"Whatever you do, do not grab my hands." He was all of about 5 feet 6 inches tall, and maybe 140lbs soaking wet, but the glint in his eye told me he wasn't fucking around. I smiled, playing off the idea that I would ever do such a thing, all the while imagining the danger that I'd be able to put us both in should I choose to ignore his warning. "I won't", was about the only thing I could think to say.
Just then, a young woman rushed in from the airfield positively glowing. "How'd it go?", I asked her. No response, unless you count the ear-to-ear grin and flush cheeks. Good enough answer for me- I was ready ready to go.
They piled us into the plane like so many sheep- or were we lemmings, about to follow on another off the proverbial cliff? Either way, the plane lurched, then started down the runway before gliding off the ground and past the point of no return. Next stop: 13,000 ft.
"When we jump, I'm gonna need you to bend your legs backward and keep your head up." OK, so I had a confirmation- I was indeed about to jump out of the plane. "Then just wait for me to tap your shoulder.." Right, I'll remember that- I thought. Just tap my legs on my shoulders, and keep my head bent backward. Got it. "... then you can put your hands out." Hands in- got it.
"So I grab your hands when you tap my shoulder," I asked him wryly, a rather poor time for 3rd grade humor. He didn't respond, but I'm sure that I felt him loosen one of the clips that attached me to my parachute. That's right- I remembered- this guy isn't fucking around.
We waddled in a baseball catcher's position, my instructor strapped to my back, down the entire length of the plane to the open door. Bodies were falling out of the plane, one after another. Human rain. I was next. "OK, Three!...." You know, 13,000 ft. doesn't really look so far down. There's nothing relative to compare the distance, so it's actually more surreal than scary. "Two!...." I'm keeping incredibly balanced on this here ledge, with 140lbs strapped to my back. I can't tell you how many times I have imagined standing near the ledge of a precipitous drop only to teeter over the edge, loose my balance and... "One!....." Oh shit, we're jumping. "Go!"
As we rolled forward out of the plane, my first tangible memory sequence was my view back up at the plane. We had floated into a somersault roll, and paused just long enough on our backside to catch a glimpse of the plane gliding away. For a split second the world was absolutely quiet, the reflection of the sun off the plane windows was brilliant, and my body was weightless. Then we hit terminal velocity.
We faced down to be greeted by winds screaming at over 100mph right into our faces. We were falling fast. Really, really fast. Reality set in and I noticed that I was hurtling towards earth at the pace of gravity- I had willingly thrown my body to the whims of physics, just to see if all those laws were really true.
A tap on my shoulder- time to spread my arms and make like a bird. Got comfortable in those first 15 seconds or so- now I am whooping and hollering, though unable to hear my own voice. Cue instructor's improvisational portion of the program, titled "Spin the Beginner out of Control". "ALLLRRRIIIGGTTT! THIIISSS IISSSS AAAWWWEEESSOOMMM....." OK, 4-5 spins would have been good, but 30 was more nauseating than anything else. Glad he stopped when he did. We're at about 8000ft now, 30 seconds into the free fall, 30 more seconds to go.
The thing about the next couple seconds of the free fall was that it really wasn't as exhilirating as the first 30. I was no pro by then, but I certainly had grown accustomed to my weightless environment. That comfort lasted until 45 seconds in when the ground sped-up its approach- housing developments were turning into street blocks, and street blocks into houses. We gonna pull this 'chute soon?
Two miles, 60 seconds, and nearly 10,000 feet into the jump I felt the jerk of the parachute pulling me back up into the sky. I was swinging there, 3000 feet above the ground, not unlike the feeling of swinging away a sunny afternoon on the porch. We were a feather floating gently to the ground with views of the entire Central Valley, our senses heightened from the adrenaline of the previous 10,000ft.
It took us nearly 5 more minutes to touchdown. On the way I learned about which communications towers my instructor had base jumped from (1600ft, over there on the left), how many jumps he had made that day (9), and if anyone had ever grabbed his hands (no). The landing itself was another rush as we took the wind out of our chute at about 300 feet and plummeted to just 30 feet before yanking back on the reigns to slide in safely on the grassy landing drop zone.
I ran back to the hangar to greet my friends who had jumped just before me. On the way, I passed a middle-aged woman with fear and anxiety etched into the barely visible age lines beneath her eyes. She was strapped in her harness- slotted for the next flight up. With an expectant look, she called after me "How was it?". I smiled, with flush red cheeks, admittedly glowing, and ran right past her. It would only take 60 seconds for her to find out for herself.
After an extended absence from Evolvingtype, I have a lot on my mind. But before I will be able to really get to the bottom of life, explain the nuances of molecular cell biology, or demonstrate why paper is indeed better than plastic – I have to take a moment to say this:
If the San Francisco Giants win the World Series, I may be forced to move.
I have nothing against the city of San Francisco so much as I just hate their team. But there is something more. To understand why I might have to move, you have to understand that the hatred used to be a more competitive, constructive form of rivalry… let me explain.
