The COVID Vaccine and the Check Ride

Me, after passing my check ride in 2000.

We are scheduled to get the first dose of our COVID vaccines this week. Kelly gets hers on Thursday and I get mine on Friday. I haven’t been stressing too much about it, knowing that I’d be getting it eventually. But some interesting mental gymnastics took place once I had an appointment scheduled: part of my brain felt relief; part felt a renewed vigilance, as if I needed to walk on egg-shells between now and Friday to be sure I don’t accidentally contract COVID. This seems extreme, since I’ve managed to go a year without doing so.

It reminded me of one other time I felt such extreme vigilance. This was on April 3, 2000, just before 5 pm Pacific Time.

I took my private pilot practical test (my check ride) on that that. After the oral exam, which was easy–my examiner mostly talked about screenplays he’d written, and my instructor taught me well not to volunteer information and answer only the question asked–we went for my check ride. This was a nearly 2 hour flight out of Van Nuys airport during which I was tested on just about everything: take offs, landings, diversions, unusual attitudes, steep turns, short and soft field takeoffs and landings. Finally, as we approached Van Nuys and I’d been cleared to land on the long 8,000 foot runway 16R, I was tested on emergency landing procedures. The examiner had me glide to a landing and then said, “Make sure you are off the runway at the first high-speed taxiway.”

I did all of this, and I knew once I was on the taxiway that I’d passed all of the tests. Because of the emergency simulation I couldn’t land long and the FBO that I flew out of was at the far end of the airport. This mean I had a mile or so of taxiing to do. This was when that vigilance kicked in. I was suddenly very aware that I had an entire mile of slow taxiing in which I could screw things up after performing so well on the practical flight. So I was very careful, I did everything by the book, and eventually brought the plane to a stop at the FBO, turned off the engine, and took a deep breath.

The examiner pointed off toward the building where his office was, “See that rubber tree,” he said, “I planted that tree back in 1955.” He paused and said, “Nice flying. I’ll write up your ticket. Meet me in the office after you get squared away here.” Not long after, I held a white piece of paper that certified I was a private pilot — single engine land aircraft.

I’m feeling that same sort of vigilance now. And it occurred to me that on Friday, after I get my first injection, I will come home with a similar piece of white paper, this once indicating that I have received the first of two doses of my COVID vaccine.

I think I liked the pilot’s license better.


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