Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Where I Want to Be

Before I begin, I must say that I just pried off the plastic lid from a container of leftover gemelli pasta (a strand of pasta wrapped around itself) with mushroom alfredo sauce, sniffed it, and I now have a strong craving for my dad's tuna noodle casserole, with actual noodles, not crunchy Chinese ones.

Now, to the main subject: I am convinced absolutely of where I want to be in my life. I may have written about my desire for a career in aviation before, namely at an airport, but it hasn't felt like an overwhelming desire. I think it's because I've been so involved with this book project that I haven't been able to think fully about that forthcoming part of my life. For the past few weeks, I've pushed myself away from that book and have been able to relax. I continued work on my share of that book a few hours ago, by sending out a few e-mails pertinent to my research. Only this time, I didn't feel the same enormous pressure. I opened a Word file containing research on silent film comedian Mabel Normand and for the first time felt like I was going to get through this. It's partly because of the break I took from working day after day on this, but it's also because the manuscript deadline was extended to April, because Phil Hall, who came up with the idea for this book, has updated editions of his two previous books being published in January 2011, and he wants this book to come out at the same time.

During my desperately needed time off, the only aspect of aviation I returned to was a book-length profile of JFK airport by James Kaplan called "The Airport." I checked that book out a few months before I began this project, still uncertain of what kind of career I wanted in commercial aviation, but I figured that the book would be able to help me out, with the interviews it has with various employees in different positions. Nothing pops out yet, but I still have to read the second half of it. Last Friday night, however, I realized I was going into the right field.

Dad picked up my sister and I from Edwards Valencia 12, where we had seen the Toy Story 3D double feature. Before we went home, he had to stop at Barnes & Noble to pick up a calendar my mom wanted for the kitchen next year, and had clicked on the option on the Barnes & Noble website to pick it up at our local B&N. We went there and I wanted to see if the latest issue of The New Yorker was there, the one I'd received as the first in my subscription. Nothing there, but suddenly, I felt the urgent need to see if there were any aviation-related magazines on the shelves. The fifth set of shelves to the left revealed that there were, including one I think I hadn't seen since 1998, about a month after I attended a weeklong aviation summer camp at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, a 30-minute flight to Orlando from Fort Lauderdale International, and then an arranged drive to Daytona Beach with a service that would take me to the campus. I loved the camaraderie among all seven of us who were there, how we immediately formed a tight bond because of our mutual passion for aviation, private and commercial. One of the attendees was already working on becoming an airline pilot and while I wasn't certain what the rest were planning to do in aviation, I knew at the time that I had first wanted to be an airline pilot, then wanted to be a mechanic, and then a mechanic for Air Force One. But I now have no desire to join the Air Force, so that's out. I do remember that when I was 11, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the computer at home in Coral Springs, looking at pictures of crash sites, mangled wreckage, and reading up a lot on the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, thinking about perhaps seeking a job with one of those organizations. I became even more interested after the crash of ValuJet flight 592 in the Everglades in 1996, and then the 1997 crash of a Fine Air DC-8 cargo plane in Miami on a field next to the Miami City Rail Yard, right after takeoff. The cause was insecure cargo sliding to the tail portion of the plane, after which the plane stalled and crashed. I remember the huge number of news reports and I watched all I could possibly find.

The magazine I hadn't seen since 1998 was Airways, and I immediately flashed back to the particular issue that I spent hours looking at. It was from September, and it had an article on the perfect airline meal, which I read over and over, but I also looked at the many photos of airliners and other airplanes, and drooled over the advertisements for model airplanes and inflight cockpit videos. I daydreamed about what I'd buy and considered if I could convince my parents to buy me that 5-hour double VHS tape set about the Concorde, with two flights featured on it. That set is now on DVD from ITVV (Intelligent Television and Video) and I'm just waiting for them to put it into the NTSC format, which is currently out of stock on their website.

I'll put it this way: Do you perhaps remember spending hours looking at Playboy when you were sure your parents weren't around? I was the same way with that issue of Airways, with exactly the same focused interest. The issue of Airways I picked up at Barnes & Noble has a Northwest Airlines Boeing 757 taking off from a runway at McCarran International Airport, seemingly in front of the Encore. The '50s style font on the front says "Las Vegas Airport." I can't take it as a sign yet, even with my family and I still planning to move there, because I haven't yet begun the online courses from Embry-Riddle. It's going to take some time to get my bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics. But it's a sign of hope for me. I've chosen a career path where people always have to go somewhere, just like my sister wants to be a chef, and people always have to eat.

Anyway, it happened again, just like back in 1998. I flipped through the magazine, after staring at the cover for a full 5 minutes. You read it right. I was disappointed to find that in their "News from the Airways" section, amidst pictures of various aircraft, there were no Boeing 747s, which is my favorite aircraft. But the rest, what heaven! An article on the success of an African airline, one on Copa Airlines in South America, the history of Braniff's 'El Dorado Super Jet' 707s, and the article on McCarran, the reason I eventually paid over $6 for the issue.

When I write movie reviews, there's always a nagging feeling of insecurity: Am I saying exactly what I want to say or am I overly concerned with sounding somewhat witty? Have I described exactly what I want to about the film, or do I--god forbid--have to rewrite that paragraph? (I'm begrudgingly getting used to rewriting paragraphs and pages.) I do enjoy writing movie reviews, but maybe not as much now. When I originally thought that this might be a viable career (long before newspapers began crashing, and after I initially decided against a career in aviation because of the complicated math that I thought might be involved (it might still be, but I've never liked math beyond the four basic functions)), I didn't want to be Ebert. I wanted to be me fully; I wanted to attend screenings and spend my mornings going to movies. However, it's become less fun. I don't care about the Oscars and I hate being sucked into that part of the year through my association with the Online Film Critics Society through those awards. Last year, I watched as many films as I could so I could be relatively informed when it came to putting forth my nominations and then voting for the winners of the OFCS awards. I spent all that time and then what? Nothing. I just spent a major chunk of hours watching movies (which isn't bad. I still love it, but on my own terms), sent in my ballot, and that was it. No tangible benefit to me. It's the same thing with watching the Oscars. Nearly four hours and then what? You've spent four hours watching glamorous people trying to be even more glamorous, accepting awards, laughing for a few minutes at the host's opening monologue, and you haven't gotten anything out of it afterward. All the stars are off to their after-parties and you're sitting at home blankly on your ratty couch.

