Friday, August 6, 2010

The Slides of Szeged

My favorite pilot briefing took place on the day after the day in which not one pilot in any of three classes completed the task. The contest organizer began with an announcement: "I would like to apologize to the pilots." And then he introduced the task-setter.

Two days ago, on a non-flying day for Open Class, we visited the local water park, which has, according to 9-year-old Alex Cheatham of the British team, the LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE. As it turns out, the Szeged water park has not only the LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE, but also an entire Crayola Crayon box of swooping, twirling, spiraling, and plummeting slides in an indoor-outdoor, complex of waterfalls, lap-pools, and spas, with deliciously warm water. My co-crewmate, 9-year-old Julius Tabery, particularly loved the green slide, which had a few turns and a steep and rapid descent into an outdoor pool. He also favored the red slide, a generic twisty-turny slide that deposits swimmers suddenly into a funnel, around which one spins several times before being dumped gracelessly into an indoor pool. And there was, of course, the blue slide, which is the LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE, accessible only via elevator: a covered spaghetti downhill ride from a four-story height, with skylights of various colors, including rainbows, stripes, stars, and polka-dots. My favorite slide was the open-topped yellow slide, which languorously winds its way from three-stories in the air to a waiting open-air pool, with a lovely view of the sky available the whole way down.

The slide I absolutely did not want to try was the purple slide, a quick and nearly vertical 10-meter descent into an indoor pool. Of course, everyone insisted. I tried once and backed out. The second time, I closed my eyes, took the plunge and then, after violently bumping my head toward the end, forced a whole lot of water up my nose while skiing across the pool on my back.

Back at the airport the next day, I kept thinking about those slides and my contest experience as crew. When you tell people you are going to Europe for a glider competition, they envision the yellow slide—a lovely tour of European countryside, with blue skies and good food. On a good day, the pilot gets the blue slide. But for the crew on the ground—at least for the emotionally involved crew—the contest is the purple slide: a terrifying, gut-wrenching I've-faced-my-worst-fear-and-survived-it, but-it-wasn't-all-that-much-fun kind of ride. And yet we keep going back.

In other news, more than one U.S. pilot is disappointed today. WE crew Carol Elliot says the best remedy for a bummed-out is pilot to throw him into the hangar with 150 other pilots, each of whom has a story to tell. In that milieu, you just have to get over yourself. Says Carol, "It's like socializing your puppy."

So tonight we attend the final banquet, visit with the other pilots and crew, and hear the other stories. We'll eat and drink and socialize, and after a while, we'll forget the purple slide. It will seem like yellow, all the way. Or, for some of us, THE LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE.

Gena Tabery, SS crew