I fly with the Flying Circus’s full of fabulous freaks like me, fellow captives, captivated by the “greatest job in the world.” Welcome to the big show ladies and gentlemen. Step right up, don’t be shy. All shapes and sizes are welcome to apply. We have daredevils, acrobats, strongmen, high-fliers, and clowns of renown. Join us and run away from reality, leave your life behind. Jump on a plane, forget your name – we’ll give you a new one. Quick grab the bar and hop on a car before we speed off to the big wing. Don’t wait, time is tick-tocking away. Live life like there’s no tomorrow, because it may all end tonight. The future is a fantasy, the past is an illusion, today is our reality. In the flying circus we live like we’re dying, because we are.
I jumped on my first flying circus, the American Barnstormers Tour in 2006, and found my bunk in the back with the biplane clowns of renown. I like to laugh. Life can be difficult but laughing is easy, so I try to surround myself with people who like to laugh like me. Barnstormers in particular have really wicked sense’s of humor. Barnstormer have been the rule breakers and clowns since the 20s. We fly hard, joke hard, and play hard. We make fun of ourselves as much as we make fun of everyone else. I have been punk’d, pranked, mooned, lampooned, flashed, and roasted as we got toasted, on every barnstormers tour. Touring with the B-29 FiFi is no different than the American Barnstormers Tour. Birds of a feather always find ways of flocking together, and even the most stoic flight suited types end up making their way to the bar in the clown car with us. Once the gates are closed and the planes are put to bed – the silly show starts. Omnivores of anything funny, the nightly clown comedy plays like an improv of onomatopoeia. It begins most evenings with the CLICK on of the Comedy Channel, a THUMP on the wall, and the CLINK of a drink.
Thump, thump, thump. Giggle. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. Alright! Thud. Clip-clop, clip-clop. Tap, tap, tap. Pssst. Click. Slam. Dudes! Giggle. Clunk. Bloop, bloop, bloop. Plop. Splash. Slurp. Clink. Glug, glug, glug. Ahhhh. Buuurp. Nice! Smack. Snort. Hahaha. Blah,blah,blah. Glug, glug, glug. Tosh. Sweet! BAM. SPLAT. No way. Way! Ouch. Dude. Hahaha. Clink. Glug, glug, glug. Ahhhh. Buuurp. Nice! SouthPark. Sweet! POW. CRUNCH. SPLAT. You killed Kenny, you Bastards!! Smack. Snort. Hiccup. Hahaha. Blah,blah,blah. Clunk. Bloop, bloop, bloop. Plop. Splash. Slurp. Clink. Glug, glug, glug. Dude’s, let’s eat. Thud. Clip-clop, clip-clop. Click. Slam. Buuurp. Nice!
The silly show performance plays in hotel rooms and restaurants on tour when the clowns wind down. You see the clowns of the flying circus’s aren’t scary, they’re just scared. Fearless fliers afraid of the day they will no longer travel the country, humming along to the song of a radial engine. Knowing that people, like planes, need to be restored and replaced. Wondering who will sit in our seats when we’re gone and continue the clown camaraderie. So each night, as the ring leader’s count the days tickets and the barkers plan the next days strategy, the clowns gather together and recount the days possibilities of replacement’s. A clown college come to order, looking for future fun graduates to join our ranks and continue the Flying Circus we love. An initiation of inebriate’s. We face our fear with a shot of courage, by flipping off fear with a foam finger, and throwing death a pie in the face.
Fort Myers’ ramp was slow, “fished out,” with the lucky distinction of the only two other flying circus’s having visited their city the month before our tour. Without much competition for conversation, I got trapped by a “leather jacket” who was bending my ear with a long story of me, me, me. Reminding everyone within earshot of his history, and touting his pilot prowess. Clowns protect our own, and one of my fellow clowns saw I needed a wingman and came to my rescue. Standing behind the “leather jacket” he began making funny faces and pantomiming the conversation with blah-blah-blah hands – opening and closing his fingers like a puppet’s mouth. Then holding a fake finger pistol to his head pretending to shoot himself and pratfall on the ramp. I was about to bust a laugh in the “leather jackets” face, when I spotted two cool kids across the ramp. Unconventional young faces with their bold interest’s inked on their bodies like billboards, and hair spiked high. Shining like beacons, illuminating the aging audience of leather jackets and seniors omnipresent at airshows everywhere. I saw my way out and said to the man in the leather jacket, “It’s been nice listening to your stories but excuse me, I want to go show those kids the plane. I like to encourage young people to become pilots.” The “leather jacket” shot them a look of disgust and smirked, “With hair like that I’ll guarantee you he’ll never be a pilot.” I puffed my chest out in protection, like a momma bird protecting its young, and said very slowly, “Sir, I don’t know what a pilot looks like. See that guy over there in shorts with the handlebar mustache, clowning around in the tent? He’s a pilot. See that black guy next to him in jeans dancing? He’s a pilot. And did you see that blonde women in the boots, the one who own’s this plane? She’s a pilot too.” Then I did my best Betty Boop look with my hand on my cheek and added, “A women pilot, imagine that!” The leather jacket snapped, “I just came over here to talk to the Stearman pilot!” I smiled my biggest smile and said, “You just did talk to her, for twenty minutes. Guess I don’t look like a pilot.” I turned towards the cool kids on the other side of the ramp and said over my shoulder, “Maybe I need to wear a leather jacket.”
I don’t know what the next generation of pilots and crew members will look like, anymore than I know if Flying Circus’s and Barnstorming tours will even be around for them to join. When you truly love something, all you can do is let it go and help it grow. That day on the ramp there were a handful of young faces waiting for someone to not judge them by the way they looked, but instead listen to them. So I spent my day happily clowning around in the back of the ramp with the cool kids, loading them in my front seat and taking pictures of them by my plane. Their tattoos were every bit as interesting as their interest’s in aviation. I wish everyone could hear what I heard. The future of aviation was in their words, and it didn’t sound or look anything like the past. That day my fear disappeared and all I heard was the laughter of young clowns on a Flying Circus, humming along to the song of a radial engine, long after I’m gone.