July 10, 2002

It was Sunday and it was pretty. Later on it would be another classic hazy lazy day of summer, but for now it was clear and cool. The airplane was fresh from its annual inspection and really deserved to be flown somewhere, but there were so many choices. It was the sort of morning that a hundred miles each way would have been defensible.

I took off from the hilltop airport and made sort of a circle, much as an old dog might sniff the air before departing the front steps. I headed Northwest towards the airport café at Middlesex, or McMeehan's, a short walk from Hanna's Airport near the far end of Conesus Lake. Passing Larry Huntley's airstrip in Tyrone, I saw some activity, so I dropped in to say hello. One thing led to another and I ended up eating breakfast in Dansville, with half a dozen folks of the regular group.

I enjoyed the breakfast and the company of kindred souls, but alone again on my way home, I felt extreme regret that I had only one breakfast to eat. On such a fine day I could have drifted over summer's green pastures en route to any of two dozen breakfast places in a 100 mile radius. I could have gone someplace new or returned to a favorite place that is a bit too far for a normal Sunday.

I hadn't been to Dansville for several years, but with the coincidence of falling in with the usual faces, I was reintroduced to the fact that there are five different eateries within a short walk of the airport. More significantly, I was also informed of the date of this year's Strawberry Fly-In. Every spring for the last five years Larry has hosted a strawberry shortcake dessert following the regular Tuesday lunch at Waterloo. Planes arrive from all over for lunch, and then proceed by ones, twos, and threes to Larry's field for dessert.

The event was originally conceived as a friendly way to eliminate a surplus from the Huntley strawberry patch, but by popular acclaim, it has continued. This year there were eighteen people who arrived in a dozen planes, and all received a heaping plate of strawberry shortcake. Seconds were available, as was strawberry pie. It was truly a died- and- gone- to- heaven experience to sit in his hangar with good friends, tasty desserts, and the occasional sweet smell of aviation fuel.

Larry and I talked for a while, and decided that we were lucky to have so many places to fly. Pilots in metropolitan areas don't have a hint of the satisfaction we enjoy, but Larry said that a friend from Michigan who had visited recently had envied the destinations we have. Apparently in that particular part of the country there is no such thing as hopping over the next hill for breakfast; the population is too thin to support an active flying community.

It is possible to go flying for an hour or two without landing anyplace else, but that seems to run contrary to the airplane's ability to reach out, and the human need to socialize. Breakfast or lunch, or even strawberry shortcake is not the justification for a flight, it is only a destination at the end of a pleasant trip. The food is just the bait that is sure to bring other pilots out and force them to sit down long enough to make conversation.

The small end of aviation is filled with people who give more than they receive. The Mincers at Middlesex Airport operate a classy weekend café every summer. The Whitford's have a weekend diner that is open throughout the year at their airport near Weedsport; it is our "bird feeder", and I don't know how we could make it through the winter without it. Countless others own the little airports that most of us call "home" or that are within walking distance of a local diner. I can't omit the talented mechanics that are able to keep our airplanes flying at an affordable price, or who supervise the many pilots who restore new life to old airplanes.

Right now, right here in western New York, we have the best of everything: beautiful scenery, plenty of interesting destinations, and many people who are dedicated to aviation. Some folks contribute more than others, but everybody helps out, and we all reap a splendid bounty.

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