Last week, I posted about my first parachute jump with my wonderful and crazy lost friend Haven.
But here is the rest of the story…
About ten years after my jumps with Haven, I told the story during lunch at the law firm where I worked.
As I finished, a few members of the staff and two associates unexpectedly got up and left. They came back about 10 minutes later with an announcement.
There was a parachute place on the Eastern shore of Maryland just across the Bay Bridge, about two hours away and, if I wasn’t a coward or just a B.S. storyteller, they would go next Saturday with me. But only if I would do the first jump.
That night, my wife just shook her head, looked at me in disbelief and said, “At least you don’t have any children.”
Because of my luncheon bravado, I was now a fool following myself down a path I did not want to follow… but it got worse.
The following Saturday, eight of us piled into two cars and drove down to “Parachutes Are Fun,” which looked a lot different than the professional business in Massachusetts where I first jumped.
Parachutes Are Fun featured one single engine plane with all the seats removed except for the pilot’s, a barn, and a school bus that had no tires and was up on cinder blocks.
As if launched from the bus, an overly excited prematurely-aged young man with wild blond hair and dilated pupils approached us. He looked like a stunt double for the old guy in “Back to the Future.” He held a helmet in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other and couldn’t stop welcoming us even before we got out of the car.
At the same time, the owner came out of the barn, dressed in a bombardier’s jacket with Parachutes Are Fun stenciled on the back, carrying a walkie-talkie. Behind him was as an assistant leading four people with parachutes on their backs to the little plane as a pilot in blue jeans, a baseball hat and sneakers was entering the cockpit of the plane.
This was way too informal! This was not good.
It was too late to change directions and forever be the coward who turned around and for once in his life had been responsible.
We were divided into two groups of four based solely on the car in which we came, and I was volunteered to be in the group that would jump first.
The character from the bus enthusiastically showed us how he packed the parachutes and couldn’t stop promoting as he did. He was excited to tell us he lived in the bus and loved his job so much that he took his raises and bonuses in free jumps.
Our new friend who lived in the bus took off with every plane and was responsible for everything from our chutes being packed properly to cursory instructions about the emergency chute if the primary shoot “perhaps” didn’t open, as well as coordinating the open door jumps from the plane that had taken off as we had entered.
As the plane circled overhead, the owner turned on his walkie-talkie and watched as the first diver spreadeagled at about 2,500 feet above us . The chute opened and the owner barked into the walkie -talkie, “Pull your left toggle”… “Reach up and PULL YOUR LEFT TOGGLE,” and then turned to the assistant and yelled, “That son of a bitch loaded them in in the wrong order again, dammit! I’m talking to somebody who hasn’t jumped yet!”
The clueless diver was drifting, arms at his side, downwind at a high rate of speed toward northern Virginia.
The owner shoved his hand into his pocket, threw a set of car keys to the assistant and told him, “follow the bastard and pick him up where he lands!” Three jumps later, the plane taxied down the dirt road runway to the barn to reload as the jumpers landed helter-skelter in the surrounding soybean fields.
I concluded this chaos was all a very good sign.
I had strategically decided to show no fear and thus as the others saw the disorder around them, the fear would gather in them and they would decide to go home. But when I finally decided to make eye contact in preparation for supporting their decision, I was shocked to find that they didn’t have a clue because they thought all this was normal.
Before I knew it, I was on the plane sitting on the floor next to the open door as we took off. It didn’t help me to feel any better that I could hear the guy with the walkie-talkie in communication with the assistant as he tried to follow a parachute in his car, zigzagging through highways and byways while trying to keep his eye on a disappearing spot in the sky. I considered the children and family I would never have.
I am vain enough to not ride roller coasters because I don’t want that as the cause of death in my obituary. As we rose higher and higher in the sky and waited to jump, I decided I wanted to be remembered, if at all, as the fearless, selfless, courageous parachutist who had advised the other three jumpers who would jump after him that if by some chance the walkie-talkie failed they could pull the toggles to face the wind in order to drop slowly straight down rather than have their backs to the wind and end up dead in some unfamiliar state.
The following week, late one afternoon, two of the people who had jumped with me came into my office laughing and holding The Evening Sun.
They had five copies open to a series of pictures and a headline that read, “Eastern Shore’s ‘Parachutes Are Fun’ Shut Down as America’s Most Dangerous!” There were several pictures of skydivers stranded on rooftops or hanging from high tension wires, as well as a beaming portrait of our friend who had just been evicted from the bus.
Slowly, as I reach maturity and a belief in evolution, I thank God for my children and grandchildren and that their mother’s DNA has prevailed.