The great 2009 paragliding flyover

There I was, next to Triangle Park just before 10 a.m. on the Fourth, falling into line with a few thousand others paraders and wondering "How about this year? Will they really come again this year?" They did, of course. Less than a minute later, two F-15 Eagle fighter jets screamed out of the east, flying southwest, then looped back to the north. Then plenty of whooping and clapping and cheers &

the parade could begin.

"All right," I thought. "Here's my column for next weekend, a gift out of the big blue sky."

Not that nobody's ever written about the flyover before; we've had a low-level argument for years, with some Ashlanders less than thrilled that our biggest annual party is kicked off by two roaring icons of American military power.

But this year, when our attention is riveted like never before to the dark power of oil over our lives, and the (finally) undeniable need to change how we do things &

we're not going to change how we do this thing?

"Oh, man, this column will just about write itself."

I was already composing in my head as the parade got underway. Maybe I'd try an imaginary conversation around the Fourth of July Committee's planning table: "Hey, how about this to start the parade off just right: let's blow up a few dozen barrels of jet fuel!"

Then I had to go and ruin the whole thing by checking the facts. I called Kingsley Field near Klamath Falls &

home base for the F-15s &

to see how all this works. Captain Ritter politely explained to me that the two jets flew more than 10 Fourth of July events in a single circuit that took about two hours and cost taxpayers (courtesy of the Pentagon budget, not the treasuries of towns like Ashland, Eagle Point, Central Point and Doris) about $40,000. The biggest portion of that was aviation fuel &

the two jets together burned up 6,000 gallons in the course of giving us all a big Air Force Reserve howdy.

The captain had a request before hanging up: "Sir, I'd appreciate it if your readers understood two things. The first is that we don't go out looking for these flyovers. We go to the communities that invite us. And the second, is that this is a two-fer for us; our pilots need a minimum number of training hours, so we just schedule some of them to coincide with these events. That's how the cost is justified."

Damn. That's not nearly as interesting as the story I made up as I watched the jets disappear from sight. Maybe it's true that the Ashland flyover didn't burn an extra drop of fuel. So is there anything more to talk about here?

I think there is. As national and world circumstances push us out of our comfort zones, we'll either hunker down and pray that the Lord will somehow provide, or start thinking much more carefully about how we're living &

what's really important to us, and what are we ready to change? Those F-15s, whether or not they're burning fuel that would otherwise be conserved, invite us to do that.

I took the invitation right away &

asking a few paraders what the flyover meant to them. The answers were scattered:

"It's a symbol of American patriotism."

"It's the War Machine come home."

"It doesn't mean anything &

it's just really, really cool," which echoes the prevailing view of readers answering the Tidings' online poll question, "What's your favorite part of Ashland's July Fourth festivities?" As of Wednesday morning, 4 percent chose the run, 27 percent chose the parade, 14 percent chose the fireworks, and 55 percent &

more than the rest combined &

picked the flyover as the best part of the whole day.

On one level I get it.

There's an unmistakable visceral rush when those big boys blaze over. But I don't buy that this opening ritual means little more than that. To me the flyover says that the trembles of global change aren't registering with us &

that we still proudly identify with a giant instrument of intimidation meant to show we're the baddest dude on the global block. If you don't like it, get your own damn pair of F-15s.

I don't know how we can hold onto both that symbology and our amazement, heard so often after Sept. 11, that some in the world don't much like us. The flyover tells me that we're stuck in the same hard-nosed self-absorption that helped create a world that will compel us to spend even more billions on even more training runs that may or may not double as July Fourth attractions.

I'm wondering if we could start next year's parade in a way that says something else: that we're resourceful, adaptable and thinking creatively about what an oil-depleted world demands of us.

A hot air balloon flyover, maybe?

Powered paragliders? A couple of ultralights tricked out with sleek triangular winks to look like fighter jets? They won't get our adrenaline pumping as fast, but maybe more adrenaline isn't what we most need.

I'm only 10 percent kidding about this. Give me your best shot: if Ashland wanted to show that it's fully awake, what would the 2009 flyover look like?

is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at ).

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