Yeah, I know: It’s officially AirVenture. But to a lot of folks, the name just hasn’t clicked. Sort of like moving an old dog’s dish, and he starves to death. When you rename an institution, it takes a generation (or three) for the new name to become part of the lexicon. It just doesn’t sound right to say, “Hey, how was AirVenture?” when saying “Wow, Oshkosh was great!” sounds so right.
As it happens, no matter what you want to call it, Oshkosh, AirVenture, AvMecca North, Paradise-by-Winnebago, it was great, and having just returned, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to make a couple of observations about it.
Probably the least profound observation is rooted in getting trapped in the rain out of range of viable cover: It took less than 10 minutes to realize that three things smell exactly the same after a rain. Those would be wet dogs, wet aviators and wet cowboy hats (Stetson XXX Beaver). From distant memory, I should probably also include wet sleeping bags, but I knew that before going to Oshkosh-the-event (not Oshkosh-the-city and not OshKosh-the-coveralls).
Another thing you notice less than halfway through the mega event is that, after about three days, you can’t remember having lived anywhere else. It seems to take over your life, blotting out all other memories, and puts a mental barrier between you and the life out “there” in the real world. It’s a little like living on an island where nothing that’s not indigenous to the island survives. Not politics. Not personal strife. Nothing.
To underscore the isolation that exists in the Kingdom of Oshkosh, I, for some unknown reason, wanted an update on the budget crisis (FYI, worrying about politics while at Oshkosh is, I believe, illegal). The Dems and Repubs were slinging mud back and forth, and I wanted to know if any progress had been made (yes, I know that was a stupid thought, but I lose all reason when at an airport). I clicked on the local news channel and got 15 minutes on the settling of the NFL strike (we were only an hour from Green Bay, so that makes sense), 20 minutes on the immense nature of AirVenture (they actually call it that up there, because when you’re actually IN Oshkosh, calling it Oshkosh makes no sense) and 1.4 minutes on whether the government was going to shut down America or not. Well, priorities are priorities, and they’re set by those who live them. NFL, airplanes, financial collapse of the country: That seems like a logical order of priorities to me.
It came as a surprise to a lot of folks, me included, that Tom Poberezny held an impromptu press conference in front of the old Homebuilders arch and announced his retirement as Chairman of EAA. Apparently, he’ll have nothing to do with EAA operational management. For reasons I’m not sure I can articulate, the announcement struck me the same way that the news of the F-14 Tomcat’s retirement did. An EAA without a Poberezny leaves an empty feeling, just like realizing that there are now no Grumman fighters on our carrier decks. Both were givens that we could count on. Then we’re suddenly thrust into a new era, and I, for one, don’t like it one damn bit. But, then, I wasn’t consulted on either decision.
A random observation: Actor Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, CSI NY, etc.) and his Lt. Dan Band played in the Theater of the Woods, and they are a helluva lot more fun and make better music than REO Speed Wagon who were the supposed headliners.
The first couple days of the show had a lot of EAA management types biting their nails because of gaping holes in all the parking areas. Most, in fact, were stone empty. A creeping feeling of what-if-we-gave-a-fly-in-and-no-one-came was setting in. Then, the impenetrable walls of storms running from Chicago and halfway around the world (or so it seemed) broke, and the airplanes began streaming in. By midweek, airplanes flowed to the horizon, and only the antique area had vacancies. In fact, the overall attendance in almost all areas was up. Which brings us back to the budget debate: What happened to the recession and the end of the world that was to follow? It was hard to reconcile the economic realities with the attitudes displayed at Oshkosh.
I have no doubt that the recession is hard upon us, and we have some even harder times to come, but when it comes to passion, the government has yet to come up with the wet blanket that’ll put out that fire. If anyone wants an antidote for the economic blues, all they have to do is journey to Oshkosh (or the Street Rod Nationals, or Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week or…). Yes, the economy raised its ugly head at OSH, and there was lots of talk about “what are we going to do if…,” but the words weren’t coming out of long faces. Everyone on the grounds was absolutely excited because they were knee-deep in their personal passion and, come hell or high water, the dire-sounding news from inside the Beltway wasn’t going to intrude on their cloistered little world.
I spent a couple of minutes watching a group of friends, evidently two families that had set up housekeeping on the grass with their Tri-Pacer as a centerpiece. Without hearing their words, it was obvious that the old flying milk stool was their pride and joy, and they were loving the life they’d built around it. It wasn’t a high-dollar airplane. It wasn’t an award winner. But it was part of their family, and it looked as if this wasn’t their first time to this particular rodeo. Nor would it be their last.
Yes, I worry like crazy about the future. However, I have a fix for that: I just wander out to the airport, roll open the hangar door, pull up a folding chair, sit down and stare at my airplane. And marvel at my good fortune. I’m absolutely positive the country will find its way. And I’m equally as positive that my airplane will keep me from losing my way. As long as all of us use our passion, whatever flavor it may be, to keep our heads and find our way, the nation will be okay. If we get nuts and succumb to the rages of the naysayers, we’re doomed.