When I looked through this issue of Airways, when I got home and went to the website, looking through the past issues available for purchase, I didn't feel any of that. I didn't feel any doubts, I didn't feel any insecurities; I felt totally pure; I felt like a full person. On the shopping section of Airways' website, I found an issue from February with the main article being about the 40th anniversary of the Boeing 747. I looked further back, remembering when the Concorde had crashed in France and the subsequent retirement of all the Concordes, and I found an issue from February 2004 with the headline, "Concorde: End of an Era." Perhaps a cliche when used in other circumstances, but definitely not here. It truly was. I bought both issues without wondering if I really needed to. There was the Boeing 747, one of my favorite aircraft, and the Concorde, my other favorite aircraft. $4.50 for those issues plus shipping? No problem. Shipping came out to be $3.26 by First Class Mail, but I went for it. Then I went looking for that one issue from 1998 that gave me so many hours of pleasure and fantasy. I found it. September 1998, with the front of a Japan Airlines jet on the cover. $7.50 plus $3.26 shipping and it would come to over $10. Did I really want to do that? I did.

Then I got an e-mail from someone at the magazine in charge of shopping operations on the website who informed me that the shipping charge had been lowered to $2 because the United States Postal Service doesn't recognize custom rates, or something like that. In this case, they charge $2 shipping for archival issues instead of $3.26. What a nice way to be reintroduced to Airways beyond the issue I got from Barnes & Noble!

Movies and aviation have always been parallel passions. When I was 7, I copied word-for-word a review of the animated film Bebe's Kids (1992) from the Orlando Sentinel onto a sheet of posterboard. That must have tripped something. When I was a toddler, my parents always took me to Orlando International Airport to watch the planes take off and land and I was told that even back then, I could identify what kind of plane it was. I know now from that memory, from the great fun I had at that weeklong summer camp, from my reaction then and now to Airways Magazine that I'm home again. I want to be near commercial airliners. I want to stand in awe for hours (if possible) in front of a Boeing 747. I want to admire and examine closely all the parts that, to me, came together to create one of humanity's greatest achievements: The ability to fly.

I still have the binder from that summer camp with all the contact information of my fellow campmates. I'm going to see what they're up to. Surely they're on Facebook by now, one or two or three of them at least, and maybe they can offer me some career advice. I'm absolutely sure that Phillip has become an airline pilot by now. A few months after that camp ended, he went back to Embry-Riddle as a student.

I'm still going to write. I still want to try writing plays, I'm sure I've got material for essays after these movie-driven essays are done for the book, and maybe I'll attempt a novel. However, I'm not looking to write the Greatest American Novel since I don't have any ideas yet. And I'd be content with just writing a novel. Fortunately, with living in Las Vegas, I believe that if you can't find anything to write about there, you should not be a writer. There are so many stories to be found there every single day that you could spent months sifting through what you've seen in one day. I remember the friendly Honduran man who sat in our row when we went to see Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay. While we were waiting in line for the restroom during the intermission, he told me and my father all that he and the people with him were planning to see. It was clear that soon seeing Barry Manilow, Chicago, and a few other acts, he had saved for this trip for a long time. And the pride in his voice when he talked about staying at the Venetian, it truly sounded like he was loving every minute. I never asked what he did in Honduras, but I know it probably isn't as wonderful as Las Vegas is in those moments. I didn't ask him for an e-mail address with which to keep in touch and I'll likely never see him again, but I'll always remember him. And I'll always remember the guitarist whose chords I heard after we'd parked back at the Best Value Inn on the last night of our most recent trip to Las Vegas. I heard him and wanted so badly to go up to the second floor, sit with him a while and ask what he was thinking about while he looked out at Hooters across from us, the Luxor pyramid, a bit of the Tropicana, the MGM Grand and, if you leaned over far enough, a piece of the facade of New York, New York. I think he probably saw more because he was higher up. But I also wanted to know where he was from and where else he played that guitar. There will always be enough stories to inspire me, and, working at an airport, that doubles the chances.

This may be surprising, but the most valuable thing I have in my room is not any of my DVDs. Not Mary Poppins, not The Remains of the Day, not The Jungle Book, not The Swimmer, not 84 Charing Cross Road, not The Fabulous Baker Boys, not My Blueberry Nights (if you've never clicked on my profile, these are my seven favorite films, as ranked). I treasure my paperback copy of "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro; I love the books I have about the Boeing 747 and the Concorde, as well as a large-sized book documenting all of James Bond's gadgets and cars in the movies (up to The World is Not Enough. I've not yet bought the latest edition which includes Quantum of Solace). I love the copy I have of Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2003 which has my question to him about a line I didn't understand in the David Mamet film Heist.

I don't remember if it was during summer camp or after, by mail (I'll ask him if I find him), but Phillip gave me an actual manual for a United Airlines Boeing 747-100. It's all together in an official United Airlines binder, and includes a fold-out map of the cockpit. I love this far more than anything else I have in my room. And maybe that's the ultimate sign that I'm finally going to where I should be in my life.