Thursday, April 12, 2012

Retreat: Day 1

drive from Lethbridge to Shelby to board the train to Portland. The steward hands me my dinner reservation as I board; I am later seated with three random strangers. The first excuses himself after a moment to join friends he has discovered at another table. After the usual pleasantries--interrupted by appropriate oohhhing and ahhhing as we pass through Glacier National Park--the three of us who remain slowly get to know each other. The man seated across from me acknowledges at one point that he used to be a corporate pilot. As the woman next to him draws him out, he allows that he was also a former test pilot. Later, a stunt pilot, and featured airshow act. He is, in fact Delmar Benjamin, whose plane and flying are featured on the covers of three different flying magazines, a one hour TV documentary, and a series of YouTube videos under his name and GeeBee. (Go have a look, I’ll wait.)

So this guy, this random guy, has a ton of fascinating stories, including the fact that he did 52 airshow performance in one year, clearing about $300,000. (The airshow scene, he noted, is now in decline and he doubts that this is still possible. Too many doctors and dentists, he says, have bought planes and are willing to perform for free.) He regales us with tales of his days as a flight instructor for the next generation of test pilots. He is one interesting guy.

Has he, I ask, ever considered writing a book? Well, yes he has indeed written a book. His first book was published by a small niche aviation press some years ago. He is now writing his memoirs, tentatively entitled, Ten Seconds to Impact. “There are so many stories, things that I’ve done and seen, that would just be gone if I don’t write them down.” We discuss publishing options at some length. He has 10,000 photos of he and his plane, youtube video, documentary video, magazine covers with which to promote his forthcoming book. I explain about Pinterest. He responds by noting that he has an email list of 12,000 people interested in his plane. After choking on my water, I explain to him why he must be the envy of every other author. Compared to others whose names mean nothing, he has a built-in market with which to launch his novel.

Meanwhile, the recently retired woman with us notes that her father had been an illustrator with publisher Ziff-Davies in the 1930s and 1940s, and crazy about planes. He had created innumerable covers for Popular Mechanics and Flying Magazine in which Delmar was subsequently featured… (twice).

I find her father’s name strangely familiar. Didn’t he also do some SF covers for Ziff-Davies? Spaceships and the like? Why, yes, yes he did.

Small world.

She is also interesting in her own right, an excellent conversationalist who not only took the lead in drawing out Delmar’s story, but had a number of anecdotes about her own life and family,

So, how great is this? Way more interesting a first night than I have any right to expect.

But I can’t help reflecting that here it is, only the second time I’ve taken a meal on a train as an adult, and the second time I’ve been seated with someone midway through writing a book. Can it really be that one out of three strangers is writing something?

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