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FLIGHT
OF THE
GIN FIZZ


CHAPTER ONE

It was from a train that I was launched into flight.

On a transcontinental railroad trip a couple of years ago, an offhand remark from a fellow traveler inadvertently changed the course of my life. Like me, Bob Locher is on the shady side of fifty yet an overgrown boy at heart, one who never quite lost the sense of adventure that fueled his youthful fantasies. We both are mystery-novel addicts, and one lovely afternoon as the California Zephyr threaded its way through the Rocky Mountains, he and I dreamily concocted the plot for a modern-day James Gang train robbery. At one point I wondered aloud how the crooks could make a getaway from deep inside the Colorado canyon the train was then traversing, and Bob replied that he had seen a wind sock high atop a cliff just east of the gorge. He was a relatively new private pilot, having earned his ticket in his late forties, and was the owner of a four-seater Cessna 172. Immediately he saw the possibilities. A helicopter could pluck the felons from the canyon and carry them to the airport, where they could make good their escape to Mexico in a fast twin-engine plane.

For the rest of the trip, I thought no more of the idea, not even at our journey’s end in San Francisco when Bob turned to me, shook my hand, and said, “When we get home, come flying with me.” Bob was living in Deerfield, Illinois, not far from my home in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, and a few months later I took him up on his offer. We drove to his home field, Westosha Airport, just west of the little town of Wilmot, Wisconsin, near the Illinois state line. There we climbed into his white, maroon, and brown high-winged Cessna Skyhawk, registration number N3979Q emblazoned on its swept-back fin. As I buckled myself into the right front seat, the array of dials and gauges on the instrument panel bewildered me. All I could identify were the airspeed indicator and altimeter; the rest seemed arcane mysteries whose secrets could be vouchsafed only to members of holy orders.

As I watched silently, Bob recited his checklist as if it were a litany, fingering switches like beads on a rosary and muttering incantations—“Breakers in!” “Carb heat off!” “Mixture rich!”—like a vicar at matins, his radio headset and mike the alb and stole of his calling. Briefly he peered in all directions, then opened his side window, shouted “Clear!” in a loud benediction, and turned the key. Almost instantly the 150-horsepower engine two feet in front of our knees coughed alive, shaking awake the Skyhawk. As the slipstream from the propeller stroked the plane’s tail surfaces, the aircraft rose on its landing gear like a churchyard cat stretching from sleep.

A spell of wonder slowly began to envelop me as the engine settled down to a creamy purr. Bob cracked open the throttle, and the airplane rolled off its hardstand onto the turf toward the narrow runway, scarcely thirty-eight feet wide. As we reached the asphalt, Bob keyed his mike and intoned, “Cessna three-niner-seven-
niner-Quebec back-taxiing on Runway Three!” He then pulled off the runway onto a taxiway, locked the brakes, and raced the engine as he watched the gauges and indicators on the instrument panel. Satisfied with whatever he saw, Bob turned back onto the runway and swung the tail so the plane’s nose pointed into the wind. Calling “Cessna seven-niner-Quebec departing Runway Three,” he thrust the throttle forward to the stop. As the engine bellowed into full revolutions, the plane sprang forward, gathering speed with every stride. Before we had eaten up a third of the runway, the Cessna leaped into the air like a winged lioness, my heart rising with it.


I thought back to one of my earliest memories, wiggling the joystick in the cockpit of an Avenger torpedo bomber in a hangar at the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station, where my father was a supply officer. The year was 1944, and I was four. A few months later Dad’s aircraft carrier, Randolph, its decks awash with Avengers, Hellcat fighters, and Helldiver dive bombers, stood out to sea from Hampton Roads, Virginia, bound for the Pacific. Like just about every other American boy whose earliest memories were formed during that war, I thought of aviators as the noblest warriors of all, knights with aluminum steeds performing chivalrous deeds high in the clouds far above the grimy fray. Even at age five I could distinguish a Zero from a Hellcat and a Messerschmitt from a Spitfire, thanks to the aircraft silhouette-recognition charts tacked to my bedroom wall.

After the war Dad introduced me to gasoline-powered model aircraft that flew round and round the “pilot” at the end of twin nylon tethers. Pulling on one made the plane climb; pulling on the other made it dive. Patiently Dad rebuilt all the airplanes I flew into the ground, although I had to use my own money to replace the propellers I splintered on every landing.

