Tickets, Part IV

As things turned out, timing was actually going to be on my side for once. That particular Thursday morning we would all be visiting my in-laws in central Maine. Because of my wife’s somewhat unusual choice of profession as ferry captain, it means that her workweek is anything but the Monday through Friday, nine to five routine which most folks live in. Much of the time she works second shift type hours and weekends fall… well… wherever they can. We’ve done Tuesdays and Fridays; we’ve had Mondays and Wednesdays. You name the combination and she’s had it. All, that is, except for Saturday and Sunday. That’s something that just never ever happens in her line of work except for the very most senior of the senior captains, which se is not. Not yet, anyway. With her current schedule however, our weekend, for the moment anyway, was Wednesday-Thursday. That, and because I’m a full time stay at home Dad, my weekends are… frankly, never. BUT! I don’t have an office to go to. That is, unless you count the kitchen.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after the various pleasantries about the drive, how we’ve been and what should we feed the kids, I explained the situation to my wife’s folks. Tomorrow morning we were going to need the computer. All of the computers, actually.

Being a huge tech geek and former I.T. director, I admit that I like computers. That’s not quite right. I LOVE computers. I like them powerful and portable and I had made darned sure that my wife and I had our laptops with us and ready to go when the time was nigh. To make things even better, my in-laws had just recently switched from the slow-as-tar-in-January connection that they had to a super fast cable connection full of wonderful high speed broadband goodness. Now, it was time to stop rowing and start hoping.

After reading and then rereading the rules of the game on the Kennedy Space Center website, I explained it to my wife.

“Okay, here’s how it works. At eight forty-five the site will open a page that will let us in to a virtual waiting room. Once the virtual waiting room fills up, they will close it off to new arrivals, so we have to be very, very fast on that.”

“And then we can buy tickets?” Action Girl looked a little groggy as she hovered over her steaming mug of coffee, but she was doing her best to look attentive.

“No. Not quite” This was where things got interesting. “That gives us the chance that we might get picked at random while in the waiting room to be allowed to buy tickets, providing that someone else hasn’t hovered them all up already.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Agreed. But that’s the way they play. And it’s not over yet. IF, we get into the waiting room and then IF one of us gets picked then we will be given exactly two minutes to fill out the information to order the tickets. If we go over the two minute mark, we get bumped back into the waiting room, but by then it will probably be too late to get picked again.”

Blank, semi-caffeinated eyes looked back at me. One eyebrow arched and was followed by a very flat, “What?”

“Yah, so we need to be ready.”

“I’m gonna need more coffee.” And with full mugs in hand, we sat down and got prepared.

I set the two laptops up on the dining room table and once they were set at the right page on the Kennedy Center’s website, I then attended to my in-law’s machine. Everything was ready and we all had our jobs. Mine was the laptops. My wife’s was the other desktop computer. My in-law’s was to keep the kids entertained and prevent them from trying to climb into our laps and demand to watch (in my daughter’s case) kid shows such as Miffy, Kipper or Maisy Mouse, or (in my son’s case) videos of rockets or the Space Shuttle. This had an added difficulty factor being that the page we had to wait at was covered with a rocket and space motif. Once Short Stack spotted that, the pleading began instantly.

“Later, I swear. Right now we need to do something important.”

“But Daddy, can’t we just watch one video? Puh-LEEZE?

The easy thing to do would have been to simply explain why I couldn’t. I could just tell him that we were all trying to get tickets for him to go and see these things in person and just how awesome that would be. He is three, and the idea of putting off a little enjoyment now for a lot later on is a difficult concept for him to grasp, but I had met with some success there before. The very real problem was possible failure. Very possible, actually. I had no idea what our chances were to get launch tickets and the idea of getting him all cranked up to see something that would blow his mind that much… and then not making it out of their hideous little virtual waiting room… well, I just didn’t think I could deal with that sort of guilt. I know it wouldn’t be my fault, but still, the look of a deeply disappointed child, YOUR deeply disappointed child is just too withering for me to want to get anywhere near.

I’d rather eat bugs.

So, with my in-law’s best attempts to get him distracted, Action Girl and I sat, drank more coffee and waited.

8:36

*Slurp*

8:41

*Slurp, slurp*

8:44

“Get ready…” I didn’t take my eyes off the clock on my laptop. The clock that is set via the Internet, so you just KNOW it’s right.

