Blimp Boy

As much as I let my tongue slip and slam my line of work, it does provide me with oppotunties I wouldn’t have if I worked behind a desk.

In my short career I have traveled to the Mojave Desert, watched Mississippi Klan leaders sentenced to life in prison, flown multiple times in a helicopter, stood in a tropical storm (next time I’d like to try something more intimate…but that’s another story all together), hung out with the Rainbow Family in a national forest, walked through the ruins of Thomas Wolfe’s burned childhood home, spent two months searching through the Ozark Mountains for a deranged mountain man, listened as murderers confessed their crimes to me, spoken to world leaders, spoken one-on-one with a boy who killed two girls in a school shooting, discovered a sick mortality we all posess, sat up all night under the crackle of gunfire as a crazy man shot at police during a standoff, sat outside a maximum security prison (all night again) as two men held prison guards at bay, learned how to shoot a .40 calibre pistol…among other things that don’t come to mind right now.

Today, I climbed into the world’s largest commercial airship…that’s a blimp to you and me. Fuji Film’s blimp has been given the cold shoulder by sporting events due to the events of September 11th. This week it flew into our little state (where no one is playing any kind of major sporting event) to visit its Greenwood plant. And they offered me a ride. A ride that…if I were a desk jockey (no offense, my desk jockey friends) I would not have been offered. Their insurance company won’t let them take the general public for rides. I guess news reporters’ lives are worth less than everybody else.

This thing is huge. Almost as big as a jet airliner. If you had 44 million tennis balls, you could fit them all in the big bag of helium. It seats more people than my living room and has a bathroom…er…lavatory…in the back. I spent two hours on the road, thrity minutes in the air, skipped breakfast and lunch, and turned out a one minute story.

Commercial blimps have been flying in the United States since 1928. In that time, only three million people have flown in one. That’s not very many if figure that around that many people fly on the major airliners in a month or so.

So make me the 3,000,001st person.

The news business is a strange one. No glamour. Stupid hours. Low self respect. But you get to do unique things from time to time. Some good, some bad. But they all teach you something. That’s why I’m going to have a hard time getting out of this business.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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