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  #91  
Old 08-31-2017, 02:11 PM
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Default Day Thirteen (cont.)

Inside the terminal building, I met a beautiful young lady named Andi behind the counter, and as she was helping me get acquainted with the pilot’s lounge and kitchen area, the CEO and Board President of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce introduced himself to me. His name was Jerry. After I told him and Andi about the 40-day mission I was flying through America, Jerry showed me where I could sleep for the night.



I thanked him, and he showed me where to find coffee or snacks in the kitchen and said that I was welcome to make myself at home during my stay. He would be having a meeting later in the day down the hall in the conference room.



Jerry had to run a few errands in town, but before he left, he told me that if I needed anything to just give him or Andi a holler. I thanked both of them for their generous hospitality and warmth of friendship.



I went out to the Dove to get her wiped down and tied to the tarmac. It was starting to become a very hot day outside and already I could feel the blasting heat bearing down onto the asphalt and stirring the day into one to be remembered.

When I got back into the crystal coolness of the FBO, there was Jerry again. He approached me and asked, “Will you be around about one-o’clock?” I told him that, yes, more than likely I would. “Because I’ll be bringing thirteen freshmen students over here for my educational leadership program.”

Jerry asked me if I would be willing to teach the kids about the plane, Descending Dove, and he wanted me to tell them about why I was flying through America for 40 days and 40 nights. I told him that I would be more than happy to do that. He thanked me, then walked back out to the parking lot and disappeared. Then came the full realization of how powerfully the Lord’s providence was operating on this mission trip, and I thanked him deeply right then and there.

Meanwhile, I went over to Azalea Aviation and walked into the hangar where I met Kyong, Bill’s wife from Korea. A V-tail Bonanza was on jacks with a mechanic named Carl working in the cockpit. Another mechanic named Paul, who talked about his time in the Air Force working on A-10 Warthogs, stood nearby. Pretty soon, Bill came into the hangar. He walked up to me very gently and asked, “So, what can I do to help you?”

I told him that I would like to see his shop and the Saberwing aircraft that he was producing there on the field. Bill was more than happy to oblige.



Bill showed me how quickly the Saberwing spruce-composite airframe could be assembled. He showed me a week-old project that already appeared ready for hydraulic and electrical systems installation.



Then he showed me the current prototype which included a simple turbocharger installed on the Spyder engine used in the classic Corvair automobiles.





Kyong, Bill’s lovely wife, joined us as another Saberwing pilot, Larry---the owner and builder of the first successfully assembled kit---prepared his plane for another Phase One test flight.





Soon, Bill did a walk-around preflight of Larry’s Saberwing before climbing in himself, cranking up, and taxiing out for the runup.

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  #92  
Old 08-31-2017, 02:14 PM
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Default Day Thirteen (cont.)

Bill and Larry were going to fly to OSH together for the Saberwing display, but in order for Larry to do so, the Phase One hours had to be flown off. Bill was test flying solo that morning to help fine tune the engine before the more regimented tests could take place.

Outside, under the shade of the hangar, Larry and I took a seat and watched as Bill took off. Paul, the veteran A-10 mechanic, shared a few more stories about his service in Korea as Bill circled a few times in the pattern then departed the area.



Later, I felt like taking a nap, so I walked back over to the terminal building and went into the pilot’s lounge and lay down. When I woke up, I saw a school bus parked just beyond the window. The high school freshmen were there, and I had a lesson to teach.

I went out to the Dove and pulled off the canopy cover. It was not long before Jerry and the Cook County youth arrived on the tarmac.



Jerry took a few moments to give a brief introduction, and then he pointed to me and handed the lesson over.



I felt kind of bad that the rear seat was missing and that I could not give any rides that day, because I could sense a great deal of enthusiasm from the 14-year-olds, most of whom had never even been airborne before. I was so thankful to be working with my favorite age group---high school freshmen---that I got a little tongue-tied in my own enthusiasm as I informed the students about the mission, about building Descending Dove, and about flying her through America over the course of 40 days. I felt for a time that I was in heaven with kids of my own. And to a certain extent, I really was.



After the students got back onto the bus with Jerry and departed, I went over to the Azalea hangar again to ask about the possibility of going into town to do some laundry. I was carrying around about twelve days of funk in a fish net and I needed to get it all washed. Kyong said that she would gladly give me a ride into town. There was a laundromat right next to a Piggly Wiggly about 2 miles away.