At age eleven I took my first ride in a lightplane, a shiny alu¬minum postwar two-seater called a Globe Swift 125. The pilot, who owned the grass airstrip in Hallstead, Pennsylvania—which he grandiosely named Hallstead International Airport because a Canadian pilot had once landed there—took me up to 2,000 feet (I remember reading the numbers on the altimeter) and briefly let me steer the airplane. I gave him a start when I pushed the yoke forward sharply, causing the Swift to enter a dive. Before he could grab the controls, I pulled back the yoke, leveling off the plane.

“Take it easy,” he said. More gently I guided the plane into a climb, then a descent.

“Want to try a roll?” he asked.

“Yeah!” I shouted. The pilot tightened my seat belt, then smartly turned the yoke to the left so the Swift entered a barrel roll. I looked up and there was the ground. I looked down and there it was again. I was annoyed when the pilot said our fifteen-minutes-for-five-dollars were up and we had to land.

As I grew into a teenager, however, model trains and then girls shouldered aside airplanes as objects of adoration. Though I had indulged small-boy fantasies of being a pint-sized combat pilot (“He’s only nine,” said the grizzled colonel, “but the little lieutenant can outfly everybody else in the squadron!”), I had never truly dreamed of becoming an aviator. At age three and a half I had contracted meningitis, becoming totally deaf. Like my hearing friends, I grew up with the widespread and ignorant belief that, of course, deaf people can’t fly—since they’re not able to use the radio and all—so I was not particularly upset, having absorbed the common sense that some human pursuits, such as conducting a symphony orchestra, require fully functioning ears. All through my teenage years I didn’t give flying a thought.

Now, sitting next to Bob during that first takeoff in a small plane since my childhood, I began to understand aviators’ mysticism, the techno-transcendental notion that flying unites one with a higher power or transports one into a different dimension. Indeed, flight seemed to lift me away from my land-bound cares in a fashion I had never imagined, the next best thing to an out-of-body experience. It brought alive that graceful phrase from John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem “High Flight” about “slipping the surly bonds of Earth,” a line that may seem sentimental and hackneyed to the nonpilot but always carries exultant truth for the flier.

For the next hour Bob frolicked in the air, tiptoeing through canyons of cumulus and swooping lazily, like a mellow falcon, through holes in the clouds to shoot landings and takeoffs at nearby airports. We flew low over the resorts of Lake Geneva a few miles west of Westosha, then turned east, climbed, and headed for the deep blue-green of Lake Michigan. Banking gently over the beach near Kenosha, Bob turned to me, smiled, and said, “It’s all yours!”

I was sitting too far back for my feet to reach the rudder pedals, but grasped the control yoke and rolled it ever so slightly to the left. The plane responded immediately, first curtsying to the right, then segueing into a smooth bank and turn to the left. My heart leaped—a machine was doing my bidding 2,000 feet above the surface of the earth. Rarely had I experienced such exhilaration. The ineffable, almost undefinable impulse to fly, so long buried, had at last overtaken and captured me.

*  *  *

“Male menopause!” my wife, Debby, said in mixed horror and exasperation upon hearing that I wanted to learn to fly. She had a point. My yearning for a pilot’s license was partly a middle-ager’s struggle to preserve the remnants of his fading youth. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a man who had worked the same job for almost a quarter of a century and was short, fat, bald, bespectacled, and deaf. At age fifty-three, I realized that I had neither hope nor desire for advancement or adultery.

Over the course of my half century on the planet, I had built a modestly successful newspaper career, working my way up to the book-review editorship at the Chicago Daily News and, when that illustrious afternoon paper folded, taking over the same job at the morning Chicago Sun-Times. I reviewed books, interviewed authors and wrote profiles of them, and in general covered the literary world as competently as any of my hearing colleagues at other newspapers. My employers valued my work enough to make sure I had expert assistance with the things my deafness prevented me from doing—speaking with people on the telephone and transcrib¬ing long taped interviews of authors. I even had a generous travel budget. I was a Somebody—a minor-league Somebody, to be sure, but with respect and standing in my profession.

