This Is Your Copilot Speaking / Pilot X

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These stories were submitted by a copilot of a major U.S. airline. The accounts published here are edited for length and clarity only. Check back on nowheremag.com each week for a new installment.

SPACE1

(Posted 6/21/10)

Level Up

(DISCLAIMER: Do not taunt Follies. Do not make sudden or erratic movements in the presence of a Folly. Do not read near open flame. Not equipped for night operations. Not guaranteed to taste like sugar. Burn after reading.)

SPACE1

Day 1
Drove 2 blocks to the store to get supplies for my trip. Took my son. Let him ride in the bullshit box. “One day, if you’re really unlucky, this could be yours.” He looks impressed. What does he know? He’s 4.

Back at the house I head back into the garage to get the groceries. My car is crying its little yellowed headlights out. Coolant tears are dripping on the concrete, and the post shutdown cooling fan is on. (Only does that when it’s really hot.) Sounds like most of the bearings are missing, like a beehive trapped in a kazoo. I think it’s trying to tell me something. It wants to go back to its old home. Doesn’t like it here.

In the lot, (back among the privileged elite with my shiny new airport badge.) I get THE space. Can’t park in any of the perimeter spaces because ants come out of the woods and infest your car. (Happened to me twice.) Or it gets covered in a pine potpourri of needles, crap and sap. So THE space is the other side of the perimeter row, at the end, the last space closest to the pick-up shed. Kickety Assitey.

In ops, the plane is an hour late so I plop down and watch some of the Steelers/Packers game. A commercial comes on for World of Warcraft. Stars Mr T. His magical power is to turn other people’s heads into Mr. T heads. Almost but not quite mildly amusing.

As this 30 seconds of nerdy quip is winding down, a diminutive middle-aged M-FA sashays in front of the TV. Stops. Does that spinal realignment that means confusion/surprise/ sonar ping of recognition. Curtailed hip-shot finger point at the TV, like a quick draw. Turns to me and the other guy on the couch. “Look guys. B.A. Baracus!”

“————–.” Check mate. I got nothing.

They’re boarding when I get to the plane. Siren my way down the jetway with loud “Howsitgoing tonight?”(s) and ”How are you doing?”(s). People dutifully pull over.

“Come on through young man. We can’t leave without you.”
“Well, you could, but then you’d miss the best part.”

Old people can smell what I’m cooking.

I’ve flown with the Capt. before. Friendly. Energetic. Scary smart. This guy’s hobby is probably collecting complicated hobbies. Ex Army helo guy. He speaks German often. Does not shake hands. Thinks it’s gross.

Second wife. Third child. He’s not tall. Maybe 5’9″. Married a 6’2″ black girl. Moved from Phoenix to Whitesburg, Georgia (I’m not kidding. It’s Whitesburg.) Says there’s still a bank in town with a sign that says, “For Whites Only.” Fair chance it’s historic. Bought his wife a 2010 Mercedes E320 (the most technologically advanced car on the planet) to piss off the rednecks at the Pigly Wigly.

We are totally full with a FA jumpseater in the back and a pilot up front with us. Front bin is stuffed with tires and 500 lbs. of company mail. Back is jammed with bags. The paperwork for the cargo is FUBAR. Wrong plane number, flight number and gate. The math doesn’t add up. We get a supervisor then a manager. When I run the numbers through ACARS, we are 66 lbs. overweight. We could takeoff, but wouldn’t be able to land. Takes 45 minutes to sort it out. Lead FA brings up homemade Christmas cookies. Who says confusion can’t be delicious?

Finally in the air, he shares with me that both he and his wife play World of Warcraft. A lot. Really, really a lot. They have matching Sony laptops for portable gaming. He bought her the Mother of All Gaming Computers to use at home.

They play in a Role Playing Guild. (I seriously got like one word in 10. So forgive me if I dork this up.) 20 or so people. You have to apply to join. Submit your character to a background check. Try out with the team.

They go on quests. But he doesn’t call them quests. Massive campaigns that take 5-10-20 hours. The purpose is to get money and experience. Level up your character so he/she becomes more powerful.

