“When I go on dates, what I’m really looking for is an invitation into someone’s story for a little while—the way that happens when you’re traveling and happen to sit next to someone on the shuttle bus—and last night was great for that. My date was a woman with a dream of becoming an astronaut. She was taking a break from some equity-financial-management-risk-analysis gig that I didn’t understand. I asked if she used to work on Wall Street. She said that her work was on Water Street. That was supposed to tell me something about the industry, but it didn’t.”—Michael Tallon
By Michael Tallon
MANHATTAN New York—(Hubris)—1 July 2022—Last night, I met a new friend for dinner, and as with nearly all met-a-new-friend-for-dinner-nights, it was a charming, lovely few hours with no real spark.
Most of my friends have soured on this sort of dating. I think it’s maybe a generational thing. At 56, I’m not opposed to a hook-up, but need more than an opportunity to move toward intimacy. I think that’s fairly common with age—or maybe I’m just old. Either way, the upshot is that I don’t go on dates looking to take someone home or be swept off my feet, and doing so with the expectation of some great reward of sex or love is, for me, something like randomly grabbing two jigsaw puzzle pieces and assuming they’ll fit.
When that DOES happen, that’s great, but expecting two incredibly complex, sentient beings to click perfectly into one another over dinner seems a bit of a skylark.
When I go on dates, what I’m really looking for is an invitation into someone’s story for a little while—the way that happens when you’re traveling and happen to sit next to someone on the shuttle bus—and last night was great for that. My date was a woman with a dream of becoming an astronaut. She was taking a break from some equity-financial-management-risk-analysis gig that I didn’t understand. I asked if she used to work on Wall Street. She said that her work was on Water Street. That was supposed to tell me something about the industry, but it didn’t.
Anyway, she was taking a few years to fulfill what her research told her were the prerequisites for a gig in the astronaut line. I’m taking this as an article of faith. Still, according to her, that means securing an advanced certificate/degree/licensing in SCUBA and skydiving and becoming a certified commercial pilot with 1,000 hours of flight time. She’s already done the SCUBA thing and is an avid skydiver. Her plan to build up her 1,000 hours of flight time without paying for every hour is to complete the commercial pilot training, and then hire herself out to her skydiving friends as their chauffeur to the skies.
She was used to people laughing at her about the dream, particularly as she wasn’t a kid just out of college, but I found it fascinating. I think she really might do it. She said she wanted to go to Mars and would be happy to make the trip even if she couldn’t return home. All in all, she was a brave, cool, unique human being aiming for the sky, which is just beautiful.
You go, Queen!
We had a nice night, good sushi, and some laughs, and we might meet again someday—but probably not. There are many other puzzle pieces in the box, and daylight is burning, but from the night, I got to meet a cool person AND hear one great story that just made me laugh at the pure absurdity of it all. She enjoyed telling it, too, so I feel safe to share.
Recently, she made an equipment upgrade on her skydiving gear—buying a “wingsuit” to extend her free-flying time. Her group of skydiving friends jumps from about 13,000 feet, and when you do that just with a parachute, she said you get 36 seconds of descent before you have to pull the ripcord, but if you have a wingsuit, you get three minutes of flight time each jump—but the suit introduces its own complexities. Flight suits allow you to soar very, very quickly through the skies, which can soon take you far, far, far away from your landing zone, and on her first wingsuit flight, she didn’t get the proper briefing on the need to “track” several turns along the way.
The simplest form of “tracking” is that during your three minutes of flight time, you head straight in the direction of your initial jump for, say, a minute and 15 seconds, then you TURN 90 degrees for 15 seconds, followed by ANOTHER turn of 90 degrees for the final minute and change of your flight pattern so that you end up back over your landing site.
Well, my new friend didn’t do that.
She said she was “flying formation” with four other skydivers, all of them Mission Impossibling it through the clouds in a mighty “V,” but then she looked to her left and right, and EVERYONE WAS GONE.
They had all “tracked” right and then “tracked” right again to head back to the airfield while she just kept on streaming through the heavens for parts unknown—and I just LOVED that image.
After a few more seconds of wondering what the hell had happened to her team, she did what skydivers do and deployed her parachute, then began searching for a safe place to land—which she found in a farmer’s field somewhere outside of New Paltz, New York.
Now, apparently, when you jump out of a plane, you don’t take your cell phone, so my friend landed in the middle of nowhere, miles from her drop site, with no way to check directions or call for help. She had to bundle up her parachute and guess which way to go, climbing several fences, and hopping from field to forest to field before eventually finding a road.
Upon finding the road, she checked the sun, made a guess as to the best direction to head, and started walking north when a car passed her at speed. In the back seat, a little boy said, according to what she heard in the retelling of the story inside the vehicle a few moments later, “Mommy, Mommy. I think that lady is a skydiver,” you know . . . because she was walking down the road in a wingsuit while carrying a bundled-up parachute.
The mommy and the child picked her up and drove her back to the airport, where she snuck back into the skydiving queue, handed her parachute to a packer, and took her secondary chute out of her bag for another trip to the skies. Her friends who had been flying formation with her were the only ones who knew she’d screwed up, and they didn’t tell a soul because such minor missteps might derail an otherwise impeccable record of accomplishment in her march toward the stars.
As the sun dawns on a new day and I reflect on the one before, I just adore the image of her friends all “tracking” off to the right while she flies ahead into the unknown at god-only-knows-what tremendous, breathtaking speed.
How very, very cool.
Thanks for a lovely night, my new friend, and keep on soaring—all the way to Mars. I don’t care what the doubters say, with a spirit like that, you’re surely bound for glory.