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.


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.”


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

More later….