February 19, 2009

Ode to CMI

"It must be really loud! Is it really loud? Do the airplanes wake you up at night?"

This is always what's said when I tell someone where I live. Possibly relevant questions, but I answer the same way- No, it's not really loud, I'm used to it, or "It's just like getting used to living by a train track". That's actually a lie, though. It's so much more interesting than living near some squeaking boxcars chugging through cornfields.

True, Willard Airport isn't exactly O'Hare or JFK...but we have a couple runways and a couple gates. I moved to this un-metropolis when I was nine years old, young enough for it to seem normal to me. I somehow haven't felt like this is an odd place to be, although the Monical's delivery guy always has to call back when he ends up at the terminal, pulling up in the driveway to say, "I never knew this place was here."

I grew up riding my bike to the terminal for bubble gum at the gift shop. My brother and I played around the emptied, junk planes used for simulations. We ran breathless from hours of tag in the Quonset huts and flag football in the wide open spaces. We used to have an occasional snack from the restaurant that used to be there, getting toys when we left from the older Greek man that owned it. The rental cars, tiny orange and blue student planes, passengers, and pilots seemed completely ordinary. There were several 4th of July parade appearances riding on the neon green fire engine, my dad at the wheel, waving flags and getting sun burnt sitting on the very top of the truck. Ironically, it was the most normal American childhood in some ways.

The annual crash drill for local firefighters and paramedics was the highlight of our summers, being smeared with red paint, having shirts ripped up, and lying motionless on the concrete while an EMT triaged us-ending up dead wasn't so fun. There was a long wait in the old terminal building while everyone got ready. I remember fake bones sticking out ominously, and firefighters working together to diagnose the problem. There were ambulance rides to the Carle Hospital ED afterwards, where we'd get a free lunch and get to completely exageate the fake peril we were in.

So seeing the green sign with airplane outline and arrow feels like a sign pointing home. I love screeching around the curves past the terminal and golf course. I love taking a walk around the loop, with red and blue lights flashing urgently from the police training done here. I love getting my runaway dog back from a girl on the way to pick up her family that just flew in, or the fact that I can run over to the firehouse and smell the familiar diesel smell I grew up with. There isn't too much better than driving out onto a quiet runway and feeling completely lost from everything, or mistaking glittering stars for small planes.

Strange as it is, it really feels like home.

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