8:45 “NOW!”

Three clicks and all three computers navigate away from their page and into the waiting room. “Okay, so we’re in. Now we wait.”

Here, I give my wife some serious credit. While we had been waiting, it was her idea to copy down all our information, credit card numbers, addresses, names, etc, on another document on the computer. Then, if one of us got in, we could simply cut and paste it all into the appropriate fields without worry of error. That, and it would be faster.

Brilliant!

It was all set to go and just as I had hoped, BING, I was in.

The computer that got he magic pass happened to be my own and with a whoop, I quickly focused on filling out everything perfectly. Easy! And as I typed, I realized that it was going to be even easier than I thought! The information that is so commonly needed on forms like this is cached in your computer’s browser memory and the auto-filling took over as I zipped though. Names and phone numbers appeared without me having to do a thing! The only thing that made me pause was when I had to decide on the type of ticket.

Causeway or Space Center?

Causeway was a better view.

Space Center had stuff to look at.

What to do?

I looked at my son who was at that moment playing with his wooden Space Shuttle, making a low pass about three millimeters over his nose as he added rocket noises for effect. He worships rockets. He loves them. He needed to be surrounded by them when the moment came. That, and like I said, they had bathrooms.

Space Center, it was.

I clicked the appropriate button and hit “Complete”

I reached the end with time to spare. I smiled… then went bug eyed.

Instead of being shown the “You’re all set, you lucky boy” page, I was looking at my form again with a message stating that there were, “some errors.”

WHAT?! WHERE?!?

As I looked down the list of information, I realized that I had been sabotaged by my very own machine. Auto-fill had been less than perfect, but that didn’t stop it from trying! Here and there, I started to see where, in an effort of helpfulness, my computer had put down things that didn’t make sense. Phone numbers that were in wrong fields, Addresses that were either incomplete or overly so. I had to do some quick triage.

A few seconds of work and… “Complete.”

“There are some errors that we…”

AAAAAGH!

I scanned though the form again looking for the offending fields and tried and mostly failed to stop swearing in the presence of my children. I felt like I was an involuntary contestant on some evil game show. I do not know who programmed this site or decided on its rules, but I can safely say that if they were present at that moment, I would have elbowed them in the groin. “Accidentally,” of course.

“Third time’s the charm?” I clicked “complete” again and mumbled through clenched teeth. “Come on you bastard. Take it!”

“Congratulations! You are reserved for two tickets at the viewing area at the Kennedy Space Center for STS-131 on March 13th.

(Note to readers: We didn’t’ miss nor see the launch already. It was rescheduled for April 5th. More on that later)

I’m not certain, but it sounded to me like I let out at least three lungs worth of held breath as I rocked back in my seat and smiled. We were in. We had the tickets. Nothing would stop us now.

“Hey,” My wife said excitedly. “I just got picked from the waiting room! Do you need any more tickets? Are you sure you’re all set?”

It was an odd moment and a possibility that I hadn’t really considered. Did I need any more tickets? I had heard about tickets being resold on eBay for over a grand each and the reality of that notion hung there in the room like low fruit. “No. I’m all set. We’ve got what we need.”

Let someone else get the tickets. Perhaps there was another father and son who were dying to go. Perhaps they were still languishing in the waiting room thumbing through dog eared virtual copies of Field and Stream and LIFE Magazine. To take there dreams away would be totally unfair. Hopefully, they’d get called up next.

With that, we shut down the computers, stood up, stretched and topped up mugs with more coffee. We did it.

“Dad, NOW can we watch some rocket videos?” His Shuttle was gripped in his hand as he looked up at me.

“Yah, I think we can now. What one do you want to see?”

With that, I sat back down, reopened the laptop and let him scurry into my lap as I punched in the URL for YouTube and searched for the NASA channel.

“Let’s watch that one!” and a little finger shot out to direct me to the chosen clip.

“Sure Buddy.” I was one happy dad, and now so was he. All we needed to do now was get there.

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Tickets, Part III

Our next door neighbors, Barry and Carole are a lot of fun. They’re a mostly retired couple who moved to the island about four years ago and bought the ancient farmhouse that sits on the opposite side of our backyard stonewall. There are lots of reasons why we like them, the most immediate of which that spring to mind being their good nature, a mutual interest in history, and the fantastic manhattans which appear one after the other almost magically from their bar. Man… the manhattans are just great. Another interest which we have in common is a love of flying.