They have to type in (Ren?) old-style English. Thee and Thou. They are video and audio linked together. (Just talk normal there, but no swearing.) 15 million people are playing. Paying $15 ea. a month. Tells me there are cruises for Warcraftians.
He plays on the road. Real-time video linked with the wife so they can chat and he can see his kids in the background.

He spends a long time trying to explain his different characters and their powers. But I don’t understand half the shit he’s saying. (My only exposure to Warcraft is the time they made fun of it on South Park.) And he talks really fast.

The FA comes up. Asks what we are going to do with our 24 hours in LA. Capt. Jumps out with, “Trying to get my Shaman up to level 80!”

“Dude. You really shouldn’t tell girls that.”
“I’m married. What do I care?”

“Makes it harder on the rest of us.”

We land. Gate’s occupied. While we wait, 6xx calls in range. Says they’re going to need the bio kit. Someone………

The radio goes dead. Two minutes later, Ops comes back on. The guy is laughing hysterically. You can hear more people laughing in the background.
“O.k. Sir. We’ll have the cleaners meet the plane.” More laughing.

I key up, “Ops. 1x. What happened to 6xx?”
“Apparently…….uh…. Someone…..mmm went to the bathroom in the lav without using the potty. Then wiped it on the mirror.” Laughing.
“#1 or #2?”
“#1.”

I have a terrible thought. “Hey ops. That’s not a <<My Airplane>> is it?”
“Mmmmm No. It’s <<Another Plane>>.”

Whew.

We park finally and get off. Wait for our LAX ship to arrive. Bout an hour late. I get on. Cleaners are already on. This is normal. One of them is standing in the galley. The look on the her face is not normal.

“What’s up?”

She makes a disgusted face and gestures at the lavatory door.
–no–
I pull open the door and bust out laughing. Of course it was <<My Airplane>>. Of course!

There’s a lake of piss on the floor of the forward lav (the one just aft if the cockpit). There are scale islands of soft-serve sludge drifting to and fro. Smells like one of those holes of unholy hell at a high way rest stop. Mirror looks ok. Maybe she cleaned it first.

“That’s awesome! What did you do to get stuck with the duty?”
“Supervisor.”

The burdens of command.

Takes her about 20 minutes. Still doesn’t smell so fresh, but you can’t see any evidence of the spill. They never did find out who did it. Merry Christmas fuckers.

Do some foreplay waiting, waiting to hear from SOC whether we’re holding for some connecting pax. Word comes down, yes. We settle into the actual waiting of the waiting.

We always land west in LA. Always. I reflect on this on the way out. Set up for 25L like we always do. They turn the airport around. Now we get 7R. Then they want us on the north side, 6R. Abeam the outer marker, they turn us in and clear us for the visual. We are 4,000 feet too high and still at 210kts assigned. Guess when it’s late, the approach controllers figure you can probably handle it on your own. Lob one last half-assed vector at you and call it a night.

I drop the gear. Pop the speed brakes. Get us headed down. Left turn in. I can’t see the airport at all. Just lots of black water. Roll out still “high as fuck.” (For you, Barbie). Kill Otto and do some pilot stuff. Get spooled by 800′.

Walk to the hotel. Key in at 0430 <<HOME>> time. My room hasn’t been cleaned. Bed unmade. Towels on the floor. Back to the lobby. They give me the room next door. Better.

Day 2
Wake up at 0630. Plunk down for some Follies. Scheduling calls at 0730. Reassigned. Now I fly home at noon. No redeye. Accidental charity makes me all tingly in my nether regions.

Take a nap. Sleep is one of my body’s few physical protests I will consider, so long as it doesn’t interfere with beer or TV. Wake up at 1030. Debate the gym. The flab can wait. Dredge out funny ways to describe the pedantic.

Text Mr. Movie Guy that I can’t make lunch after all. Walk back to the airport. The plane is late. Embed in a corner and strike up a conversation with a man and his son. He asks how the view is out the front. Show him a picture I took of Mount Rainier wrapped in clouds like shawl of cotton balls.

The FAs show up. Two guys and a girl. The man asks if ALL of our flight attendants graze on the “funny side of the fence.”

“Not all. But quite a few.”