After Kyong dropped me off, she told me to text her whenever I was ready to go and she would drive back over to get me. I thanked her and went inside. I had the whole laundromat to myself.



There wasn’t any bleach or laundry soap for sale in the laundromat because the dispenser was inoperative, so I walked over to the Piggly Wiggly and bought some. I came back and got two loads started.

I was sitting there in the laundromat for only a few moments when I looked outside and saw a young couple approaching from the parking lot. The young man had tattoos covering his neck and arms, and he was wearing baggy pants and a low-brimmed baseball cap pulled down over his forehead. The woman was an attractive blonde with her hair done up in a bun. She was wearing laced-up sandals, shorts, and a black tee-shirt that said, Blah Blah Blah in different typesets. Both of them walked in and sat down. Neither had any laundry to do.

When the young man saw me and made eye contact, he would not look at me again. Instead, he pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. The two made small talk for a few minutes, and then the young man suddenly got up and left for no apparent reason, leaving me alone with the blonde woman.

She was sitting in the chair directly across from me. For about five minutes, she was fidgeting and staring out the window into the parking lot at everything and at nothing at all. Then she suddenly turned to me and said, “So, do you have any change so I can get something to eat?”

I told her that I did not have any change. I told her that I did not have any change but that I would be more than happy to get her something to eat. What did she have in mind? The young woman wanted to go next door for a Subway sandwich. So I took her over there and bought her a meal. As she was ordering, her boyfriend came in and saw what was transpiring. The woman told him that I was getting her something to eat, and then he turned around and walked back out.

She brought her food back over to the laundromat and ate. Then she began telling me her story. Her name was Rebecca.



Rebecca had 3 children, all boys, and they all lived with Rebecca’s mother because the State of Georgia had taken them out of her custody under court order. She had been in trouble with the law, had even seen some time in jail, and now she was on probation. She was certainly very confused and suffering from wounds of the heart that became more apparent the further we talked.

I told Rebecca that she was deeply loved, that she was especially blessed to have three boys. Then she took a letter out of her purse. Opening it, she took out a crayon-colored drawing of a bear that said in a caption, “I love you, Mommy!” It was from her 7-year-old.

I told Rebecca that her mother loved her, that Jesus loved her, and that I hoped she would soon find the path to freedom that the Lord had already mapped out for her.

Then her boyfriend walked in with a soda and he put it on a table, spilling some in the process. He said something unintelligible to Rebecca, then left.



He came back in a little later after Rebecca and I were finished with our conversation. He picked the can back up and left the laundromat for the last time. Soon after, Rebecca got up and thanked me and shook my hand. I wished her the best. Then she was gone.

Kyong picked me up from the laundromat after only a couple of hours there, and I thanked her for being so kind and helpful. She told me it was no problem. The airport courtesy car was in the shop being repaired for something she knew not what, and Kyong was very happy to help.

Back at the airport, I sorted my clothes and repacked them into ziplocks and organized them all into my rucksack. Outside, a storm was brewing. And I could feel it coming.

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  #93  
Old 08-31-2017, 02:15 PM
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Default Day Thirteen (cont.)

Before Andi left for the night, she and I had a long, laughter-filled conversation about her life in Adel, Georgia. We talked about the wild tornadic weather that had recently destroyed a community further north. We talked about the critters in the area such as alligators and snakes, and then we talked about Andi’s older sister and four nieces and nephews. We even talked about her own desire to have children herself someday. “Just not now,” she said.

Andi gave me a few instructions about how to keep from getting myself locked out of the terminal building. She gave me access to the kitchen in case I needed it. I thanked her for all of the help she and Jerry provided for my journey. She was very happy to help, she said. She hoped that I had a very safe and enjoyable journey the rest of the way through America.



As she left, the storm outside erupted into a fury of flashing thunder and a downpour of rain. And it persisted for the better part of two hours as I watched from the empty confines of the glass cavern.





Meanwhile, I took a shower and cooked up a pot of Mountain House beef stew.



I sat down and wrote in my journal for awhile before walking into the glow of a descending sun to behold the sights of the storm’s wake.







Before I settled down to sleep on the couch that night, I beheld once again the transience of my country---the short-lived glory of the greatest nation on earth---as reflected by a hero’s flight suit, hanging limply but proudly, next to the nation its wearer once served.

