My brother is a good sport. Despite a series of unfortunate events last night that had us scrambling to make plans, reschedule, break, rebreak, reschedule, and then throw up our hands, he still agreed to head down to Long Beach with me at 7:30 AM this morning.
And per usual with me, despite being told that check-in was at 8:30, things were barely being setup as we pulled into the remote terminal parking lot.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it no doubt thousands of times hereafter — I always err on the side of being early and ALWAYS regret that being early only means I should have been much, much later to arrive.
We were the first individual participants to check in and at that stage there was only one open slot on a team pulling the plane at 10:55 AM. I figured this would alter as things get setup but we put our names in and gave our phone numbers — they’d text us with our times, like we were waiting for a table at an uber popular restaurant.
Steve and I walked about the mini car show, cheered on a couple of kids pulling a Cessna, and then just wandered around the car dealerships that were nearby. We were just killing time waiting for the organizers to get organized. No biggie. I had misread the times and the first “pull” of the day wasn’t until 10 AM anyway.
For the record, Taco Bell having a food truck seems anathema to the very concept of food truck fun.
We got back to the main staging area a little before 10 AM and the opening festivities were in full swing. Nitro from American Gladiators was brought out to do the Pledge of Allegiance and he brought up some of the Special Olympic athletes to help him out. That was a nice moment… made all the more so once he had them also recite the Athlete’s Oath which goes like this:
Let Me Win.
But If I Cannot Win,
Let Me Be Brave In the Attempt.
That’s lovely in many, many ways.
As the pulling commenced, it became apparent to even our untrained plane pulling eyes and hands that our odds of pulling were slim to none… and it was a horse race. Slim hadn’t left town but he was definitely gazing longingly at the stage coach schedule and fingering the coins in his pocket.
Each team could only have a maximum of 25 team members… and let’s be honest, if you went to the trouble to field a team, you probably went to the trouble to get 25 people at work, from your club, from friends and family, to join up. You weren’t like me two days before saying, “SAY! I should just show up and do that!”
Recognizing this was something of a fool’s errand, we wandered back to the check-in tent around 10:45 to see what was what. The 10:55 slot was filled by another team member so that one shot at pulling was already gone. Steve and I were still at the top of the stand-by list, which had now grown to 10 people. The very nice volunteers said they were waiting to see if they could just field another pulling team with the individuals… but that meant we needed another 15 people to show up… and our pull time wouldn’t be until all 54 other teams had gone… which seemed like a long, long time to wait for only the possibility of participating.
Still, Steve and I felt we’d come this far, we’d give it a bit and decide from there. We didn’t NOT want to pull a plane… but we also didn’t want to stand around for several more hours to pull a plane for less than 13 seconds.
As we plotted a lunch detour to Steve’s favorite mexican restaurant, we looked at each other. It was nearing 11 o’clock and as teams were called and there was no text in sight, nor any empty slots amongst the enthused teams, we unanimously voted to call it a day…
Not wanting to be rude, we walked up to the check in tent to let them know to scratch us from the list… only before we could say anything they said they were just about to text us to say we’d be pulling with the Special Olympics Athlete Team at noon.
Truly there was no better team to be a part of. Silently, Steve and I voted and we unanimously agreed to pull the plane.
Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
We killed an hour watching the festivities, scrolling through emails, taking a few more photos to document the day. Times were called out by the announcer and everybody was putting up some amazing figures — 6.01 seconds, 5.91 seconds. Heck, when one team “floundered” and only put up an 8.78 second time the emcee said at least their first pull was good. At least their first pull was good? Dude, they just dragged a plane 12 feet with their bare hands. I don’t care if it took them 8 minutes — They. Pulled. A. Plane. With. Their. Bare. Hands. (okay, okay… they didn’t have “bare” hands… complimentary gloves were available from volunteers, but still — c’mon!).
As the sun rose to its zenith and the hour of pulling approached, we joined the athlete’s team. Clearly an audible had been called and all the individuals were allowed to join up with this squad, the 25 member count waived for special circumstances. So be it. I was just glad to be pulling. (And I keep mentioning the 25 person limit because [spoiler alert] our times were pretty good; our team was awesome but I don’t want to take anything away from those folks who were able to pull the plane with 25 folks — astonishing!).
Matthew, a Special Olympic Volleyball player, chatted with us while we waited. He had never pulled a plane either.
Armand… or Roland? I’m so bad with names… another team member said he’d pulled before. Veterans! That’s certainly what we needed.
We donned our borrowed gloves and we walked out onto the tarmac.
Again, a lot more than 25 people so the rope was a bit crowded — we headed toward the back albeit I had no desire to the be the anchor. I’ve seen Battle of the Network Stars. I’m DEFINITELY not anchor material! But the spirit of camaraderie and the sense of adventure at pulling a plane together outweighed any feelings of trepidation that I might have had at the magnitude of the task that lay ahead.
Steve was boxing ready.
“Airplane ready?” the emcee intoned. I guess that’s necessary because the plane’s sensors for the timing of the pull needed to be set but still it felt odd to hear that question being asked. Steve and I wondered if there was just a crew inside the plane playing drinking games wherein every pull they’d take a shot. We couldn’t see inside but I want to believe that’s true so ya know what? It is. It just is.
The countdown was on… and for clarity’s sake, it was “1…2…3…” then pull. It wasn’t “1…2…THREE” and pull on three.
We pulled the plane. It was surprisingly difficult even amongst a sea of pullers. I didn’t know how long it took. But there was a distinct moment when our force overcame inertia and I could feel the plane rolling. And then I heard the “BUZZZZZZZZ” of crossing the 12 foot marker for the pull. But as all teams had two chances to pull, there was no time to celebrate as a quick reset meant we pulled it again.
A tug, and a pull, and a digging in. And then once again the feeling of overwhelming Newtonian physics. Twelve more feet and a BUZZ.
High fives and victory hugs ensued. And then we were hustled over for a group photo. I don’t know if we’ll ever see those pics but it was nice to be in that crowd.
Before heading off to lunch and leaving the plane behind, we quickly checked our exhibition only times (as let’s be fair, we were over the team member limits).
We pulled the plane twelve feet in 5.98 seconds and then another twelve feet in 5.87 seconds. Yeah, we crushed it.
It felt a lot longer to me and the results kinda felt like the points awarded on Who’s Line Is It Anyway?… but we’ll take it. Besides, my sense of time is not to be trusted. When I did the polar plunge in Antarctica it felt like I was under that water for hours and maybe even a lifetime as everything that had happened to me up to and including plunging into the water flashed before my eyes. But I digress.
So we pulled a plane. How long did it take us? Well… considering we left the house at 7:30 AM and got back after lunch and traffic delays at 2:23 PM, I guess you could say it took us 6 hours, 53 minutes to enjoy 11.85 seconds of plane pulling.
But without a doubt, we were brave in the attempt… and got to be among some truly amazing people whilst doing it.
Post script: Thanks for pulling me along, Steve! You have been and always will be my super hero.