Things change, however. By the early 1990s American newspa¬pers, including my own, had suffered an unhappy transformation. Circulation was hemorrhaging, and profits were dwindling. Second newspapers in two-paper markets were either folding or barely hanging on. In Chicago, the Tribune had grown fat, the Sun-Times lean. Trying to keep the paper decently profitable, a succession of owners had tried new formulas, all of which promoted entertainment and sports rather than news; selling snappy graphics rather than thoughtful text; and serving the amorphous mass market rather than distinct interlocking audiences, including educated lovers of books. “Make the book section ‘poppier,’ ” I was ordered. “Focus on the best-sellers.” I became another link in the Great Chain of Hype.

Over the past few years, the “leaning” of America has choked operating budgets everywhere, those of newspapers in particular. For me that meant less money for big-name reviewers and none for travel and interview transcripts and a greater reliance on material from the wire services of the big national newspapers. I saw the squeeze happening in other departments, too. Soon the staff was decimated in a series of buyouts and layoffs, and management even reassigned the sweet-tempered editorial assistant who had been making my telephone calls and opening the scores of packages containing new books that arrived each day.

Suddenly what is indelicately called “shitwork” became a great part of my job. For hours a day I had to open boxes of books like a Barnes & Noble clerk and deal with publishers’ secretaries on the telephone with the help of the cumbersome voice-relay system for deaf customers. In this scheme, an operator voices to a hearing party on the other end of the line the words I type on a TTY (short for text telephone), an apparatus resembling a laptop computer. (It was earlier called a TDD, or telephone device for the deaf.) The operator then types to me what the other party says. This is a slow and inefficient way to communicate, although it beats not communicating at all. (To lessen the pain, the paper did obtain an Internet address for me, and the departmental fax machine helped plug the holes as well.)

Like most of the older writers and editors at the Sun-Times, long accustomed to producing painstaking work of high quality for sophisticated readers, I was demoralized. Many of my contemporaries (some of whom were close friends) either took buyouts or opted for early retirement or quit in disgust to work elsewhere at newspapers that better appreciated their talents. My circle of trusted colleagues had shrunk drastically.

Why didn’t I join them in the exodus? Book editorships on American newspapers are rare, and when one falls open, it is usually filled by a younger, lower-paid member of the staff. I was over fifty and on the upper rungs of the salary scale, not the kind of person tightfisted newspapers were looking for. Moreover, I was a deaf man, one who sometimes had difficulty communicating with the hearing. My speech, though serviceable, is not always easily understood in noisy environments, and my lipreading skills are not always reliable. I was also an aging deaf man, no longer a promising and unusual prospect for a generous and good-hearted mentor to mold. Looking at myself through the eyes of a prospective employer, I saw that I was not a particularly attractive candidate. The most I could do was hang on to my job, performing as best as I could until I was old enough to go out to pasture with an adequate financial cushion. This was hardly a sentiment of pride. It was little better than a depressed feeling of superannuated uselessness. Was I destined to a long, unhappy slide into retirement, brooding as I held on desperately to my paycheck?

All that said, however, this was not entirely a gloomy time. I wrote and published two books, one a memoir of growing up deaf and the other an account of that transcontinental railroad trip on which I encountered Bob Locher. Although neither had set sales records, both had pleased the critics—in fact, each was what the French call, with sweet irony, a succès d’estime. The books had done well enough so that a sideline career as an author seemed a good way to keep my professional self-respect while I plodded along as a veteran editor in an industry for which I had lost my youthful passion.

Meanwhile, my elder son had graduated from college and my younger one was about to. Debby had embarked on a career of her own and was now an experienced librarian in a prestigious suburban school district, as well as a respected reviewer of children’s books. In the normal—and, in this case, happy—course of generational change, my family had outgrown its singular reliance on me.

But a vacuum yawned. I needed not only to come to terms with events but also to do something new and exciting, something that would keep me from falling into the passive routine and crabbed expectation so common in people over fifty. I needed to reshape my life, to reinvent myself. At the time, however, I understood these things only dimly. They simply percolated in my unconscious while I felt vaguely fretful about events I could not control.

*  *  *

The hour-long flight with Bob Locher had done more than awaken an old dream. It had also freed some long-dormant thoughts about the sorts of things I can and cannot do. Throughout my youth and early years as a journalist, I never accepted the idea that my deafness was an insurmountable hurdle to doing the things I wanted to do, and through a combination of luck and stubbornness, I was able to make my way in the hearing world.

