If I could have been anything in a world of endless possibilities I would have been a space cowboy. A free roamer, final frontier explorer out on the wild fringes of the vast, expansive darkness being guided only by the stars. Seeking every adventure that may wait and sleeping under new stairs whenever the time took me. With all that in mind you can imagine my excitement when Boss told me we would be going to visit NASA. I regressed into an excitable child.
The bus journey in was a little rough, not the drive, me. Built into the holiday were a few rest days and as I am not always a ‘sit by the pool and sunbathe’ kinda guy I had bought two half bottles of bourbon to nurse while Boss and I, mainly Boss, lounged by the water. I had a lion shares throughout the day which made the lying around fun, but the next day’s coach ride was sketch.
“So, whereis everyone from?, got anyone in from France? WOW! Very good, very good. ‘BONJOUR’. Any more? Italy and Africa! Nice, nice. All I wanted to do was sleep but the Driver wanted to keep the energy level up. Next was a quiz, followed by some interesting facts and then the itinerary.
“What you wanna do is take the tour first. Best to do that first as it will get real busy in the afternoon, plus it gets hot. Be indoors when it’s hot, cause it gets hot! I’m gonna make a phone call, see if I can make a few arrangements, maybe we will have someone one to meet us on arrival. Yo’all be excited to meet an Astronaut? I couldn’t quite place his accent. His voice had a very soft hint of a Hispanic twang to the back of it but he must have lived in the States so long that it was losing it’s grip. It was only round the edges of words you could hear it fighting back.
The bus let out a cheer at the thought of meeting and Astronaut. ‘How great was that’. ‘This Driver has contacts’. ‘He can get an Astronaut to meet us on arrival’. ‘What a guy’. The murmurings went on. It was Boss and I’s second time around. We knew the script, you always get to meet an Astronaut on arrival but I didn’t mind the hype or the faux golden ticket talk, I was happy to be visiting but now the hangover was wearing off and all I wanted was to pee.
We met the Astronaut, we got the greeting, we hopped on the forty-five minute bus tour, I learned all I could retain about the space program and my bladder almost burst as there was no chance to stop. I almost wept with relief when I eventually reached a urinal. My emotional state scared the guy next to me but I couldn’t care. Almost three hours with no bathroom break was tortuous, especially for a guy who has a bowel disease. I had flashes of information rally across my mind as I went through the motions. I couldn’t get over the suspicion that America had for Russia leading up to, during and very much after the space race. Russia launch a rocket into space, a great new pioneer has been opened up, what boundless things may come from this? Yet the first thought from every ham-wave radio operator was ‘are those sneaky communists spying on us?’. I didn’t grow up in that culture, in that time, I don’t fully understand what it was like then but I see that the paranoia still exists, tarring great achievements with the murky waters of conspiracy. I hypocritically do the same thing, so indoctrinated. I hope for change. Refreshed boss and I continued on.
It was all there for us to see. A world of pure exploration. Rockets, science and the ingenious ideas of humanity. The amazing engineering, the incredible capabilities of humankind as they wish to stretch beyond the boundaries and reach the unreachable star. Jaw dropping experience, even with the very obnoxious Indian Grandmother who followed Boss and I around, pushing us out the way at every semi photographic opportunity she could see. I rarely plot to kill anyone, especially those that are knocking on heavens door, but she really was ready for a bat. Swift burial out in the bayou and no one would know. Not the perfect crime but one I was willing to commit if we got shoved along one more time.
NASA is not only for rockets. The Florida site is also a national wildlife refuge. Lots of wildlife are protected in the area. Gators, turtles, manatees and the great Bald Eagle to name a few. On the bus ride back to the main area a memory replayed in my mind.
Florida 2014: Bus ride back to the main area. It was humid but the bus was air-conditioned, a wonderful relief. The elongated, shiny, silver chassis sat above six massive wheels for extra bounce and had bench seating on either side of the aisle that could sit two comfortably. There was even room for overhead storage. Boss, Stef, Niall and I were sitting across two seats at the back right of the bus. There were not too many people on the first bus back. I remember an old, grey -haired African-American couple sitting towards the front. She with a light blue dress, he in a finely tailored brown two piece suit with hat to match. A Trilby I think. I liked their look but remember wondering how could they stand the heat when there were dress so formally. Turns out they were from the South, Georgia or West Virginia, somewhere like that. They had built up a fair resistance to the swelter. There were also two families spread out on the bus. One was composed of a middle-aged, working dad in a floral shirt, a stay-at-home middle-aged mum, who was rummaging through a massive, camel coloured bag for god-only-knows what and their two kids. Brothers in matching outfits, one bright blonde and looking only a year or two older than the second, more dusty blond kid. They were yapping away at each other intensely with no sign of stopping. The second family was brand new, clean-cut and had a tiny baby of indeterminable, as all new babies look-alike, sex with them. By the looks of things the stress and strains had not yet taking their toll. I thought how long it would be until family two evolved into family one. The Driver started on the bus Comms.
“If evryboady keeps a lookout the righ-han-side of thee vehikle, there you’ll see the nest of the great Bald Eagle. I’ll give you a shout as and when we approach the nest.” Such a southern drawl to this mans voice. I was hooked and then I lost control.
Within moments of the Drives announcement the time had come to ready ourselves for the sight of the great Bald Eagle.
“Ready? It’s-a-commin up! It’s at twelve o’clock”. I looked straight ahead, camera ready, nerves steady, trigger finger twitching, “quwarter pass twelve”, ‘okay’ I thought, ‘that moved fast but we are on a bus so it’s possible, wait his he say quarter pas… “halve pass twelve”… I was confused, that’s behind and in front of us now, have I missed… “A’quwarer to one. One. Quwarter pass one. Halve pass one…” What is going on? My head was swiveling on a stick and ready to come loose. I was looking all ways. Ahead, left, behind, right but with no sign of the nest and the Driver wouldn’t let up, “a’quwarer to two. Two. Quwarter pass two, halve pass two”. I broke. The relentlessness of this man’s counting coupled with what was either a massive miscommunication between he and I, or just a simple lack in understanding the Clock Directional System had taken its toll on me. I was in tears with uncontrollable laughter. Boss was mortified but I couldn’t help it. I had forgotten all about the great majestic symbol of America, this guy was pure gold.“A’quwarer to three. Three. Quwarter pass three. Here it comes folks. It’s righ-on up there on the righ. There she is!”… “Y’all see her?”, NOT. A. CHANCE! But what a journey. No bus journey has ever been the same.
After the rocket garden, a trip to the cinema, a wander through the gift shop Boss and I were done. Apollo 13 played on the bus ride home, I remember segments of it in between bouts of napping. All that fresh NASA air had knackered me. Boss matched me nap for nap.