Oh, what I would give to see my dad’s face right now. It has been twenty two years since I last saw the man. Twenty two years since we started working on this project together. I remember when we first drew the designs for this thing on one of mom’s napkins in the kitchen. Boy was she ticked off when we did that. But, that rough sketch was the start of a dream. A dream that I am currently living.
We used to work out in my dad’s workshop on the weekends. Looking back, he had a pretty dang good collection of tools. And, a ton of machining equipment. That came in handy for the project a lot. I remember when we didn’t quite know how to work the old lathe we bought from the machine shop downtown that closed its doors forever. We used to stare at library books together and step each other through the processes. Some safety inspector out there is probably cringing as I mention the fact that I first learned how to use that lathe at the age of seven. And, it wasn’t exactly formal training. Anyways, every weekend for five years we used to go out into the shed together, dad would pop open a bottle of beer and I would pop open a bottle of pop and we would get to work.
The nozzles were pretty easy once we figured out the lathe. Dad machined them while I made sure that the designs matched up with all the ones in the books. We needed to make sure that these things were perfect. After all, we needed as much lift as we could get with the least amount of fuel.
Fuel was one of the biggest problems we always had. We couldn’t just use regular old gasoline, you see. Actually, we couldn’t use gasoline at all. We ended up finding the right mixture from a friend of a friend of a friend. I never actually knew who that friend was. Probably for the better. If the government ever found out about who that friend was, our whole project would be ruined. And, failure was not an option.
At least that’s what we always claimed to believe in. But, there have been plenty of failures over the years. Fuel tanks ruptured. Various parts melted. It took us thirty three iterations to find out that the shop selling us the metal we used was selling us the cheap stuff, after all. We eventually found another shop that had the right grade of metal we needed. But, that didn’t fix all of our problems. Fuel lines would randomly burst into flames. The throttle on the dang thing twisted off I don’t know how many times. To be honest, failure was a way of life for us. But, we kept pushing on.
We kept pushing until my dad couldn’t push anymore. My mom took it pretty hard. I tried not to show it, but I took it hard too when dad was gone. It just wasn’t fair. Plain and simple. After he passed, I didn’t touch his workshop for a couple of years. It was too hard. There was so much blood, sweat, and tears poured into that shop.
It took me over two years till I set foot in the shop again. I flipped the breakers on the inside wall when I first walked in. The fluorescent lights flickered to life. The air was filled with the musky scent of sawdust. I walked over to the lathe and wiped the thick layer of dust off the top of it. Curious, I flicked the on-switch and sure it enough, the dang thing whirred to life. A little spark of joy went off in my head when I heard the motor reach full RPMs. Soon enough, that spark turned into a fiery passion again. I pulled out the part that we were working on before he collapsed in the workshop. Then, I grabbed the prototype from the cabinet at the far end of the shed and plopped it on the workbench.
Five weeks later, I added the final touches to the thing. I didn’t just want it to work, I wanted it to look beautiful. I polished up the chrome details. I made sure all the parts were properly lubed. And, I grabbed my paintbrush and added the final touch. It needed a name. We always referred to it as a “she.” But after everything, I had to name it Ray in memory of him. I finished off the last brush stroke and it was done. I couldn’t believe it. The project was finished!
The next day, I grabbed my motorcycle helmet and went out into the field out back after grabbing the project from the shed. I slung the leather straps onto my soldiers and pulled the helmet onto my head. I primed the pumps a few times and made sure that everything was working right. I flipped the switch cover and held my thumb over the starter switch for a few seconds.
“This one’s for you” I smiled.
I flicked the switch and the jetpack roared to life. The nozzles spewed their fire just as we had planned. I gripped the throttle and slowly twisted my wrist. The exhaust grew hotter and the fire stretched out of the nozzle further.
I felt my legs slack a little as my heels left the ground. Then, I was on the tips of my toes. And then, I felt nothing below me. Next, I started shifting my weight to see how it maneuvered. After a few successful flips, I had the hang of it! Now, it was time to have even more fun!
I cranked the throttle to 50% and soared towards the city. Within minutes, I was zig-zagging through the skyscrapers as I grinned from ear to ear with only one thought in my mind.
Oh, what I would give to see my dad’s face right now.