Tell him the fun part is the ones that don’t. They tend to over compensate. Make sure you know they’re straight. Lots of sports talk and manly chucks to the shoulder. Makes you feel kinda sorry for them. Strangers in a strange land.

The Capt. for the leg back deadheaded out. Five hours. That plus the 4+ hours for the return will net him about $1,200 for a day’s work. He’s my age. Ten years with the company. A devout Bachelor. Never married. Lives in PIE. Keeps a place in <<HOME>> cause he likes to hang out there.

At cruise I ask him about the bachelor thing. Been probing the idea like a missing tooth. Coasting into middle age. All your friends shacking up. Having kids. Slowly becoming their “single friend.” Christmas is a week away. Seems like something you’d want to whistle your way through, like passing by a cemetery. Staying busy. Just another day.

He says he doesn’t like to talk about it with married guys. Says they think he’s strange. “It’s just not for me.” [Monogamy]

Says he’s good for about three months on average. After that, the ladies generally want to ramp it up. Demand more commitment.
“I’d love to meet that one girl that just knocked me off my feet. But it’s a hundred million-girl smorgasbord. There’s no way you could try everything on the menu. And God knows I’ve tried.”

Dangerously awesome thinking. Not unique among pilots. Maybe it comes from all that moving around. Slowly short-circuiting geographical vagabondary with vaginal. At least he didn’t buy a house first.

SPACE1

(Posted 6/12/10)

Trojan Gift Wrap

(DISCLAIMER: Explosive decompression is bad for your sinuses. Skydrol should not be used as body wash. 3 bad landings in 90 days required for certification.)

SPACE1

Day 1
Yesterday while my son was having an allergic attack, coughing uncontrollably and wheezing, my phone rings. Scheduling is calling. I’m taking the stairs two at a time on my way out the door. Hampster’s wife has the Albuterol Sulfate I just discovered we’re out of. Work can wait. When I get back my wife is bundling him together to take him to the ER.  We decide to give him a breathing treatment now that we have the meds. He responds immediately. Still don’t know what caused it. Decide he’s okay to go bowling after all.

I don’t bowl. Went to an engagement party once with an old girlfriend. In a fair approximation of egalitarian elitism, the engagees thought it would be every-man kitschy to bowl away their singleness. Had trophies and an awards ceremony. I collected a bronze medallion with the figure of a man in the post-coital release bowling pose. Looks like a speed skater. I say “a” bronze instead of “the” bronze because bronze had already been awarded. There just wasn’t a more worthless metal available for the honor of “Lowest Male Score.” My date received a plastic trophy also in the throes of bowling ecstasy for “Most Interesting Form.”

I haven’t gotten any better. I try to compensate for lack of skill with sheer velocity. Figure the ball has less time to fuck up if I throw it hard. My 6-year old daughter manages to throw a strike. My 4-year old son hauls in a strike with the rail ramp ball launcher. I manage a spare. My wife spanks my sissy ass. Strikes and spares. I remind her that I could probably take her in a straight fight. The taunting continues.

Turns out scheduling called to tell me my first turn tomorrow has been downgraded (switched to other equipment). Nine additional succulent hours at home with pay. I invite the husband from the family we joined for bowling to come over and watch the Budweiser Shootout (First race of the NASCAR season. Only the top 24 guys get to drive and it’s only 75 laps but still an awesome amount of awesome…or would have been if my DVR had been smart enough to record the last 20 minutes.) Been a long 2 months with no racing. ‘Bout time those slackers got back to work.

Head off to work about 1700. Make the egregious error of thinking how well these little scheduling changes have been working out for me. I know better but I can’t seem to stop myself.

On the bus, I see the Capt. I’m flying with. Don’t know him, but his name is on the patch of his leather jacket. Get an immediate bad feeling about this guy. The most obvious and distressing indicator is the toothpick rolling round in his mouth. Pulls it out and uses it to make points of emphasis or argument. Something really uncool about trying to look cool with a toothpick.

He’s slouched indifferently toward the window with his left arm draped over the back of the seats. Big metal watch glinting. Most speakings begin with a little uptick of the head like the words to shortly follow are pez. And he has “Capt.” before his name on his patch. Another bad sign. Dark clouds of arrogant asshole are building. I got a bad feeling it’s going to rain shit on my side of the pedestal.

