07.17.2009 - 07.17.2009
I was nicknamed Bird Man by my buddy Tom (Yost). We were teenagers and baseball teammates on a traveling squad from all over Ohio. Some of the best days of my life. Tom lived two+ hours away in podunk Plain City(on a farm) while I grew up in the sprawling Doylestown-ship of 3,000 (in a farm house). We spent the summers together playing 'ball, talking 'ball and dreaming 'ball. Tom was huge, or on his way to being huge. And I was small, a rail. Tom was 'Hoss'. And I was 'Bird Man'. As I would go to bat, I could always count on Tom chanting, "Get-a-hit Bird Man... Ka-ka, ka-ka!"
Not much has changed. Tom is still huge and I am still a rail. We still talk 'ball when we talk and he still calls me Bird Man. We still see each other every summer, even though he has lived in Japan for the past eight years (and now, is on his way to live in Germany). But instead of ripping liners into the gap, or at least attempting to, I have tried to use my bird-given talents in the sky. I have jumped from a plane and I have made the bungy plunge... paragliding was next, ka-ka, ka-ka.
I was still in Brasov and one morning I overheard a couple asking the hostel manager about paragliding. I didn't quite hear all the details, but my interest was perked. Marisa and I were suppose to paraglide off the cliffs of Rio de Janeiro, but the weather never permitted. So why not in Romania? I had been blown away with the beauty of this region and for the right price of 60 euros, I thought I'd give it a try. Lets see this place from the sky!
At noon, I hopped into a cab directed to the outskirts of town. I was the only one partaking on this day. Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the lift. There were four others there waiting for me, three of them were dodging work and using the day to be more productive - like jumping off mountains. And the fourth was my 'guide' - Radu (not really his name, but I couldn't pronounce it when he told me, so it has slipped from my memory bank. Radu is a proper Romanian given name and it sounds cool too, so I'm using it!). Introductions were brief. Nothing was explained and no waivers or life-ending forms signed. This was not even a registered business, but a guy making some side change doing what he loves. The lift didn't start running until we paid the straight-faced lady a healthy sum for the inconvenience of pushing the 'GO' button. Then up we went, two-by-two, and me left with the bags. It was scenic and peaceful.
It took some time for the lift to climb to the top, but I had paid a good chunk of money for this experience, so I was taking in every second as we ascended above the pine-studded slope. Then without hesitation, we hopped off, grabbed the body-like bags and trudged to the very top by foot. Still, there was little conversation. English was not the dominant language spoken by my peers and Radu was on the phone telling his wife Bianca exactly how to make his world famous goulash. So I took pictures as the first group prepared for lift-off.
They struggled. It was kind of funny, but at the same time, they were attempting to leap off a mountain. The clouds weren't quite right and the wind was blowing a bit off to the side, making the conditions less than ideal. We were next. Radu finally put his phone away in disgust as he was sure Bianca would not get the recipe right and instructed me to put on my fly-suit. There was one thing after another to put on and soon I was sweating like a pig in a blanket. But I was well protected in case there was a need for a crash landing from a 1,000 meters or so. Perfect.
'When I say run, run' said Radu. Ok, no problem. Then without warning he changed plans, we turned backwards and he started pulling down the hill in reverse to catch the gust of wind coming from the opposite direction. Before I could question this maneuver, we were sailing swiftly up into the sky - 'ka-ka, ka-ka!'
Bird Man was back in action. It was awesome. I put my arms straight out to the sides and pretended I was living my re-occurring childhood dream of flying. But this time it was real. It was hard battling the urge to take tons of pictures and the urge to just sit back and take in this amazing experience. We swooped and dipped, corkscrewed and lifted. The whole flight took somewhere around ten minutes and then we prepared for landing. After all tray-tables and seats had been returned to their upright positions, we hit the ground running for a stellar landing. Even the Russian judge gave us a 10!
My heart was pumping. I had just flown, as close to a bird as I would ever get. And I was ready to go do it all over again. I was all questions now, putting Radu to the test. How far, how long, how much, longest ever, where to buy, how many times a week? And so on...
We packed up and hiked back to the base of the lift. That was that. Radu gave me a ride back to the hostel. He had grown on me, and I on him. He was much more friendly now that he had forgotten about the doomed goulash that would be awaiting him back home.
Tom, the Bird Man lives on and he will be flying into Germany to see you and your new family soon. Until then my friend.