On February 6th, 2013, I began to crave hospital food. As time passed, the cravings got worse. Then on March 4th, I saw a YouTube video of a guy flying a powered paraglider (PPG) and I knew how I’d satisfy that craving. It was going to take a lot of money for equipment and lessons, but my craving had to be satisfied, didn’t it? It would be hard, but I knew, in the end, it would be worth the effort.
I can almost hear you asking, “Why not buy a motorcycle or drive a speed boat?”
Ha. You haven’t thought it through!
Let me explain—and remember, I considered this for a whole day. You see, a guy can ride a motorcycle, sometimes for years, without ever getting into the hospital because you see (you shallow thinkers) it’s possible to be lucky on a motorcycle. I know it sounds far-fetched, but my friend, Lance, has owned a motorcycle for years without one trip to the emergency room. (Howbeit, the motorcycle mostly sits in the garage.)
As for a speed boat, why that’s plain silly: Where would I drive it?
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In my hospital food quest, I had a lot going for me. I was 62 years old. Most PPG pilots were in their 20s. Their joints and muscles were young, flexible, and strong. Their reaction times were like lightning. I might’ve been old but I was slow and rusty. I couldn’t compete with them in flying, but they couldn’t compete with me in getting hurt.
You might ask, “Why didn’t you just get a paraglider instead of a powered one?”
Well, just in the off chance there’s a reader who doesn’t know:
A paraglider is a wing, lines, and controls that you strap on your back and then run right off a mountain or cliff. Most of those cliffs and mountains have a natural up-draft (wind) that if you’re lucky will fill the wing with air and gently carry you down at a safe angle of descent. Your wing has two sets of lines, which come together—one for each hand. You pull right to turn right and left to turn left. That’s it.
A PPG is a paraglider plus a propeller and a motor which is exceedingly loud (which has nothing to do with this story, but I have to keep this educational, right?) A PPG’s controls are the same as a paraglider except that in one hand you hold the throttle as well as the steering lines. So you can rise by gunning the engine and drift down by slowing it. Using one hand for controlling the throttle while simultaneously steering your wing isn’t as easy as it sounds, but as you may’ve noticed, there aren’t many mountains or cliffs around here, so a PPG seemed like the perfect way to fly in north Texas.
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The first thing I did was to choose probably the worse instructor in the United States. Our ground practice was on a beach near San Diego, California, and the flying instruction was in Mexico. The cost was high, but it sounded good to someone like me (i.e. a guy who doesn’t bother to do the research).
On my first try on the Mexican beach, I crashed on take-off. On my next attempt, I flew about 200 feet above the ocean. It was exciting and beautiful. I could see swimmers below and even fish in the water. I didn’t exactly land well. In fact, my crash destroyed the propeller and cage, but I didn’t get seriously hurt, so I missed the Mexican hospital’s food.
I know what you’re thinking. “Johnny, you idiot! Why didn’t you stop flying after that near-death experience?” I’m not bragging, but your question backs me into a corner. I know most people would have given up. But, if you can believe it, many people—I’m not making this up—have never craved hospital food in their whole lives.
So, instead of getting discouraged, I looked for a local instructor as soon as I returned to Texas. I wanted to learn how to fly a PPG right.
Editor: Expect a letter from Mrs. Harmon, my seventh-grade English teacher, stating that “unhospitalized” is not a real word and that boats aren’t “driven,” and that last sentence should end in “fly a PPG correctly.” Tell her that…uh…well, Johnny’s writing will improve after he gets his long-awaited and well deserved cost-of-living raise.
Fortunately, (or unfortunately—depending on your point of view), I found Don, a Wylie resident, who’d been injured as a paratrooper in Granada. The fact that Don was on disability did not stop him from flying PPGs and training others. It just shows you the stupidity, tenacity, spirit of the people who take up the PPG sport!
Don’s friend, Jerry, owned a huge PPG airport (a 100-acre pasture) near Farmersville where I learned how to take off and land properly. My experience is that taking off was hard, but landing was even harder (in every meaning of the word). After nine flights—one in Mexico and eight at Jerry’s place—I had landed perfectly exactly one time. The rest of the landings were poor but safe, and with my improvement, I wondered if I’d ever experience the hospital food I craved. You may think that no one in his right mind would have hospital food cravings—and now that I think about it, would someone in their right mind even strap on a PPG…uh…never mind.
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Eventually, Don agreed I was ready for solo flights.
My friend, Charles, who owned a large landing strip near Point, Texas, said that I could fly from his pasture airport anytime I wanted. But after my 12th flight, I remained unhospitalized. I even managed another perfect landing (I was already 2 for 12). However, on my 13th flight, my propeller suddenly flew off. I didn’t have trouble landing because I crashed instead. My pelvis was broken in half and I got a helicopter ride to the ER.
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I’ll end with this hard to believe, but true event: After only a month in the hospital, my food craving changed to one for home-cooked food.
Johnny Hayre worked at E-Systems/Raytheon/L-3 until he retired in 2013. He and wife Karyl have lived in Greenville since 2002 and are now “empty-nesters.” They have three living children and seven grandchildren, who are each beautiful, intelligent and all the usual parent-grandparent praises. Email him at GHB.JohnnyHayre@gmail.com.