Sunday, April 11, 2010

Up in the Air

George Clooney is a guy eternally on the road. For a lot of folk in today's world, on the road means "up in the air" as air travel becomes the lifestyle of the modern road warrior. Airports, cabs, hotels, rental cars. Instead of being a travelling salesman, Clooney works for a company that specializes in laying people off. It's a consulting firm and Clooney is the dude who rolls in, rolls up his sleeves and does the dirty work. There's a sense, though, that he really is in sales. His product is hope... trying to give people a glimmer of light when the bottom is dropping out. (What color is your parachute?)

One of the sub-plots in the film is that Clooney is approaching a milestone which only six others have ever achieved, fifty million frequent flyer miles. (Spoiler alert) Near the end of the film he reaches this goal (I do not think I am giving anything away) and there is a little ceremony in which the stewardesses bring wine, and the pilot comes back to sit with him and give him his silver card, the seventh and youngest to receive this honor.

An interesting dialogue ensues. "You don't know how many times I thought about this moment, planning what I would say," Clooney says.

"What did you want to say?" the pilot replies.

"You know, I don't remember."

It's a somewhat minor incident in the film but it echoed with memories of my first parachute jump when I was in college my sophomore year at Ohio U. A couple guys in our dorm had gotten into parachute jumping through a parachute club in Southeast Ohio. I later learned that for every two new recruits each received a free jump.

These guys were very determined salesmen and exceedingly creative in their approach. The argument which won me over was that I could talk about it the rest of my life.

The day I took my first jump there were 26 new recruits. The trainers put us through 3 hours of training exercises to prepare us for the first jump and, especially important, the landing.

The connection to the film is this... when I prepared for the jump I also prepared a little ritual which I intended to carry out after I began my descent. First, I was going to sing Eight Miles High by The Byrds, even though I was only a half mile high. Then I was going to pull a clump of grass (the kind that grows as part of your front lawn, not the other kind) out of my pocket and drop it from the sky. There may have been a few other components to my plan, which I no longer remember, but like Clooney, everything I'd planned simply evaporated. When the chute opened, my involuntary response was a hoarsely exhaled, "Oh, wow."

If you haven't seen the film, co-written and directed by Jason Reitman whose first offering to a public hungry for fresh storytelling was Juno, you'll probably find it interesting. It was nominated for best picture by the Academy, though the reviews at are all over the map on this one. There were things to like about it, but I'm still a little up in the air about my final verdict. It didn't take my breath away or make me say, "Oh, wow." But on some levels it was fun, and it gave me something to talk about.

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