“The wind taught me never to forget old friends, by blowing them back to me.”
This past week I was able to meet and visit an old friend. Our rendezvous was to be at the local airport and as I approached our meeting point, there she was, just as stately and elegant as I remembered her. She stood alone against the horizon, waiting for my arrival.
I had not met her to chat since my retirement from air traffic in 2010. I only saw her from a distance as I flew by, sometimes eavesdropping on her conversations with others. From those conversations, I remembered what it was like being the focus of her internal workings.
When We Parted
I worked at the Wichita Aiport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) for almost eight years before accepting a position as air traffic liaison in Brussels, Belgium. Although we had kept our residence in Wichita, I would spend the next fifteen years dividing my time between there and other locations.
This visit was my first one since retiring. The first time to return, not as a former employee, but as a private pilot. My local chapter of International 99’s assembled for the ATCT Tour. I decided to go and visit my old friend; to take the opportunity to catch up.
She looked great, although the security fence erected made her seem a bit standoffish at first. Inside I was pleased to see her in such good form. My last time inside had been as an independent safety evaluator just before I retired.
It was at that time I witnessed many of the enhancements that were placed on the strategic upgrade plan I was in charge of during my tenure. It was good to see those who followed had ensured her face-lifts went forward. She truly looked marvelous.
Yet, she was still the same old friend. As I looked out the tower window at her lit-up-for-night operations runways and taxiways, she was the same. Her lights twinkled at me as we remembered the many “cleared for take-off” and “cleared to land” conversations. It was like I had never left, yet, I had.
The Same, Yet New
The west side of the airport was completely new. The old terminal had gone replaced by a new, expanded, off-in-the-distance terminal and parking garage. We chatted about the times and the need for such changes with a sigh.
As for the current stewards of the operations, my old friend seems content. After all, she has seen changes, moves, and upgrades for almost 87 years.
Her grandmother still stands at the current Kansas Aviation Museum, while her mom, who stood on top of the old Midcontinent terminal was demolished in the early 90s. She herself is doing well in her middle age.
I told her quietly as I left, that I am pleased with how well she seemed to be doing. That even though few folks currently working there remember our time together, I cherish those times and all she had taught me. I thanked her for her mentorship and for all she imparted to me. the knowledge acquired and lessons learned during those years, continue to serve me well.
As we left, one of my fellow 99s asked if I missed it. I could honestly say no. Thirty-plus years of air traffic was plenty. I did not, however, tell her about the conversation with my old friend. That would be too weird. Or would it? After all, we are ladies to have conversations with our airplanes and the weather!
Places can be powerful touchstones for personal stories. Let me know in the comments a place that is your old friend!