Sometimes it really IS a small world. In March 1999, I was having my car serviced at a Jiffy-Lube station in Milford, Massachusetts, near my home. When I checked my car in, I noticed the name "Kern Buck" on the list of waiting customers on the computer screen.
That name sounded familiar, and after a moment, I remembered why. A few months before I had found a book called Flight of Passage in my supermarket bookstore. It had a Piper Cub on the cover, and since I had flown Cubs as a kid in Civil Air Patrol, I was intrigued. I looked it over and decided to make it the next "flying book" in my collection.
Flight of Passage is the story of a flight across America by two brothers in July 1966. Kern Buck was 17 and had just gotten his pilot's license. Rinker Buck was 15, and had also learned to fly the family Piper Cub. Their father, Tom Buck, was a colorful character who had been a barnstormer in his younger days and had taught his boys to fly at a young age.
The boys wanted to do something special, something that would really be their own project, and also impress their dad. They decided to fix up the family Cub, and then fly it from their home in New Jersey all the way to Los Angeles, California. This was quite a challenge given that the Cub could not fly very fast or high, had no radio, lights, or heat, and could hold virtually no luggage in its tiny two-place cockpit. But that's what they decided to do -- fix up the Cub, and fly it to California.
The book is a memoir that was written many years later (it came out in 1997), and the flight is really the heart of it, a funny, inspiring, and occasionally hair-raising adventure story.
But it also talks about the relationship between the boys and their often difficult father, as well as the relationship between Rinker and Kern, which changed in various ways as they tackled the project of restoring the Cub to like-new condition, planning the flight, and then actually flying across the USA (with Kern as the main pilot, and Rinker as the primary navigator). The boys encountered many challenges in crossing the country, and met various fascinating (and often strange!) people along the way.
From the mechanics of restoring the airplane, to the dangers of flying through the "low part" of the Rockies, to the descriptions of many odd-ball Americans, it's a delight to read. Flight of Passage was another factor in my decision in 1999 to really focus on my own long-delayed flying lessons.
Now Back to Jiffy-Lube in Milford. They called Kern Buck to approve the work on his car, and when he came back to the waiting room, I introduced myself.
I told him I had heard his name, and I wondered if he was related to the Kern Buck in a flying book I had recently read. He said, "yes, I was the pilot in that book". We then talked for quite a while about the book, and about flying. It turned out that Kern lived just a short distance from me, and he worked as an attorney in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He had recently completed his long-delayed instrument rating and renewed his CFI (instructor) rating as well, because he realized that as busy as he was with work and family, he still really loved flying and wanted to make time to keep active in it. I told him I had taken some lessons and was hoping to start up again soon.
We exchanged phone numbers and talked a couple of times on the phone, then decided that it would be nice to fly together sometimes. I suggested he contact the small flight school where I had been taking lessons, and he soon became a part-time CFI there, with me as his first student!
I took about eight lessons with Kern in 1999, including my first serious work on landings. Since that time, I've bought a house (another lesson delayer!) and moved away from the Milford area, and now I've resumed my lessons at a new airport and with a new CFI. Kern and I have discussed doing some "fun flying" together some time, perhaps sharing a cross country to Martha's Vineyard. I hope we get a chance to do that.
And you know all the stuff teachers tell you about how reading can take you places? Sometimes it's literally true! The book Flight of Passage has contributed a lot to my personal flight of passage.