image: Daren R. Sefcik
Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) are penned by the two of them.
Bob was charging full tilt towards the edge of a two hundred foot cliff. He was about ten feet away from leaping off into space when some lodge pin popped out of the brace above him and his hang glider collapsed. It was just another incident for the “Death Glider,” as he had christened it only a week before, when it had pretty much done the same thing, only with someone flying about twelve hundred feet up. Luckily there was enough time for them to pull a belly chute.
This, though, was the last time they tried to use it, choosing to retire it for good. Bob had a couple others, so it was no great loss. He strapped into another one and leapt off, catching a thermal and soaring in ever-widening circles into the warm air rising from the floor of the San Fernando Valley. He’d risen about 2,000 feet, high enough to build some solid speed on the way back down, as he came swooping down at us like a extinct bird of prey. He skimmed the landing site and headed for a small rise at the far end of the field, pulling up in time to do a whoop-de-do and just miss the crest before continuing down the far side. Unfortunately, just out of sight over that same crest waited a Bob sized yucca plant, and he went straight into it, stopping rather abruptly. The needles embedded themselves deep into him, luckily missing his face, but hitting plenty of other places. Most of them were pulled out with a handy pair of needle nose pliers and half a bottle of Cuervo, but the last couple were too stubborn, and he wound up the day in the emergency room.
He was no stranger to emergency rooms, Bob. Starting at a young age when a huge Santa Ana wind blew a tree limb off a sycamore in his parents backyard. He was eight at the time, and quickly gathered all his neighborhood friends to help him lift this two hundred pound branch just far enough so he could crawl under it. Then he sent his little brother Greg into the house shouting at the top of his six year old lungs, “Mom, Mom! A tree fell on Bob!” Nina came charging out of the house, all four feet eleven and ninety-five pounds of her, yanked the tree off her eldest son, and hurled it across the yard. Even at the age of eight, Bob was smart enough to take note he should play hurt.
Unlike me, who would as soon as not wind up in the presence of head-shaking medical personal due to clumsiness, Bob would wind up in Emergency Rooms because something he had tried had gone somewhat sideways. At one point he was into sky diving, driving down to Lake Elsinore and Perris on Saturdays. He got hooked on, as some describe it, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, but it got expensive. He started working there on the weekends, taking his payment in jumps instead of cash and sleeping in the back of his El Camino.
He drove the flatbed truck around, picking up the skydivers who had been blown off course by the wind, at one point almost taking out a full load of folks, and the truck, and a glider that was landing on the wrong runway. The guys in the back had to pound on the roof to get his attention. He had some nice single reflex cameras, (film of course, this was back in the day) and would show us pictures of people floating down, and all the whafers standing around looking up at them. (ed: after asking dad what a “whafer” was, he responded: “whafers,” or “whatfers” are people that stand around saying “what for they got them packs on, what for they getting in that airplane, what for they jumping out of those airplanes?”)
Before you are allowed to jump out of an airplane, (on purpose, anyway) you have to take three or four hours of instructions from someone who is state-qualified to do something insane and live to tell about it. Insurance or something, I don’t know, anyway, the classes are taught out in the open near the landing site. It was a longstanding, (and to my sick mind, great) joke on the part of the folks at the Perris school to fly over the Elsinore landing site just in time for the newbie ground class and toss out a dummy (a real dummy, that is, not some fellow lunatic) and let it impact into the ground a hundred yards from the class. He was working down there on a regular basis for the balance of the summer, so much so he was seriously thing of getting a tattoo that said “E F S”, which means exactly what you think it does, when this little episode of his life came to an end in a rather abrupt manner.
He was on a solo jump, having left the plane on a second pass around the field, all the other jumpers having left on the first pass, and was high enough up for some acrobatics and drifting before he was supposed to pull his cord. The chute deployed, but tangled up in itself and wouldn’t open fully. He struggled with it for a few seconds, because that’s really all you have, and then pulled his belly chute. The odds of both chutes not opening are rare, but Bob was a rare individual anyway, and the belly chute hung up too. He gave it a huge yank, and it finally opened fully about a hundred feet from the ground. It broke most of his fall, but he still bounced about forty feet back up into the air, cracking his ankle when he hit the second time. They got him to a local emergency room, the Resident remarking he’d never seen ankles swelled up this thick, and Bob retorting he had thick ankles anyway, which was just as well, under the circumstances. For the next few months, he had a walking cast and a great tale to tell. The next season was out for hang gliding and parachute jumping, but he stayed with the wings and wind theme by getting into kite flying, sailing six footers in the on shore breeze at Venice Beach. Most of his excess money was spent on buying, repairing, and flying “NBK’s” (nice big kites), until the next thing replaced that.
I haven’t seen Bob in something like twenty-five years now; I sometimes wonder what craziness he is into these day, but I suppose that, like everyone, time and life must have tamed him a little.
My third cello teacher lived in the Sylmar foothills and was an eccentric angel with succulents for wings and wavy red hair that ended above the elaborate dangly earrings she wore in her right ear only. She had an army of cats, the only one of whoms name I can remember right now is Melba (a slinky, stinky, bony black cat with one fang and one oversized white whisker who napped face downward – and drooling – into pillows and thighs. RIP, baby girl.), though I quite liked the grey tabby too (Boomer?), and her parter, Art, who was an experimental sound artist and musician.
Her house and garden were unique on the block, full of coptic jars, concrete floors with the cracks filled with colorful paint, a model train track running just under the celing through the living room and office and, outside, little fountains, bougainvillea growths, and towering cacti. Her library was envious, crammed onto bookshelves I nearly knocked over many times while reading the spines: Man Ray, Egyptology, paperbacks on everything.
When dad was laid off and couldn’t pay for lessons anymore, she let me clean her house and tend her gardens for two hours each week in exchange for a one-hour lesson. I’m not sure how much she actually gained from this arrangement, but I grew immeasurably as a result of her generosity: namely “don’t do a shit job if someone’s being nice to you,” “if you’re suffering through a chore it’s probably because you don’t know what you’re doing and need to ask for help,” and “dirt under your fingernails does not excuse your crappy scale.” It was one tormentingly hot day as I pretended to pull weeds in the side yard while actually playing with Melba – or perhaps was washing and waxing her car horrifically – that I first became aware of a popular hang gliding spot atop a nearby mountain.
The fliers circled back and forth from the peak like distant vultures and, being 12, I of course wanted to try it.
This came as no surprise to dad – the existence of the launch point, or my interest in it – for it turns out he’d already been there done that and was resigned though hopefully amused his kid exhibited the same completely poor judgement as dear old Bob. He declined my suggestion we set off on mountain roads in search of the peak, and instead distracted me with Yum-Yum Donuts on Hubbard Street (an occasional secret I was supposed to keep from Mom). He spent the car ride home sharing stories of hang gliding mishaps and shamelessly dodging every question I had about scheduling a flying lesson.
For the record, I think I would have had a great time.