Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

18 June 2017


I do the hiring and firing for the company I work for here in Washington. Each year we hire a half-dozen or so pilots. Oddly, the ad for our little two-month, temporary summer gig garners a lot of resumes (dozens this year!), which tells me that there are a lot of unemployed pilots out there looking for work...any work.

If I'm going to ask a pilot to come all the way up to the Middle Of Nowhere, Washington (on his own dime!) for an interview, I want to make pretty darn sure that he'll work out. I don't want to waste anyone's money and I certainly don't want to waste my boss's money and time.

A couple of years ago, I brought a relatively low-time guy up. He was in his 30's and had enough time/experience to meet our minimum qualifications. We had a good conversation on the phone, and I was optimistic that he'd be okay. He lived in northern California and elected to fly up instead of drive. The closest airport with airline service is in the city of Wenatchee, about 70 miles south of Brewster. I drove down to pick him up.

On the hour-plus ride back up to Brewster, we talked. Everything seemed okay. I took him for a “pre-employment” ride in our helicopter and I knew right away that I could make a cherry-dryer out of him. Good pilot.  But then...

It happened to be a weekend, and that night we went to the SweetRiver Bakery, of which I write so much about. My friends Mikey and Brandon were there, as usual. We were sitting outside in the back. There was a band, and the music was loud, so the three of us sat on the same side of a big, round outdoor table that could seat eight or ten - you know the type. The prospective pilot sat on the exact opposite side, making it difficult for us to communicate. He seemed deliberately aloof and distant. Some of this is natural, considering he was immersed in a situation where everyone knew each other and he was the new guy. I get it.  Believe it or not, even I can be shy and reserved in a new group of people too.  

But then he made a Big Deal about not being a drinker. We drink. Sometimes we drink a lot. But it's okay if you don't drink. Have a soda! WE DON'T CARE. But there's no need to make a big issue out of it. Which he did.

At one point Mikey, knowing the guy lived near San Francisco, asked him what he did for fun in the big city? 

 ”I don't have fun,” the guy replied somberly. 

Oh man...talk about crickets...the ultimate record-scratch.  Even the band stopped and turned their heads our way in disbelief.  Mikey, Brandon and I looked at each other with three raised eyebrows. He doesn't have fun? What? Seemed kind of weird to be honest. All helicopter pilots are a little peculiar...but there are limits.

The guy could have said, “Hey, I fly helicopters, what's more fun than that?” And we would've laughed and agreed and moved on. Actually, I would've. But not Mikey. He would've pressed the issue. And he did. Because we humans are not one-dimensional. Yeah, we pilots love to fly above everything else. But I ride motorcycles and play the guitar (badly). I like to drink with my friends and go camping and drive too fast on winding roads.  Mikey and Brandon ride their motorcycles and do all sorts of other crazy shit...young guy stuff which we won't talk about. Our lives are, if nothing else, fun.  Incessantly, unendingly fun.

But this prospective pilot guy maintained that he simply had no fun...had no life.  No other explanation or expansion was offered. Wow. At that point I had serious misgivings but decided to keep him around anyway...just to see.  Maybe he had other, more redeeming qualities?

The next day I continued the interview process and was giving the guy a check-out in the S-55 helicopter. It's a tall machine, and to do a proper preflight inspection of the transmission and rotor head you have to climb up and stand on the side of the airframe – about ten feet off the ground. I climbed up one side. The guy sort of climbed up on the other side of the ship and clung onto the handles on the fuselage, but would not join me up top.

What's the matter, you got a fear of heights?”
I joked.

Well, I don't...but my legs do,”
the guy replied with a weak smile. He wasn't joking.

Okay! Game over. If I can't depend on you to preflight the rotors (the tail rotor also has to be inspected by standing on a tall ladder), then I don't want you. I drove him back down to Wenatchee to catch a flight home....home to where he had no fun.

The fear of heights thing was the clincher, but honestly the not-having-fun thing was almost as troubling. It seemed...I don't know...fake? Like he was hiding something? I mean, come on, we all have fun. Who doesn't like to have fun?

Unemployed pilots, that's who.

09 June 2017

Cluttered Brain

There are people on the planet who crave every detail of things. Their brains are cluttered with mostly useless facts, some of which are even true. Given the opportunity they will gladly spout off a ton of crap in an attempt, I suppose, to display how intelligent they are.

I am not so afflicted. And anyway, no one would be fooled.

For the thirteen years that I worked as a pilot in the Gulf of Mexico, I specifically avoided learning much about what the oil company guys did. It's not that the process of extracting oil and natural gas from the ground wasn't interesting to me. (Well...it wasn't, really.) I did learn the basics of what happens to the oil/gas between the time it comes out of the ground and goes into the pipeline to an onshore refinery. But I didn't want to know a lot about their jobs because I didn't want them to know a lot about my job. “Stick to what you know and do best,” is my motto. I just made that up.

And so up here in Washington State I am in my seventh year as a cherry-drying pilot, hovering over the wet stone-fruit to keep them from splitting after a rain event. And this morning while driving to work I realized that if you held a gun to my head and asked me to point out the differences between the leaf of a cherry tree and the leaf of an apple tree (often planted right next to each other) I would have to say, “Pull the trigger.” Old-timers up here give me a look of incredulity and wonder how I could not know? “It's so easy to tell!” they say. Uhh, yeah...right. For you, maybe. Because you care. I don't.

I hate admitting things like that. But I grew up in The Bronx, NYC. To us, a tree was a tree was a tree. They were rare. Some were green. There were pine trees that had needles and sticky trunks. And then there were shade trees; don't ask me to tell them apart. Oak? Elm? Poplar? Beats me. I'm not a farmer or a tree surgeon – I don't need to know that kind of stuff although it may be interesting or even fascinating to others.

I learned the hard way, rather late in life, that in the wintertime a dead tree looks exactly like a live tree. And when you're climbing a dead tree to rescue a cat, the branches of said dead tree can crumble like a loaf of stale Italian bread. (Or is it French bread? Which is the kind with the hard crust?). And when the bough breaks, the Bobby will fall. And down will come Bobby, injuring himself so badly he got an ambulance ride to the hospital (with lights and siren!) and had to spend a week in bed recovering from his injuries and nearly missing an epic cross-country ferry flight in a helicopter. (I should add that the cat eventually came down by himself.)

Now here we are, in the age of the internet, where any fact about any subject is immediately available at our fingertips. And we don't even have to trouble our fingertips! There are voice-recognition apps that don't even require that you touch the “phone” to ask it a question. I say, "Hello computer!” (a nod to the Star Trek movie, “The Voyage Home”) and my phone wakes up.

”GTS!” someone in the group will shout when a disputable subject comes up. Google that shit. And then someone (or a couple of someones) will whip out their smarter-than-us-phones and start regaling us with useless crap that I could really and happily live without knowing.

It's hard for me to not echo out loud the words of...ohh, who was that actor who played Lt. Samuel (not Philip!) Gerard in the movie-remake of The Fugitive? That guy. He had the drop on Harrison Ford's Richard Kimble character, who insisted that he did not kill his wife. Lt. Gerard says, ”I don't care!” See, Lt. Gerard was just a cop doing his job. And his job was to capture that escaped prisoner. The nuances of the case did not concern him.

I know about cars and motorcycles and airplanes and helicopters. Those are the things that occupy my time and imagination. Politics? Oh no! The mysteries of life? Nah. Why dwell on that stuff?  My brain is cluttered enough as it is.