And I wondered how much longer that glory would last.

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  #94  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:21 PM
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Default Day Fourteen

I woke up earlier than usual in Adel, then went back to sleep. Eventually, I got up and packed my things. I did not want to say goodbye to Adel. It was such a friendly place to stay that leaving, although it was something I had to accept, almost felt like a very unfriendly thing to do given how well I was treated there.

A pilot came early that morning and took the C-150 up for a flight. I saw the Dove sitting alone on the tarmac as the morning sun reflected through the glass patterns of the terminal building onto the asphalt.



There was a sadness that I felt as I pushed the Dove over to the pumps that morning, and when Carl came running out of the Azalea hangar to help me, I realized where that sadness came from. It came from knowing that where the Lord was sending me next would not be like this place at all. And that, too, was just something I had to accept.

As I topped off, Carl and Paul came over to the pumps to talk with me. Bill was airborne again in Larry’s Saberwing, and Kyong was not on the field yet. I asked the two mechanics to please thank Bill and Kyong for all they did for me in Adel. Then I got into the Dove and cranked over.

As I pulled onto the runway and announced over the radio my departure intentions, Bill keyed the mic and thanked me for coming to Cook County. I thanked him in reply, then applied full throttle and took off.

I climbed out and eventually got pushed up to 12,500 feet because of some stratus remnants from the storms the day before. It was a smooth and uneventful flight, and I started making a descent about two hours later and beheld the rising steam columns and the brew of convection to my port side beyond the Mississippi River and out in the Gulf of Mexico.



I recrossed the Mississippi again from the south under the New Orleans Class Bravo airspace.



I landed shortly after at South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport (KAPS). Kevin, the airport manager, welcomed me over the radio when I taxied in, and I thanked him and parked in the same spot as the year prior when the airport was still being called, St. John the Baptist (1L0). I shut down and covered up the Dove, then went into the terminal building and spoke with Kevin for awhile.



I discovered that St. John the Baptist Parish relinquished control of the airport to the State of Louisiana with the FAA’s blessing, and Kevin was now the manager there. When he asked where I was from and where I was heading, I told him that this was Day Fourteen of a 40-day mission trip around America, that I had landed there in order to go into the city. I told Kevin that the year previous, the threat of persistent thunderstorms pushed me out of the area before I had a chance to explore. I was back to get it done this year.

Since the airport did not have a courtesy car, I tried renting one from Enterprise, but they did not have anything available until late afternoon. Then I called up Hertz on Kevin’s recommendation, and the operator, Jennifer, said that she would drive over to the airport to pick me up in about 30 minutes. She did.

I thanked Kevin for his help, and then Jennifer drove me about 15 minutes away to a small community called Gramercy. It started raining on the way.



In Gramercy, Jennifer took me into an auto body shop specializing in PPG painting products, the same type of system I used to paint the Dove. I wondered why I was renting a car from Hertz at a collision repair shop and not just at a Hertz rental place. Apparently, she and Anthony, a man from Oakland, California who moved to Gramercy seventeen years earlier, were running a satellite outlet for Hertz as representatives for the company.

Jennifer asked for $97 to rent the car for the day. I thought that was a ripoff for a compact, considering Enterprise would have charged me about half as much. But there wasn’t anything else available, so I paid my bill, took the keys, and walked out. I was driving a car with New York plates in the State of Louisiana.



The drive to New Orleans was straightforward and simple, first passing through a few swamps and bayous, then heading past the Superdome into the business district.







I parked the Sentra and bought a 2-hour parking pass and started walking into town.

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  #95  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:22 PM
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Default Day Fourteen (cont.)





As I made my way toward the French Quarter of downtown New Orleans, there came a sudden flash of lightning and a nearly immediate crack of thunder that shook the city center and echoed through the blocks of high rise buildings with deep rumblings that I could feel in my body. It sounded more at first like a bomb than a bolt of lightning. Then the skies opened up and it began to pour.



I found shelter in a nearby Starbucks. I went in and bought a venti Pike’s Peak and sat down next to a woman in her 40’s who was busy typing things into her phone. I didn’t think she even saw me there next to her. Then I remembered something as I enjoyed sipping my coffee and looking out the window into the pouring rain and seeing that inside the coffee shop there were exhausted children and frustrated parents sitting there like me waiting for the rain to stop when it wouldn’t.



