The Landing of the Space Shuttle
This story was read aloud at:
It was early evening last Thursday and I felt restless and lethargic. My mind was spinning and whirring with nothing good. I don't know how to describe the feeling, it's like there's this great big wonderful world out there with all these fabulous things to do, but none of it matters. I want to do it all, but can't see the point.
I know better than to sit in my room, when I think like this, so I grabbed my laptop and headed over to Insomnia Café on Beverly Blvd. I sat in the window and watched the world and drank my Early Grey Tea and tried to write in my journal. After a paragraph or so of writing my mind would wander and I would stare out the window. Then I would start writing about where my mind had wandered, and my mind would wander again. And I would stare out the window. And it would start all over again.
There was a homeless man sitting across the street in the arched doorway of a Jewish temple. He kept screaming something, it sounded like CIA UUGG, and it was loud enough to carry over the four lanes of traffic, through the closed door and to my ears. He kept screaming it every five seconds, monotony. Inside the café we looked at each other. Wondering if there was anything to do. But we just sat there and typed on our computers.
After an hour I realized that I was not going to write, packed up my stuff, and then the argument in my head started. What to do with three or four hours before sleep? I could go for a walk, or drive the Hollywood Hills, or watch television, or find friends to visit, or read my Terry Pratchett book or buy some gin. The gin was the one I wanted to do the most. The one that would definitely stop my mind from spinning. The one that will definitely make my night easier. But with the greatest payback.
On the motorcycle ride home my mind spins, fights itself between what I should do and what I want to do. I stop and buy some gin. I know I'll regret it in the morning. But I know that it will stop the churning in my brain, the sure knowledge that my writing is stupid and a failure. That my photographs are never good enough, that there is no reason for my life. And I know that the gin will make me think I can be a writer, a photographer or live my life. The gin will give me the belief that I can do anything. Until the morning, when I awake knowing that it was just Dutch Courage. Some days are easier to get out of bed and deal with life. Some days are harder. This has nothing to do with drinking. But drinking the night before will always make it harder to get out of bed. And always harder to make myself feel strong enough to advertise my art and myself.
But tomorrow is another day, and I will deal with tomorrow tomorrow.
Friday morning arrives at a horrible 5:30 AM. There is no good reason to be awake this early. My body does this sometimes when I drink. I have no idea why, maybe the sugar kicking in or the dreams. But I do know that I will be awake for a couple hours and not feel tired enough to fall asleep until my alarm clock rings.
So I read some of my book, and then play on the Internet. CNN says the space shuttle had failed to land in Florida yesterday, and there was a chance that it might land at Edwards today.
I felt better.
I might see the shuttle land.
That is a beautiful thing.
I remember a couple years ago, a group of us went to see Space Ship One launch for the first time. We camped out the night before and watched it happily hung over the next morning. Watching the contrail reach into space, it lifted my heart, knowing that one day us mere mortals might be able to reach into that infinite darkness.
There is no set time for the shuttle to land, it depends on the weather at the moment. It might land in Florida at 12:45 or Edwards at 12:45 or Edwards at 2:45 or Edwards at 4:45 or sometime tomorrow or even New Mexico. Where it was landing was not announced until an hour before the landing. And it would take me two hours to reach Edwards. The long drive might be useless. Four hours on a motorcycle in the desert for no reason. And looking at google earth and talking to Tackett, I would probably be ten miles from the landing, as civilians were not allowed on base.
I was discouraged and put off the decision and went to my local coffee shop to do some writing. I was able to write. The short story about my friend who installed a computer inside a beaver who subsequently took over the world was coming along well.
Back at home, it was ten thirty and I was waffling about going. It might not land in California, it might not land today, I might be stuck for hours in the 100-degree desert heat, it might be so far away to be useless.
I wondered if I should go. Should I, shouldn't I? And then suddenly and strongly, yes I must go. Without another thought, I shoved my camera in my backpack, hopped on the motorcycle and headed out.
Upon arriving at Edwards there were lots of cars trying to get in the gate. That was a good sign. There were a number of cars pealing off to the right, just before the gate. The Edwards web site said this was the way to the civilian viewing site. I followed the cars. After a short distance there were a number of cars parked on the side of the road. Pulling up I asked a lady beside her Corvette what time it was. "I don't know," she said, but yelled across the road to a man she obviously knew. He yelled back, "It lands at 12:49" "What time is it now? I ask. "12:30".
Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful. It was going to see the shuttle land, I was going to see it.
The website said the viewing area was 12 miles from the gate. Nineteen minutes in 12 miles, I could make that.
I throttled the bike to 75 and sped between the soft desert sand and Joshua trees, passing numerous groups of cars on the side of the road, all staring into the sky. My foot tapped on the brake pedal impatiently.
After twelve miles there were a few military men waving people toward a dirt road and I found myself in a makeshift parking lot of about three hundred cars, a couple miles from the landing strip. There were people lining the temporary fence looking across the dry salt lake to the mirage diffused buildings and hangers of Edwards. I was closer than I thought.
In the moments it took to take off my helmet and jacket and apply sunscreen, there was a BA BOOM.
The double sonic booms of the shuttle.
I yank out my camera and look toward the place where everyone is pointing. There is a white dot to the north. The shuttle turns and floats down from the sky. But it is still tiny even in my 400mm lens. There is no noise as it glides down. At landing there is the squeak from the tires, the same as a 747 landing, and the shuttle disappears behind the mirage.
And that was it. It felt like less than a minute from sighting to landing.
I felt let down, and hot and tired.
There was none of the joy that I expected, no rush of adrenaline, it was just an airplane landing.
I felt disappointed, and a little dismayed. It should feel better than this, more exciting, more alive. But I realized I had seen something that I always wanted to see. And yes maybe it was disappointing, not as wonderful as I wanted it to be, but I did it, checked it off the list.
And it stopped the mean reds this morning, and gave me something to write about.