I grew up rooting for the L.A. Dodgers. Back in the day when Stevie Sax was my favorite player, and Dusty Baker had yet to become a traitor. You see, as a Dodger fan, you naturally hated the Giants. You hated them because of the “Shot heard round the world” by Bobby Thompson of the then New York Giants versus Brooklyn Dodgers. You hated them because ,Willie Mays was great, but how many times have you seen players with names like Randy Winn make an over the shoulder grab and NOT have it immortalized by the powers that be. And you hated them because it was a healthy, Northern versus Southern California kind of thing to do.
Then I moved to the Bay Area, and the healthy rivalry became a little more intense. Barry Bonds, who I admit is a great baseball player, began really irritating the sh*t out of me every time that I heard him talk. And though I could care less if he uses performance enhancing drugs or not, I often wondered aloud if I was indeed the only one that noticed that Bonds had magically morphed from a 40 HR/ 40 Stolen base guy, into a 73 HR/ 13 Stolen base guy in a matter of just a couple of years. I mean the guy’s fingers have even gotten bigger!
But really, it is not the players that have turned this one personal. No, the problem began when they built Pac Bell park.
The place is beautiful. Great food stands, great view, pretty cool location. Just the kind of place to attract the worst kind of fan in major league baseball. “Hey you! Yeah you in the blue button up shirt, khaki pants, and Northface fleece,” you can almost hear the sushi vendor scream. “Would you like me to point you to the Starbucks stand? I imagine that a tall, non-fat latte would go great with that Krispy Kreme.” The vendor is standing in the way of an entire row of fans, blocking their view of the game. “Hey, sushi guy,” one fan might scream. “Isn’t that a great view of that 28 footer over there in the Bay?” Just then, a vice-president of Technology from eTechtronics Software Systems.com might worry to his co-worker upon returning from the bathroom, “did I miss anything?” The reply from the website developer: “Nah, Barry got walked. We have at least 3 innings before we have to pay attention to the game again.”
The Giants sold out. Over half of their tickets to most home games are bought by corporate sponsors and handed out to those who think that they can make it by the 3rd inning, but might have to leave during the 7th inning stretch. It’s the kind of fan that is currently running around the city of San Francisco talking about “their Giants”, the kind of fan that just learned that the second baseman’s name isn’t Kent Jeff.
So if the Giants win the Series, I am going to have to move. I don’t think that I will be able to stand the aftermath. And while the Los Angelino’s burned cars and rioted in the streets of L.A. when the Lakers took the championship, it might be even scarier up here. I can just see the headline:
“Wine and Cheese party breaks out on the Embarcadero: Fans claim that World Series win is a perfect compliment to Merlot and Brie”
You ever look back at your childhood and come up with people that shaped your life, faces that you found comfort in, and voices that you still hear today? I do all of the time (call me a sentimentalist) and there is one voice in particular that still awakens the Purple and Gold within. That’s right, the late Chick Hearn began announcing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1964 all of the way through my first 23 years as a fan. Sadly enough, he finally hung up his microphone for good just a couple of weeks ago, passing away after a fall at home.
Chick meant a lot to me growing up. He told me the distance of Byron Scott’s jumpers – the first announcer to estimate distances in basketball ever. He punctuated the jam’s of James Worthy with his signature “Slaaaam Dunk!”- Chick was the announcer to coin that phrase as well. He let Magic know when the “mustard was off the hotdog” (a fancy play that had been fouled up), accentuated Kareem’s signature shot by deeming it the “Sky Hook”, and called out the “bunny hop in the pea patch” (traveling) on command.
Still, my favorite was when Chick let the entire Laker nation know when the “refrigerator door is closed. The lights are out, the eggs are coolin’, the butter’s getting hard, and the jello’s jigglin’.” Or in other words, the game is over.
Chick had the privilege of calling games that featured Elgin, Jerry, Wilt, Jamal, McAdoo, Worthy, Magic, Kareem, Kobe, and Shaq, among others. And until just a year or so ago, Chick had called games including these personalities consecutively, meaning that he held the longest streak in broadcasting for making it to every game. Talk about a work ethic.
So how did Chick affect my life? He gave me hope that I would one day be a Laker by giving advice on the air to the “youngsters out there.” He brought an added stroke of color to the nightly edition of “Showtime” playing on my television. And most importantly, he was the grandpa that millions of Lakers fans knew and loved simply because of his modest and humorous nature.
Chick has left us know – just days after I ordered a TV package to see the Laker’s home games up here in the Bay Area. I ordered the package partly to see my favorite sports team, and partially because I love basketball. But the biggest reason was so that I could hear Chick again after an absence (of mine) of over 4 years from his regular broadcasts.
I won’t be able to tune into those broadcasts and hear Chick’s play by play this year. Of course, I still hear him every time every time I take my ball out to the playground… “boy, the mustard is off the hot dog.”
We’ll miss you, Chick. Thanks for the memories.