I remembered that I had packed a set of rain gear in my backpack. It was the same blue set I used throughout the nine-month period I had spent painting the Dove in my garage ten years earlier. Now, in New Orleans, I was actually going to put them on again and use them for their intended purpose. So I did, right there where I was sitting.



I tightened up the drawstrings and went outside. I did not care if my feet got wet. I walked toward Bourbon Street. When I got there, I found it barricaded and completely ripped up and muddy, with construction equipment and backhoes and piping and green-vested workers in the midst of it all for about half a mile. Only the sidewalks were open for pedestrians, so I began walking toward the French Quarter under the awnings and through the rain.









When I finally reached an intersection that allowed passage to the other side of Bourbon Street, I placed a cross of Merced soil in the center of the torn-up road, then said a prayer, and stood up. I was approached a few seconds later by workers who thought I was a supervisor at first, but then they looked down and saw my feet and told me that I had to leave. So I did.

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  #96  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:23 PM
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Default Day Fourteen (cont.)

I continued walking all through the French Quarter of New Orleans, seeing and hearing and being in presence with musicians and street entertainers and little boys beating on five-gallon buckets and tap dancing in the heat of the day.













At the St. Louis Cathedral, I walked toward the sound of live jazz where I found a gathering of musicians near Jackson Square. From there, I continued exploring the city along the Mississippi River waterfront.







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  #97  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:24 PM
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Default Day Fourteen (cont.)



On the shores of the Mississippi, the rain had subsided and the air hung thick and heavy like the muddy current below it, tugging toward the sea. There, I placed another cross of soil to be tugged along with it when again the waters rose over the rocks.



I followed the riverfront walkway and beheld much suffering and much more brokenness in some of the less-traveled crevices nearby.









I re-emerged with the business district looming ahead as the skies began to clear somewhat. I walked back over to where the Sentra was parked and added another $6 to the kiosk. Then I took off my rain gear and headed back into the center of town.





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  #98  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:26 PM
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Default Day Fourteen (cont.)

Eventually, I began to loop back toward other parts of the French Quarter, admiring the historic architecture and considering the many countless and bygone souls that had passed through the same streets I now walked.







There was a small delicatessen that I entered to have lunch. I ordered a turkey sandwich and saw the humidity fogging up and dripping over the curved glass on the refrigerated display units in front of me.



Louis Armstrong Park did not have but a handful of people within its walls, and the performing arts center there was completely void of people.





I slowly made my way back toward the Sentra through yet another section of the French Quarter, and this time, people were already warming up for a night of inebriation and all of the drama that came with it. I could feel the flesh-driven surge of craving as it drew people out into the streets.







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  #99  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:27 PM
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Default Day Fourteen (cont.)

I walked past the square near the federal building and courthouse, then cut across a number of city blocks toward the Sentra.







I began driving toward the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans where, after nearly 12 years since Hurricane Katrina, I beheld the abandoned shells left behind in its aftermath, and with them, the transience of the life they once contained.













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  #100  
Old 09-01-2017, 02:29 PM
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Default Day Fourteen (cont.)







Departing the Lower Ninth Ward, I got back onto the freeway and headed back toward St. John the Baptist Parish. Before I reached the airport, I topped off the Sentra at a local gas station and bought 4 fried chicken drumsticks and an ice cream drumstick for dessert, my dinner for the night.



I drove past the airport entryway and stopped for a moment on the side of the road. I wasn’t ready to go back to the terminal building yet.



Instead, I drove over to the Mississippi River where I finished eating dinner in the car under the weaving network of conveyors where ships were being loaded with grain.





As I was finishing up my ice cream and standing there watching a cloud of grain dust rising up beyond the levee, a guy pulled up in a golf cart and told me that I had to leave. I got back into the Sentra and drove to the airport. Soon enough, I was at the terminal building.



I remembered the frog in Immokalee two days earlier, a bright green creature that I found happily planted on the skin of the Dove’s vertical stabilizer when I was preflighting that morning. Now, I had hundreds of them for company. They were feasting on gnats and the millions of other flying insects that were drawn to the terminal building by the lights emanating from within.



I went to sleep that night in the same recliner I used the year before, the one facing the door and nearest the small desk that I used to write in my journal and place my belongings.



I closed the pilot’s lounge door and turned off the lights. The day was over. Then I put a pillow under my head and covered myself with a sheet, and I did not wake up until morning.
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