Down Through California, Arizona and New Mexico
I don’t like writing travelogues. There is a woman helicopter pilot/blogger who does so and they are incredibly boring. (I can say with confidence that she does not read my blog.) I read her stories with the fervent hope that she’ll write something even remotely interesting…but no, she prattles on and on about the mundane stuff of life - you know, the usual crap that we all encounter in our daily lives. After reading her posts I always ask myself, “Why did I just do that?” I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. As are you, evidently.
And so here I sit, wanting to tell you about my own yawn-worthy trip home from Washington State this past November. It was not a boring trip for me - far from it! I managed to stop and meet up with helicopter pilot friends all across the country. To me, nothing is more fun than hanging out with pilots and talking about the thing we love. To you…well, you might react as I do when reading that other blog I mentioned. Let’s find out.
After I left Mik…errr, Pilot X in Washington, I headed down I-5 to Redding, California. My friend and neglectful blogger Hal Johnson and I used to fly together at Petroleum Helicopters a million years ago or so it seems. We met a couple of times in the mid-1990s during the union organizational push of which I was a key player. Now retired, Hal is a fallen-away Harley rider, and a musician who not only promotes the burgeoning music scene in Redding but also plays gigs with his friend Joe Blythe. Their band is called – you won’t believe this – Johnson Blythe.
I got into town on a Monday night. Nothing happens on Monday nights, anywhere. It was too late to do supper, so we agreed to meet for breakfast at a place downtown called the Déjà vu Café. It seemed pretty hip and trendy. We spent hours in our feeble attempt to solve the problems of the world. It’s nice to hang around with someone with whom you have so much in common. Hal is a great guy…a great husband and father. I promised to stop in on my way back to Washington next Spring so I could hear Johnson Blythe play.
From there it was further south to Los Angeles and then east to Tucson, Arizona to see my friend Zaron Welch. Like Pilot X, Zaron is an incredibly gifted pilot - one of the few in this country who’s qualified for HEC…human external cargo (carrying people on a line underneath the helicopter). The standards of accuracy to attain such approval are unbelievably high; I’m not sure that even I could pass the test. I think I possess the necessary skill, although maybe I don’t! It would be tough given the degradation of my depth perception as I’ve gotten older. Over lunch Zaron filled me in on the interesting things he does for a living. Between him and Pilot X they really make Utility flying seem like a lot of fun. Makes me wish...ehhh, nah it doesn't.
After Tucson I continued heading east to New Mexico to see Johnny Harris who flew with us doing cherry-drying last season. He’s working as a flight instructor now for a school in Albuquerque. Johnny, an accomplished pilot needed the least amount of training of any pilot we’ve hired in the past five seasons. He quickly and easily adapted to the job of flying that peculiar old Sikorsky S-55 helicopter.
Affable and funny, Johnny got along with everyone. He’s one of those pilots we hope will come back next year but in our hearts know that he’s destined for bigger and better things. Not many pilots with full-time jobs can take the summer off to come play with us.
On a stunningly gorgeous afternoon there in Albuquerque, Johnny gave me a tour of his school. They have a super-clean hangar full of Robinson R-44 helicopters, a popular trainer/personal ship that despite my years in the business I’d never even been up close to. So we climbed into one and talked helicopters (what else?). We watched out the open door to the ramp as other ships came and went.
Pilots are weird - we like watching helicopters fly, even when it’s not us flying them. Not only that, but like pre-teens in their father’s car we sometimes just sit at the controls, imagining the incredible flights to come. Hey, don’t judge.
I left Johnny and headed for Dallas, Texas and my friend Russell Madden. Little did I know what was in store for me there!