The thrill of Phil Goodyear's life lasted about 20 minutes yesterday.
The experience cost the Catonsville man $205, and he wouldn't have traded it for the world.
"I feel tickled to death," he said. "I've looked forward to this moment all my life."
That moment was rising from the Earth in a lighter-than-air blimp -- the one owned by the Ohio tire makers who just happen to have the same name as the man who sat behind the controls yesterday and felt his heart sail and his age descend from 69 to somewhere below adolescence. "I've been aerially inclined since I was a youngster," said Mr. Goodyear as the "Spirit of Akron" drifted away from Martin State Airport in Essex.
"I wouldn't say I was a blimp maniac," he said. "I've just been interested in them since I was a young boy." Said Carol Goodyear, his wife: "He's been excited for two weeks."
"A rosy glow kind of feeling," he said. "Just happy."
Mr. Goodyear has been fascinated with dirigibles (rigid structures with frames) and blimps since he watched the Hindenburg explode on a movie newsreel at the Grand Theater in his hometown of New Albany, Ind. His "thrill of a lifetime" presented itself several decades later when a tire on his Chevy Nova blew out a couple of Sundays ago.
Mr. Goodyear threw on a spare and went home to scan the newspaper for tire ads.
"There was the big ad for a tire sale on the back of the sports section and it said free blimp rides [with a purchase]," said Mr. Goodyear. "And I said, 'This is for me.' "
He only needed two tires, but to get a ride you had to buy four. He bought four. It cost him $205 and yesterday, a little after 4:30 p.m., up he went.
Middle River appeared below and then got smaller the higher the blimp went. As we sailed over treetops, rooftops, pools and Little League diamonds, a funny thing happened.
Everyone on the ground tilted their heads back and pointed their faces straight up. Some waved.
Mr. and Mrs. Goodyear took pictures of everything.
"You never really appreciate the beauty of a waterfront until you've seen one from the air," said Mr. Goodyear.
"This is the best view I've had yet. This lets you put things in perspective." Upon landing, his perspective was this: "I was up there thinking
how enjoyable it was compared to an ordinary airliner that's just barely tolerable, when you're too high and too fast to see anything. This just glides along at 25 knots.
"But oh," he said. "It was too short. I could stay up there all day."