This is my story.
Since I was a tyke, I had always been fascinated by parachuting and the concept of free fall as a whole. However, having a desire and the means to execute it are two vastly different realities. So while I had the yen to plummet like a brick toward terra firma, I never had the monetary means to accomplish it.
My first real opportunity came in November 1991 when I was working at the St. George radio station. As part of the general manager’s incredibly shrewd business acumen, he entered into a deal with a travelling bungee jumping company. This business is the type of outfit that brings its own crane and equipment, rents out a field, and plasters the community with advertising to see how many people will show up. It is reminiscent of the peripatetic snake oil salesmen of yore except without the high ethical standards.
The general manager, who was also the morning host, invited a member of the bungee crew on the air to talk about their company, the rigorous safety procedures a itinerant bungee troupe goes through, and where they would be setting up the crane this weekend.
As a promotional gimmick, it was decided that a member of the on-air staff would actually perform a bungee jump. Given the trio of on-air choices available, the obvious selection was me.
Because I was expendable.
To be fair, that was not the true and real reason. The general manager was pushing three hundred pounds, which was considered an unsafe weight by the folk running the bungee company. The afternoon on-air personality, Mr. Dixon, was an upstanding member of the local community with a family. The staff at the station didn’t even want to think what would happen if Mr. Dixon was involved in an accident. There was no such qualms with my demise as I was a newcomer to Utah’s Dixie region and I had no family to support. By the process of elimination, I was given the plum assignment of throwing myself off a perch for the delight of our audience.
The Saturday of my flight arrived and I showed up at the site with my portable tape recorder in hand to accurately document the day. The location was a field that served primarily as the setting for local rodeo events. This meant that there was nary a blade of grass under the crane where the people would be falling. Packed dirt was all there was. There wasn’t even an air bag or mat to break a fall should something go horribly wrong. Of course, as this was my first jump ever, I had no idea that this lack of safety equipment was unusual.
My first order of business was registering. As the company had provided me with a coupon for a free jump, I was spared the forty dollar cost. At the registration desk (technically, a folding card table), I had to sign a waiver attesting that I was physically and mentally fit.
Good to go on both counts.
I also had to sign a statement attesting that I was voluntarily electing to participate in a risky endeavor. To hammer the point home, the statement then went through a catalog of all the nasty things that could possibly happen to me with death being the least painful. I had to pause when signing this piece of paper. I stalled not because I was afraid of accidental dismemberment (I was young at the time and therefore still considered myself immortal), but because I actually had to debate whether I was jumping of my own accord. I was doing this because my boss asked me to accomplish this feat. Could this truly be considered voluntarily?
I signed because I still had the itch to fly and here was my ticket.
As the morning wore on, the crowd grew in the bleacher seats encircling the rodeo ring. To gain a bit of local flavor for my audio documentary for the radio station, I decided to interview some of the onlookers.
In my unscientific survey, the number one reason people were in the stands was to watch their friends or loved ones do the deed. The second-most popular reason was they wanted to see what would happen if the cord snapped. Reason Number Three was that people heard some guy from the radio station was going to jump.
I certainly hoped Reasons Two and Three weren’t tied together.
My noon launch time was fast approaching so it was time to begin my pre-flight (pre-fall?) sequence. A helpful attendant from the travelling troupe hooked me into a harness. I was asked if I wanted to have the cord tied around my ankles or attached to my chest. I chose the chest option. My twisted reasoning was that if the cord snapped and I was tied by my ankles, I would definitely hit the padded dirt head first. If I went with the chest harness and something unplanned happened, there was always the possibility that I could twist my body and land on my back or side.
Logical reasoning, dare I say it, has never been the ace up my sleeve.
Along with the attendant, I stepped onto the platform that was connected to the crane. The machinery creaked to life and we headed skyward. On the tape, as I describe my ascent, I made the standard crack about being able to see my house from where I was thanks to the altitude. St. George was so small and flat that not only could I really see my house, but I could view every other building in town.
When the platform was in position, a member of the bungee company used a bullhorn to rile up the crowd. As he prepared to have the audience join in on a countdown, I mulled over what I was about to do.
“Three…,” the bullhorn crackled.
I was trying to override millennia of evolutionary training. Our ancestors had learned, from their days in the savannah, that jumping from great heights was not the optimal way to pass on one’s genetic material to the next generation.
I looked down over the side of the platform and saw the vast distance between myself and the ground. The realization landed upon me that I was about throw myself off a perfectly decent and stable platform for no reason other than entertainment.
In addition to the ground, I saw the tiny heads of all the spectators looking up at me and I wondered how many of them were curious to know what type of sound my body would make as it slammed into the packed dirt when the cord snapped.
A beat later, I willed my knees to bend and threw myself forward into the nothing.
I am ever so grateful that I had my tape recorder running because I have little memory of that jump after the pull of gravity tugged me down. Maybe that’s a good thing because the only real sound discernible on the tape is my screaming. The lasting remembrance that I do have from that bungee jump is one of sheer fear. When I finally stopped bouncing like a wayward yo-yo, I swore that I would never, NEVER do anything like that again.
I had satisfied my itch for the sensation of free fall and I have not felt the need to scratch it since.
That’s my story.
P.S. As for the other times I wound up entertaining folk in St. George…well, that’s a story for another day.