You might think that driving a taxi would be something of a let-down or come-down after a career flying helicopters. After all, flying for a living seems so glamorous and exciting! But at the end of the day (and at the end of a career) getting paid to fly is no more glamorous than doing anything else. It is just a job. A fun job, to be sure – but there are a whole lot of other considerations too.
For instance there is always that risk of death. We pilots don’t like to speak about it. But it’s there. Prior to each take-off we must pledge to ourselves that we’ll do our best to avoid making any dumb/fatal mistakes. But yet every year many pilots do just that. I know that I am not immune. Luckily the mistakes that I have made so far haven't resulted in any crashes. That’s not to say I haven't come very, very close.
I truly hated my last flying job. I worked for a rich entrepreneur who bought a helicopter to get around in his local business world. But he also used it personally as well, and I became a sort of glorified chauffeur. The pay was…okay, but just “okay”…for Pensacola, Florida but it was not by any means on a par with what pilots of similar experience in similar jobs flying similar equipment were getting elsewhere. He felt that he was paying me a king’s ransom for doing very little though.
And so he dreamed up non-flying “stuff” to do when I wasn’t needed to fly the helicopter. Thirty years as a professional pilot and I was tasked with waxing his boat, going grocery shopping for his hunting camp and running general errands. Yeaaahhhh. It was messing with my self-respect.
Neither were the perks all that great. I had no health insurance coverage while I worked for him. It would unreasonably raise the total premium that he paid for the whole company, he said. So he gave me his word and handshake that he’d cover any medical expenses limited to injuries that happened on the job. He thought that was pretty generous.
The kicker came when I had a minor motorcycle accident in which I broke my left arm. The Boss had never liked the fact that I rode motorcycles, and he’d made it abundantly clear. Right after the accident he called me up and told me he couldn’t have his only pilot taking these kinds of risks. He threatened that if I didn’t sell the motorcycle he would have to “…make other plans.” That’s when I quit. Who needs that kind of crap?
So now I only fly part-time, doing that cherry-drying thing up in Washington State in the summertime. That gig almost pays enough to carry me through the whole year, but I need something to keep me occupied for the other nine months. Here at home, employers aren’t really keen on hiring some old guy who says he can’t work summers. So I drive a taxi. And it’s great. I make my own schedule and don’t answer to anyone now. The pay isn't quite what I was making as a pilot, but the demands on me are far fewer. And I like myself a whole lot more.
Ironically, thirty-plus years of taking people from here and dropping them off there in helicopters has prepared me well for this line of work. Not so ironically, I enjoy it immensely.