Birthday Burgers and a Cessna Surprise with Our Boys
… a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.Proverbs 27 verse 9b (The Message Bible)
We were asked if we would be available for a date Friday afternoon, March 22nd. We said we could be. We were asked if we could meet by 5pm. We said we could. And we were. By 5pm on the dot, with little more to clue us in than “dress casually, be sure to bring your camera, and come hungry” we eagerly waited on our front step for our boys to pick us up.
Now I love planning pleasant surprises for Christa. And I love that she’s okay to play along and just enjoy whatever I serve up. I, on the other hand, have discovered that I’m a little less easy with not knowing what’s going on. So, this Friday afternoon plan was a little unnerving for me. Exciting, but unnerving. I wanted to be prepared for any eventuality, but how was I to do that if I didn’t have more clarity to work with? Who could blame me for finding ourselves seated on our front deck with a small roll-on suitcase packed with a few goodies for “just in case”, as we prepared to kick-start our Friday evening adventure?
Date night with the boys
We have the awesome privilege of having befriended and “adopted” two of Calgary’s finest gentlemen – and very eligible bachelors, I might add – as honorary “sons” of Christa and myself. With their families living back in Ontario, we’ve taken the liberty of laying claim to them as long as they live in Alberta. So far, their parents have obliged and the lads have survived! They’re both named Andrew. They’re both way too tall to belong to us. And they both have awesome personalities and senses of humour. These were to be our chaperones and event coordinators for the evening. For the sake of differentiation, I’ll refer to them as Sir and Captain for the rest of this article.
There are friends, there is family, and then there are friends that become family.Unknown
We were piled into Sir Andrew’s Ford truck by 5.03pm, joined by Captain Andrew. We made a bee-line for a dinner destination in Calgary’s northwest, only to arrive and discover a wait time of 30 minutes. Since the lads’ plans were a little time-sensitive, we hastily agreed on a Plan B, opting for dinner at nearby Brewster’s Brewing Company. Each of us settled for a burger with sides and were super-impressed with the quality and flavour. We wolfed down a great meal and were back in the truck within the hour.
On the side
The next leg of our journey required that we take a detour via Springbank airport, 15 minutes west of Calgary, where we allegedly needed to pick up Captain Andrew’s drone from a connection of his. We needed the drone as part of our evening activity. Arriving at the rural airport, we remained in the truck with Sir Andrew while Captain Andrew dashed into a building in search of his mate with the drone. After a ten minute wait, our driver suggested we pop into the building where we met up with Captain Andrew, only to discover that we were lined up for a sundowner sightseeing flight over downtown Calgary! We were gobsmacked! And elated. What an exceptional way for Christa (and even Sir Andrew) to kickstart their two-week teaching spring break. And, of course, for Christa and I to continue our birthday celebrations!
Having gotten a grip on ourselves after the initial surprise, Captain Andrew, a qualified commercial pilot, walked us out to our rented four-seater Cessna. Sporting an engine no bigger than an oversized sewing machine and a cabin smaller than Sir Andrew’s Ford truck, one could only wonder how this plane could ever hope to get airborne with four of us on board! With two strapping six-foot-plus men concertinaed in the front seats while Christa and I strapped ourselves into the rear love seat, Captain Andrew reached for the instructions to remind and familiarize himself with how to get the rudimentary flying machine off the ground. This Cessna has no automated flight deck, the luxuries of which our Captain has become accustomed to in his commercial world! This 1970’s baby just has a few instrument dials, a rod that act as a throttle, a few knurled knobs to help with trim, some pedals to control the rudder, and a half-wheel to steer the plane. That’s pretty much it. Eerily simplistic!
Ten years ago, I had started my private pilot’s license back in South Africa with an instructor-friend of mine. I had clocked up a mere 16 hours towards my licence in precisely one of these little babies. So, I felt strangely at ease (albeit that I was now squashed in the rear seat), yet somewhat uneasy. Would Captain Andrew subject us to some aerobatics like spins and stalls in the skies above Calgary to freak us out? I was, as some say, a little “nervi-cited”.
The control tower’s directive for Golf-Xray-Whiskey-Mike – our plane’s call sign – to taxi to the end of the runway placed us second in line for takeoff. This surprisingly busy airport is home to a sizeable training school. Being a wind-still and perfect spring evening, the air space was busy with students performing circuit training. After three already airborne planes completed their touch-and-go’s and the plane ahead of us departed, we were finally allowed to line up to launch our way down the southbound runway.
I still have no idea how that plane lifted into the air but within moments we were climbing to our designated altitude of 5,500-ft. Banking eastwards towards downtown Calgary, with the sun beginning to wash the world in the rich colours of the golden hour as it sank towards the western horizon, our covetous eyes left us astounded at the sprawling landscaped yards surrounding ostentatious homes beneath us. I had fitted my 300mm zoom lens to my camera. The space in the rear of the aircraft was so tight I was barely able to manoeuvre the camera to capture some of the palatial residences.
Our brief flight took us eastbound towards the northern part of downtown Calgary. We then banked south over the city centre, remaining west of Macleod Trail / Centre Street so as not to interfere with commercial flights approaching and departing from YYC, Calgary’s International Airport. Somewhere over Glenmore Trail our Captain did a turn-around, flying us back over the city centre in a northbound direction. With the brown post-winter drabness and with the orange-golden hues cast by setting sun, the city, which looked to be an arms-length away through the camera lens, appeared draped in muted monochromatic shades accentuated by the long shadows cast by the setting sun. Everything seemed to pass by so speedily that I wasn’t able to gather my bearings in time to observe and photograph landmarks that I’d love to have identified from the air. I managed to capture the usual downtown suspects: the Calgary Tower, the Saddledome, the Bow Tower, Brookfield Place, Centre Street Bridge. As we headed north, abeam of Centre Street, we were astounded by how massive Nose Hill Park is and reminded what a natural heritage landmark this is to the citizens of the city. We managed to identify our home in the northwest as we banked west and headed back towards Springbank airport, directly into the setting sun.
Captain Andrew lined us up on final approach to the airstrip where he did a quick touch-and-go for fun (and practice!), circling around and then coming back to land us back where we started 35 minutes earlier. By the time we unfolded and poured ourselves out of the confines of the cabin onto the tarmac, Christa and I were still vibrating with excitement. Not in our most creative dreaming had we anticipated that this is what our fellas had lined up for us in honour of our birthdays. We were blown away.
I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.Helen Keller
Returning to our home to indulge in the cherry cheesecake dessert that Sir Andrew had made for us, we continued to recount our evening’s experiences from all angles and perspectives while winding down in our hot tub beneath a waning moon. We’re already scheming about our next excursion, this time hopefully into and over the Rockies. This time I’ll be a little more prepared with my photographic apparatus but no less excited to enjoy the time making more memories with our adventurous and beloved boys!