When I was about five-years-old, I loved model vehicles. Toy motorcycles, race cars, jet planes and spaceships were my thing. I loved the toys, and not the real examples, because the smaller versions were on my level– I could relate to their hand-held size, and there was a chance with my family’s modest means I could own one or two. These toys were the start of my becoming an explorer.
I lusted over the marketing pictures of the TTP and SSP lines of motorbikes and cars. I admired the sleek designs, the shiny chrome parts, and the promise of high performance. I didn’t realize at the time, but my interest linked me to Danny, the local tough kid, who saw what I was into in my own little world, and gave his nod of approval. He liked the bikes, too.
I remember exchanging tires with Danny. He had a spare this and I had a spare that, and we shared. If we didn’t have our bike toys, there wouldn’t have been anything endearing to link us. That would have been trouble for me. If Danny thought you were all right, even a little all right, then you weren’t going to be intimidated or harassed in the 3rd to fifth grades.
All I wanted was a pal. And that’s what I got. Having Danny come over to my desk, or corner of the schoolyard lawn, with a handful of parts and offering without demanding a thing, made a big impression on me.
Sometime around eight-years-old I grew into spaceship fantasies. At first I was like other boys and wanted to be the pilot, but in my dreams, I found this too limiting. Very soon I imagined that I was the ship, and boy did that open doors for all kinds of scenarios!
In my mind, I chose the design I wanted to be. It was sleek and pointy like a jet. It didn’t need silly things like engines or landing gear or a cockpit canopy. I was a solidly-whole mechanical thing, not forgetting for a moment this was imaginary. I could build that world as big as I needed it to be. I could live in it, mostly at night when all of life’s variables were turned off for the duration, things like eating and school and family interaction. Under the covers, I waited for sleep and to form my perfect shape and my missions, too.
I was made of some sort of serious stuff, a thick, transparent metal-like material. No one on Earth had ever seen such a substance before. Tough, unbreakable, impervious to heat and without needs. Were there no food or oxygen where I was going? No problem, I didn’t need it, the way I worked it out.
I was an explorer. I could go anywhere now.
You had to see me. I could fly with the geese and they’d let me right in. Look over to the left and right, there they were, necks outstretched, working hard to keep their formation just so, and honking to boot. I was there. I was with them.
Then I’d join the scores of tiny birds who flew in tight acrobatics over the highway. Such flying, they could look like swarming locusts sometimes. I was with them, keeping up, following them, and one time, I was at the lead. Boy, was that a blast!
As an explorer, I could fly through the Snake River canyon, the same place my hero Evel Knievel flew over in his Rocket Cycle. No need for me to worry, I made it just fine.
Soon I looked to outer space and that’s where the experience expanded. I could sit in the quiet of space, for hours, with such a wide area of nothing around me. No heat, no cold, no sound. Just stars– more colors than my gigantic crayon box I knew on Earth. I would sit out there, floating, and off to sleep on many nights.
Later I would speed off, flying over Mars and Jupiter, impervious to any harmful pressures or gasses. As a kid, it’s easy to imagine clear air and sky everywhere, and the youthful lack of knowledge actually helped me get there.
In the 1980’s I made a detailed pencil drawing of this ship. It had impossible wingtip points that in aeronautical physics provided no lift. This is the shape I imagined, very young, when practicality was standard in regular life and nowhere to be found at night.
Being an explorer allowed this kid to get along very well in real-world life. I got so much enjoyment out of my imagination, I did everything I could to share the excitement with friends. If my Wave Avenue friend Tommy and I were playing with army tanks on a mound of dirt, we were there on that mound– actually engaged in the operations. If we were building model planes, the planes were seemingly full-sized and we were kid mechanics. We took it that far. We were explorers– our lives allowed us to be free in that wonderful way.