The Great Bandini
Space travel was a rich man’s game and astronauts didn’t hail 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 the foundry and construct his 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 for 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, and 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.