I hope I’m wrong. I was wrong once. I remember it clearly. It was September 1999. I ordered steak when I should have had the chicken. Tell the wife on many occasions about this. “I’m not wrong now. You’re confusing now with that time with the chicken.”

The crew lounge has changed. For the better. Three 50″ plasma screens showing departure gates have been installed in the corner where the brutish CRT cubes used to roost on massive racks. A 4th screen shows national radar precipitation in time lapse. Now we get the same info the passengers get, but we don’t have to go upstairs to get it. When you’re a pro, information comes to you. You just have to whine loud and long to get it.

I even win the computer lotto and Log in on the first try. Go to check in…. and that seems to be the last stop on the happy time fun train.

Scheduling has a bullshit bait-and-switch method of changing assignments. Before I can duty in, any changes to my schedule must be acknowledged and agreed to.

“(check box) MODIFD PAIRING Xxxxx” that’s it. No hint as to what I’m agreeing to do, or what the change might be. But I can’t check in for work unless I blindly I agree to do it.

Click okay and agree to the prize behind door #3. I was originally flying one leg to FLL. Possibly catch the last quarter of the Super Bowl and chill on the beach until 1800 on Monday. Now I deadhead to LAS in an hour at 1930 (4:30 en route), sit for 2:30 then fly the red eye back at 0330 <<HOME>> time. Arrive at 0630 <<HOME>> time. Followed by 23 hours in hotel stasis.

I should have stuck with the dinette set and the washer and dryer. Door #3 can suck my ass. This ought to be illegal. I didn’t plan on flying all night. Just because I wasn’t working doesn’t mean I was convalescing in a dark quiet room on the off chance I might have to fly all night. Just because it’s physically possible to jam this jagged and foreign friction up the delicate passage (of time) between now and dawn doesn’t make it safe or even a good idea. Wildly unpleasant yes, but not a good idea. I hold on to the thought that it will get me home 5 hours earlier. Squeeze my eyes shut and take it like a man. Ow ow ow.

The best thing about this ruff stuff reassignment is I don’t have to fly with Capt. ProbablyaCompleteDickhead. I get a completely chill former U.S. Air guy I’ve flown with before. Better.

The flight is almost empty. Shocking to us, the gate agents and the passengers. Vegas is always full. Pick a row in coach. Rather sit in coach if I have my own row, first class has wider seating but the seat bottoms are flat. Like to have a little leg bolster. Little butt nest. The seat bottoms in coach are angled up slightly.

For our 2:30 sit in Vegas, we go chill next to the kid’s play area. Completely useless and magnificent 10 foot airplane skateboard dominates the play space. Doesn’t roll or tilt, but things of that much cool don’t have to do stuff.

Make sure to hit Starbucks before they close at 2300 local. We are totally full for the redeye back. Redeyes are always full. We have a jumpseater asking to ride up front. Ball sweat martini.
Jumpseating is one of the few fantastic vestigial perks left over from the pre-deregulation days. Died there for a couple years after 9-11 until they worked out the security of it. Any plane going anywhere. If the cockpit jumpseat is available, it’s yours. A lot of airlines extend this graciousness to any open seat in the cabin.

The bedrock of commuting. Over half of the commercial pilots in the U.S. live in another state and commute into work. Takes a strong desire not to live in domicile which pretty much everyone has, and the will to endure 2-12 hours of extra travel to get to a more suitable environment. One guy I flew with lives 2 hours north of Seattle and commutes to the east coast. That’s dedication.

Tried it myself for a little over a year from SFO to <<HOME>>. Nine to 12 hours of bonus fun plus 2 hours ground travel. Turns out I’d rather take a Chuck Norris roundhouse to the Jimmy before and after every trip than rub out the constant stress of trying to get to and from. But that’s just me.

Jumpseating is a common courtesy between pilots. It is at the Captain’s discretion. Everyone on both sides of the process is exceedingly polite. Grateful for the ride and more than happy to provide it. You never know when you might need a ride so it pays to be nice.

I really don’t want to share my little bleary-eyed shit cookie with an outsider for the next 4 hours. I will play nice but I really don’t want to play at all.

