First time, but not the last

Published 10:42 pm Monday, May 16, 2011

Before this past Friday, the closest I’d ever come to flying in all my 34 years was staring at the vastness of Lake Michigan from the top floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago. But the differences between staring at a still lake from the comforts of a 100-plus story building and having wind whipping at your face in a biplane at 2,000-plus feet are many.

Yet, thrill-seeker that I am, the notion of taking my first flight was not as terrifying as one might suspect. You see, on this same day I was taking my brand-new used camera along with me on this maiden voyage to take photos.

And those of you Suffolkians who know and read my columns regularly understand why having a camera again means so much to me. But for those who don’t know, my beloved camera was stolen from me so many months ago. Without it, I have been feeling like I have been lacking something.

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So, the thought of going up in an airplane for the first time, something in which I’ve had a moderate interest in, took second chair to the notion of losing yet another beloved camera, this time by possibly having it knocked from my grasp by a wind gust or unexpected turbulence.

But there I was, getting strapped into the front seat of the biplane with the pilot, Mr. Ray Cross, giving me last-minute tips about what to touch and what not to touch in the plane. (Apparently, there are levers and button I could’ve pushed in my seat that could’ve cut the engine or disconnected my communication with the pilot, but all I could think about was whether there was some sort of holster to put my camera in.) Once they found a way to properly strap down all my folds and robustness, we taxied out onto the grass field to begin my first assent into the hopefully — for the sake of my camera — not-too-wild blue yonder.

Now, perhaps it’s because my mother always said my head is in the clouds, or I was just meant to do it, but I was not the least bit nervous about flying for the first time. At least not for my physical person, mind you, but my camera. My poor, new-used camera was in mortal danger.

Somewhere between checking my battery power and setting my camera to its proper ISO, we became airborne in such a smooth fashion that by the time I looked outside my seating area, I could only see the top of the Military Aviation Museum and a speeding streak of trees. There was no turning of my stomach or a need to clutch the walls. We just lifted gracefully out the ground.

Once in the air, I had to take that one deep breath to gather the courage it would take for me to take my first photo while in flight.

During the first shot I took, we hit a pocket of air that knocked my shot out of focus. I clutched my poor camera for all I was worth and gathered the courage to shoot again. Smooth sailing.

After about 50 or more photos later, we glided safely back to the ground, with my stomach only feeling a slight twinge. I had survived with my camera intact. Oh, and I was fine, too.

So, the best advice I can give to someone whose never flown when it comes time to take that first flight is this: Take along something with you that you value more than your own well-being. The flight will seem like small potatoes by comparison.