Who is the coolest person you can think of? Better yet, pick someone who thinks he’s the coolest person. Justin Bieber. Donald Trump. Perhaps Stephen Dorff, shirtless on the beach and sucking on an eCig. Choose someone who is just so freaking cool that he refuses to show weakness or a shred of humility. He’d rather die than laugh at himself. He could slip on a banana peel and step on a rake, which would hit him squarely in the balls and face, and still walk away from it like nothing happened. “Totally fine, bro. Meant to do that sh*t.”
For me it’s Kanye West. Remember when he was caught smiling on camera at an NBA Finals game and immediately reverted to his super serious “genius artist” face? Like, “How dare you expose my human side to the world?!?!” Whomever you’ve chosen, I finally know how to break the coolest people in the world: put them on a zero gravity flight. Because as I recently learned, that’s the one thing that can, without fail, penetrate a cool dude’s thick, humorless armor and make him look like a helpless child.
In support of the nonprofit organization ZERO, which is “taking action to end prostate cancer and making prostate cancer research a national priority,” Pepsi Zero Sugar launched the #GetZero and #GiveZero campaign to raise money and allow a group of lucky contest winners to do something unimaginably fun: Fly on a zero gravity plane. Pepsi drinkers were asked to submit photos of the moves and poses they’d use in zero gravity, and the chosen few would board a flight for Zero G: The Weightless Experience out of Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
Fortunately, they invited me to tag along and experience zero gravity for myself. I admit without hesitation that it was impossibly fun – and I’ve never felt like a bigger dork.
Speaking of Cool Dudes
Pepsi promised fans that they would be joined by “a surprise celebrity Pepsi Zero Sugar ambassador” for the flight, but I’m not sure any of the winners knew. At the very least, if they knew, they weren’t as excited about meeting a celebrity as they were about doing a mannequin challenge 32,000-feet above the ground, because I never heard a peep about it. But as we lined up in the NASA hangar that houses some “Starfighter” jets, ready to board the Pepsi-decorated “G-Force One,” they dropped the bombshell (that I already knew, because I’m cool): We would be joined by Emmy-winning actor Jeremy Piven.
Obviously, the star of the critically-acclaimed Mr Selfridge (and huge sports fan) comes locked and loaded with the reputation of “the coolest person you know.” However, he was incredibly friendly with the contest winners, handled their Entourage questions with a smile, and he stuck around until each winner had taken a picture with him. Still, as nice as he was, the thought of seeing Ari Gold twirling and flailing around helplessly was very appealing.
“He might even puke,” I thought to myself. Alas, he did not blow chunks. He was as cool as advertised.
Piven was also on board for far more than the flight, as he takes the cause very seriously and urges men everywhere to get checked for prostate cancer.
“This is a great charity that we’re dealing with right now,” Piven said of ZERO. “People need to check it early, dealing with prostate cancer. I was in London for the past four years shooting Mr Selfridge, and I would see Sam Jackson there doing his thing. He’s got a great charity called One for the Boys, so that was fun to do some stuff with him every year. Get checked early and really take the time to be aggressive and go to your doctor. Do what it takes. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it.”
The Terrifying Way They Make Zero G Happen
G-Force One is a “specially-modified” Boeing 727, which means that it’s like a commercial airplane that has been gutted and lined with pads. Basically, it’s a hollow tube with some seats in the tail end. There are only windows on the emergency doors, which makes for a hell of a mysterious landing, but mostly you just have to trust the flight crew to let you know when to prepare for zero gravity and when to prepare for the return of gravity. Pay attention to them, and your flight will be mostly pain-free. Ignore them, and you will say things like, “Ow, my shoulder!” and “Does anyone else’s hamstring feel stretched like pantyhose?”
To prepare for the flight, we viewed a standard instructional video that explained how the flight’s parabolic path would cause us to experience weightlessness. Now, I’m no fancy scientist with a white coat and test tubes, so I’ll explain it to you all using my Florida public education. Once the plane reaches a ridiculous height, it flies on a path like this:
Not knowing how this all worked when I arrived at Kennedy Space Center, I thought that we boarded a plane, took off over the ocean, and someone flipped a switch to shut the gravity off, like in Guardians of the Galaxy. I was not aware that this involved the pilot putting the plane into a controlled dive, so this was moderately terrifying to me, a grown man who hates flying because of mild turbulence. But sometimes you just have to trust the people who are wearing real flight jumpsuits that aren’t adorned with Pepsi cans.
In all, the flight features 15 drops, with the first two or three offering partial weightlessness, so you know what it’s like on the moon. Whatever, I’ve enjoyed many an inflatable moon bounce in my days, so I was ready for the real stuff. Life comes at you fast in a zero gravity flight, though, because the minute or so that you’re laying on the floor of the hollow tube — being sucked into the padding by the climb, as you realize that you can’t swallow because the force is so strong — gives you a lot of time for self-reflection. Mainly, in my case: “What the f*ck did I get myself into?”
In Zero Gravity, No One Can See You Make an Ass of Yourself
You’ll spend the minutes and maybe even hours leading up to your flight trying to plan your weightlessness routine. I complained that we didn’t have a NERF basketball hoop because I wanted to practice some sick dunks. My back-up plan was to pull off the Kid ‘n Play dance from House Party (everyone else wanted to do a meditation pose). I also wanted to float sideways like Burt Reynolds in his Playgirl pose. As I learned in that first moment of weightlessness, it doesn’t matter what I want. Zero gravity has different plans for us all.
They tell you, quite adamantly, not to swim when you start floating. Specifically, they do not want you kicking your feet, because you will kick other people in the head. This is not a “just in case” instruction. This is certain. I know that because as soon as we were weightless, everyone f*cking started swimming out of sheer terror, and I was repeatedly kicked in the face, head, and back. I, too, kicked people, because, again, that first moment is terrifying. You think you can prepare for it, but all you can do is try desperately not to fly face first into someone’s butt.
What’s great, though, is that everyone has the dumbest, happiest looks on their faces as they’re twirling by you, and you couldn’t care less what you look like, because you’re just trying not to get trampled when they shout for you to hit the floor as gravity returns. And that’s probably the greatest danger we faced – being flattened by other passengers – as you can see in this image of me curled in a ball beneath everyone else, just as the crew was shouting for us to get down.
You can’t see my face, but I assure you I was in panic mode. They don’t tell you about the bumps all that much, but you will leave that plane with some mild pain. On the first full drop, I slammed into the wall and, padding be damned, it hurt. As I already mentioned, you will be kicked all over by swimmers, but you also have to keep your head on a swivel when the plane comes out of the drop, because no one pays attention to where they are when they land flat on their backs. I probably took three or four heels to my scalp before I realized I needed a strategy in staying away from everyone.
I know what you’re thinking, though, and no, I didn’t puke. I swear. Look, if I puked, I’d own it.
As legendary comedian Kenny Bania told us: Puke is a funny word. There was puke, though, and I was certainly afraid of being splattered by collateral spewage, as I floated between two people who I would later learn lost their free lunches. But I couldn’t blame anyone. Again, zero gravity turns the manliest man into a giggling child, which is why I was dancing around the plane, shouting, “One more time!” after the final drop.
Perhaps I should’ve been empathizing with my puke-covered friends, but it was just too much damn fun.