Monday, July 27, 2009

Oshkosh: Day 1 - The First Day

So yeah, that's a fairly unimaginative title. The problem is that it's nearly impossible to distill a day at Oshkosh down into a single salient point. There's just too much going on!

The day started auspiciously with a friendly Weather-out-the-Window™ forecast. Clear blue sky and a sun throwing a benevolent light across the pastoral scene outside the hotel window:

Yes, that's a Wal-Mart. The vaunted rural views of vast dairy farms and rolling pastures in Wisconsin are not all that the Chamber of Commerce would have you believe.

Egg dragged herself out of bed at the appointed hour of oh-six-really-farking-early in order to prepare for her first day of working in the Girls With Wings booth. We had no idea how long it would take to get to Oshkosh from our palatial hotel in West Bend or what the traffic would be like at the airport, so we were in a bit of a rush. We had to meet Lynda at the front gate by 0745. The traffic turned out to be very manageable, and I shaved a few minutes off of the time that it took to get into the parking lot by bailing out of the long line for the $8 parking in favor of no line at all for the $5 parking. It remains unclear to me why no one else was doing that. I guess there are sometimes benefits inherent in parking to the beat of a different drummer.

We found a nice parking spot where the car would be in shade for the day. That's always nice, isn't it? It was a fairly lengthy walk (a walk that I would ultimately make half a dozen times throughout the day as I took things to the car to be dropped off and picked up other things that would also eventually be dropped off again) to the front gate, but we made it to the rendezvous point with time to spare.

We were in the exhibition building by 0800 where I was treated to a scene seldom seen by the ordinary pedestrian Oshkosh attendee: a completely empty building. I've never been in one of the exhibition buildings without encountering a massive crowd. What a rare treat it was to see this:

Co-pilot Egg underwent a quick training session with Lynda during which her duties of the day were described:

She had a laminated cheat sheet that she could refer to if she ran into trouble. She's also quite proud of her Exhibitor badge which is rumored to provide access to a non-public restroom:

Those sell for well into four figures on the black market, or so I've been told. Anyone that has used a well-ripened Port-O-Let will understand why!

With the Co-pilot suitably ensconced under the protective wing of Lynda, I started walking around. Oshkosh in the morning is very relaxing, at least if you're not working. The vendors, on the other hand, are getting ready for the onslaught of prospective customers by spiffying up their wares:

There was a heavy dew on most every horizontal surface, although the rising sun was doing a good job of drying off the eastern side of things:

The hordes of EAA volunteers that would spend their days driving shuttle buses, guiding traffic, and generally providing the service and hospitality that Oshkosh is renowned for were getting ready to start their days too:

And here it is! The first potential customer! These two were getting the dime tour of a fine looking LSA sea plane:

I ambled over to the Sea of RVs to see if there was anyone around that I knew. There wasn't, but I always enjoy seeing row after row after row of RVs:

It's always nice to see how the other half lives:

I catch a lot of grief for staying in a hotel rather than camping. There are those that say that it's a cop-out, or that I'm missing out on the "true Oshkosh Experience," but I reject the false choice between living like a caveman or being completely out of touch with what makes Oshkosh so special. I respect what those camping folks are doing, but I want no part of it. I like my air conditioning, running water, soft bed, etc. I like it a LOT!

I eventually did run into someone I know. This is Rick Gray:

Rick was instrumental in helping me decide that the RV-6 was the plane for me. Well, that's not entirely true; I was pretty sure of that already. What he did do, though, was give Co-pilot Egg her very first ever ride in an RV-6 and won her over to my side. It's always helpful to have a willing ally in these kinds of things.

Rick is very well known for the extremely high quality of the planes he builds. Frankly, they're works of art and are superior to just about any airplane you could buy from a factory. His latest, this beautiful, award winning F1 Rocket, has a huge spread in the most recent EAA Sport Aviation magazine:

Of course, that didn't stop me from telling him that if he kept cranking these things out he might end up actually building a nice one someday. Seriously, I crack myself up sometimes. Well, often actually.

After gratuitously insulting Mr. Gray, I wandered over to the EAA Workshop area. These workshops are one of the absolute best things about Oshkosh and are actually one of the closest things to the roots of the Oshkosh annual event. These workshops give introductory lessons in airplane building topics such as sheet metal work, welding, fabric covering, building with wood or composite materials, etc. There's even one for teaching old bachelors how to iron their shirts:

Ok, not really. That was the fabric covering workshop. And no, this next guy isn't learning the finer points of quilting. He's learning how to do rib stitching:

It's often a family thing, too. This family is building a wooden wing rib:

There's a funny story about that picture. Just as I finished shooting it and was moving away, a woman stepped into the spot where I had taken the picture and started to take one of her own. I said, "You don't need to take that picture, I already took one."