As a fresh young college graduate, for instance, I had been told that I could never become a newspaperman—that not only was my written English likely to fall short of the mark but also that I could not cope with the vagaries of the telephone, of interviewing a source, and of communicating in person with my co-workers. I had also been informed—by a freshly minted and still ignorant pilot— that deaf people could not fly for “all the obvious reasons, the radio being only one.”

Barely before the propeller of Bob’s plane had stopped whirling, I recalled a conversation from twenty years earlier at a convention of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, where I had met James Marsters, a deaf orthodontist from California. Jim told me that he owned an airplane, a four-seater Piper Tri-Pacer, which he flew regularly. I was impressed and a little mystified.

“How do you do it?” I asked simply.

“Nothing to it,” Jim replied. The secret, he explained, was that except for the large airfields that serve commercial aviation, most American airports do not use control towers, and most of the country’s low-altitude airspace, in which lightplanes fly for the most part, does not require radio communications during good weather. In fact, except for certain circumstances, pilots who are flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR for short) generally do not talk to air traffic controllers or to pilots of other aircraft while en route. From time to time they may call a weather station for updated information, but for the most part, their radio communications are limited to announcing their presence and intentions at uncontrolled airports. Those communications are not required. In fact, many small airplanes still do not carry radios; and even when they do, there is no guarantee that the radios will be on or that the pilots will be paying attention to them. In these circumstances, all pilots rely on their eyes and established landing-pattern procedures to avoid running into each other.

Hence there was no reason why deaf and hard-of-hearing people could not fly. Indeed, the Federal Aviation Administration had long ago set up rules and procedures to qualify them as pilots, and today eighty or ninety active pilots have licenses bearing the restriction “Not Valid for Flights Requiring the Use of Radio.” I learned that deaf pilots have been around since the 1920s and that a deaf South Dakotan named Nellie Zabel Willhite made her first solo flight on January 13, 1928. Three years later, a Canadian linotype operator, Edward Thomas Payne, became the world’s first licensed male deaf aviator. In 1947 an American printer, Rhulin Thomas, flew a Piper Cub from coast to coast and was considered the first deaf pilot to accomplish the feat.

It was in this frame of mind that I ran my idea by Debby. On principle she took a dim view of lightplane flying. She had suffered a frightening experience years before while flying to Marathon in the Florida Keys with our older son Colin, who was about three years old at the time. Her Chicago-to-Miami flight had been delayed, causing her to miss the commuter flight connection from Miami to Marathon. The commuter line put her in an air taxi, a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza, for the rest of the trip. Unhappily, the extraordinarily turbulent weather tumbled and tossed the Bonanza as if it were a sparrow in a cyclone. When she and Colin finally landed, she felt as if she had narrowly survived a trip through a Mixmaster. She vowed never again to set foot in an airplane too small to have its own washroom or, preferably, two.

And it was difficult for her to come to grips with the idea that her deaf husband longed to be up in the air risking his neck in crowded airspace without using a radio. This, I thought, was truly ironic—during the more than a quarter of a century we have been married, Debby has supported my right and ability as a deaf person to do the things hearing people can do. She also has been deeply involved in my journalism, traveling with me on many trips to serve as my ears and voice when they were needed. She knew that one way or another, learning to fly would lead to another book for me to write, and she felt that her antipathy to small planes meant that she could not be a part of it. Besides, she knew it was going to cost a fortune. All the same, she came to terms with my dream—slowly and grudgingly—after a few small skirmishes.

As often happens when I hit upon a new enthusiasm, I began reading voraciously on the subject, starting with the great aviator-writers—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Charles A. Lindbergh, and Ernest K. Gann—gradually moving on to more general aviation histories. And it was in one of these books that I discovered the story of Cal Rodgers. Though today he is just a footnote in aviation history, in 1911 Rodgers was the first aviator to fly across America, from New York to Pasadena by way of Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, El Paso, and Phoenix, in a flimsy biplane built by the Wright brothers. He was one of several pilots hoping to collect a $50,000 prize offered by a newspaper mogul of the time. It took Rodgers forty-nine days to make it from coast to coast, and the germ of an idea—reenacting his journey—began to form in my head.