So far as I can recall, I’ve always been entranced with the notion of flight and as a young child, my father would take me down to the local airport about once a year, charter a small, two or four seat airplane and a pilot and take me for a flight over the little valley where we lived. Things were a lot more relaxed back then when it came to air safety and regulation and I’d simply sit on my Dad’s lap for the duration of the flight. I got to see how everything worked, watch the gauges and if the pilot was feeling particularly friendly that day, even get to “fly” the plane a bit. This really only entailed me steering with the yolk, but I still found it a thrill. What kid wouldn’t?

With the hook firmly set, it was inevitable that some day I’d go and get my pilot’s certificate, which is exactly what I did. It was never something I wanted to do as a profession but rather enjoyed as an unbelievably fun way to unwind on a sunny weekend or after a stressful day at work. When my wife and I lived in Vermont, we were only a few minutes from a wonderful little airport and flew quite often. After I started my business, I didn’t have as much time to spend zipping around, boring holes in the sky for no particular reason. Once we relocated to our current runwayless island home, my flight time dropped off even further. When our son was born, that was pretty much the final blow to my time spent in a cockpit. The concept of free time and extra money are nothing more than the vague and fleeting memories of a life that might as well have been a thousand years ago. Did I actually get to do that? Was that me? Well, I do still have the certificate and it has my name on it, as does the black logbook that details every flight I’ve ever made. It rests dustily on the shelf in the hopes of someday being tossed into a flight kit and being toted into the air once again. It must have been me. I don’t know when it will happen again, but I can be patient.

Barry also liked to fly, though he, like me, no longer takes to the sky these days. He spent a lot of time in the air and now he’s happy to reflect on his experiences and leave it at that. I think it’s fair to say that he was far more into it than I was, however. His joy of flight propelled him from the humble seat of a tiny two seater, where all pilots seem to begin, and then followed it all the way up to becoming a director of the Federal Air Administration in Washington, DC. You don’t get much more enthusiastic about flying than that!

We have a great time on summer evenings, relaxing in his living room, chatting about flights we’ve made, the merits of various aircraft and how low the drinks are getting in our glasses. I knew that Barry had been out of the FAA for a long time now but he still does consulting work in the aerospace industry and has a lot of connections. With my new understanding that getting my tickets was going to require some serious effort, I thought talking to my fellow airplane friend was worth a try. Surely he must know someone at NASA? After explaining my situation to him, I asked if there was anything he thought he could do.

“Wow. That’s…ah, that’s a great thing you want to do with your boy. You know, I used to know the director at NASA very well.”

This sounded promising! I was hoping for a connection like that.

“The problem is that he’s been retired now for ages, just like I have. He’s not there anymore and I can’t think of a single person I know who works there still.“ I could tell that the situation pained him and I was instantly regretting having asked. Barry’s a great person and the only thing that would pain him more than not being able to help a friend is not being able to help a friend when at one time, he could have easily.

“No problem!” I tried to interrupt with out interrupting and save him from making any other apology for a situation completely not of his making. Now we were both feeling uncomfortable. Great. “I just thought I’d call and see and… um.. So, How’s Carole?” My attempt to change the subject must have been transparent as cellophane, but thankfully we managed to steer the conversation to other grounds and ending with only a parting “Sorry about that” from my friend.

Strike one.

Next I’d try something that was less potentially embarrassing, but far more of a long shot. I’d contact one of my Senators.

Now, to set the record straight here, I am not a government botherer by any measure. I don’t’ write letter after letter to Congressmen or even City Council members. I don’t watch C-Span or go to political rallies. I don’t, to be honest, hold elected officials in a lot of esteem. Mostly, government officials seem to be concerned with one thing and one thing only and that is to get them reelected as many times as humanly possible. There’s a very good reason hardly anyone in office likes the idea of term limits. This time though, I thought that it might, just MIGHT work in my favor. What all officials like is good public relations story and this was a pretty good one. What I needed to do was something I did a lot in my youth but almost never anymore. I needed to write a letter. By HAND.

Deep in the confines of the top drawer of a little used bureau sat my few remaining monogrammed letters that I must have purchased some time in during the first Clinton administration. Writing a hand letter was something that was so common not that long ago, but now, with the advent of good and cheap inkjet printers, not to mention email, the common household letter is a thing of the past. An anachronism. Despite this, in face, because of this, it is also the very best way to get your self noticed in our otherwise type written world. Knowing the condition of my horribly deteriorated penmanship skills, I decided to do this thing write… I mean right.

