If I were writing the ad, it would read: Life weighing you down? We can lift you up.
Skydiving is falling, technically, but it's uplifting nonetheless, and about as close as we humans can come to flying. Seems there are quite a few of us who want to experience feeling free as a bird without actually being outdoors and dealing with the weather. As a result, indoor skydiving facilities are popping up around the world. When one opened near our home, I leapt at the opportunity . . . sort of. I bought my husband a gift certificate for Christmas.
Convinced that most people would be home nursing their hangovers, we scheduled his "adventure" for New Year's Day. When we arrived, we found that the facility was not only packed, but the classes were full and everyone who had signed up had brought along their posse to watch, cameras at the ready. And I do mean posse -- there were children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, and apparently anyone from the neighborhood who had nothing else to do.
I admit it: minutes before my husband's turn in the tall, clear cylinder began, and after I had witnessed some imperfect flights, I began to have second thoughts.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," I said to my two sons, flanking my sides. "What if he gets dizzy in there with all these people watching? Even worse, what happens if the power goes out?"
"He'll be fine," they said, nearly in unison, rolling their eyes. Then, right on cue, my husband, who is Post 60, emerged from the training room with his flying group, sporting a bright red jumpsuit and a huge grin. By the time his helmet was on, and goggles securely fastened, my camera-shy mate of 26 years was practically begging for me to take a picture of him. Of course, I obliged.
Apparently, there's a tried and true method to flying safely indoors, and they follow it to a T. And clearly, it's an adventure meant to be had by someone other than myself. So I told the Woody Allen in me to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Here's how it works: After you've been trained in proper positioning and hand signals and you're in your safety gear, you line up with your group and take a seat outside the wind tunnel. Only one person flies with the instructor at a time, while the rest watch and cheer you on. The vertical tunnel provides "a wall-to-wall cushion of air" on which you float. The back of your suit has soft handles for the teacher to move you about, or grab you -- truth be told, there is a lot of grabbing. You don't need a parachute, or to actually jump, and once you're in the wind tunnel, you start at the bottom (which, by the way, is made of stainless steel net). Sometimes you fly solo, sometimes not so much -- it all depends on how you master the knack of "flying."
There's also a tunnel operator outside the chamber who monitors the wind speed based on the flyer's weight and skill level, along with other things I tried not to focus on, which means the person who is flying can literally throw caution to the wind and get their Peter Pan on. I've heard that in terms of length, each "flight" is the equivalent of about one and a half skydives.
I watched dozens of people fly, both before and after my husband. There was a mix of young and old, short and tall, men and women -- though the larger percentage was definitely men. Some flew with wide grins, made even wider by the air in the chamber puffing out their cheeks. There were guys with long beards who ended up looking like the Lorax; kids with braces that shone in the light; and a number of people who looked to be concentrating very, very hard. One teen lost a shoe while flying and he was quickly removed, until it fell from the top of the chamber, was returned safely and securely to his foot (his mother could be heard quite loudly teasing about how teens never tie their laces) and he was allowed to resume his fun.
When it was my husband's turn (he got two one-minute flights) he could hardly contain his enthusiasm. And damn if he wasn't pretty good for a rookie. He flew in place, great form, knees spread and bent just so -- arms, too. We all sat rapt.
When he was done with his first round, the flying team applauded his effort, as did we, along with all our new best friends. Then, when it was time to do it again, he ended with a bang -- we added the special of the day, a $9.95 bonus that allowed him to try a big lift and spin around towards the top of the chamber. I don't know about him, but I held my breath the entire time.
When he came down, I swear he looked 50 years younger. Free of fear and the myriad responsibilities that come with being an adult.
Yes, he was a kid, again. If only briefly. And yes, he'd do it again.
Me? I'll stick to writing the ads.
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