When I was seven, I’d ride my bike to this very spot from Grandma’s house in the summertime. From here I’d watch airplanes land. The ones I watched from my backyard approaching runway 3 over Dekum’s blue, they were too high to view. So, I rode to 82nd avenue to be right next to runway 28 L at PDX airport. But it took me a while to get there.
By each obstacle along the way becoming a turnaround point of the ride, I’d learn to swallow my fears and be the lonesome black boy riding along back roads.
First, an overpass, then crossing a 5-lane highway, followed by the military base, and finally a busy road along a golf course.
After conquering my fear of heights, and possibly being hit by a car, I got there and did exactly what I said I was going to do. I found a spot to park my bike, get off, and wait for the next airliner to approach 28 L. Meanwhile, ignoring drivers off 82nd likely wondering, “where’s that little black boy’s parents?”
Mom was at work, and so was dad. I don’t recall being told to stay around or close to Grandma’s house, but she lived next to a park, a middle school track, plenty of dirt roads, and the airport; so I went there too. Grandma’ never said stay close to home, she only told me to stay out the streets.
The bridge running over NE Lombard street was high. It was the only route to ride my bike on from 42nd’s 2-way street. And by following Grandma’s rules meant riding through my fear. I turned around at least twice at this point, all to avoid the view off my right shoulder. The railing was as high as my bike. The overpass sidewalk was about a foot above the concrete road. Knowing I’d have to get off and pick my bike up, it was the only way to cross the overpass.
For what seemed like an eternity, 30 seconds, I had to avoid looking off to my right and over the overpass railing. Scary, but I was on the sidewalk following Grandma’s rules.
The first time crossing the overpass, I couldn’t handle the adrenaline, so I rode back over it and back to Grandma’s house.
That following week, I was ready to succeed. No one knew what this little black boy was up to. I remember picking up my bike, and riding over without hesitation. Columbia BLVD was the next crossroad. By then I walked my bike across the crosswalk. This was to look educated on my street safety knowledge for the drivers at the stop light. As you can tell, each roadblock that turned me around was due to exposure, and fear of having to be in the streets.
The next summer when I was eight, I rode on passed the military base, explored creeks, and plane spotted on 82nd near what now is the cell-phone waiting area at PDX.
Often traveling back and forth to PDX as family flew in and out over the summers, PDX airport became the gateway to all the other crap going on in the world. The day I told my Grandma’ I wanted to be a pilot, “boy, I ain’t gettin’ on no plane with a black man captain,” she said. I remember watching her words fuel my curiosity, which never stopped me.
The most I did was study the aeronautical section in my dad’s World Book Encyclopedia Collection. The “A” book was my favorite—girthy. I read about Antarctica, Ants, Astrophysics, because MS-DOS was boring. Internet wasn’t really a thing. Yet.
The AVGEEK in me came as natural as facing the fears it took watching my dreams take off from runway 28 L. Approaching from the gateways of society, today, I shake off the weight of fear.
Someone told me only I can tell this story, so I often start from where the fears ended, and do exactly what the little boy did 25 years ago. Wheels down, I’m still there sharing my dream in a different way; and the I-205 bike path leads me straight there, keeping me out of the streets.
Dare to think different, dare to dream different—but understand only the brave succeed with this. For those writing away fears, and riding back to what got them sheer, can understand why my bike’s back at the airport.