As Congress argues about spending our money this week, it will be interesting to see if any Democrat or Republican jumps ship and sides with the other guys. Given the entrenched divisions in the country today, and the distinct possibility of election retribution against the offender, it might very well be appropriate to call any Senator or Representative who does break ranks a daredevil of sorts.

Voting outside party lines might not be death-defying, but it certainly may be career-defying. One dictionary definition of daredevil I read is “a recklessly and often ostentatiously bold person.” Daredevils have been described as audacious, brash, foolhardy, and madcap. Those adjectives would probably fit any politician who dared to test the wrath of their respective party powers-that-be.

If that kind of daredevilish action were to occur, it would definitely make news. But it’s not exactly the same kind of thrill people have gotten over the years watching those attempting to do things that risk life and limb. Think, for example, about those early aviators who handed over the shaky controls of their biplanes to co-pilots while they calmly climbed up and went for a walk (sans parachute) on the wings several hundred feet in the air (much to the delight of the enthralled crowds watching below).

Long ago, tightrope walkers thrilled royalty and peasants alike. From ancient Greece to the age of Roman emperors, and, after a brief respite, even well into the Middle Ages, taking a stroll on a stretched rope high above an assembled throng was considered great entertainment. One report I saw mentions the 1389 coronation of Queen Isabeau of Bavaria included an acrobat carrying candles (lighted, I assume) tightrope walking between a Paris cathedral and one of the tallest houses in the city.

More recently, guys such as Evel Kneival and Chuck Yeager were tagged with the daredevil moniker. Those of a certain age will well remember Evel revving up his motorcycle and trying to jump over just about everything. Buses, cars, and pickup trucks were his usual obstacles to success, although there were other highly-publicized events that cemented his name in the annals of tomes that might have been called What The Heck Was He Thinking?

Evel claimed to have broken every bone in his body, and that probably wasn’t too far off the mark. In 1967, he spent 29 days in the hospital after crash-landing while trying to jump over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. And in probably his most spectacular fail, he and his parachute slammed into the rocks on the edge of the Snake River Canyon while aboard his X-2 steam-powered rocket Skycycle in 1974.

General Yeager was a U.S. Air Force flying ace known primarily for being the first pilot in history confirmed to have flown faster than the speed of sound in level flight. He flew the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 feet back in 1947.

Several years later, the same daredevil pilot was cruising along in another test plane at Mach 2.44 when the then-unknown phenomenon of inertia coupling caused him to lose control of his X-1A at about 80,000 ft. The aircraft rolled, pitched, and yawed simultaneously. He dropped 51,000 feet in less than a minute before regaining control and landing safely.

Many other American daredevils have captured the public’s attention over the years. Harry Houdini was a famous escape artist who would often be shackled by chains and tied into a straightjacket before being confined in a nailed-shut packing crate and tossed into a river or suspended from a tall building.

A 63-year-old former teacher named Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Despite being tossed and turned in the rapids and plunging over Horseshoe Falls, Taylor suffered no broken bones. She actually did the stunt in an attempt to raise money for her invalid mother. Alas, the promoter of the event was, shall we say, a bit less than honest with his promises.

We don’t hear a lot about daredevils today. It may be that we’re just too ho-hum about practically everything in society. But it could just be that we’re all possible daredevils ourselves. Think about it. Have you walked into a grocery or retail store WITHOUT a mask lately? Hey, the chance you’re taking may not be as sexy as riding a barrel over the Falls, but with Covid still lurking and the Delta variant running amuck, you’re definitely taking a big risk. Almost as big as a politician telling his or her party leader to take a long hike off a short pier.


©MMXXI. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer