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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lawnchair Larry Walters...

...was a simple man with a simple dream. He wanted to fly. And who could blame him. Even as a young man his eyes had been too weak to become a pilot in the Air Force, so his plans were changed but his dream never died. This truck driver would be the first to leisurely fly a lawn chair from his home in San Pedro, California to the desert. However, powered by 45 helium-filled, 4-foot radius weather balloons he ascended to nearly 16,000 feet, slowly drifting toward the Pacific Ocean.
It was a balmy Southern California day in July of 1982 when Larry and a group of friends launched his name from obscurity, forever associating him with a Sears and Roebuck lawn chair. Tethered to the weather balloons purchased from a local army surplus store, the seat as Larry described it was "very comfortable". It needed to be, because for the next 45 minutes Larry floated between San Pedro and the Ocean, entering the flight path for LAX. Two pilots had to change their course, reporting seeing a man in a lawn chair some 3 miles up.

The amazing thing about this whole ordeal was the level of the dream as compared to the lack of depth in the preparation. He took a pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, cold beer (of course beer was involved), and a camera. All of those things may make some sense to the reader, though the gun may have you scratching your head. That, friends, was Larry's method of descent. Perhaps that idea wasn't all that bad, for after about 30 minutes Larry did attempt to pop a few balloons to begin the descent. However, in the chilling climate of 3 miles up, his numb hands dropped the gun. Fortunately, Larry had already popped enough balloons to begin slowly drifting back to earth. He eventually landed in power lines near Long Beach, California, creating a blackout for 20 minutes. While hanging in his chair in the lines he was only 5 feet from the ground, where he jumped into the waiting arms of the Long Beach police and several federal officials.
All in all his 45 minute, 16,000 foot journey fulfilled his dream and consequently made him an instant laughing stock. And yet there's something I can admire about the man. While I disavow his methods, I admire his determination. And with limited resources he did what he had to do to live out his dream of flight. While most of us would have attempted parachuting or hang-gliding to fulfill that destiny, Larry took a very different path. And with a name like Larry, perhaps a lawn chair really was the best method.

Footnote: Several years later Larry Walters drove deep into the Angeles National Forest and committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He was 44 years old.

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