Top Gun Dad Part 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

During a Christmas visit to San Diego, a Navy pilot grows nostalgic about his time on an aircraft carrier. Then he learns his iron stomach isn’t what it used to be.

December 22, 2021 – San Diego, California, USA

Free flights for family vacations were the best perks of Mitch Barlow’s job as an airline pilot.  It was easy for Mitch to convince his wife, Alma, that the family should spend a good part of Christmas break in San Diego.  Enjoying fun and warm weather in California was meant to be a Christmas present to the whole family.

Mitch knew San Diego well because he was stationed there while in the Navy.  He was eager to show it off to his three kids, so he purchased all-inclusive passes, called Go San Diego passes, to San Diego’s most popular attractions.  With military precision, Mitch planned out what they would do each day to maximize their fun and make the passes worthwhile.  He saved his favorite places for the last full day of their trip.

“It looks even bigger close up, doesn’t it?” Mitch said to his twelve-year-old son, Aiden, as they stood below the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego harbor.

“Do they still use it?” asked an awestruck Aiden.

“Not anymore.  It’s chained to the dock.  It’s only good for tours now,” answered Mitch.

“You used to live on that ship?” asked Mitch’s seven-year-old daughter, Sydnee.

“Not on this one.  Mine was even bigger, but it’s kind of the same idea.”

“Mom lived on the ship too?” asked Sydnee, her head rotating between her parents.

“No, Mom definitely did not live on the ship,” replied her mother, Alma, with a laugh.

“Your mom likes it better on solid ground,” said Mitch.  “I lived on a ship before I ever met her.”

The family showed their passes at the visitor entrance and then walked across the long gangway to the aircraft carrier.  They followed the signs to the main hanger, directly below the ship’s flat deck.  Sunlight streamed through the giant doors open on both sides of the immense hangar, the size of multiple basketball courts.

“This is where they worked on the planes,” said Mitch.  “Imagine rows of planes on both sides and hundreds of people running around, yelling at each other.  I can still smell the oil and the jet fuel.”

“Did you fix the planes too?” asked Aiden.

“No, I was flying the planes.  I was an officer.  Most of the guys down here in the hangar were just regular sailors.”

“Being an office was better?” asked Aiden.

“Oh yeah, being an office was better,” answered Mitch with a chuckle.

In the middle of the hangar sat the cockpit of a disassembled F-14 fighter jet.  It was there as a photo prop and visitors could climb into the seats or stand next to it.  Mitch pushed his whole family over and asked a passerby to snap their picture.  Everyone smiled except for fifteen-year-old daughter, Emma.  She did her best to look uninterested.

From the hangar, they all climbed a set of stairs that took them to the flight deck.  Mitch walked proudly along the striped path where planes used to land.  He breathed in the ocean air and looked out at the horizon.

“That’s what I flew,” said Mitch, pointing at an F-18 sitting at the edge of the deck.  “You can’t believe the power when the ship’s catapult launches you forward.  It’s like your whole body’s in a slingshot.”

Aiden and Sydnee were more interested in crawling into the open doors of the helicopters on deck than they were in listening to their dad.  They ran off and posed for helicopter pictures before Mitch caught up to them.

“Isn’t it harder to fly a helicopter than to fly a jet?” Aiden asked his dad.

“What?  Who told you that?”

“I think I heard it on a TV show.”

“Well, the TV show doesn’t know what it’s talking about.  I had to land a jet going a hundred miles an hour in a space only that big.  Look at it.”  Mitch pointed toward the painted lines on the flight deck.  “Helicopters are moving slow when they land.”

Aiden did not look convinced, so Mitch took him to see the demonstration of how grappling hooks were used to catch planes as they landed.  Mitch had to correct the volunteer leading the grappling hook discussion and tell him how things worked on more modern aircraft carriers.

“Now let’s go take a look at the bridge,” called Mitch.

The family joined a guided tour of the air traffic control tower and then the chair where the ship’s captain sat.  Sydnee and Aiden spun the wheel used to steer the ship.

“Were you ever the captain?” Sydnee asked her father.

“No, but pilots are the most important people on this kind of ship,” answered Mitch.  “Anybody can steer the boat.  Not very many can land the planes.”

Next, the family visited a series of rooms tucked just below the flight deck.  They looked a little like classrooms, with rows of chairs facing one direction.  Mitch insisted they were the most important places on the ship. 

