Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Simpler Life

By Mark W. Danielson

The best thing about my flying job is being able to drop in on distant friends. I was recently able to visit my best buddy during a short LA layover. Dan and I grew up together, have known each other for fifty-four years, and every visit feels like old times. We did everything imaginable growing up, riding our bikes up and down the East SF Bay hills delivering The Richmond Independent, and when we finished, would race through Wildcat Canyon on what we called the “Inter-Canyon 500” to Tilden Park and other regional parks. My paper route had a particularly steep hill near its end that frequently had a radar cop parked near the bottom. My goal was to get stopped for speeding, but in spite of my many efforts at exceeding forty miles per hour in a twenty-five zone, it never happened.

In our early teens, Dan and I were either kayaking, sailing, or piloting sailplanes or airplanes. Steve Canyon was our hero, and Twelve O’Clock High was our favorite TV show. Dan soloed a glider at age 14, and we both soloed airplanes on our sixteenth birthdays. Dan’s dad was my flight instructor, doctor, and mentor. He bought a J-3 Cub so that Dan could build flying time, and I was fortunate to be included in that, too. Being two years older than Dan, I earned my license first, and the two of us flew a plane around Northern California, sleeping under the wing. Neither of us took anything for granted, and we worked hard for what we achieved. Although Dan had hoped to be a test pilot, his vision declined during college. Instead, he has had a remarkable thirty-three year career with Northrop Aviation, has designed nine civilian aerobatic airplanes as a side-line, was an aerobatic champion, and is a third degree black belt. I’ve had an equally successful thirty-nine year piloting career with the Air Force, Navy, and numerous civilian aviation positions. We are who we are because we had supportive parents and a thirst to achieve our dreams.

(Dan and his J-3 Cub. Me and our under-wing tent.)

A lot has changed since we were kids, though. Cell phones and personal computers keep inescapable pressure on kids and under-develop their minds. Instead of jumping off a fence with a pretend parachute, or building models as we did, they play video games, or chat electronically, all the while gaining weight from their lack of exercise. The President’s Physical Fitness program faded along with daily gym class. Kidnappings and random shootings have become far too common. One day, meaningful conversation between two people may even become extinct. But while today’s kids may not have the same opportunities as Dan and I, nothing says they can’t have dreams and work to achieve them.

Our Schwinn bikes riding gave Dan and I our independence. Not only did they get us around, they also taught us coordination, energy management, and geometry. To me, there is nothing better than seeing young kids riding bicycles. Two boys in my neighborhood are just like Dan and me, but they are the exception. It’s easy for me to make a value judgment, but instead, I’ll chock this up as the new reality.

Looking back, life was simpler when Dan and I were growing up. All we had to worry about was the Cold War, and remember to “duck and cover” when out teachers told us to. Perhaps because most moms stayed at home to raise their kids, we respected adults, and identified them as “Mr.” and Mrs.” Another difference is we were happy living with one TV, one phone, one family car, and ate meals at home.

Children today face many more challenges, and the pressure to be perfect is outlandish. The media portrays unrealistic lifestyles, and kids are bombarded with technological interference. While I view these changes wishing their lives could be simpler, I must realize that they aren’t complaining because their perspective is different from mine. In that regard, I suspect they will one day look back, and like me, wouldn’t change a thing about how they grew up.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Mark. It's certainly not the same world we grew up in. All the neighborhood kids played in our backyard when I raised my children but I no longer see them playing ball in the street or together in groups in the neighborhood.

How sad!

Helen Ginger said...

The world has changed. When we're all gone, our "years" will seem ancient and quaint. The childhood years of our kids and grandkids will seem slow. Everything changes. Not always for the better.

Straight From Hel

Mark W. Danielson said...

I suspect some will read this post and think -- yeah, he had a real simple life, flying airplanes, boating, etc., but the fact is I paid for my boats and early flying lessons with my paper route, and later working in a sporting goods store. I've been working non-stop since age 11.

It's a shame that kids don't have paper routes anymore, for they provided income and responsibility. As I said in my post, it's a different world now, and I can't say it's better or worse because my reality is different from those of younger generations. I only know that I was very fortunate to have had the opportunities I did.

Beth Terrell said...

Shortly before she had the stroke that triggered her dementia, my grandmother and I were driving through a suburban neighborhood near my home. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and the streets were virtually empty.

"Where are all the children?" she said. I guessed they were inside playing on their computers and watching TV. She just shook her head.

Mark W. Danielson said...

You're right, Beth. It's rare when you see children playing in yards anymore. I suppose some of that has to do with the emphasis on organized sports. Unfortunately, kids' imaginations aren't challened much these days.

Beth Terrell said...

That's a good point, Mark. My friends and I used to have concert perfomances on our carport, make "carnival rides" (an old box we flattened and used as a sort of sled down the grassy hill), invent long scenes involving our favorite television characters, make works of art from everyday materials, and play neighborhood ball games (back when I was a tad more athletic). I think when everything is structured, kids miss out on a lot.

I'll never forget the cigar box cameras we made and how my friend Tam discovered you could make glossy photos by putting a thin layer of Elmer's glue over the surface of the picture. Or the ever more elaborate "blow-cars" we made from paper. You'd have races by blowing them across the table with a straw.

Chester Campbell said...

Our 12-year-old grandson, who lives with us, could hardly imagine the world in which I grew up.
When I was his age I got my first job as a bicycle delivery boy for a drugstore. Made 12 1/2 cents an hour. TV was not commercially available back then, but we were avid radio listeners to music, comedy shows and drama. Modern technology is great in many ways, but video games have kids more interested in altered reality than in creating scientific and engineering breakthroughs.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Dan sent me a great video of what some might term total insanity. It's a German guy who looks like a cross between Ironman and Transformers screaming down an alpine mountain on his belly. It's great to see there are still people who know how to have fun. I'd LOVE to try this!

You might try this link -- not sure if it will go directly to it, but it was sure fun to watch.