Sitting up straight in my chair at a cleared off kitchen table, I carefully wrote out my letter in the faintest pencil, all the time using an index card to keep the lines of text parallel and neat. Once accomplished and carefully checked for errors, only then did I pull out the pen and overwrote the pencil. When I was sure the ink was dry, an eraser took care of my earlier marks. It reads more or less as follows:

Dear Senator Collins,

My family and I live on an island off the coast of Maine and my three year old son is fascinated with space and rockets to the point of obsession. His birthday is in March and as a very special present, I want to take him to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the Shuttle launch on the 18th. The problem is, that it’s nearly impossible to obtain tickets. They go on sale to the public at an unspecified date, at an unspecified time and sell out in less than an hour. The only advice I could get from the space center was to, “check back often.”

As you can guess, the likelihood of me calling in time to get tickets is practically zero. I would happily pay for tickets if there were some why I could be given a chance. I would like to ask you if there is anything you could do or suggest so I might get this chance to show my son a once in a lifetime view. This is something he would remember for the rest of his life as well as I.

Thank you for your time and attention as well as for whatever assistance you might be able to offer.

As I looked over my work, I grinned. Instantly, I was a sixth grader again, just about to hand in my hard work. I was proud! Then, in a moment of balloon like deflation, I realized that Miss Aubin would have sent this right back for me to do again with a terse remark scrawled at the top in her unforgiving red pen. In sixth grade, it would have had to be in cursive. No excuses.

Luckily, Miss Aubin wasn’t going to get a chance on grading this one and without remorse, I stuck it into the envelope, copied the address onto the front, affixed the postage, made sure that my return address was easy to decipher and carried it by hand to our little post office down by the ferry landing.

These moments are interesting things for me. I like to think that I’m not a naive fool, blundering through life with the misplaced belief that people are happy to solve my problems for me, but at times like this, I actually get this sensation that I’ve got a good shot at getting help. Somehow, as I walked back to my house, I was sure I’d hear something from the Senator, even if it was just a form letter. I’d get something.

Right?

As hopeful as I was, I’ve also learned not to bank on hope. Hope’s great. It makes you feel good and keeps morale up, to be sure, but I’m willing to bet that most people adrift in life rafts who’ve died of exposure had hope just welling up in their hearts. Personally, I vote for rowing. The problem was picking a direction. Then, as luck would have it, I got a sign from above. Well, the Internet, actually, but the effect’s much the same.

When I had been messing around on that hideous time vampire, Facebook, I had discovered that the Kennedy Space Center had a fan page. It’s where I had gotten the advice about where to see the launch from. Apparently, while I was there, I had clicked the “Become a Fan” button and put on their electronic mailing list. It was the only way I can explain the email that arrived in my in-box.

“STS-131 space shuttle launch viewing tickets at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex go on sale Thursday, February 11 at 9:00 a.m. ET.”

WHAT?!?

Facebook, if I ever spoke ill of you before, please forgive me.

More later….

Tickets, Part II

I don’t actually remember seeing the launch on TV. I was, after all, in fourth grade and memories from that far back in my life tend to get either super specific and highly detailed or so out of focus, it’s like looking trying to watch a ballet through a fog machine. You know that stuff is there and that things are happening, but beyond some blurry shapes moving in the mist, you’re pretty clueless as to the actual story. Though the initial liftoff is lost to my own personal history, I can easily recall the buzz that it created around the playground, and it was BIG!

Rockets still had a use, naturally. We needed them to nuke the Soviets into radioactive grit at a moments notice, or at least that’s what The Gipper told us, but in the most gentle, kind, patriarchal way possible! The Space Shuttle though was all about peace, science, exploration and most importantly, giving us the foolish hope that some day when we were big, that we too might be strapped in and blast off to the stars. It lit not only the fires that propelled the two thousand ton Shuttle into space, but those of our imaginations. Suddenly, television shows like “Space 1999” didn’t look so far fetched and we began to see our selves as the brave young explorers who would strap in and ride the column of fire to the edge of our atmosphere. It might just be possible! Now, we had a rocket plane!

