“The Coast Guard ran us off from out there,” said a man stumbling a bit, but grinning. “So we parked our boat and here we are, Flugtagging it, baby.”
There are things in this world that are such a mystery that the sheer attempt to explain them leaves the describer in a mental cramp, their brain vapor locked by the thought of what they are trying to relay. That’s where I am with Flugtag.
Let me try to get the simple stuff out of the way first. Flugtag is German, best I can tell, for “flight day.” Red Bull, the energy drink, came up with the idea. On a Saturday in September, there were five Flugtag events around the world. One was in Washington D.C. last Saturday. I was there. Here’s what happened.
Twenty-nine teams of people – some dressed as firemen or ducks or cavemen – brought their homemade flying machines to push off the deck of a giant aircraft carrier-looking platform next to the Potomac River. Some planes looked like eagles, one looked like the Lincoln Memorial, another resembled a skate ramp. It was a menagerie. Teams had to push their planes off the 30-foot high deck and see how far they would fly. Once push came to shove, however, most just tumbled off the edge into the water like fowls hit with bird shot by Uncle Si.
About five contestants into the competition, the rain started, hard and blowing like a side slice from the Virginia side of the river. People began to run. Flugtag continued until the last Mylar plane fell into the drink. And two flew quite well.
“Some people have more time and money than sense,” said a woman who claimed she drove all the way from West Virginia to see the spectacle. “I was married to three just like them.”
“I have a new idea for you, brother,” said a wild-eyed young man double-fisting two cans with familiar bull logos. “And this is free marketing advice, dude. Instead of RC Cola and a MoonPie, how about chasing a MoonPie with a Red Bull?”
“Red Bull and a MoonPie,” I smiled. “I’ll be sure to tell my boss back in Chattanooga. “He’s always looking for new ideas.”
I gave him several MoonPies and he proceeded to live up to his idea until they were all gone.
“Next year y’all should build a big MoonPie flying machine and push it off the deck at a Flugtag somewhere,” said his girlfriend. “MoonPie. Flying. Get it.”
“Yes, I think so,” I said. “The moon is in the sky, right? Like flying?”
She looked at me quite confused.
“Generation gap, perhaps,” I said.
She looked at me more confused, so I quit talking and decided to listen. Some of the things I heard in the crowd were almost as interesting as the people pushing two months of hard work off a platform in a driving deluge. And then I heard the thing that made me know I had come to the right place.
“Hey, yall, watch this!” yelled a big old boy wearing a shirt emblazoned with language I cannot write here and pointing towards the Flugtag aircraft carrier in the distance.
A woman looked over and smiled.
“Ah, the national anthem of the American redneck sung just before something bad happens,” she said.
She was, of course, from Alabama. Later I found the big old boy, now in a different shirt.
“War Eagle!” he yelled.
I felt at home.