“I used to sit in pilot briefing rooms just like this,” said Mitch.  “This is where we figured out the targets and where we were going.  The flight leader would take this chair.  Aiden, sit next to me.  You can be my wingman.”

Mitch and his kids posed for picture after picture in different pilot briefing rooms.  Mitch excitedly told them about missions in the Persian Gulf and how he had to take off and land in the dark.  He was still explaining mission details as his family toured the dining halls and living quarters on the lower decks.

“I know you could probably stay here for a week and not get bored, but I think the kids have kind of reached their limit,” Alma said to her husband.

Mitch looked at the tired expressions on his kids’ faces and had to agree it was time to go.  “Okay, okay.  Are you guys ready for a different kind of fun?” asked Mitch.  “Some fast-moving fun?”

Aiden and Sydnee nodded vigorously to show they were definitely ready for something new.  Mitch led everyone to the nearest exit.  As they walked off the aircraft carrier, he turned around for one last, long look.

“That was nice, but a little too calm to give you a real taste of what it was like,” Mitch said thoughtfully.  “When you were out in the middle of the ocean with a storm all around you, everything was bouncing around.  It took an iron stomach not to get sick, especially when you were flying.”

The fast-moving fun Mitch had promised his family was set to be delivered by a small amusement park next to Mission Beach called Belmont Park.  While the place was not very big, and most of the rides were things you might find at a traveling fair or carnival, Belmont Park did have a tall wooden roller coaster called the Giant Dipper.  The kids spotted the roller coaster from a mile away.

“Can we ride as many times as we want?” asked Aiden.

“Yep.  All the way until they close,” said Mitch.

“Any of the rides?” asked Sydnee.

“Sure.  Any of the rides.”

Belmont Park was decorated for Christmas with fake snowflakes and icicles, but the sun was shining, and the temperature hovered in the mid 60’s Fahrenheit.  Aiden and Sydnee could barely contain their excitement as the family stood in line to exchange their Go Passes for Belmont Park wristbands.

“Let’s start with the roller coaster, okay Dad?” said Aiden.

“Sounds good to me.  How many times you think you could do it in a row?”

“Probably a million,” replied Aiden.

“How about you two?” Mitch asked his wife and oldest daughter.

“You know I’m too old for roller coasters,” said Alma. 

“We all have to try it at least once,” said Mitch.

“Maybe once.  But I’m telling you, if my stomach doesn’t feel right, that’s it for me.”

With the necessary wristbands attached, the family hurried to the roller coaster entrance.  Since they were there on a Wednesday afternoon, there was no line.  The employee in charge of the ride moved in slow motion, but eventually the whole family was strapped in, and the roller coaster cars began to move.  Mitch, Aiden, and Sydnee put their hands up as the cars passed through a dark tunnel and climbed up the first steep hill.  Click, click, click, click.

At the top of the hill, the cars fell into a steep drop and then a quick turn.  The turn straightened out into a more gradual rise and fall.  Then the cars climbed again.  Click, click, click, click.  There was another dramatic drop followed by tight turns.  Mitch and the kids screamed.  Alma held tight to the bar in front of her and held her breath.

“That’s it for me,” said Alma, when the cars came to a stop.

“Already?  That was nothing.  You’re even more of a lightweight than I thought,” said Mitch with a laugh.

“Call me whatever you want,” said Alma.  “I told you I’m too old to handle the spinning anymore.  You guys go again if you want.”

“Can we Dad?” asked Sydnee.

“Sure.  As many times as you want.”

Since there was no one else in line, the roller coaster attendant let them stay on as she started the cars along the track.  Mitch and his kids rode five more times in a row.  By the end of their streak, Sydnee was still screaming with delight, but Aiden and Emma were ready to try something new.

On their way to the lineup of other rides, they passed a food stand selling hotdogs and popcorn.  When Mitch asked who was hungry, everyone raised their hands.

“Then we’ve got to have some carnival food to put us in the right frame of mind,” said Mitch.  He bought everyone a hotdog and ate two himself.  He was halfway through his bag of popcorn when the family strolled to a ride called the Control Freak.

“Can we do this one Dad?  Please?” called Sydnee.

“Looks fun to me,” said Mitch.  “Anybody else?  How about you, Alma?”