I investigated further on the public library shelves. On one lay a recent biography of Rodgers, a Smithsonian Institution Press publication titled Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fiz, written by Eileen Lebow and published in 1989. I checked it out. The first pages were encouraging. Rodgers had landed seventy-three times in his six-week odyssey across the United States. I could do that, too, I thought, and wouldn’t need a very big and expensive airplane, either. All those stops meant opportunities to meet people, to learn about aviation in America, to see new parts of the country.

And then with a “Eureka!” I discovered that Cal Rodgers suffered from a severe hearing loss. He was not completely deaf, as I am, but enough so that his impairment profoundly affected his life and the views his contemporaries had of him. As I read on, I realized that although Lebow had expertly summarized the external events of Rodgers’s life, she had encountered difficulty entering his mind and uncovering his inner self, for he had left behind nothing revealing about that. Like so many early aviation heroes, Rodgers had died young, before contemporary biographers had been able to plumb his thoughts.

Perhaps as I retraced his flight, I thought, I could bring my own meaning to his journey and a new perspective to the vague frustrations of my life. But first I needed to know more about Rodgers himself, to get a feeling for what I would be up against.

*  *  *

Calbraith Perry Rodgers was a member of a breed common in his time but almost extinct today: the well-born amateur sportsman with an independent income and no occupation. He never worked a day for pay as long as he lived. In one important way, however, he was different from those of his wealthy peers: He was no hail-fellow-well-
met, no witty social lion comfortable in the presence of the mighty. Though with friends and family he could be laughing and impish, with strangers he was often ill at ease, even darkly taciturn and withdrawn. For a deaf person, communicating with a hearing world is full of pitfalls. Lipreading is an imperfect art, and dealing with the often low expectations the hearing world has for the deaf can be frustrating and wearying.


Rodgers’s lineage was distinguished not merely for its affluence but also for its deeds. If fearlessness, steadfastness, and love of adventure are personal qualities that can be handed down through the generations, Cal inherited them from a surprising number of illustrious forebears. One of his great-grandfathers, Matthew Calbraith Perry, commanded the naval squadron that sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853 and opened Japan to American trade. Matthew’s older brother Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British fleet at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, after which he dispatched the famous message, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” Another great-grandfather, John Rodgers, was also a distinguished naval officer, having commanded the frigate Constellation of the fledgling U.S. Navy. Cal’s father, Calbraith Perry Rodgers, had served ably as a U.S. Cavalry captain during the Indian Wars, earning mentions in dispatches while fighting the Sioux in the Big Horn Mountains and the Nez Percé in the Wind River country. On August 23, 1878, he was killed by lightning while returning to his station near Fort McKinney in the Wyoming Territory.

(In Rodgers’s family history I found modest correspondences to my own lineage. A great-grandfather of mine had been U.S. minister to Colombia during the events leading to the building of the Panama Canal and had presciently warned Teddy Roosevelt against offending Latin Americans with a high-handed land grab. My maternal grandfather had risen high in the Central Intelligence Agency after a distinguished career in Naval Intelligence before World War II and the wartime Office of Strategic Services. My father was a Naval Academy graduate, and various uncles and cousins had done their bit, too. As Rodgers must have been, I was conscious of the example my forebears had set, and I wanted to live up to it as best I could.)

Five months after Captain Calbraith Perry Rodgers’s death, his son and namesake was born in Pittsburgh on January 12, 1879. The infant’s mother, the former Maria Chambers, was the daughter of a prominent Pittsburgher, Alexander Chambers, a glass manufacturer and bank director. Young Cal was, his family said, “lovable and affectionate.” He also was a big child who always looked older than his age and early on displayed an interest in mechanical things, at one point declaring that he was going to grow up to be a locomotive engineer.

In 1885 six-year-old Cal contracted scarlet fever. For a week his temperature soared, an angry red flush covering his body, and for two months thereafter he was quarantined. He was a “different child,” Lebow wrote, when he recovered. Most of his hearing was gone, and his speech was “less clear.” His sense of balance had been impaired as well, and “the happy engineer-to-be had lost some of his bounce,” Lebow wrote. “Just as his formal education was to begin, Cal was missing half of what was said to him. Without concentration, most of a conversation was lost to him, adding greatly to the woes of a boy about to begin school. As if to compensate for this loss, the boy grew taller and stronger than other children of his age.”

