Reflections of an AirVenture refugee

The truth is simple, and weird. I am a refugee. Not by force, or circumstance, or because I am caught between two warring factions that are sworn to smite me should I show my face. No, it’s nothing so dramatic as that. I am a refugee by choice, as are thousands of others who are slumbering nearby in tents and campers, and all manner of temporary housing.

This is AirVenture. Or at least, this is a part of the AirVenture experience that can only be understood, or explained, by those who pitch a tent, or roll into town with their RV, and eschew the more traditional hotels, motels, and college dorm housing that is available to visitors to this massive aviation event. We are united in our primitive pilgrimage. We may very well have never met before, but we become friends quickly here under the shade of what I can only assume are sycamore trees. We live in the grass, and the mud, too. And we’re having a good time.

The first words I heard after rolling onto the grounds were, “Welcome to Oshkosh.” The man who said it was smiling. He’d been standing in the heat, and the sun, for who knows how long, waving orange batons to direct traffic to the camper registration booth. But he was smiling nonetheless. So were the next half dozen volunteers I came across. You can’t say southern hospitality doesn’t travel well. It has apparently made it all the way to Wisconsin, where it has taken up residence on a permanent basis.

The last time I was here was 18 years ago and, if you could hear me you would know that I am speaking in a voice filled with awe, as I tell you everything is different. And I mean, everything. The last time I was here I stayed in a rented home near Wittman Regional Airport. That was nice, but I think this might be better. I’m camping this year, in a tent, on the ground. I’m happily living amongst thousands of others who had the same idea I did, and who came as far as I dared to drive, and farther.

As I stood in line at the registration booth I struck up a conversation with the woman in line behind me. She and her husband motored in from Prescott, Arizona. That’s a hike. A man in the shower building told me he came from Santa Barbara, California. And the man whose tent is pitched directly across from mine toddled in from Iowa.

We’re from every state in the Union, I’m sure. Judging from some of the accents I heard while wandering around the grounds tonight, I’d say we’re from a fair number of foreign countries, too. We are the world. Really, we are.

Rain was pelting off my tent when I went to bed. It stopped, then started again, then it really blew for a while. Sleep was not easy, but for tired travelers it all works out somehow. This morning my fellow campers were a cheerful and surprisingly social for a group who are essentially standing in a field, and a wet field at that, waiting for the fun to start. The excitement level is high, and there are significant signs that AirVenture 2011 will be one for the books. Nobody is ho-hum about being in Oshkosh, or getting more exercise in the next few days than we have had for quite some time. Walking is on the agenda. Actually, lots of walking is on the agenda – every day!

I arrived on Saturday night even though AirVenture officially starts on Monday. There is more to do at AirVenture on the day before it officially opens than there is to do in many towns in this fine country on the average day.

Early on Sunday morning, as vendors put the final touches on their displays, visitors will begin flocking through the gates, gawking at the airplanes, craning their necks as the Zeppelin flies overhead, and grabbing a shuttle bus to the seaplane base to see what’s shaking down at the waterfront.

This is going to be one heck of an interesting week. I’m glad to be here — again. Finally!

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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