By Rachael Rifkin
There’s something you should know about me. I’m the kind of worrywart that has occasional adventurous streaks. I spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting the small things in life. Then out of nowhere I’ll go live in another country for three months or get engaged after a month of dating (yes, we’re still together– we’ll be celebrating our eighth anniversary this August). So it follows suit that I jumped at the chance to take a flying lesson in a small Cessna plane at the California Flight Center, at 2601 E. Spring St., despite the fact that large jetliners make me nervous.
I’m going to be honest with you. I wasn’t thinking about crashing or fiery deaths when I agreed to the lesson. No, I was thinking about Amelia Earhart. I love Amelia Earhart. I was going to have my very own Amelia Earhart moment!
A couple of days before my lesson, the worrier made an appearance.
The day of, I’m feeling better. I talked to my instructor Sonny Maliksi, California Flight Center’s chief flight instructor and director of maintenance, the night before and I like him. He has a calm voice and seven years of experience.
I have an excited knot in my stomach as I pull my car into the lot (they’re just a few buildings down from DaVinci’s). This was it. I shake Sonny’s hand, and he directs me to some paperwork. With my life signed away (kidding, kidding) and headphones in hand, we head to the plane. Along the way, we pass a small helicopter. Sonny tells me that the California Flight Center offers both plane and helicopter lessons. You can also go up for an aerial tour sans instruction.
I’m taking the introductory, discovery flight. Sonny gives the plane a once-over before we leave. This involves checking the wings, oil, fuel, etc. Standing in front of the plane, watching Sonny cautiously check everything, I feel like I’m in good hands. I’m not nervous anymore, just excited.
There’s not as many fancy-looking gadgets inside as I’d thought there’d be. The seats are comfortable and there’s even a cup holder. Sonny starts the plane and controls the speed. You don’t get to control the speed until the second lesson.
I directed the plane down the runway. When you’re on the ground, you control the direction of the plane with foot pedals. The steering column is used in the air, although a lot of beginners (i.e., me) try to reach for it on the ground anyway.
Sonny talks to the air-traffic controller, and we get the okay to take off. I pull the steering column back slowly and the plane lifts up. It’s a pretty smooth ascent. I feel a little giddy, a little Amelia-esque.
Sonny asks if I can see the horizon. Apparently you’re supposed to be able to see the horizon. I push the steering column away from myself and the horizon comes into view. It’s a beautiful day, and we’re heading over the ocean toward Trump’s Golf Course in Palos Verdes.
Sonny tells me to look over my shoulder for other planes and then bank right. I turn the steering column a little too slowly, so Sonny jumps in to help. The next time I bank, I do a better job. I enjoy the view and lose sight of the horizon again. Oops. To correct it, I push the steering column away from myself a little too fast.
There’s a small plummet and then the plane levels off. My stomach churns. I lose track of the horizon again and repeat the pattern. It’s in this moment that I realize what I should have been worrying about– my tendency toward motion sickness. I had briefly mentioned it to Sonny on the phone and he had a barf bag ready. Other than that, the only thing I had done to prepare was take a motion-sickness pill from a bottle with no expiration date on it.
I let Sonny know that he should probably take over. The ride is smooth until we start going down. Sonny tells me that it always gets a little bumpy when you head down. Great.
At this point, I’m just trying to concentrate on not throwing up. I don’t ask for the barf bag because I don’t want to believe that I need it. My stomach has its own beliefs. My lunch hits the windshield just as the wheels hit the ground.
Sonny is very gracious about it. He points me to a bathroom, and I do my best to clean up. Before I run home to shower, I thank Sonny for the lesson and apologize for ignoring the barf bag. He tells me not to worry about. I’m not the first person to make the mistake.
All in all, I had a good time. There were moments of exhilaration and spurts of giddiness. It was thrilling and stomach dropping. Despite the rather dramatic ending, I’m glad I did it.
Thus ends my latest adventurous streak. Until the next time, I remain the consummate worrywart.