An old writer’s trick: begin in the middle. Because beginnings and endings are always hard. As the years flow by, though, it becomes harder and harder to know the middle from the beginning and the beginning from the end. It’s a Mobius strip out there.
I had lunch with an old friend today. I grew up with his daughter. He is a generation ahead of me, but we have known each other as instructor and student, as fellow pilots, as jazz fans and, in his case, as a joyous jazz piano player. We each remember things and people about the place where I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that few others in this college town remember. About each of them we each have stories we have shared with relish. We have flown together, long distances. We have fished together, for big fish. We have talked together, about important things. We have been mentors to each other. I have taught him a few things about flying — although he has managed on his own for more than fifty years and has flown his own airplane around the world a generation ago. He has taught me much about business, about people, about living. He faces tough challenges, a combination of diseases about which he is not coy nor reticent. Nor is he naive. He understands the end game. But he is free of pain, engaged, in control. He and I share some great memories. I have always admired his ability to relish past memories while still looking ahead, moving forward, and seizing what he likes to call, “age-appropriate adventures.” I have been fortunate to tag along on a few of them. Right now, he is still charging ahead, still positive, or maybe fatalistic. As he said, “Not much left on my list.” I guess he has inspired me to keep working on my list.
Right now, N5831R, a Beechcraft Bonanza, is on the ground in Iqaluit, Nunavit, far northern Canada. In fact, if you left Iqaluit and took up a heading of about 280 magnetic, which on a map looks like about 240 because of the map projection that far north, for about 800 NM, you would cross Hudson Bay and come to Churchill, Manitoba, where my lunch time friend and I went to look for the polar bears. Follow the Little Churchill River a little farther and you will come to the lake with the un-pronounceable name where he and I went fishing for so many years. It’s maybe 30 NM east of Thompson, Manitoba. And a couple of thousand nautical miles from where we live and where I write this. North Carolina, Northern Michigan, Thunder Bay, Red Lake, and a landing on a humpbacked gravel strip carved out of the wilderness by a Caterpillar dozer hauled in piece by piece on the ice roads years ago and now rusting in the woods, its work done. For years we flew it in a day. Breakfast at home. Dinner in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
But back to N5831R. At its wheel is another old friend, not quite as old in years nor as longstanding in my life, but qualified for the title. In a few days it will be in London, much cold water in its wake, and I will meet it — and him — there to pilot it with him around the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific. West to east, up in the air, around the world.
There is a backstory. Isn’t there always?