Oregon Man Completes Lawn-Chair Flight
MIKE PESCA, host:
Welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News, online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. You folks, all you folks out there, you know what you're doing with things on the Internet? You're emailing them. You're sharing them. You're viewing them. You're commenting upon them. You're declaiming them, defaming them, extraordinary renditioning (ph) them. And so, we collect all this. We take notes on it. We spew it back to you and we call it The Most.
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PESCA: Some of my compatriots join me here as we speak of the most-emailed and viewed things on the Internet. Mark is one of these compatriots.
MARK GARRISON: Compatriotically (ph), I have a most-emailed at Washington Post. Great headline, "A Vast Left-handed Conspiracy," pointing out that Barack Obama and John McCain are both southpaws. I don't know if you noticed that, but this has happened before. The last time it happened was in '92. Bush 41, Clinton and even Ross Perot, all left-handed. And a little bit of a trend that they point out, in that six of the last 12 presidents, going back to Truman, were left-handed. That's about half, even when only ten percent of the general population is left-handed. So...
IAN CHILLAG: Wow.
PESCA: Wow! I didn't know that.
CHILLAG: That's significant.
PESCA: It is.
GARRISON: That is significant.
GARRISON: But there's a certain creativity in left-handers, too. You know, they...
GARRISON: Like problem-solving...
CHILLAG: Yeah, sure.
GARRISON: They also point out rhetorical ability.
PESCA: Plus, if you drop the jab as a righty, you're susceptible to the southpaw sneaking in, you know, in boxing.
CHILLAG: It's so odd that, you know, we see presidents signing things so often, like, there's so many signing photo ops, but yet I've noticed, like, the weird, crooked-hand thing.
GARRISON: Yeah, exactly.
PESCA: All right. Here's a story, most-emailed at the Chicago Tribune, also a really good headline, because it couldn't be more factual. "Report" - colon - and it is a report...
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PESCA: "Blackhawks-Wings Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field." Let's describe what all these words mean.
PESCA: Blackhawks do have wings, but it - these are hockey teams they're talking about.
PESCA: The Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.
PESCA: Jan 1 is a date in the calendar, the first date in the Roman calendar.
PESCA: And Wrigley Field is an outdoor arena.
PESCA: So according to this report...
PESCA: There is a report...
PESCA: That says there will be an outdoor hockey game in Chicago on January 1st, which is pretty cool.
PESCA: Yeah. People in Chicago are really excited about it. It's the NHL's third outdoor game. They had one over in Edmonton. They had one in Buffalo. It's really cool that once a year people pay attention to the NHL, because they moved the game outside.
PESCA: I think I'll be watching (unintelligible).
GARRISON: It'll be cold enough. That's going to be a cold game.
PESCA: Yeah. I'd like to see them bowl outside. Tricia?
PATRICIA MCKINNEY: Hello, hello. I have one of the most-emailed stories at USA Today. This is a guy we've talked about on the show before. It's the guy, Kent Couch, who wanted to fly a lawn chair powered by balloons across the state line from Oregon into Idaho. Not sure why it had to be Oregon into Idaho, I'm not sure of any that stuff, but anyway, he successfully accomplished it over the weekend. He flew for about nine hours. He lifted off in Oregon, in Bend, Oregon, and he ended up in Cambridge, Idaho. He covered about 235 miles in those nine hours. He had a lawn chair rigged with more than 150 giant party balloons filled with helium.
MCKINNEY: You may ask yourself, why, Kent Couch, why did you feel the need to do this? His answer says it has to do with his childhood dream.
Mr. KENT COUCH (Resident, Bend, Oregon; Cluster Balloonist): I don't know about girls, but I think most guys look up at the sky and wish they could ride on a cloud...
Mr. KENT COUCH: Have a magic carpet, or just hanging onto some balloons and feeling that lift.
GARRISON: Most guys - no.
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CHILLAG: Tricia, as the female, do you, like all men, dream of riding on a cloud or a magic carpet?
MCKINNEY: I - you know, I used to look up at the clouds a lot. I used to kind of imagine kind of walking on them and stuff, but I don't think my dreams ever brought me into a lawn chair powered by balloons...
GARRISON: I don't know about girls...
