True stories. Usually with the person removing themselves from the gene pool through death. Here’s our favorite Larry Walters. Larry is among the relatively few who have actually turned their dreams into reality and lived. His story is true, as hard as you may find it to believe.
Larry was a truck driver, but his lifelong dream was to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot.
Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. So when he finally left the service, he had to satisfy himself with watching others fly the fighter jets that crisscrossed the skies over his backyard. As he sat there in his lawn chair, he dreamed about the magic of flying.
Then one day, Larry had an idea. He went down to the local Army-Navy surplus store and bought some old weather balloons, and several tanks of helium.
These were not your brightly colored party balloons, these were heavy-duty spheres measuring more than four feet across when fully inflated. Back in his yard, Larry used straps to attach the balloons to his lawn chair, the kind you might have in your back yard. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep, and inflated the balloons with helium.
Then he packed a few sandwiches and drinks, and a loaded BB gun, figuring he could pop a few balloons when it was time to return to earth. His preparations complete, Larry sat in his chair and cut the anchoring cord. His plan was to lazily float into the sky, and eventually back to terra firma.
But things didn’t quite work out that way. When Larry cut the cord, he didn’t float lazily up; he shot up as if fired from a cannon! Nor did he go up a couple hundred feet. He climbed and climbed until he finally leveled off at eleven thousand feet! At that height, he could hardly risk deflating any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the load and really experience flying. So he stayed up there, sailing around for fourteen hours, totally at a loss about how to get down.
Eventually, Larry drifted into the approach corridor for Los Angeles International Airport. A Pan Am pilot radioed the tower about passing a guy in a lawn chair at eleven thousand feet, with a gun in his lap… now there’s a conversation I would have given anything to have heard!
LAX is right on the ocean, and you may know that at nightfall, the winds on the coast begin to change. So, as dusk fell, Larry began drifting out to sea. At that point, the Navy dispatched a helicopter to rescue him, but the rescue team had a hard time getting to him because the draft from their propeller kept pushing his home-made contraption farther and farther away.
Eventually, they were able to hover above him and drop a rescue line, with which they gradually hauled him back to safety. As soon as Larry hit the ground, he was arrested. But as he was led away in handcuffs, a television reporter called out, “Sir, why’d you do it?” Larry stopped, eyed the man, then replied nonchalantly,
“A man can’t just sit around!”
Illustration by Mirek Lakosil