Monthly Archives: September 2011

Rocket Woman

Last night some of my coworkers and I went to an indoor skydiving facility called iFly Seattle.

All I have are two words: Mind. Blown.

I have always wanted to go skydiving but that little detail about possible death has held me back for some reason.  So when Mike told me that one of his clients had just built an indoor skydiving facility where the rate of death is 0%, I was intrigued.  Then one of my coworkers, who has gone skydiving before, suggested it as a team-building activity, and I jumped (but not out of a plane) at the chance.

We arrived at the building having no idea what to expect.   We didn’t even completely understand how it worked — a tunnel of air?  That can hold up a person?  And that person doesn’t die?

We checked in and sat in a little classroom for a ten minute lesson on how to position our bodies in the wind, how to read the instructor’s hand signals, and that no, somersaults are not allowed for beginners.

Then came the this-is-becoming-real part: the flight suits.   We were each fitted with a surprisingly comfortable jumpsuit and then told to put earplugs in our ears.

This should not have been difficult.  I put them in and felt like they were set when the instructor walked over to me, looked at each of my ears, and then said, “No.  These will fall out.”  He took them out, rolled them tight, pulled my ear away from my head and jammed the earplug so far in I swear it touched the back of my eye.

After that, I was legally deaf.

Helmets were passed out, goggles were strapped on our faces, and we were finally ready — to be Team America, apparently:

Since one of my teammates had skydived before, we graciously allowed him to lead us into the unknown.  The instructor gave the wind controller behind the glass the thumbs up to turn on the air, and it occurred to me that Mr. Wind Control really just looked like a DJ, which I found far too casual for the activity at hand.

Our teammate stood at the door of the giant wind tunnel, and then he leapt into it and I immediately decided I was not going next.

He was flailing all around and then suddenly he got himself in the pose we were taught, and just like that, he was flying.  The instructor gave him tips here and there, but mostly he was hovering in the air as we all cheered him on.  Well, we could cheer as loud as we wanted but due to hundred mile an hour winds and mind-bending earplugs, he probably just saw a bunch of silent muppets through the glass, waving our arms around.

In a split sixty seconds his turn was over and I was up.  I did a little deflection dance, trying to get the person behind me to go ahead of me, but the instructor was having none of it.

I stood at the doorway and jumped across his arms.  The intensity of the air hitting my face and the weightlessness of my body was immediately disorienting in the best possible way.  I got into position as quickly as I could, and after he moved my arms around a bit, there it was: I was floating.  I was also grinning like an idiot.

I couldn’t stop laughing as I realized that this felt completely natural and also like the best thing I’d done in years.  The instructor spun me around and I saw all of my teammates through the glass giving me the thumbs up, which made me feel like I must not look quite as ridiculous as I felt.  That or they were just glad it wasn’t their turn yet.

All too quickly, my minute was over and I jumped back onto the ground.  I felt absolutely fantastic, like I had just been shaken alive from a stupor.

Easily the best entertainment of the experience was watching other people fly.  I had to physically restrain myself from falling off my chair with laughter as each teammate went.  It wasn’t that they were any better or worse than me, it was just the sheer absurdity of watching someone you know get pummeled by 110 mile an hour winds.  People’s cheeks were pushed back and their lips were rumbling like a cartoon character falling off a cliff.  As each person got out of the tunnel it took them a minute to realize their entire chin was covered in saliva.  Oh, this was good entertainment.  Good indeed.

We all got to go a second time, and this time I was confident and the instructor knew it, too.  He saw me steady myself and then he showed me a head nod, teaching me to turn my face so that my whole body would spin.  It was insanity — I would barely turn my head and I spun like a top.  It was unreal.

At the end of our session our instructor said that no one was behind us in line, and if we’d like to go for an additional minute it would be $20.  No one hesitated.

Ha.  I tried to trick you there.  Did you fall for it?  Did you think I’d spend $20 without hesitation?  If you did, this is likely your first time reading this blog.

Everyone else went a second time, and I sat there telling myself I’d already spent $66 on this, and I’d likely be back to bring Mike and other family members, so I didn’t need to go.  But as each person went I could hardly stand to watch their glee.

As the last person exited, I jumped up and yelled, “OK I’ll do it!” into the deaf ears of everyone around me.

