A year ago, we were gifted with some passes to Walt Disney World by someone who has become what I would call a good friend, even though we mostly talk on Facebook. We were there to film, "Park Geeks", which has quickly become one of my favorite things to do. Right behind reading my writing at events, teaching, and working for NPR. But it takes a lot to orchestrate a Park Geeks shoot, so we don't do them very often. All of this is beside the point really.
A year ago, I got to spend a couple of days in my favorite place just in time for my birthday. Very cool. And I've been nostalgic about it lately, probably since today is my birthday and we're not scheduled to shoot anything for Park Geeks again until October. Whatever the reason, when I was subbing for a professor who couldn't make it to class today, I reached for a few scraps of paper and this is what came out...
I watched the shuttle taking off, slicing through the humid Florida air a hundred miles away from us. We talked about the shuttle launch minutes earlier, floating in the lit blue pool of our hotel. In a small little island of calm amidst splashing children with water wings.
"I know we could see it from here if we knew what direction to look, Cape Canaveral is a fair distance, but, " I trailed off and Josh picked up my sentence.
"The rockets burn bright enough that we'd be able to see them no problem," he said, swimming in a pair of Jake's borrowed shorts. We had come to the pool immediately after checking in, knowing there wouldn't be much time to swim for the rest of the weekend.
"Yeah, exactly," Jake said examining the skyline trying to orient himself to his mental compass.
"It's one of the last shuttle launches, you know," Josh said, "They're shutting down the program."
We stood in the warm water, bending our knees so that the water line came up to our chins. Three talking heads, our hands slicing through the thickness of the water, leaving only faint ripples behind. Hinting at our movement beneath the surface. It stirred the acrid clean smell of chlorine into the mist where the evening air met the surface of the bright water. Swimming is the best part of vacation, but this was more like an adventure.
Talk turned from dying rocket launches to shooting the next day. The three of us, handed a last minute opportunity to film at Walt Disney World for our homeless webisode series about two theme park lovers. Something we dreamed might be on the Travel Channel someday. A creative exercise. A chance to pick up a camera, to write a script, to live the life we wanted to live without having to wait for a mysterious big break. To be the people we wanted to be without waiting for permission.
We forgot about the rocket launch, playing in the pool, talking about this random event. The gift of free theme park passes that seemed to appear from the air, rising up to meet us and our silly little idea. We forgot that somewhere, not so many miles away, astronauts were strapping in, running checks, adrenaline surging through their bloodstream. Fear and excitement pressing in on them as close as the water was to our skin.
While we talked about locations to shoot, rides to ride, jokes to make on-camera, a crew of explorers prepared to leave the atmosphere.
While we pulled ourselves out of the pool, dripping with water, comfortable in our plans, too excited to sleep, wrapping ourselves in towels that were too small to do much good...
As we walked and talked, laughed and marveled at our luck, our hopes and fascinations, our bare feet feeling the prickle of textured concrete and and the day's leftover heat drifting up from boardwalk, they prepared to leave the planet.
And just as we rounded the corner to ascend the stairs to our third floor hotel room, there it was. Ablaze. Aflame. The shuttle shooting to the stars with the momentum of a thousand tiny explosions. Perfectly framed in our site by palm trees and hotel rooftops. What were the odds that we would catch this event unobstructed?
We raced, the three of us, up the metallic stairs, holding onto our towels and key cards, trying not to slip and fall in our enthusiasm. Three best friends who had spent hours in conversations about Star Trek and Star Wars and inspiration and technology. We raced to see it from a better angle. Instead, we got a perfect angle. Standing on the balcony, trading remarks like, "I can't believe it." and, "I forgot all about it." and, "We're so lucky, there aren't many of these left."
We watched the rocket boosters break off of the shuttle and fall back to Earth. We watched until the shuttle became a tiny soaring point of light. We stood in the night air, bathed in the orange glow of the industrial street lamps that illuminated our hotel property, and we could hardly believe our good fortune.
And everything seemed possible.
The world in motion, turning as a whole object. A colorful marble, a curved horizon line for them growing more distant with every second. An almost alien planet to us, so different from our mid-western home. A tropical night, waxy foliage surrounding us, tiny lizards darting across our paths.
Really, we were all taking off. Us and them.