Luck out again. Three people don’t show for the flight so our rider gets a seat and we get our romantic cocoon all to ourselves. Don’t feel like getting naked now, but it’s nice to have the option.

Snowing and really cold in the Midwest when we touchdown at 0630CST. Terminating (total shutdown) requires that I do a postflight walkaround.  Mostly just make sure there are still 2 of everything and nothing is obviously broken. It’s -4 out which is refreshing for about -4 seconds.

I don’t bring my overcoat unless I know I’m going somewhere really cold (like the Midwest) because I’m only outside for about 5 minutes a turn and that’s a lot of extra bulk to haul around if I’m planning on going somewhere warm (like Florida). Really regretting it right now.

Day 2 Nowhere – nowhere
23 hours in a hotel by the airport is like stasis. I remember sleeping in and going to the gym at some point and calling MX because the heat in my room would not turn off. Mustache man told me to open a window. The rest is myth and innuendo. Day 2 never happened.

Day 3
6 inches of snow when I catch the van at 0515. On the walkaround, snow dribbles into my totally inappropriate footwear. Next time I’m bringing galoshes. The engine plugs are still installed. Giant padded red discs maybe 6′ across to keep the snow out. Not sure where to put them. Lean em against the tug.

There is no way we’re making it back here this afternoon. Forecast is for 10-16″ by nightfall. Maybe we’ll get stuck in CUN. That quantity of suck would barely register. 26 hours in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort. My Folly-senses are tingling in anticipation.

We push and call Iceman (de-ice). They hit us with 4 trucks. 2 for de-ice. 2 for anti-ice. Gotta hand it to beer country folk. They know how to handle their snow.

Just as we taxi onto the runway for takeoff, they close the runway due to poor braking conditions. We taxi off and a rumbling herd of lobster-like bifurcated plows take to the runway.  Heel-nipping SUVs herd the beasts in a staggered line. One pass and done. Clear 8000′ of runway in under 20 minutes.

Still, with de-icing and waiting for the plows, we are an hour over block (scheduled time out and back). This turn was already scheduled for 7:58 total flying time. “Supplemental” flight rules dictate that if we fly one minute more than 8 hours, we will have to have 16 hours of rest when we get back. This means our first flight on day 4 will have to be pushed back 3 hours unless they get another crew to fly it. Gigidy.

On the way down, the Capt. has to go potty twice. Both times, the same FA comes up. He’s gotten most of his flying ratings and is trying to build time to re-tread as a commercial pilot. Good for him. But each time he comes up he says aviation stuff like he’s ATC giving us directions. “Let’s see… <<callsign>> turn to heading 180. Climb and maintain flight level 400. Maintain 300 knots.” Cute the first time.

Surprised again when we push out of CUN on time. Weather in the Midwest is down to a half mile viz with snow and freezing fog. They give us a shitload of gas, 2 alternates and off we go.

The whole way back, I’m expecting ATC to tell us to slow, or get holding. The airport does close for another 20 minutes while the lobster plows graze the runway, but it doesn’t affect us at all. As we approach, visibility is down to a quarter mile and it’s snowing harder, but we land with no problems. Max auto-brakes crunch up surprisingly little runway. Can’t see the terminal from the runway at all. Taxiway lights are just muted blue glowing mounds. Nine hours and 5 minutes of total flying.

Now we’ll see what evil scheduling has in store. Surprised again when they pick up on the first ring. SOC uses the same automated retard pathology built into the computer systems. Fifteen menus and sub menus to be put on hold for 20 minutes. “One of our agents will be with you shortly.” I hear that shitty hold song in my sleep. They are already looking at our rest issue and promise to call right back. I figure there’s no way they’ll get back to us before we leave for the hotel.

Wondrous awe claws its way out of the gimp box I had it padlocked in. They cancel our Day 4 and want to deadhead us home in the morning. I ask if we can be released (with pay) and just go home tonight. (No way they’ll agree to this.)

“Sure. Go ahead.”

