So based on Greg’s comment on last week’s story about me ‘embellishing’ things – I just had to put this story up. It happened in August of 2010, and like a lot of my stories – it started out as an email to a friend, in this case, one who’d told me to go out and do something fun that weekend.
It involved Greg.
And he gave me permission (well, actually, told me I had to) write this story.
So without too terribly much editing, here’s the story/note I wrote to my friend who wanted me to go do something fun, and come back with pictures to prove it…
I chatted with my buddy Greg for a few hours in the parking lot of the Museum until the coffee we’d drunk earlier at Randy’s needed a place to go…
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Greg and I had been sitting in my ’68 Saab, sharing stories, and watching the planes at Boeing Field. One of the stories involved something that had actually happened about 50 feet from where we were sitting right then, it was a story of me talking my way onto the only flying B-29 in the world, but before that, successfully badgering a newspaper photo editor I didn’t know,
…for a paper I’d never seen,
…into holding space on the front page
…for a picture I hadn’t taken yet,
…from a plane I had never been on,
…and was quite literally trying to talk my way onto.
We laughed, and Greg kept talking about my golden tongue and how I could talk my way into anything – using that B-29 as an example. I needed the laughter. I’d been feeling a little down about a lot of things, wondering about life and stuff, and recovering from some recent surgery, and Greg’s a very good friend, and did a lot of listening, and a lot of encouraging, for which I’m grateful.
Eventually, the coffee we’d had earlier needed to be dealt with, and since it was still raining, we just drove down toward a row of Porta Potties at the far end of the parking lot. As we did, we looked around and noticed we were one of only two cars in the formerly crowded lot. We saw that the other car was parked beside the Porta Potties we were heading for, right next to this canopy kind of a thing with a sign on it that said something like “SR-71 Pilot and Author”.
That got us talking about SR-71’s, (there’s one in the Museum of Flight) – and I told Greg about this one mission – the only one I could remember reading about right then, in which one of the pilots had flown from England to Libya, and on the way back out, the plane just flew faster and faster – and they had to hang a left to meet their tanker out by Gibraltar. They did (when you’re flying Mach 3+, that takes a bit of geography) – and the pilot pulled the throttles back over Sicily – and still ended up overshooting the refueling tanker over Gibraltar… (note: if my math is right, that’s about 1,100 miles of coasting – you can read the story here.
We stopped, Greg got out to take care of his stuff, and I took a second look at that sign, “SR-71 Pilot and Author”.
It was still raining, and under that canopy was a fellow, sitting in the only dry chair in the parking lot, surrounded by a bunch of empty, wet tables, all of whatever he was selling was gone – he was just sitting there with his feet up, talking on a cell phone.
In the parking lot.
In the rain.
Well heck, I figured that there couldn’t have been too many of those, I wondered if he knew the guy who’d done that Libya flight Greg and I’d just been talking about. So while Greg headed off to take care of his business, I approached him – and he motioned he’d be off the phone in a minute, so I waited, and while I was waiting I saw the name on his banner – “Brian Shul.”
Hmm… I had no idea who Brian Shul was, but it seemed like he must be that SR-71 pilot – or maybe know him.
He ended his call.
“Are you Brian?”
“I sure hope so, been signing his name all day.”
“Say, I was just telling my buddy here about an SR-71 pilot who did a mission out of Libya and ended up overshooting his tanker out by Gibraltar… “
“… and I was wondering if you happened to know who that pilot might be…”
“In fact – the whole story’s in my book, would you be interested in a copy?”
My mind was already several sentences past that last one before it came to a screeching halt and processed what I’d just heard.
“He… you… that pilot – waitaminute…”
I had no idea that I’d actually stumbled into one of my own stories – and turned around to see Greg, who’d heard that interaction as he was coming back, and saw his jaw do what mine must have done just seconds before, which was to simply obey the law of the acceleration of falling objects and hit the pavement of the parking lot in just under a second.
You see, one of the things we’d been talking about was how Greg thought I might have embellished some of my stories – and about how easy it can be to do.
But the funny thing is – if I tell a story – well, I tell a story… I don’t think I embellish it, I just tell it. (often they simply didn’t need embellishing, they just needed to be told well).
We talked with Brian for a bit.
I shook his hand.
I bought his book.
He autographed it for me.
Greg took a picture of him and me – beside my very definite “sub-sonic” Saab, because I needed proof to show a friend that I’d done something fun that weekend.
And the funny thing is, Greg and I both learned something that afternoon.
We learned that you never know when you’ll stumble onto – or into a story, and it had become very clear that I didn’t need to embellish a dang thing on this one, because no matter what anyone asked, it was absolutely true that at the very moment I was telling Greg the story of the SR-71, the very pilot of that plane in that story, was sitting not 100 feet away, under a canopy, in the rain, on the south end of the parking lot at the Museum of Flight, right next to the Porta-Potties.