What impressed us the most was that it was reusable! The same Shuttle could go up again and again and again. We’d have our promised moon base in no time flat. Now if we could only get the personal helicopters and jet packs worked out. Things were even looking up on that front as well, ever since Sean Connery had been spotted with one during a weekend TV special reairing of his 1965 Bond flick, Thunderball. We were pumped, and we were not alone.

With this new super cool looking launch vehicle, NASA went from being a place where a bunch of dedicated American and *ahem* newly naturalized German rocket engineers made stuff explode and zoom off the ground; to becoming the place where we might someday work and zoom into space ourselves. Enough of America’s youth looked skyward with reflections of actual stars in their collective eyes for something truly unique to be formed. Something that took that little, kindled hope of becoming an astronaut and poured high octane jet fuel on it.

Space Camp!

With a surprising, visionary look forward, a whole camp dedicated to space in general and the Space Shuttle in particular, had been devised, organized and opened. All you needed was to be nuts about space, have parents willing to foot the bill to send you, and the willingness to go. Sadly, I had only two of the three requirements.

As an only child, I benefited from having the full attention of both of my parents at all times. I didn’t have to divvy up anything with other siblings and in turn, my parents had the financial ability to take their only child places few larger families got to go. I got to do some pretty awesome stuff that most of my friends could only dream about. It was an amazing gift and one which I never looked at without full appreciation of what I had and thanks to my folks for making it all possible. It was great!

When they offered some time around sixth grade to send me to Space Camp though… I balked.
There was a very simple problem.
I was afraid.

As an adult, (and even back then as a kid, I think) I have no problem admitting that I wasn’t terribly brave about leaving home. To be one hundred percent honest, I was a big ole’ chicken. I wanted my own bed. I wanted my own room. I wanted to be home with everything that was familiar and safe and where I was sure of every step I made. I’d happily go out for the day at a friend’s house, but come evening, I was pointing the front tire of my trusty bike back to familiar lands. I never spent the night. Why? I have no idea. But there you have it. My folks had to practically force me to attend the long weekend getaway run by my Catholic school for fifth and sixth graders, and that was going with everyone I already knew with teachers I trusted and liked! When I did go the first time, all the way to that far off and exotic land of Boston Harbor, I was terrified and my terror, much to my embarassment, manifested itself physically. On the one, pre-addressed and stamped post card that my Mother had sent me with, I wrote the following after my first night at camp.

“Last night, I throw up. Am better now.
Love, Matt”

How’s that for a letter home?

Even with the allure of buildings filled with space stuff to tempt me, the idea of getting on a plane and crossing half the country to attend a week long camp with nothing but strangers was just way too far outside of my comfort zone. There was never a chance it would happen. I never went.

I wish I had.
Boy, do I wish I had.

Short Stack is way too young to attend Space Camp and by the time he can, I have no idea what it will be like or if it will exist at all. Hopefully, unlike his dad, he’ll have stronger guts for such adventuring and you can bet that I’ll do what I can to facilitate that for him. I might have to push him and he might not like it at the time, but from this vantage point won by time and experience, (or lack thereof), I can see the size of the payoff for him in the future. Hopefully, he won’t throw up.

With the largest hurdle vaulted, getting the Mom-Seal-Of-Approval, it was time to take a running leap at the next one on our track to Cape Canaveral: Tickets. How hard could it be?

Answer: Stupidly hard.

With a whiff of “our tax dollars at work” in the air, I started to discover that getting to see the launch was going to be trickier than I expected. Now, naturally, simply watching the Shuttle take off could be done from just about anywhere in the state. For those who’ve never been to Florida and don’t live in the Great Plains region of the U.S., you’ll need to redefine the word “flat” for your self. Florida is flat. Really, really, flat. For someone who grew up in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains, my first reaction to this geographical pancake was to actually sort of freaked out. It made me feel uneasy, like I was on some endless movie set. It didn’t feel real. The best vantage spots for looking at the landscape are the highway overpasses. Want to be see farther than anyone else not in a multi-story building? Stand on a stepladder. The upside to this single plane of existence living is that if something is in the sky, you can see it.

This held true for my father as well whom, when he was a schoolboy in Homestead, Florida, was ushered outside with his entire class one May morning in 1961 to see Alan Shepard’s Mercury space craft lift off and push him into the history books as the first American in space. They all watched as a small speck of light trailed by a plume of smoke arch across the sky and out of site. They were 254 miles away. That’s how flat Florida is.

