“Wow. It’s pretty chilly out here today.”
That was how I tried to cover up the fact that I was visibly trembling at the prospect of getting into a tiny Cessna 172 for the first time to go on a trip with the MIT Flying Club. Logically, I knew I would be pretty safe. I know that the odds of an accident in a small plane are no worse than those when riding a motorcycle. But that didn’t keep me from blanching when my pilot, Andreas Mershin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Biological Engineering Department, laughed as he showed me how flimsy the hatch on the plane was and explained that the rest of the plane was just as light. He thought it was a marvel of engineering. All I could think was that I was going to have a panic attack as soon as I sat down in the airplane.
Instead, once I got in the plane, I began channeling Buddha and calmed myself down. It would’ve been hard to find a more Zen passenger than myself. Unfortunately, on that first trip, the weather prevented us from flying to Martha’s Vineyard so we just flew around the area. Fortunately for me, that meant I got to try my hand at flying. As I was in charge, I maintained an incredibly tight grip and my knuckles were bloodless the entire time. But I was exhilarated during the entire flight.
The next time I went on a trip with the MIT Flying Club, Tech staff photographer Ricardo Ramirez accompanied Andreas and I to Provincetown, Mass., for lunch. We were meeting up with other members of the club who were flying from other airports in the Boston metropolitan area.
We arrived on a chilly May day at Provincetown and hired a local woman to drive us to the town in her van. She charged exorbitant prices but made up for it with her sense of humor. Two men who were standing on the side of the road flagged us down. They didn’t speak English. She told them that she would come back for them but that they had better not catch a ride with anyone else. Because of the gas, she told us. Then she asked us if we were anybody. This odd question was followed with an explanation of how she once drove Aerosmith (meaning Steven Tyler, I believe) and Liv Tyler and she had no idea who it was, but she knew they were somebody because they kept snickering. So now she always asks. Andreas regretted not telling her that we were somebody.
Provincetown is a small town, but there were lots of shops and restaurants to peruse. Our little self-guided tour was accompanied by the deep tenor voice of a transvestite singing in the center of town. The whole town was painted with light, summery colors. Café Heaven where we ate had bright modern pastel paintings of women lounging about in the nude. After lunch, we went into a shop that appeared small from the outside but was very deep and was filled with summer clothes, nautical bric-a-brac, and some things that you would only expect to find in a military surplus store.
There was also a fantastic bin of old hats that we could not stop digging through. We took turns sporting old British constables hats, safari hats, army helmets, and countless others. I also found a set of pajamas that had been squeezed into a tiny plastic wrapper in the shape of the pajamas themselves, which you are apparently supposed to “grow” in warm water. I must admit I was tempted to buy it.
I had a lot of fun listening to the MIT Flying Club at lunch. They couldn’t stop talking about flying. They were all so excited about it, sharing stories about flights and trips that they had taken, and crazy stories about people they had heard about. Stories heard third or fourth hand spread even further. Eventually we all trickled back to the airport to take off for home. The same van driver as before charged us even more to be driven back to the airport. We had to wait for one of the passengers because Provincetown is known for its Portuguese population and renowned Portuguese cuisine, and he had to have pudding from one of the stands. He said it was all right, but not great.
As we flew back to the airport, I took over for Andreas for a little while. Even though this was my second time flying, I was no less tense. And I couldn’t stop turning the plane left. Every two minutes Andreas would say “Emily, go right.” I guess I just didn’t want to go back home yet.