Like it or not, aviation enthusiasts are often classified by non-aviation enthusiasts as “those people.” As a card carrying member of the “those people” fan club, I’m often interested in how we’re perceived and routinely blamed for the ills of society by those who don’t understand us. In general, we’re neither loved or admired. Frequently we’re assumed to be outrageously wealthy, aloof, and selfish.
Rather than blame those who blame us, I did a little daydreaming about how this relationship came to be so dysfunctional. I was also curious how we might go about reversing the trend. Given enough time I’m sure I could have come up with a solution too, but a handful of proactive pilots in Paso Robles, California, beat me to it.
Thank goodness. Once a winning formula has been identified, I’d rather put effort into replicating it than replacing it. Why reinvent the wheel?
The approach is simple enough. It costs very little. In fact, other than a couple dollars for simple supplies, there is no need for fundraisers or angel investors to get the project moving. All it takes is a handful of participants, each with a pair of work gloves, a few garbage bags, and a free morning. That’s it.
Amazing isn’t it? Success can come so easily if we just open up our horizons and take direct action. That’s what the folks in Paso Robles did.
They got out and cleaned up the trash along Airport Road. A move that could be considered self-serving I suppose. It is a main artery to the airport, after all. But it’s also an undeniable public service. We’ve all seen refuse build up on the roadside. Cups, cans, bottles, and food wrappers are common. From time to time a piece of furniture shows up, as well as crumpled car parts, broken glass, and the all too common and well worn milk crates.
Rather than keep looking at that mess and tsk, tsk, tsking their way to the FBO, the folks in Paso Robles did us all a favor by drawing a blueprint for the rest of us to follow. They parked their cars, climbed out, grabbed a trash bag, and filled it up. The roadway became cleaner. The community was well served. And it happened because pilots, “those people,” stepped up and did something to solve a problem that needed solving.
Imagine what an impression we could make on our communities if this sort of thing became commonplace. Not only would the airport perimeter be more pleasing to the eye, but it’s only a matter of time before a flying club, a pilot’s association, or some other aeronautical group decides to expand their beneficence and spread out to have an impact on other parts of the community.
Just as teenagers can, with the proper incentive, be taught to clean their rooms, pilots and aviation enthusiasts could be encouraged to beautify a downtown park. Perhaps there’s a ball field in need of attention and care in your town. Maybe a pact could be made with the local Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop to clean around a school yard, or a neighborhood that’s fallen on tough times.
Certainly there are opportunities to reach out and help. Pilots do it all the time, often in an aeronautical setting out of sight of the general public, and beyond the interest of the local media. But if we stepped out from behind the airport fence and took on projects that positively impacted others, perhaps we could transcend the those people moniker and become that pilot I know. It’s not far from there to my friend from the airport. Which could of course lead non-aviation types to start thinking of the airport and the people who congregate there as good eggs, the kind of people you want to know and the kind of facility the community feels good about supporting.
In Paso Robles they gathered up a dozen large trash bags of refuse from the roadside. They pulled a car bumper out of the brush, got about nine feet of broken telephone pole out of the median, and removed a discarded car tire or two as well. All in all, a good morning’s work.
But it doesn’t have to stop there. Not in Paso Robles and not with the airport road. If we want people to understand we live in the community, contribute to the community, and want the community’s understanding and support – we’re going to have to go meet them on the common ground that exists away from the airport.
So grab your “Let’s go Flying” t-shirt, a couple similarly dressed friends, and find something undeniably beneficial to do in your town. If you’re lucky enough to attract some local media attention, answer their obvious question with an equally obvious reply. When the reporter says to you, “Why are you doing this?” Stand tall, speak firmly, and say, “Because we’re pilots and we live in this community too. Our interest in this city/town isn’t limited to the airport we recreate and work at. We care about clear sidewalks, well maintained streets, good schools, functional playgrounds, and attractive parks as much as anyone else. This is our home and we’re glad to have the opportunity to help make it better.”
Now who could argue with that?
Thanks Paso Robles. You set a great example for the rest of us.