MCKINNEY: But I will say, a certified female, Laura Conaway, earlier today, was saying, man, I always wanted to do that.
PESCA: I think most men do dream of sitting in a chair, and shooting things with a gun...
MCKINNEY: That's right. Oh...
PESCA: And that was part of this mission.
MCKINNEY: We should talk about how he came to Earth. This is the best part.
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MCKINNEY: He shot at the balloons with his Red Rider BB gun. You'll shoot your eye out, kid.
CHILLAG: Now, that is awesome. That is pretty awesome.
PESCA: I was thinking nine hours in a chair without TV would be pretty bad, but if you get to shoot a lot of balloons at the end, it's pretty good.
CHILLAG: How high do you get? Do you know?
PESCA: This guy was so high - oh, you mean altitude! I'm sorry.
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MCKINNEY: Well, you know, they just quote people who were watching, and they estimated 100 to 200 feet off the ground.
PESCA: Right, yeah, like a cruise.
CHILLAG: So below like a Cessna, probably.
PESCA: Oh yeah, 200 feet, yeah, he wasn't that high up.
GARRISON: I really can't let this go. I mean, how many kids - how many boys are, like...
PESCA: Not that many.
PESCA: I hope there's no copycat ballooning as a result.
MCKINNEY: Well, this guy is actually a copycat himself. Apparently, he saw somebody do it in a news report, and that's how he got the idea.
CHILLAG: Well, it's a common dream we all share. It's not a copycat. It's in the zeitgeist.
PESCA: Right. It's in the DNA, if you will.
PESCA: Yeah. Ian, what do you have?
CHILLAG: I have a most-viewed from Yahoo!
CHILLAG: Brian Krause finally beat his dad Rick Krause!
PESCA: With a tire iron?
CHILLAG: In the Cherry Pit Spitting Championship.
CHILLAG: Krause, in the championships in Eau Claire, spit 56 feet, seven and a half inches, beating his dad. Brian goes by the nickname Young Gun. His dad is known as Pellet Gun. I assume he's a rapid-fire type. Yeah. It's all technique. I watched some of this on the TV. You kind of bend back at your waist...
CHILLAG: And then propel yourself forward and you got to time the...
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CHILLAG: Right at the peak of your kind of swing.
PESCA: Is there something genetically or physiologically about, I don't know, the shape of their mouths or esophagus that makes these two gentlemen very good at it?
CHILLAG: I don't know. I did notice some commonalities in the body types of the many competitors. They're not, you know, what you would call typical, traditional, athlete form, but they - you know, they can spit a cherry pit farther than I can.
PESCA: Maybe a lot of practice eating cherry pie as well as spitting the remnants of said pie.
CHILLAG: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MATT MARTINEZ: We should mention, Eau Claire, clear water. That means clear water.
PESCA: So it's in Wisconsin?
PESCA: Clearwater's in Florida.
CHILLAG: It's in Michigan.
MARTINEZ: I know.
CHILLAG: It's in Michigan.
PESCA: Oh wait. This Eau Claire is in Michigan?
MARTINEZ: Oh wow, there are a lot of Eau Claires, aren't there?
CHILLAG: Well, there's clear water everywhere.
MARTINEZ: Yes. That's true.
PESCA: Mm-hm. Except in Jersey.
MCKINNEY: Less and less.
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PESCA: Matt, what do you got?
MARTINEZ: I have one of the most-viewed right now at npr.org. It's all about airline attendants. Airlines, as we all know, are cutting flights, adding surcharges to flyers to compensate for high oil prices, and all of these things are, as you would imagine, annoying the hell out of customers. So, guess who's caught in the middle. Flight attendants.
MARTINEZ: Don't be mean to the flight attendants. They just want to keep you safe, and serve you a tasty beverage and peanuts.
PESCA: Except the ones with attitude.
MARTINEZ: Yeah. Well, here's NPR's Frank Langfitt with one of the most-viewed at npr.org.
(Soundbite of NPR's Morning Edition, July 7, 2008)
FRANK LANGFITT: Three years ago, Stefannee Steffenhagen got the job she'd been hoping for.
