but this week, as I came down from last weekend’s show, I was reminded of that decades-ago date and plane ride (and not just because my show’s called ‘Flight Lessons’!). Performance has a similar arc to a thrill ride: The getting a new act together and doing all the other show-prep is maintaining the vehicle; rehearsing is kind of like rolling down the runway; the performing was the loop-the-loops; and then coming down, landing, feeling a little or a lot elated (or sick!) from it all before preparing for the next ride.
I was pleased — and relieved — with how the night went. By midweek, I was starting to feel my feet back on the ground…then the weathered turned cold, I caught cold… I had definitely landed! Today, though I woke up with new ideas about how to proceed, and got back to tinkering with words and forms. Process! It never ends.