The seemingly endless stretches of farmland flew past in a blur as we headed South on I-5 through California's central valley. My wife Janet, Eddie Pippin, Canine Aviator, and I were on our way home from a road trip to Seattle to visit family and friends. This was day two and we'd been on the road for hours. I was painfully aware of how much quicker the trip would have been in my club's Bonanza. With my back and legs complaining loudly, the blue Rest Area sign up ahead came as a welcome sight.
As I extricated myself from the car and started walking stiffly to the restroom, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a small wire figure sitting as if on display on a nearby picnic table. I looked more closely and saw the distinctive outline of a P-51 Mustang, rendered in copper wire and balanced gently on a little stand of the same material. Pretty cool.
When I got back to the car, Janet was cradling the little airplane in her hands, looking it over.
"You just picked that thing up?" I asked, puzzled.
"The guy who made it gave it to us," she replied. "His name's Ray."
I smiled. I shouldn't have been surprised that Janet made a new friend in the time it took me to go to the can. She's amazing that way.
"He's an older man—used to be a pilot," she said, "but his flying days are over. He didn't really want to talk about that."
Apparently, Ray came out to the rest area often to make those little wire sculptures. He liked to put them out on the tables and quietly watch people's reactions from his car. He particularly enjoyed seeing people pick them up and take them home. Janet, a lifelong artist, was taken with this simple, down-to-earth fusion of sculpture and performance art and I guess he noticed and broke his accustomed silence to talk with her.
Ray didn't come across as a gregarious man, but I imagine that his craft provided a way for him to connect with others through the power of art—and a love of airplanes. I can only guess, of course—I wouldn't presume to know another's mind—but he and his work certainly had an effect on Janet and me.
Back on the road, we noted the lengthening shadows as the sun sank towards the mountains to the West. I found myself remembering flights over those mountains, picturing how they looked from 10,500 feet in the raking light of early evening, and thinking of the destinations, the decisions, the physical sensations—the whole experience of flight.
As the sun set and the dusk deepened we still had another three hours to go, but I didn't mind —because I was thinking about airplanes and flying.
Thank you, Ray.
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