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Evening over Evanston
copyright 2009 by H. Paul Shuch, All Rights Reserved

Dammit, not again, I thought as the panel lights began to flicker. Then, out loud, I intoned "OK, Avalon, show yourself!"

She shimmered into view in the back seat this time, enjoying the feeling of her long hair being blown back by the breeze of the newly installed Wemacs, and flashed her enigmatic smile. It always seems to happen this way, whenever I'm flying Son-of-a-Beech to California. Something minor goes wrong, and an apparition of Avalon Eden, my first and favorite flight instructor, is always there to taunt me.

"Any idea where we are?" asked Avalon.

"No," I replied, "but I know how fast we're going." It was a transmogrification of the old quantum physics joke, where the traffic cop stops Werner Heisenberg for speeding. Only, the old professor knew his location, rather than his speed. In fact, this old professor knew them both -- and so did his guardian ghost.

"So, Avalon," I asked, "what's a nice ghoul like you doing in a plane like this?"

"You should know," she replied. "You summoned me."

I suppose I did, with that ad in a popular aviation publication. Or rather, the lack thereof. "How'd you know?" I asked her.

"What, you think we don't get Trade-a-Plane down there?"

Anybody listening in would have been puzzled by this exchange, but somehow, we each knew what the other was talking about. My plane had been on the market for a couple of years, but the economy was in crash-and-burn mode, so a few months ago I pulled the ad. Avalon noticed that, of course, and came aboard to find out why. She always felt a connection to this plane, having passed away suddenly the night before I bought it. I kind of wondered whether she had anything to do with Steve, the previous owner, accepting my offer. But, as always, I was afraid to ask.

Avalon, on the other hand, was never afraid to ask anything. "You took Son-of-a-Beech off the market. WTF?"

I knew that acronym wasn't in the Pilot-Controller Glossary, but I let it pass. Her question, however, puzzled me. Two years ago, when I put this crate up for sale, she questioned my motives. Now that I've kept it, there she goes again. Whatever is her motivation?

"It's always the flight instructor's job to question everything you do," she replied to my unvoiced question. "I probably know your reasons better than you do. But, until you articulate them, that's the way it's going to stay."

"You know how much I love this plane," was my lame response.

"More than you love me," I heard Avalon think, and we both laughed.

That was a private joke, dating back two decades to my divorce from my first wife. Suk was also a pilot, so the disposition of our airplane became a point of negotiation. True, we lived in a community property state, and true, we had started out with nothing. So, a fifty-fifty property split was the only sensible option. But who wanted to play King Solomon with an airplane and a chainsaw? After we sold our house, I offered Suk the choice: she could have a whole bunch of cash, or a little less cash plus an airplane. "Why don't you keep it?" she finally offered. "I know how much you love this plane."

More than you love me. No, Suk didn't actually say that, but I still heard her message, loud and clear.

"There must be more to it than that," Avalon mused, bringing me back to the present.

"I just couldn't ignore the grand old bird any longer," I explained. And it was true. For a couple of years, as I tried to find a buyer, I kept deferring maintenance. Finally, the signs of neglect began to make themselves evident, first in her appearance, and ultimately in her flying. So, last year, I cashed in a bunch of CDs, and treated my trusty old plane to new avionics, interior, and accessories. Before I knew it, I had doubled my investment, even as the plane's market value continued to plummet. Finally, I had a hundred thousand dollar airplane that wouldn't sell for forty -- and even the tire-kickers stopped coming around.

"Look at it this way," I rationalized. "If someone wants to throw a hundred kilobucks my way, he or she can have the world's best equipped, best maintained Beech Sierra. if not, I get to fly the world's best equipped, best maintained Beech Sierra. Either way, it's no-lose. Meanwhile, why waste more money on advertising? If there's a buyer out there, that person will materialize."

"Don't look at me," demanded Avalon. So I didn't.

We flew along a while in silence. I would have thought the conversation was over, except the panel lights kept on flickering. Finally, I could contain myself no longer. "What else?"

"You tell me."

So I did. I told Avalon how this plane had seen me through marriages and divorces, and how, now that I was retired, it was my only link with who I used to be. How, when I flew it, the years fell away, the mistakes were forgotten, and somehow, the future seemed CAVU. Whyever would I sell a plane that makes me feel truly alive?

"But you won't always be," she cautioned me. "Trust me on this one."

That's my whole point, I answered. Not a one of us knows when the feds are going to cancel our flight plan. If I ground myself now, I might as well check out early. As long as I have my health, and my plane, and even a few bucks under the mattress, I can stave off the inevitable, if only in my own mind.

"And once any of the three runs out," Avalon offered, "you can always join me."

"Ah, but not too damned soon," I responded. "So, will you please make those lights stop flickering?"

She did so, leaving me alone with my thoughts, but in the company of a really great airplane. This trip, we're going back to our old stomping grounds. I'm taking her (or maybe vice-versa) to the Watsonville antique aircraft fly-in. We used to do that every year, back when Son-of-a-Beech was factory new. Now, she's an antique, and so am I. So, we'll both be in our element.

Maybe there'll be a buyer there.

God, I hope not.

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