Ok. That’s it. I’m not ready to hang up my cynical spurs, buy a sweater vest and carry pictures of puppies in my wallet. I don’t have room in my head for the good/evil duality this windfall of good fortune represents. What’s the catch? They buy my first turn and let me stay home? Don’t have to fly with Sir Dicksalot? New monitors? No delays? They buy my Day 4 and let me go home a day early? Fuck you. I’m going to have to punch a child or something. Balance the scales a little.

The Capt. And I hoof it the 200 yards back to the domestic terminal in the Beer Town Blizzard. The last flight to <<HOME>> leaves in an hour. The flight is wide open. I get a whole row in coach. The flight leaves on time. Ice trucks work their magic and we are wheels up in about 20 minutes. No delays into <<HOME>>. We park at exactly 2020. The crew bus is coming by here in about 20 seconds. No way I’ll make it, but I’m going to try. Passengers start to get off and the gate agent stops them. I work my way to the head of the stalled bodies.

“What’s up?”
“I ran over the cord!”
“You what?”
“I ran over the cord!” (She parked the jetbridge on top of the external power cord. A serious no no.) Everyone has to stay on the plane while she repositions the jetbridge.

I turn to the blankly curious faces. “Yeah. You gotta get back on. Sorry.”

As they turn back, I bolt past the agent, out the door, down the stairs onto the Tarmac. Button hook at the bottom and herkey jerky run carrying my gear past the still running #1 engine and out to the bus which should have been gone 5 minutes ago, but was held up a gate away by another arriving plane.

No way. If anything else goes right today, I’m just going to sit down and wait for the world to end. Seems like the only rational thing to do.

SPACE1

(Posted 6/9/10)

SPACE1

And All the King’s Men

(DISCLAIMER: Do not make direct eye contact with a Folly if confronted. Do not puncture. Do not read if you are taking nitrates for angina. Not proven to re-grow hair. Keep out of reach of children.)

SPACE1

Phone rings on Thursday. Charter department. Could I help them cover a flight tomorrow?

“I would but I’m already working tomorrow.”
“We could pay protect you. You’d overnight at home tomorrow, and then we’ll link you to your LA turn on day 2?”
“That sounds pretty good.”

“There’s a catch. It’s a 0415 check in.”

I go through a brief “of course I can lift that” reasoning process. Twist. Jerk. Legs straight. Lift with the back. The popping sound means it’s working.

“Okay, I’ll do it.” (It’s 30 hours at home when I would normally be spread-eagle on the bed in the hotel trying to remember if I’ve seen this episode before. Yes. Of course I have. But maybe the A-Team will actually shoot somebody this time.)

Hang up and do a few reps in the calculus gymnasium of my wake up time. 0415 show…..When’s the bus? 0335?!? That means I have to leave at 0245. Means wake up at 0200. No. That can’t be right. Do it again. 0200. Whatever. How hard could it be?

Plan ahead. Have the kids in bed by 2000. Must sleep. Have my dainty self in bed by 2100. But since I normally turn in around midnight, sleep is wily and elusive. Tell myself not to tell myself that if I fall asleep now, I’ll have x hours of sleep. Repeat this process for an hour and a half.

My son wakes up at about 2300 because he’s at that stage where he wakes up if he has to pee (which is good), but then doesn’t have the first clue what to do next. I make reassuring “Shhhhh. Stop crying. You’ll wake up your sister” noises and aim him at the toilet. Corrected for windage, most of it goes in the bowl. Steer him back to bed and he’s asleep before he hits the pillow.

But now, the scampering kittens of conscious thought are loose in my head. I find the most efficient time to panic about the unraveling javelin arc of my life is when I have nothing to distract me but the ever misplaced checklist for how to sleep. (A really finite time to do it also helps.)  The wife calls at 0100. She’s done with work and wants me to turn off the alarm. I let her in. She’ll just keep calling if I don’t.

Day 1
Dry heave back to consciousness at 0200. I feel terrible. Feels like a bad hangover, without the shame and confusion. As usual, the actual falling off the log is much more brutal than the brochure led me to believe. Neuron A chats with neuron B in the “Please call back during regular business hours” of my brain. Coffee. I should make coffee. (Oh. I did in fact quit drinking coffee for about a week. But it was so much fun I went back to drinking it so I could quit again later.)

