The kid’s pace slowed as the tree line fell behind, the green grass of the airport coming into view. Pedaling slower while steering the bike off the main thoroughfare and onto the little used service road, the kid’s eyes scanned the grounds.
Beyond the chain link fence, the Do Not Enter signs, and the undeveloped buffer that lay between the rest of the world and the runway, there were rows of hangars.
Some of the hangars were small. Just big enough to fit a single airplane inside. A few of the doors of these smaller hangars stood open, their tenants milling about nearby as they rolled aircraft in, or out, or washed a layer of earthbound grime or formerly airborne insects off the painted surfaces.
Another kid, not much older than the one on the bike, wiped a chromed propeller blade with a bright yellow cloth. An adult, maybe the lucky kid’s father or grandfather, wiped the opposing blade with a similar looking piece of fabric.
The kid envied that youthful counterpart, even if he was doing a required chore. He was touching an airplane. A real airplane. One that flies and everything.
Just 100 yards or so down the road the hangars grew. They got taller, wider, and deeper. Whopper big airplanes sat inside waiting for action. Some were near the front of the hangar, the sun glinting off their brightly colored skins. Others were farther into the cavern, partially disassembled. Engines poked out from their mounts, their covers removed, their dull metal naked to the world, clearly visible even to the curious eye of a bicycle riding 12 year old.
The kid could barely see what sort of treasures were hidden in the shadows at the back of those big hangars. But he dare not stop. The fence was high. The Do Not Enter signs were plentiful. There were people in those hangars. Men and women, young and old. They’d turn an intruder into the authorities for sure.
The kid kept pedaling. Slowly, but never wavering. Forward progress was imperative. This was no place to give the appearance of being a thief, or a terrorist, or the kind of kid who might climb a fence when nobody was looking. Nothing good could come from that. Curiosity killed the cat, after all.
Over the summer the kid’s route stayed the same. Two miles from the house to the airport. Two miles home again. Every day. Sometimes twice.
The sights and sounds of the airport and the flying machines in those hangars stuck with the kid. Flying became a constant preoccupation. Overnight the kid’s dreams were populated with those exact same airplanes, coming from the very same hangars on the daily route.
Throwing caution to the wind on the very next visit, the bike slowed, stopped, and fell over into the soft grass beside the service road. Seeing no police cars or military vehicles nearby, one foot inched toward the fence, then another, then a full step. Suddenly the kid’s face was pressed to the fence’s galvanized steel links. They were sharp and poked young cheeks.
Pulling back a fraction of an inch, the hangars seemed to call out, inviting a curious kid sporting a head full of dreams inside.
The big hangar where the mechanics were busy mending and maintaining machinery caught the eye. At least five airplanes were visible. Some were big. The kid surmised there must be lots of seats inside. Others were small. Very small. But they must be easier to fly, the kid thought. Maybe that’s where you start. Maybe I could fly one of those…someday…maybe…
From out of the shadows in the back of the hangar came an old man. A really old man. The kid guessed he was 50 if he was a day. In one hand he held a cup. Probably coffee. Old people drink coffee. In the other a grease-soaked rag. He spotted the kid. The kid froze. The old man raised the rag and gestured with it. The kid ran. Back to the bike. Back to the service road. Two miles home. No looking back.
The kid didn’t go back the next day, or the next. But the lure of the airport, the hangars, the flying machines, and the sounds they all made was too much to ignore, even if it did mean he might get arrested for trespassing. Even if they did haul kids off to the pokey and call their parents at work to let them know what hoodlums they were raising. The airport called out and the kid answered.
The bike stopped again, fell in the grass where it had before, and the kid carefully walked up to the fence.
The sky was a perfect blue without even a hint of a cloud. July was in full swing. It was hot, even at mid-morning. The kid squinted. The sun was directly behind the big hangar, just clearing the roofline. The kid could barely see, but the sounds of the mechanics were familiar, both soothing and exciting at the same time.
“Hey, kid!” a voice boomed out. It was close. Startled, the kid squinted harder, peeking in between tightly closed fingers. “What’s your name?” the old man came into view, no more than three steps away. He was on the opposite side of the fence, but close. The kid shuddered but remained silent.
“Kid,” the old man repeated. “What’s your name?”
“Morgan,” the kid replied with knees and voice exhibiting equal unsteadiness.
“You come by here almost every day. Sometimes twice. Maybe more, I don’t know.”
“Uh huh,” said the kid, still shaken.
“You got family here?”
The old man took a sip of coffee from his mug. They were so close the kid could smell it. He looked back over his shoulder at the hangar and the activity inside. The kid thought about taking the opportunity to run, but if caught that would only make things worse.
“You know how to use a broom?” the old man asked.
The kid looked back, confused.
“A broom,” the old man repeated himself. “Do you know how to use a broom?”
“Uh, yeah,” the kid said. “I guess so.”
“Wanna make $5?”
The kid’s mind locked up. This must be a trick question.
“My helper couldn’t come in today. Sick. I could use someone who can help wash planes and sweep up. Pays $5.”
“Yes, sir,” the kid beamed.
“C’mon, there’s a gate just over here. I’ll let you in.”
And so it begins…as it has for over 100 years, as it still can.
Be the old man, even if you’re not one. You’ll feel good about it.