Rich and I both jumped, and he yanked back on the yoke, even as both of our minds struggled into overdrive to process our situation and catch up with Rich's terrain warning system, which clearly thought disaster was imminent. Rich was in mid-pull when he suddenly stopped and looked around, like a guy who'd just realized that all of his friends had just pulled a very public joke on him. He looked so confused that I couldn't help it. I started to laugh, even as my own mind mirrored every single thought that was playing out across Rich's face. We were in perfectly clear and open skies, miles from the gently rising ridgelines ahead of us, and at least 2,000 feet above the nearest hill, tree, or telephone pole. What on earth was his warning system thinking? Rich even banked left and right to get a better view of what was beneath us, just in case, but there wasn't even a bird in the vicinity. It was as if the warning system had dozed off, woken up suddenly, glimpsed a patch of green ahead, and panicked, like someone who's been startled awake, misreads the time and jumps out of bed like a rocket at 3:00 in the morning. Rich glanced over at me questioningly, which just made me burst out laughing all over again. "There, there," I said soothingly as I patted the Skylane's glareshield. "It's okay, sweetie. You're all right. There's no big, bad terrain about to bite you." I looked over at Rich. "I think your plane's a little neurotic, Rich," I said. "In case you ever wondered whether it really does have a personality." Rich started to laugh, as well. "Yeah," he answered. "But I want my plane's personality to balance mine. I want a Chuck Yeager who'll sit there and say, 'Hey, no sweat, buddy. We've got a couple hundred feet between us and that ridge. Walk in the park.'" Rich's voice dropped and took on a slight southern twang as he imitated the famous pilot. He shook his head. "But, no. I get a friggin' Tony Randall." "Or Chicken Little," I offered. "AGGHHH!! The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling! Pull UP! Pull UP!" We were just starting to get the laughter under control when Rich said, "Imagine if they really did offer celebrity voices for these things. You know, like John Wayne would be ... 'Ya better pull up, pilgrim.'" So much for sobriety. I'll spare all the details, but here are just a few of the customized warning system possibilities we came up with in our ensuing bout of cockpit church giggles: Woody Allen: "Oh, God, I don't know. Pull up or something. We're dead." Jerry Seinfeld: "Like I was saying, PULL UP." Gilbert Gottfried: "OH MY GOD! PULL UP!! HEL-LO, ARE YOU LISTENING OUT THERE? PULL U-UP!!" Bronx Taxi Driver: "YO! Idiot! Pull the f$^& up!" Yoda: "Terrain there is. Um-hmmm. Pull up you should." Joan Rivers: "Can we TALK? Ter-RAI-IN!!" I know. You had to be there to get the full humor of it all, but you get the drift. Eventually, we settled down a bit, and I told Rich about some supposedly real-life research studies the Air Force had done to see if different warning voices were more or less effective in getting pilots' attention. "First thing they tried was the pilots' wives' voices," I told him. "But that didn't work at all." "Oh, I know," Rich said, nodding, eyes focused on Moffett Field ahead of us. "It's like that with Marji. I think it has to do with losing some parts of your hearing as you get older. Like, when we're at a party, I often don't hear her. I think it's because she rounds out her consonants." The man said this with a straight face. No kidding. I love human beings. They're so fun to watch, sometimes. "Ummm," I offered with a slight smile, "you don't suppose it might be because you've just tuned her OUT after all these years?" "You know, she has suggested that possibility once or twice," Rich answered with a sheepish chuckle. Fortunately for Rich, his wife is apparently extremely tolerant and forgiving, as well as smart, beautiful, and talented. When we touched down at Palo Alto, Rich and I were still a little giddy from our stolen bout of laughter, sunshine, clear skies, and freedom. As we buttoned up the airplane, I thanked Rich again for dragging me away from my work. "Hey, I'm glad you could go," he answered. "I wouldn't have done it on my own." It's true. Playing hooky isn't any fun without a good partner in crime. It may not have been the most responsible thing I could have done, cutting class to fly to the beach for lunch when I had so much work to do. But walking back to my car, my feet felt lighter on the ground, and the burdens I'd been struggling under four hours earlier now seemed a lifetime of laughter away. The pile still awaited me, but I now possessed four times as much energy with which to attack it. I began to even think that somewhere in the eternal struggle between making a living and having a life, playing hooky every now and then might actually be … well, responsible. Like I said, I love human beings. Especially our ability to rationalize. On the other hand, just because we're exceptionally good at the art doesn't mean our rationalizations are always wrong. Life is short, after all. So in the words of my good friend Rich ... "What the hey." Carpe Caelum. Seize the Sky.