My original plan was to fly to Gwinnett County Airport (KLZU). That’s where I took my very first flight and began my flight training. It’s also home of a little restaurant on the airfield called The Flying Machine. We were heading over for a good ol’ hundred dollar hamburger. My son, Reid, and my friend, Chris, sat around the table with me at my home airport of Thomson-McDuffie (KHQU). On the phone with a weather briefer, we determined that the route to Gwinnett wasn’t favorable. Low morning clouds had yet to lift. The forecast looked good and would likely improve by the time we got there, but I’m not keen on taking off with poor conditions at my destination and counting on the weatherman’s educated guess to get me down. Digging deeper into the weather, I settled on Macon (KMCN), 76 miles to the southwest – a place with good weather, but no burgers.
To The Moon
The concept of the hundred dollar hamburger goes back to the days when flying to another airport for a bite to eat cost around a hundred bucks. Today it’s probably closer to double that. But the truth is that the hundred dollar hamburger often isn’t even a hamburger at all. You see, flying somewhere to get something to eat is just a reason to go fly somewhere. Non-pilots will often ask me how much it costs to fly here or there. The two biggest factors they consider are the cost of the trip compared to the airlines and what lies at the destination to justify the cost. From a pilot’s perspective, however, it rarely matters what is at the other end, or even what it costs. Hence paying $100 and only having a hamburger to show for it. In reality, the trip truly is about the adventure of getting there. My first cross country was with “big Reid,” my then instructor and son’s namesake. We took a night flight from Athens (KAHN) to Chattanooga (KCHA). We landed in Chattanooga, got a Coke out of the vending machine and headed back to Athens. To the uninitiated, it was a fruitless, wasted, pointless trip. But to us, it was a satisfying mission completed. There’s obviously nothing unique about the Cokes in Chattanooga, but the Coke was the mission. Much like touching the top of a mountain with your hand when reaching the top, or planting a flag on the moon, the Coke was the same sort of symbolic checkpoint. “This is one small sip for mankind…”
Get Your Dollars Ready
Landing in Macon and looking at my watch, I knew we didn’t have much time before the plane needed to be back. I asked a mechanic in one of the open hangars how to get to the FBO (Fixed Base Operator), which I’ve found to be the most likely spot to find a vending machine. Pointing me a few doors down, we entered to find the glowing light of…a Pepsi machine. Sigh. Ok, I know I just went on about how the Coke is just symbolic, but I’m a Georgia boy. We drink Coke. In my world, every soft drink is a Coke, regardless of the actual brand. “That’s ok, though. It’s just symbolic. A Pepsi will work just fine,” I reasoned. Well, I was pleased to find that this particular machine dispensed both Pepsi and Coke. Does that even happen? Happily feeding in my dollars for a round of Cokes for the three of us, I paraded out of that FBO a proud pilot. Mission successful. Coke obtained. This must have looked like the most mundane of situations to the crew working the desk – two random dudes and a kid popping in for a drink and then leaving. But to me, those two minutes or so were a slow motion, joyous, proud, victory music playing montage of delight.
What’s Your Excuse?
In searching the web to select my destination airport, I stumbled upon Fun Places To Fly. You can enter your home airport and a radius to find other airports with cool stuff there – restaurants, attractions and events. You can search for your excuse to fly somewhere. Some pilots go for an actual hamburger. Some fly in for a pancake breakfast. Others skip the food altogether and go for a run at their destination, but these things all qualify as a hundred dollar hamburger. I happen to be easy to please with my Coke. Don’t get me wrong, though – I love a good burger, but a burger is just icing on the cake. Hmm, cake. Now that sounds like a good reason to fly somewhere…
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