I live near Nellis AFB, home of the Thunderbirds. It seems I’ve always lived near an air force base of one kind or another my whole life, and I’ve always found that exciting. Sometimes my work takes me close enough that I can get a good view of the jets practicing in the morning. I always enjoy watching them fly in formation and seeing the patterns the contrails leave in the sky. No matter how many years I’ve been witness to these 19,700 pound birds dancing in the sky, I still look up in awe.
But this week was different. Due to impending budget cuts, the Thunderbirds were going all out. I’m not going to get into the politics of it here. I’m a Libertarian myself, so I guarantee we can find something we can “agree to disagree” about in 2 minutes or less. The Thunderbirds were getting in all the practice they could, and it was amazing. Climbing straight up and dropping straight down, pulling out at the last possible moment. Barrel rolls and spins. Flying in formation, so close together (sometimes less than 3 feet apart) that it seemed impossible, an optical illusion.
As much as I was having trouble keeping my eyes out of the sky and on my work, I couldn’t get any customers on my route to look. “They do that all the time.” No, not like this. If you would just look up in the sky you’d see. “I’ve seen them. They’re a pain in the ass.” I know they’re loud, especially when they’re flying so low that you can see the pilot and sometimes wonder if you might make out his eye color if he flew just a little closer. But this practice was different, and no one bothered to look. No one wanted to stop working for a minute or two and be a kid again. Only for a minute, I promise, and then you can get back to being worried about bottom lines and quotas and ROI again. But no one would look.
I don’t get it. Maybe I’m naïve, and I guess I like it that way, if the alternative is to be so wrapped up in the day-to-day of the work grind that I can’t look up in the sky for a minute or two and be filled with wonder and awe at a flock of 1.500 mph F-16s flying wing to wing so fast and low that it makes the ground tremble. I don’t ever want to be that jaded and lifeless .
As I was finishing my route, one of my coworkers pulled up behind me and jumped out of her truck. “Are you seeing this? Isn’t this awesome?!” We talked for a moment about jets and people, about keeping the sense of amazement, about how politics and childish politicians of all kinds will never keep us from being childlike and staring at the sky. We sheepishly talked of holding back the tears when the veterans’ float passed in a parade and crying without fail when the national anthem is sung. And I was glad that I wasn’t the only one.