“No way.  You take the kids.”
The Control Freak ride held passengers in seats that spun forward and backwards as a giant arm moved in a circle.  Riders could swing back and forth and even turn upside down, depending on how they rocked their seats.  Mitch sat next to Sydnee while Aiden and Emma took a separate compartment.  As the giant arm spun, Mitch and Sydnee rotated as many times as they could.  Emma was not as thrilled with the Control Freak.

“I want off.  I don’t feel so good,” said Emma when the ride came to a stop.

“You’re done already?” called out Mitch.  “Don’t tell me you’ve got your mom’s stomach!”

Mitch and the two younger kids rode the Control Freak seven more times.  Before finding another ride, they stopped for huge plates of funnel cakes.

“Now the Tilt-a-Whirl!” shouted Sydnee.

“Sounds good to me,” replied Mitch.

Alma and Emma both sat out the first Tilt-a-Whirl ride.  As his car moved in a circle around the ride’s track, Mitch used his arms to make it rotate around and around as fast as possible.  Sydnee squealed but Aiden cried for him to slow down.

“I gotta get off,” said Aiden in a miserable voice when the ride ended.

“Not you too,” said Mitch.  “Are you going to just watch with your mom and sister?”

“Come on Aiden.  We’ll go find something a little slower for us, like the bumper cars,” said Alma.

“You lightweights!” called Mitch.

“Yeah, you lightweights!” added Sydnee.

Mitch and Sydnee rode the Tilt-a-Whirl another five times and then Mitch bought cotton candy.  While they were eating, Sydnee spotted a ride called the Beach Blaster.

“Dad!  We have to go on that!” she said with bulging eyes.

Riders on the Beach Blaster stood upright and were strapped against the padded backstop of a cylinder about the same diameter as a playground merry-go-round.  As the cylinder spun, an arm lifted it up from the ground, tilting it back and forth and even upside down.

Mitch strapped himself into the Beach Blaster and smiled down at his daughter.  As it began to spin and change angles, Mitch felt an uncomfortable and unfamiliar tug on his head and stomach.  He swallowed and closed his eyes until the spinning stopped.

“Let’s go again!  Can we Dad?  Wasn’t it fun?” called Sydnee.

“Sure was.  Yeah, we can go again if you want.”

When Mitch strapped himself in a second time and the ride spun, the uncomfortable feeling was worse.  Something invisible squeezed his stomach and head.  He closed his eyes and put on a fake smile for Sydnee’s sake.

“Again, okay Dad?”

“Are you sure?  You don’t want to try something else?”

“No, this is my favorite by far.  It’s not too fast for you, is it?”

“For me?  No way.”

Mitch’s legs wobbled as they walked onto the Beach Blaster for the third time.  As the ride began spinning, Mitch reminded himself of the times in the Navy when he had endured much worse.  While others riding in a bumpy plane had gotten sick, he had laughed and said it was all in their head.  He could handle a little spinning.  He swallowed and pushed his stomach back down his throat.

The ground still spun for Mitch after the ride stopped.  He took an uneasy step and leaned too far to one side.  He jerked his body the opposite way to compensate.  And then suddenly, unexpectedly, all the carnival food in his stomach wanted out.  Mitch lunged toward a decorative hedge but came nowhere close. 

In the long history of Belmont Park, no one who had become sick on a ride emptied their stomach as completely as Mitch did that day.  He left behind a colorful streak of cotton candy, funnel cakes, popcorn, and hotdogs.  In less than a minute, the park’s emergency response team had cones and mops on the scene.  A Belmont medic asked Mitch if he was prone to motion sickness.

Mitch sat on the sidewalk and looked at the medic with bleary eyes.

“Sir, you shouldn’t go on rides if you’re prone to motion sickness.”

“I’ve never been sick in my life,” insisted Mitch.  “I’m a pilot.  I’ve been through a lot worse.  I’m ready to go again.”

The medic pulled out a pair of scissors and snipped off the admission wristband Mitch was wearing.  “I’m sorry, but this is for your own good.  We can’t risk a repeat.”

Mitch did not protest very loudly. 

His wife and the older kids had seen the whole thing.  “Crash and burn, huh?” said Alma in a teasing voice.  “I guess everyone has to land sometime.”

Mitch forced a pained smile.

“Don’t worry Dad, even if you can’t be my wingman, you can still do things like steering the boat,” said Sydnee while holding up her intact wristband.


For more stories like this one, including audio versions, please visit

Submitted: May 07, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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