In the car at 0245. I’m ignoring my car’s inexorable backslide into suck. This time, it will be different. Things will be better. It’s still hemorrhaging coolant so I have to refill the reservoir every few days. The seat warmers sort of work but not really. The back window fogs up in spots and never really defrosts. It’s okay. The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care.

Pass the Waffle House around 0300. Pack of kids outside washing down their Thursday night with some Smothered and Covered. I feel the ripped-off band aid of adulthood. How did I end up being the guy driving to work at 0300? I want to be annoying the staff in the Waffle House. Then sleep in till 3 in the afternoon and eat cereal until it’s time to go out again. It occurs to me that I totally could (and did). But like dreaming about being able to eat all the candy you want when you grow up, by the time you get there, it’s not as much fun as you thought it would be.

Charter flights are the wild west. We get an airport to go pick up some folks. An airport to drop them off and some basic routing and weather. The rest unfolds as we go. Two dead legs. One live leg. Great deal for the FAs. They can sleep on our way to the pick-up and on the way home from the drop off.

The Capt. is a good egg, and does a lot of charters. It’s a good thing too. I’m so assholes and elbows I look like an episode of the Deadliest Catch where 1200 lbs. of joints and puckers avalanche out of the crab pot. I’m not used to all this ambiguity. Line flying is pretty well-scripted. Two of the FAs are old battlewagons and this too helps.

Anthony is brand new. He asks if he can sit up front for the take off.  It’s fun for us too. We never get to show off the experience to anyone because you have to be a 121 airline pilot to ride up here when we have passengers. But we’re empty and don’t even close the cockpit door for the dead legs. It’s a beautiful view of the city, all lights and empty streets when we launch at 0500.

He takes pictures with his phone (which have no chance of coming out.) Says “wow” a lot. The sun comes up as we check on with New York Center. We are picking up some army rangers in Vermont and taking them to Louisiana. Call ahead. Tell Atlantic Aviation we’re coming. Girl on the radio says “Roger.” like we do this every day and have a clue where to go, or what to do when we do get there.

“Are you on the south side? On taxiway Charlie?’
“Yes.”
“Between the runways or on the west side?”
“We are going to park you on the 890 ramp.”
“Where is that?”
“On Charlie.”

“Between the runways?”
“On the 890 ramp.”

I guess we’ll figure it out.

The FOLLOW ME truck is waiting for us when we land. This is an everyday occurrence for private jets but I haven’t seen one since flight school. Always liked the FOLLOW ME truck. Like a rodeo clown or one of those Caution Wet Floor signs where it looks like the handicapped symbol got up and started break-dancing.

Everything with the military is best guess. We get one total weight for everything – people, bags, weapons, ominous black cases, rucksacks, ominous grey cases. We just assume the bins are maxed out. Once we subtract our maximum cargo weight, everything that’s left is passengers.

Everyone is young, fit and exceedingly polite. In one of those “all it would take is a quick yank of the wheel across the double yellow into the on-coming truck” horror fantasies, I wonder how far I’d get if I stood in the door and yelled “Rangers are pussies!!” and ran for my life. And like the semi head-on, I really don’t want to find out.

Nothing at all happens on the way to Louisiana. Freezing cold in Vermont. 70 degrees down south. Another FOLLOW ME truck leads us to the military ramp. Vast open Tarmac. One large squat processing facility, ornate in its “spend-it-or-lose-it” military financing.

MillionAir turns the plane. We are “fuel on board.” (Don’t need gas to make it home.) Capt. signs the credit voucher for air-stairs, a belt loader and 5 guys to throw bags for 30 minutes: $4,200. I’d hump that gear naked for half that.

No ceremony for departure. They wave at us and leave in a pickup. We assume that means we are cleared to start, cleared to taxi, and clear of obstructions.

The best thing about charter (and the Capt. explains this is exceedingly rare. The first time it’s ever happened to him, in fact,) is we are over an hour ahead of schedule. Since we are not a ”scheduled” flight, we can push for home whenever we’ve completed the mission – deliver guys and stuff to point B. I’m in my car by 1430.

By the time I get home, I’m pathologically grouchy and am having trouble blinking in unison. I’ve been up for over 36 hours. No wonder no one else volunteered for this trip. I stare at the kids for a while and lob suspicious insults at the wife until she orders me to take a nap. I mumble up to bed.

