WHAT AMERICA IS? – An American story

Here in Slovakia we have a saying, ’It’s America’. This is a very short and straight way of calling something admirable and extraordinary… Only few of those who use to this saying can check out what America is in reality.

In the university town of Iowa City they have the Center for International Studies, where a young girl called Shu-I Chan, from Taiwan, registered all official foreign visitors and informing the local people how to meet with them. Shu-I Chan called me one day and asked me if I could meet Mr. Bruce Lafferty. He had spent six months in Slovakia and would like to meet someone from there. I agreed, Bruce called, and two days later we were enjoying a beer together. It was a good meeting. Bruce had nice memories of Slovakia. The only black mark was the Slovak Traffic Police Department for preferring to hit foreigners with fines. That was another piece of evidence that he really visited Slovakia.

When we finally got to the topic of what we both do for a living I found out that Bruce was a professional pilot. He piloted Hercules transport planes for the National Guard, thus my lifelong dream was sitting in front of me. As a boy I wanted to be a pilot.

USA let, ilustr. Vanek
USA let, ilustr. Vanek

I asked Bruce in detail everything about it. Telling him my boy’s dream, he looked at me with understanding and said “Nothing is lost. This is America, after all.” Then he arranged to meet me the following week.

The following week we met at the local airport. It was mostly for recreational and private flying. Bruce ordered a little twin-engine propeller plane, with dual controls. He showed me in detail pre-flight preparation, we sit in, Bruce started engines and we slowly taxied for takeoff. It was fantastic. It was America. An absolute stranger was spending his time and money to take me on this flight. I had the feeling that I knew what this was all about and what I could expect from it, but I was wrong.

“Take the rudders,” said Bruce in an authoritative voice at the threshold of the runway. “I’m going to turn up the engines and you take the plane up and fly it.”

“But I’ve never flown a plane in my whole life!” I protested.

“It’s okay. I’m an instructor and this is the first lesson. Let’s go!”

Bruce turned up the engines and, as instructed, I took the controls trying to recall the knowledge I had gained in childhood by reading.

And we flew. It wasn’t tremendously elegant, but we were in the air. We flew around half of Iowa. The countryside under our plane was full of colors and offered every minute a new view and scenery. Bruce gave me a chance to feel like a pilot with plane in my own hands but when he drew my attention to the fields down there, which could be a suitable in the case of an emergency landing, I decided to let the control over the rest of our flight to him. When I tried to thank him through the roar of the engines, he shrugged it off with a wave.

“It’s nothing,” Bruce yelled back at me. “Flying is essentially very boring.”

I don’t agree completely with Bruce, but I appreciated the fact that he tried to convince me of this. To spare himself the “boredom” of the routine flight, and to be safe, he made the landing maneuver by himself – with bravura.

And this is America, too.


From a book (see in E-book form here) by Gustáv Murín: Svet je malý/The World is Small – collection of travel stories in bilingual Slovak–English edition, SPN Publ., 2012.

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