For Short Stack, I wanted to be a little closer. Actually, I wanted to be a lot closer. I wanted us to feel the roar and be able to make out the Shuttle with the naked eye. Ok, let’s be honest here. I wanted to feel the roar. It’s been a long time since I dreamed about that sound as I stood as a starry eyed pup on the playground sand. This was my chance too. There were two options:

The first was to be at the viewing area on The Causeway. The Causeway is a strip of land that, if you’ve watched footage of a launch before, I guarantee you’ve seen. It’s the big, grassy lawn with the oversized bedside clock on it. It’s where all the news networks set up and once, long ago, Walter Cronkite had his broadcast desk incongruously sitting on the grass in the fresh and open air as he described to the world, just what was happening six miles behind him.

The second option was to view the launch right from the visitor center at the complex. There, we would be surrounded by rockets of old, displays of other rocket related stuff, vending machines and most importantly, functional, plumbed in bathrooms. This sounded good, but for one thing. You can’t see the launch pad. From the visitor center, the actual launch pad is obscured by a line of trees and, unfortunately, is a mile or two farther away as well. The visitor center tickets were cheaper, but was this the time to cheap out? I needed to do some research, and by that I mean “ask some people on Facebook who belonged to the ‘Friends of the Kennedy Space Center’ page.” The consensus was quick.

“You need to try and get on the Causeway. It’s the best view!”

“You’re closer on the Causeway and you can feel the engines in your chest!”

“Get Causeway tickets if you can. They are harder to buy, but worth it! You’ll need to be quick, no matter what you decide.”

Harder to buy? Quick?

Naturally, I understand the concept of tickets selling out and needing to be timely, but there was something about the last post that raised a red flag. I still wasn’t sure about keeping a four year old out on a grassy, buggy strip of mown swamp land for a launch that might or might not actually happen on time, but the warning about getting tickets, any tickets “Quick” worried me. The answers to next post on the site was one that made me sweat.

“How fast do tickets sell out?”

“About two minutes”

TWO MINUTES!?!?

Okay, that was a shock. Obviously, I needed to call the Space Center and see what the deal was. Now, the Visitor Center, much to my amazement, is not a government run or funded institution. It’s actually a private enterprise and it advertises this fact proudly on its website. I noted this when I was looking through it for a contact number to call and ask about tickets. I prefer to do things like this in person if possible, but since I live in Maine, phoning was the next best thing. I find that Email, though often preferred by places like this, is notoriously ignorable. I discovered the number and within moments, called.

“Kennedy Space Center ticketing. This is _______. How may I help you?”
“Hello, yes. I was wondering about getting two tickets for the next Shuttle launch. How do I go about that?”

“Yah, they aren’t available for sale yet.”

“Yes, I understand that from the web site. I was just wondering when they would go up for sale and how I should purchase them?”

“The time of sale has not been released. You should check back often.”

“Ahhhh, I was told that they sell out pretty fast.”

“Yes, that’s true. About two to five minutes.”

“So, how am I supposed to get them if I don’t know when they will be on sale?”

“Just check back often.”

I was working hard, I SWEAR, to maintain an even tone in my voice and keep things convivial. After all, you catch more flies with honey… though a fly swatter was starting to sound good too.

“So, wait… You’re telling me that they sell out in under five minutes but that you can’t tell me when they will go up for sale. Is that correct?”

Yes sir.” she droned on in a voice utterly devoid of caring “ Just check back often.”

A little mushroom cloud lifted off the top of my head as I visualized the endless loop of doom. My mental clutch burning, I tipped my hand. They might not be governmentally run, but she had the personality pegged.

“Every five minutes?!? How is that supposed to work? How does anyone have the slightest chance of a shot at getting tickets?”

“Just check ba…” She was in full bureaucratic-stuck-record mode and I was too far away to nudge the needle.

“Thanks.” And with that, I did something that I’ve only done a very few times in my life. I hung up on her.

This was a problem. Tickets were needed and it was time to try out some unorthodox channels to get some. My first stop wasn’t far from home at all. Actually, it was next door. I needed to call the neighbors.

Tickets, Part I

Things had to be set in motion to make the dream a reality. The most critical of piece was securing the blessing from my wife. After hinting around in the subtlest way I could manage for well over two weeks, all my gentle prodding finally came to fruition.

