Beginnings of an Avgeek, Part 2: Missed Opportunities

This is part two of a three part series. You can find part one here.

Looking back, I can see that I went through a period of about 10 years where the world of being an avgeek was calling me but I really wasn't listening. Time and again opportunities came and went to explore aviation and pretty much every time I would not follow them for one reason or another. However there were a few key moments that would eventually come together to jump start my interests and get me into this hobby.

I was a technical theater major in college, as I alluded to previously. My first 2 years of school were at a campus in Westchester County, NY that directly bordered Westchester County Airport. I distinctly remember when I first moved on campus noticing how loud the jets were as they took off beyond the trees. Yet within a few weeks, I had grown accustomed to hearing them and they were barely noticeable. They were a part of the environment there and they quickly blended in with all the other sights and sounds. My second year there, my dorm room actually overlooked the short-final approach path, and from my third floor window the planes seemed as if they were almost at eye level. Yet my time was typically consumed with my studies, and the planes were simply a part of that environment. Never once did I head out to the back entrance of the campus which passed just beyond the runway threshold to watch the planes land. Now in a post 9/11 world, that road is totally closed off, having been deemed a security risk due to its close proximity to the airport. Speaking of 9/11, it was a jarring moment on campus. For several days, there was an eerie silence that accompanied the nationwide grounding of all flights, and when the first one came in to land, my friends and I all cheered. In retrospect, that event gave me a new appreciation for aviation.

Going into my junior year, I transferred schools and ended up in downtown Brooklyn, NY. Many evenings, my friends and I would venture out to the Brooklyn Heights promenade to relax. We would look at the Manhattan skyline, the activity in the harbor, and on some nights the parade of arrivals into LaGuardia overhead and Newark in the distance. Shortly after moving, I found myself fascinated with the subway system and joined a message board (straphangers.org) to learn as much as I could. I soon came to learn that a few of my fellow members on that site had an interest in aviation, and occasionally would mention events such as the last flights of Concorde that were coming up. Of course I never took the time to hop on the A Train down the block and head out towards JFK near the end of the line to see any of these things. Not ever having the chance to see the magnificence that was Concorde in flight is something that I regret today. There was one pivotal event that happened at this time that would be the first in the chain that would draw me in to aviation. One of the other members of this website was Phil Derner Jr. and he was at this time starting what would eventually become NYCAviation. Though I would not meet Phil in person for many more years, I knew of him and remembered his name.

After graduating, I moved to Newark for a year and then the Bronx. In Newark while I lived on the opposite side of town from the airport, occasionally an arriving plane would fly by outside my window at a relatively low altitude, though they usually approached several miles to the east. In the Bronx, I found myself living under one of the departure paths and one of the arrival paths from LaGuardia and though they were at about 5000 feet when they passed overhead, I would often look up at them as they flew off to their unknown destinations. I also found myself becoming interested in the podcasting medium as a listener around this time, as I would have frequent weekend trips up to Connecticut and long rides on public transportation to other parts of the city. One podcast that I quickly fell in love with was Joe D'Eon's excellent "Fly With Me." I would anxiously await new episodes, and when they showed up, I would quickly listen to them. I also listened to the entire back catalog of episodes. As that show faded away after a few years, I found myself searching for another aviation-related podcast. One night I came across the Airplane Geeks Podcast in my searches and subscribed to it, downloading as far back as iTunes would let me, which was starting with Episode 7. After letting it sit on my iPod for several months, I finally decided to listen to that first episode and I was instantly hooked. I began listening to episode after episode working my way through them on my commutes to and from work. On one particular episode (86) in the winter of 2010 where the topic was planespotting, as they introduced their guest for the week, I recognized a familiar name: Phil from the subway message boards all those years ago! I remember listening intently to that episode and being very intrigued by it. Now of course I didn't start planespotting right then and there, but it did spur me to check out his website www.nycaviation.com and start exploring it. I looked through the photos of others, learned about events like the annual UN Week, and read about encounters with law enforcement both good and bad. I even ordered a few items from their online store. A seed had been planted.

Later that same year, my wife and I planned a trip to visit some of her family in Seattle, WA. One night as I was looking up things to do while we were out there, I saw that there were tours of the Boeing factory available. I told my wife (who rolled her eyes at me) that if there was one thing that I wanted to do while we were out there, it was to take that tour. Little did I know that part of that would Include my first experience with planespotting.