Her reply? "No English."

I'm not sure I believe her.

It was getting pretty hot by that time, so I trekked back to the car to change out of blue jeans and into more comfortable shorts. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking ahead far enough to realize that I might want to swap my warmer morning clothes for cooler afternoon clothes, but I failed to consider just where I would make the change. When I got to the car, there was no one else around so I figured I'd just go ahead and change in the car. I mean, really, what are the odds of that guy in the car next to me choosing that exact moment to come back to his car? Well, statistically I don't know. Anecdotally? 100%. Awkward!!

I kind of slunk down and waited for him to leave, then walked back up to the show. As I was walking around near the Federal building, I happened across this Army fellow taking a nap:

I think he was supposed to be guarding his helicopter. Ever the opportunist, I took advantage of his negligence:

That guy on the left? I think he's getting ready to tattle on me:

Here's the obligatory shot of the welcome arch. I thought it was pretty funny that they had to drop the 'ion' from International:

It reminds me of the days of my youth when I'd have to do posters for school. I'd never plan my spacing very well, and the poster would inevitably end up with the last few letters crammed in with an ever-decreasing font size.

I was famished by that time so I sat down with a two piece chicken and one piece of fish combo lunch:

To be honest, it was more like a 1.1 piece chicken lunch. There was a nice breast, but the second piece was a tiny little meatless wing. Not to worry, though. I had plenty to fill me up.

While I was there, I bought a Caesar salad to take over to Egg. As I was delivering it to her, I walked past this:

You know, sometimes the Sarah Palin jokes just write themselves.

I also noticed that EAA has added some paths that restrict the UDGCs (ubiquitous damn golf carts) that I hate so very, very much. They're loud, smelly, and often times driven by people that feel that they have some kind of exclusive right to the roads. As much as I feared for my life while circling over Ripon four years ago (obligatory "Over Ripon? No I don't think I will ever get over Ripon"), the cruel fact is that it is far more likely that I would meet an Oshkosh demise under the wheels of a golf cart.

Egg and I grabbed a seat at a picnic table and she worked her way through her salad. The guy in the background on the left is Col. Stu McCurdy, a retired F-4 pilot. I flew (poorly) on his wing when I was down in Parkersburg a few years ago for a formation flying clinic. He doesn't remember that, of course, most likely because of the post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by my antics while flying just a few feet from is wing. Still, it was pretty cool to run into him. Today, I mean, not at the clinic:

Stu and his companion finished up their meals and their vacated seats were soon occupied by a couple of older women who were engrossed on their conversation about the Flying 99s, an international organization of women pilots. They had apparently met only recently as they were still going through the dance us pilots go through:

"What do you fly?"

"Oh, I fly a Stearman biplane."

"Oh, really? How nice."

"And you?"

"Oh, my husband owns a Lear Jet. It requires two pilots, so he keeps a full time pilot on staff."

I think I showed amazing restraint in not butting in and saying, "Lady, you don't fly. You travel."

Egg needed to get back to work, so I escorted her back to the booth. They were desperately in need of her help when we got back:

She was pretty tired by the time I picked her up to take her to the air show. The plan was to watch the show and then enjoy the music of the octogenarian Doobie Brothers as they played what surely must be one of their last concerts. Alas, it wasn't to be. Egg was bone tired and the weather was threatening to break out into thunderstorms. I decided to get her back to the hotel for some rest. Oshkosh is a marathon, not a sprint, and having her worn out on the first day was not the recipe for a successful week. Once back in the hotel, she was asleep within five minutes.

I think it was the right decision. Particularly since it rained all the way back to the hotel.


  1. Sounds like a great first day! It seems age is the key to getting a successful trip out of the kids. I figure in a year or two, Kaden will be ready for a couple days of it. Are you still planning to drive back Saturday? We may be in Columbus, but if not, we'd love to hit some food locations if you're coming back through our way.

  2. Yep, heading back on Saturday. Trying to get out of here around 0530 to avoid the worst of Chicago. That's probably a pipe dream, but it's worth a try.

  3. Hi Dave, of these days I'll get the building process all figured out.....even you will be proud :^).

    Thanks for your comments.

    Great read, as usual!


    Rick Gray in Ohio at the Buffalo Farm