As she sat in the living room chair one evening, the hoped for statement came rolling out as easily as a wave rising on the shore. “You know, why don’t you take Short Stack to go and see the next Shuttle launch.” Slightly bug-eyed, I tried to play it very safe. Now was not the time to screw things up by acting hastily.

Outwardly, what I believe I said at the time was, “Hmmmm.” as if I was mulling this thought over for the first time rather than the four hundredth and ninth. Inwardly, I’m pretty sure my brain broke into a sweat as I strained to keep from breaking into a spontaneous happy dance right there in there in the living room. It’s not that I didn’t think she would trust me with one of our children far from home and her watchful eye. No, nothing like that. It’s just that Action Girl is not one to voluntarily miss out on something fun. She can barely contain herself if she knows that I have a small gift for her birthday or even if I simply have an entertaining story to relate later on that evening. My wife has a lot of virtues but patience in the fact of impending fun is not one of them. Forgoing an actual vacation that would include palm trees, crisp bed linens, a swimming pool and possibly a beach… well, that’s like waiting for the IRS to send you a letter saying that, hey, why don’t you just keep it all this year. I suppose it might be possible, but you sure as heck don’t bank on it happening.

Even though I’d be going with my three, almost four year old son, it would undoubtedly be a vacation, as well. After all, I’m the stay at home parent in our household and under normal conditions have two miniature people causing chaos around me all day, ever day. Having to wrangle just one is almost like a vacation on its own. I can look back now at my pre-child days and laugh out loud at what I considered to be a busy day. Then we had Short Stack and I thought I knew what busy was. After Lulu Belle came along, I looked back at my time with just one child and laughed again at how I thought that was so hard to do. I’m wiser now. I barely have time to do anything fun and exciting such as sitting down, taking regular showers or making coffee. The idea of adding one or more children to our batch sends me scampering up the trees. Honestly, I know I could do it, but I don’t know how. Personally, I’d rather not think about it.

As I did my best to slowly, “come around” to this idea I cautiously checked her resolve in what might have been a moment of weakness. “Are you sure you’d be okay with this? You wouldn’t mind if I took just him to go and see the Shuttle?” Again, I tried to act as nonchalant as possible while my heart raced at lemming-on-its-third-cappuccino speed.

“Yah, it would be fun for you two. He’s bonkers on rockets and it would be something he’d remember for the rest of his life. I don’t think I’d want to spend that much time looking at rockets as you two would, so it would be better if just you two went. Besides, there aren’t going to be that many more Shuttle launches, are there?”

Here she was completely correct.

The Shuttle had been rolled out when I was just a kid, back in 1981. As a kid playing in the dirt of the school playground, what we were into were rockets. The last Apollo mission had been flown in 1972 and all we had to look up at was something called “Skylab” which sounded a lot like a place to do school work and thus, didn’t interest us much beyond the fact that al agreed that it looked a lot cooler than what the Soviets had with their bulbous Mir. Since the cessation of anything really wowable in the space race, we, the children of the Cold War, tended to look more to the latest high tech bomber or attack submarine for our chest thumping assuredness when it came to America’s ability and know-how. Then… we saw it.

On April 12th of 1981, something very, very noteworthy happened for all to see. STS-1 was launched. As children who were raised on a steady diet of anti-Soviet, Regan fueled, flag waving patriotism, to see this massive and undeniably beautiful spacecraft blast her way into space, well… it was like pouring sugar on an anthill. We all wanted to see it, touch it, ride it… FLY it! She was unlike anything we had seen before and speaking for the eight year old set at Saint Joseph’s Grammar School, we were impressed. Deeply so.

This was STS-1, the first launch of many to come. At the time, we didn’t know what STS stood for (Space Transportation System, by the way) or that this new “Space Shuttle” even had a name beyond the one we’d been told about on television and at school. We knew it as Colombia, but NASA called her OV-102. There had been another before this, OV-100, or in more common parlance, Enterprise but we hadn’t really been paying much attention to that. Enterprise was never meant to fly into space. Her entire job was intended to be as a test bed for what would later become the shuttles built later on. She was never even fitted with engines. The cool tie in name to one America’s favorite Sci-Fi TV shows aside, she just didn’t have the sexy. It was like looking at a full size model of a Lamborghini. Sure, it was kind of neat, but… so? Your average third grader needs more than that. We needed fire! Fire and smoke! Oh, and a really, REALLY loud noise!

Boy, did we get it!