The Great Bandini
Space travel was a rich man’s game and astronauts didn’t come from our side of the tracks. That’s why my friends and I never missed a Bandini rocket launch. Main events full of fanfare and hope that one of us would beat the odds and reach outer space.
Instead, Bandini’s rockets would implode on the pad or burst apart mid-flight. Just when you thought no man could survive a real space wreck, Bandini appeared in the sky, parachuting back to earth in his safety module.
All the kids looked past the failures and loved Bandini for his guts and theater, rooting him on for glory. Not the grownups. They’d rush the box office, demanding refunds or else. The gang always told Bandini to keep our money and build himself another rocket.
Once the firemen doused the infernos and flatbeds dragged away the debris, Bandini would return to his mill and construct the next spaceship. Talk about a gamer. My pa called him a huckster. Can’t say we saw eye to eye on that one.
Bandini was our rock star, sports legend, and superhero all rolled into one larger than life astronaut. Too young to connect the dots of rocket science, not the passion of space travel. If Bandini’s dreams devoured him, what chance did we have of growing up and leaving the ghetto? Bandini had to reach the cosmos.
Let the snobs poke fun at Bandini and dismiss his gusto as folly. The all show no go rocket man inspired every kid from our neck of town, driving the courage to dare death and fight for a dream.
When the next rocket emerged, Bandini kept the mission a secret. No radio spots, no crowds. I knew all about it since we were friends. Helped Bandini pick out used parts in the rocket yards, welded planks and beams to his launch pad. Even got the aviator bug myself, jonesing to be a test pilot.
“Hey kid, I’m trying to get to outer space, not death row,” Bandini said.
On the night of the big flight, I helped Bandini prep the bird. Once we finished, he ordered me home. I protested before doing as told. I tipped the gang to sneak from our cribs and meet up.
We reached the hill that overlooked the launch pad, set up like a hangman’s station. The chrome rocket, anchored at the ready.
The gallery watched Bandini swagger across the flight deck in his space suit and oxygen helmet. He boarded the vessel and buckled himself in. Once he spotted the fan base, Bandini waved and gave us a thumbs up. A raucous cheer erupted from our side of the slope, waving back.
Bandini gripped the butterfly wheel and looked over his dials. When he struck the boosters, lava gushed from the jets. The rocket yanked free of the harness and pitched for the dreaming sun.
As the rocket climbed, it’s power supply lit up the valley. The euphoric bunch of us, prancing around and pumping our fists. Go Bandini, go.
Bandini soared over the mountaintops, piercing the clouds. The magic machine twisting like a fishing lure, as it streaked for the stars. In seconds, mach speed shrank the rocket into a firefly.
That’s when we heard the loud ka-boom. A roar of thunder from Bandini’s rocket sobered up my friends and I. Our stomachs churned as dead air buzzed our heads. Too high up to survive this doomsday, we all shared the fear he’d vaporize.
Following the pause, the rocket remained intact, brewing its fever. The miracle Bandini was alive and well lifted the gang to new heights. Jumping out of our sneakers, as if it were a ballgame, and Bandini slugged a walk-off homer.
With each sonic boom, Bandini vaulted further and further away. In moments that firebird smashed the odds and ozone layer for good. His engine sparkle continued to spit, even as we lost its flicker in the stratosphere.
Holy hot dog, he did it. The gang shared group hugs as our palms swelled and stung from the high-fives. Leaving the spiritual and summer night behind, we returned to our families with springs in our steps and brighter hopes.
The next morning, town officials converged on Bandini’s meadow set up like a crime scene. The police, shutterbugs, and experts from the labs crowded the area. We watched them scrape and collect slag deposits the boosters left behind.
To find Bandini, one needed to look up, not down and around. With no ambition to provide eyewitness accounts, Bandini’s whereabouts remained none of their business.
Every one of us continued to follow Bandini’s legend, crossing the tracks and leaving the slums for good. And it makes no difference if he burned up that night, or succumbed later on. Dead or alive, Bandini reached the top of the world and greatness.
To this day, we all see Bandini in our sleep, surfing the cosmos in his magic machine. Always smiling and tossing the gang a thumbs up. Urging us to resume our dreams and always aim high.