Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Oshkosh By Any Other Name

Of damp dogs, wet aviators and rained-on cowboy hats

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.


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