I don’t know if it’s because I held out, or because I’d done well the last time, but I’ll never forget what the instructor did next.  Ten seconds after I entered the tunnel and was floating, without warning he gave Mr. DJ the thumbs up and the force of the wind shot us thirty feet into the air, twisting and turning and flying all around the top of the tunnel, racing back and forth and driving downward and upward.  I went absolutely bananas, totally ballistic with joy.  It was exactly what I’d imagined Peter Pan must have felt as he dove in front of the moon in Hook.

One of my coworkers later told me, “I’d never seen you so happy!  It was incredible!”

Best $20 I’ve ever spent, hands down.

We all left the building completely elated, telling each other what we’d felt and who was funniest.

There is one drawback to indoor skydiving, and it’s significant: the experience is just too brief.  There’s no way around it.  Three minutes of flying only convinces you that you want more.  Which is a pretty brilliant marketing plan, but it’s also torture when you realize it’ll cost another eighty bucks to return.

It’s just a hunch, but I suspect I’ll gladly part with my cash if it means I can give the DJ the thumbs up and rocket to the moon.

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Corn People vs. Coffee People

Every time I go running in my neighborhood I play a little game called “The Smile Game.”  The rules are simple and anyone can play.

Whenever I’m approaching someone who is facing me, I smile.  Usually I go for teeth, but not every time.   I do this as a social experiment,  and because I like to cheer people up.   It’s really the only time I’m an unbridled optimist.

Sometimes I go a little crazy and actually speak to these strangers, but it’s rare.  About a month ago I was just cresting a steep hill that left me winded and exhausted.  On my way day down, I passed a man who was gasping for breath but still running up the hill, and I smiled at him.  He smiled back through asthmatic heaves, and I felt a burst of camaraderie with him so I said, “Good work!”  He didn’t breathe any easier because of my encouragement, but he did manage to say thanks, and for a moment it was like we were on the same team.

I’m working up my courage to put my hand out for a high-five, but the rejection from that would be too much to recover from.  Can you imagine a stranger jogging toward you and suddenly her hand is raised to eye-level and she’s smiling at you?  It would either be awesome or terrifying.  Or it could completely backfire, and make men believe I’m using the high-five as a conversation starter.  Shudder.

I have learned a myriad of things about humanity through this game.

1.  Unless I smile first, no one will smile at me.  This is fact.  I think I have recorded maybe two unsolicited smiles and they were on particularly sunny days, so they really can’t count because good weather warps Seattleites’ mental states.

2.  In general, women my age are the worst.  They almost always fall into the non-eye-contact category.  The fierceness with which they refuse to look at me makes me feel like we’re competitors in the national running championships.  It always boggles my mind, so I continue to smile.

3.  Those who appear too shocked to react before I pass are people who are jaded and used to being overlooked in life.  They want to smile at strangers, but they are sick of being rejected and therefore never do.

4.  Those who never make eye contact, and therefore have no idea that I am grinning like an idiot, I forget quickly.  These people are clearly on their own road and do not need a cheerful encounter with me.

5.  Those who smile back are fantastic, wonderful people who make me feel like I’m a unicorn riding a rainbow.

6.  Those who obviously see me and yet do not give even a hint of a smile are jerks.  Period.

Sometimes I wonder if Kirkland’s lack of friendliness is really just geography.  Mike’s grandparents, who live in Iowa, sent us a subscription to their favorite local magazine, “Our Iowa.”  Its pages are bursting with state-wide pride about their friendliness, with little quotes from cartooned farmers scattered over the pages that say, “There are no strangers in Iowa, just friends you haven’t met yet!”   They have little inside jokes like “You know you’re an Iowan if you wave to people in other cars that you don’t even know.”

Seattleites don’t do this.  We don’t wave from cars.  You’re lucky to get a wave even if we do know you.

I think that’s part of why people don’t smile on the street here.  We already know no one is going to throw any love our way, so we just stick to our mission and move on.  If Iowa has t-shirts that say “Iowa — America’s Front Porch,” Seattle should have t-shirts that say, “Seattle — America’s Closed Front Door.”

But that doesn’t mean I have to pull my cap down around my eyes and stare at the concrete.  I’m going to keep grinning, not to give the impression that running is effortless, but to give the impression that acknowledging people is.  The Seattle rain is chilly enough; we don’t need countenances to match.

If all else fails I can always purchase one of the many bumper stickers available in this month’s Our Iowa.  I’m leaning toward the one that says, “Iowa Rocks!” with the giant ear of corn furiously strumming a guitar.  When you think about it, it’s really no odder than a manic redhead running down the street accosting strangers (who are just friends I haven’t met yet).

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