Just how deaf Cal was is open to conjecture. No records exist of any assessment of his hearing loss, except a newspaper story that declared him totally deaf in one ear and 50 percent deaf in the other—a crude and primitive measurement, probably a reporter’s wild guess. His mother, like so many at the time whose children’s hearing was less than perfect, evidently chose to ignore it; in her letters she wrote nothing of her son’s affliction. In fact, when he turned out to be not much of a student in school, his mother said he was “just like his father,” choosing to explain her son’s antipathy for books as hereditary, rather than as a result of his unrecognized problems with communication. Cal also showed little interest in religion, although his family was stoutly Presbyterian. It’s more than conceivable that his lack of spirituality came from an inability to listen to sermons and to join easily in the Sunday fellowship of the church.

Later, when Cal became famous, reporters along his transcontinental route often wrote revealing details—details that when lumped together offer considerable evidence that the consequences of his hearing loss were profound enough to isolate him from much of the hearing world. Some reporters assumed that Cal was only temporarily deaf from the roar of the motor next to him and that his hearing would recover quickly. Others wrote, however, that not only did he seem to hear little that was said to him but that he spoke “with an effort, and very slowly” and was hard to understand. One newspaper story declared that Cal had a “defect in speech which makes him timid about associating with other aviators.”

Other accounts described him as “tall, taciturn and with a distant look in his eye” and noted that “he wasn’t the most talkative chap in the world.” Still another said, “The famous birdman is rather a hard person to approach in a conversational way.” It is striking how often reporters described Rodgers as being aloof and unresponsive, without connecting that idiosyncrasy—common among the deaf, especially those who lose their hearing after having learned language—with his hearing impairment. Such was the popular knowledge about deafness during the early years of the twentieth century.

As I continued my research, I found it striking that many people who knew Rodgers—sometimes quite well—never seemed to mention his deafness, either to others or in their own memoirs. Clearly he compensated well enough, at least with them, so they could put it out of their minds. This paralleled my own experience. As a child and an adult, I never lacked for friends, and those who spent any amount of time with me grew used to both my breathy articulation and the “quirks” of my deafness. I’m sure that those who knew Cal grew used to his flawed speech, too. Like me, Cal probably could communicate relatively easily with people he knew well by combining the remnants of his hearing with a talent for reading both lips and body language, although no contemporary account mentions that he did.

Isolated he may have been as an adult, but as a youngster Cal did not lack friends. Athletic competence often wins respect among adolescents who otherwise may be inclined to tease or shun a child for a physical disability. Cal may have compensated in part with sheer energy bordering on hyperactivity, especially in sports. At Mercersburg Academy he was the biggest player on the football team, at six feet three and 175 pounds. He also was a vigorous member of many school organizations, and this youthful clubbability probably helped make up for his lack of scholastic prowess. “The experience of being with young men of his age and standing on his own two feet to be judged for his deeds alone was as beneficial as learning,” Lebow noted. Perhaps this foot in the door of the hearing world was all that Cal needed to be able to function, however clumsily, in it.

Cal had hoped to enter the Naval Academy, but his deafness kept him out, and for a decade—1901 to 1911—he lived the unproductive life of a well-born gentleman, enjoying his membership in the New York Yacht Club and serving as a crewman on rich men’s boats. He also raced automobiles and motorcycles and married a well-to-do young Vermonter, Mabel Graves, not long after he rescued her mother when she fell into the water while climbing aboard a yacht.

In early 1911 a favorite cousin, John Rodgers, who had graduated from Annapolis, was selected by the U.S. Navy to become one of its first aviators and was sent to Dayton, Ohio, to learn to fly with the Wright brothers. According to Lebow, John told his cousin, “There’s nothing like it. You’re up there, watching the land glide by, bobbing, dipping as if in a boat, but you can see nothing, only feel it. For speed, you can’t beat flying.” Cal visited Dayton to see what John was doing, and though he had not yet taken his first ride in an airplane, he was immediately hooked—just as I was when Bob Locher’s Cessna 172 freed me from the grip of the earth. (1997)

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