Monday, May 18, 2009

View From a Runway

Last Friday was probably the one and only time I will ever stand on an airport runway. I've deplaned onto tarmacs, but that isn't what I mean. By "stand on an airport runway," I mean stand smack in the middle of a stretch of concrete that airplanes typically use to land and take off. And I don't mean a runway at some general aviation airport. I was on a runway that could land a jumbo jet.

I didn't break any federal laws to take in this peculiar vista, since the runway is part of an airport still under construction, and I was the guest of the airport authority, so I could look around and write about the place. Write about it again, actually. To quote myself from an article I did about three years ago:

"Built it and they will come. Occasionally that happens in real life, and in the case of Bay County, Florida, it's about to happen in a big way... 'It' in this case means a new international airport in Bay County -- the first major airport developed in United States in years. 'They' mean home-buying retirees from the Midwest and Northeast, time-sharing vacationers, beachfront aficionados and spring-break revelers, real estate investors, developers, speculators and flippers. The rush is just beginning."

The rush might be delayed by the current state of the economy, but the airport's going to be ready for them when they eventually come, as they surely will. People familiar with the project told me that construction will be done in about a year. When I was at the new Panama City airport on Friday, only part of the the skeleton of main terminal building looked finished, and none of its exterior was; the control tower was just a stump; and an enormous pile of asphalt stood near the runway, waiting to be used in some part of the project. Workmen here and there attended to parts of the project. A couple of cranes were hoisting things. Earth movers were scraping away earth.

Still, the basic structure of the runway was there, long and flat. Flatness in both lengthwise directions, so far that it almost extended to the horizon. A thin rim of greenery marked that horizon, which was sandwiched that day between a bright blue sky with puffy white clouds and the reflected brightness of the white runway surface. As the picture shows, the surface sported a lot of tire marks.

The surface was still unpainted, so I saw no alphanumerics or other symbols known best to pilots, but I did notice that the surface was grooved, for traction. Our guide said that the slight slope to either side directs the rain off the runway, and I couldn't help but think of way Roman roads deflected water, even though the comparison is probably off. There was no threat of rain on Friday. It was sunny, and it was Florida in mid-May, yet the spot wasn't quite as hot as I'd expected. Could be that the whiteness of the surface bounced some of the heat away.

So even if I hadn't seen anything anything else on this latest trip to Florida, I'd count it as a success, in terms of novelty. But I did see other things between flying down late last Thursday (to the existing airport) and returning early Sunday: parts of Panama City and Tallahassee, long stretches of state and national forests lush with the Southern summer, a couple of small-town Southern cemeteries complete with ancient trees and their Spanish moss, a pair of capitols, the site of an explosion heard 100 miles away in Pensacola, docked fishing boats smelling of recent cargo, a lighthouse, a delightful city park that included a Huey helicopter, and this item:

This statue can be found near a small office building at E. 1030 Lafayette St., Tallahassee, Florida. No indication of why it was there, but I suppose it was because the property owners wanted a statue.

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At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Google street view for this address, you'll find that the landscaping for the building behind the sculpture hadn't been finished when Google's agent snapped its picture. The scupture itself was nowhere to be seen, but there was a large sign advertising that the premises were for lease. Perhaps the sculpture was added to clinch the deal. ANK


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