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.


Ed said...

The fear of heights I can understand but that was about the most awkward scene around the big round table. I would have at least made up a story of how much fun I have if it was a job I really wanted.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Ed, it's strange, even to this day. It was almost like the guy was wearing his anti-socialness on his sleeve- like he was proud of it. Which is fine if you want to stay unemployed in the field you supposedly love.

The pilot I wrote about has not been able to find steady employment since interviewing with us. Gee, no wonder. He claims that he's unable to even make the attempt to be sociable, and he's okay with that. Maybe a therapist or counselor of some kind would be able to help him with his issues. I am neither - at least not professionally.

I say that, but then again I do sometimes counsel young pilots. "Be likable," I say. "Be the kind of person a chief pilot wants to have around among his other employees (not just the pilots) - and be the kind of person people want to be around." There's a subtle difference.

Trouble is, some things are really out of your control; you're either likable or you're not. And if you try too hard it has the exact opposite effect: People recognize a phony right away. So you have to be yourself, and yourself has to be likable.

I'd imagine that (probably) everyone believes that they are likable. My 61 years of experience on this planet proves to me that it's not true. There are plenty of truly dislikable people out there. And so I'm obliged to ask: Am I one of them? Truthfully, I don't know. I hope not.

But I recognize that I have some serious anti-social tendencies, and I know that I can come off as quite the asshole when I want to (and even when I don't want to, unfortunately). I have some wonderful, good, close friends, but I often wonder if they just put up with me out of some Christian sense of kindness? I mean, I hear the head-shaking, eye-rolling exasperation in their voices sometimes, which causes me to stop and think, "Am I really trying to be a dick here, or is this something that comes naturally?"

I just don't know.

So...that's enough for today's introspective moment!

About fun: How sad it must be to lead a life devoid of fun! Life shouldn't be drudgery. I think we're supposed to enjoy ourselves here during our short tenure on this planet.

When I get to the Pearly Gates, I want to wipe my brow and say, "Hey, St. Peter, whew, that was a blast! Nice threads, by the way - hey, where'd you get them, Robes-R-Us? They got beer up here? Listen, can I do it all over just one more time before I come in for good?" And St. Peter will undoubtedly shake his head, roll his eyes and open his mouth as if about to say something but pause, think twice about it hopefully send me back down for another go ;-)

Bob said...

Gee, am I supposed to comment on your entry here or your comment back to Ed's comment?!

I know this: I'm no pilot and I wouldn't get on a motorcycle on a bet, but if you and I ever meet, we will have one big old passel of FUN.

Bob Barbanes: said...

You've got that right, Bob! And I hope we do :-)