Ms. STEFANNEE STEFFENHAGEN (Flight Attendant, U.S. Airways Commuter Service): I've always wanted to be a flight attendant. You know, that little girl dream, you see the flight attendant, oh, I want to be like her.
LANGFITT: She now flies for U.S. Airways Commuter Service, but in her brief career, Steffenhagen has seen a lot of change. Today she has fewer things to offer passengers, and they're increasingly mad about it. One of her toughest jobs is just getting women to put their purses in the overhead. She says the conversations often go like this.
Ms. STEFFENHAGEN: Ma'am, can I place your carry on, you know, in the overhead, your purse? But I have to have it next to me. I'm, like, ma'am, you can get it out during in-flight. It's just for takeoff and landing, and I'm telling you I have to fight with some of these passengers to get all their stuff up there.
LANGFITT: And she expects things will only get worse.
Ms. STEFFENHAGEN: I don't know if, you know, they're going to start charging for bags. I'm dreading what they're going to try to bring on the aircraft.
LANGFITT: Steffenhagen is 34. She makes about 30,000 dollars a year. On her days off, she bartends to make extra cash. She usually flies to places like Greensborough, North Carolina, or Islip, Long Island. She dreams of more exciting routes, but she wonders if the time is running out.
Ms. STEFFENHAGEN: I do want to go to, maybe, a mainline carrier, and do the Paris-London overnights, but I don't know now, because is that airline going still to be there in two years?
Ms. PATRICIA FRIEND (President, Association of Flight Attendants): What we worked to create was actually a profession.
LANGFITT: That's Patricia Friend. She runs the Association of Flight Attendants, a big union. Friend hoped that her members would be able to enjoy a stable, middle-class lifestyle.
Ms. FRIEND: Support a family, educate their children, have healthcare, and earn a pension. That's gone.
LANGFITT: The fortunes of airline workers have been falling for years. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, companies began slashing wages and benefits. To save money, airlines are putting crews in cheaper hotels. Stephen Schembs flies for U.S. Air.
Mr. STEPHEN SCHEMBS (Pilot, U.S. Air): We used to be downtown Chicago, right there on the Miracle Mile, right in the heart of downtown Chicago, and now we're at a hotel in Skokie at a strip mall, 40 minutes from the city without transportation in.
LANGFITT: In recent months, the airlines' finances have worsened. The cost of oil is wiping out profits. Erin Gailey feels the impact of oil prices all the time. She flies for Alaska Airlines. I met up with her at a hotel during a layover outside of Washington, D.C.
Ms. ERIN GAILEY (Flight Attendant, Alaska Airlines): We're taking every piece of weight off the airplane we can. If that means not carrying as many supplies in the back, anything from not as much bottled water, not as many utensils, every pound that we can take off the airplane is going to save us money in fuel.
LANGFITT: And sometimes that means Gailey just runs out of things.
Ms. GAILEY: One of my favorite lines that I sometimes say to people when they look at me and say, what do you mean you don't have any more ketchup? Or what - pretend like you're camping.
LANGFITT: Camping is not what most passengers have in mind. When Gailey got into the business in the 1980s, airlines actually competed on service.
Ms. GAILEY: In coach, we always had a wine bottle on every tray.
LANGFITT: Those were the days. Gailey says the role of the flight attendant is more complicated now. As flying has become more trying, there's more conflict in the cabin, and it falls to flight attendants to diffuse it.
Ms. GAILEY: We can't call 911. We are the police. We are the psychiatrist. We are the doctor. We are the nurse. We are the bomb squad.
LANGFITT: I join Gailey on the bus to the airport. I meet some of her colleagues. They say apathy is up and morale is down. As Gailey prepares to go through security, she has a parting thought. It's about professionalism.
Ms. GAILEY: I understand it's day to day for some folks, and I understand it's been very painful, but for me, it's about my personal integrity. I still do an excellent job. I do a better job than I did 25 years ago. I think I work for one of the best carriers in the nation. If I didn't, I wouldn't keep going.
LANGFITT: And with that, she heads towards the metal detectors, and a nearly six-hour flight back home.
PESCA: And that is NPR's Frank Langfitt. You can find links to that story and all the stories you heard on The Most on our website, npr.org/bryantpark.