Wake up 20 minutes later and feel surprisingly better. I mouth breathe apologies at the family and grind my gearing into “home.”

The wicked will get no rest. (And like it.) My daughter has her last soccer game tomorrow. My wife has volunteered our house for the team celebration BBQ. I clean for 4 hours. I try to get with the program. Be a team player. But my caustic sense of martyrdom seeps out now and again. I apologize at 5 to 10 minute intervals.

Day 2
The soccer game is like watching kittens play with yarn. My daughter is not into it. Casually drawn to the ball’s loose magnetic field, she twirls her hair. She’s binary in this way. Scored so many goals for a few games, the coaches told her to pass. So she would stop, all alone, in front of the goal and shrug. Wait for the other team to come get the ball.

The coach gives them all trophies. Hers is the “Float Like a Butterfly- Sting Like a Bee” because she reminds the coach of Ali’s effortless style. An association strangely lost on her and the rest of the 6-year-olds, but she likes the gold soccer player.

The party goes well. I excuse myself to play Modern Warfare 2 with someone’s 16-year-old when the conversation sags into the effect of childbirth on the female physique. I can’t think of a single contribution that won’t end with me sleeping in my car.

I hate going to work at night. Feel sorry for myself all the way back to the airport. I’ve flown with the Capt. before. Calm. Happy. Nice. No ego. Which is good because mine barely fits as it is. I like flying with guys who are still married to the original baby mama. Gives me hope that it is possible to be a pilot AND married to the same woman for your career. Which makes it that much more shocking and horrible when he spontaneously regurgitates the tale of his 18-year marriage imploding in 3 days. He hasn’t spoken to his wife or daughter in 7 weeks. I sympathetically ask, “What the fuck did you do?”

He has a 14-year-old daughter who had fallen into the habit of not saying “Hi dad” or “bye dad” as she came and went. Nipping this in the bud involved him grabbing her by the collar and putting her in a chair for a “come to Jesus.” 3 days later his wife and daughter left on a pre-planned trip to visit his wife’s mom. The day after that, the Sheriff’s Department stopped by to watch him pack a single bag and leave his house for good. The restraining order forbids any contact with his wife, daughter, neighbors, or stuff.

They had it made. He was paying off the house next month. College completely covered. They have water property in Florida and North Carolina. Dissolution of a family business left him with mad money in the bank, and a fully vested retirement. He doesn’t drink. He and his wife never fought and he ruled his house with an iron “I don’t really care one way or another, sweetheart,” attitude. Now he’s careening into a complete fuckstorm of a divorce at 47 and living at his cousin’s house. Take this guy off the “happily married” bell curve, and my chances suddenly fall into the “D- please see me” spectrum. I was barely hanging on to that C as it was.

Fuck.

His misery keeps me completely occupied for the 4 1/2-hour redeye to LAX. I can’t make it go. How did this happen?  He swears he did not hurt his daughter, and in his court-ordered weekly anger counseling sessions, he recounts that his actions were appropriate and restrained. He must not be telling me the whole story. I ask him point blank if he ever hit her, cheated, got drunk and lost his temper. Anything. Again and again he says no. Like gravity, I’m forced to accept that it just is, and I will never really understand the how of it.

(Posted 6/1/2010)

SPACE1

Mexican Turf War

(DISCLAIMER: If you’re not sure what to do, don’t touch that. Not approved for super-sonic flight. Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) cannot be logged as a landing. Do not operate radar on the ground near fuel spills or people.)

SPACE1

The evil alignment of planets for this doomed venture began weeks ago when I got a text from Barbie. Something to the effect of, “Tried to find something other than this piece of shit. See you then.”

I don’t normally pay a tremendous amount of attention to trip detail. What time do I have to leave? What time do I get home? What day is it today? The shit in the middle will generally resolve into some sort of focus when I get there. This cryptic message suggests the middle part might have to be checked for infection.

The suck is obvious and malignant. Fly the 2000 leg to LAS sit for 2 hours then do the red-eye to MKE. Sit in MKE for 24 hours. Fly to SFO via <<HOME>> and sit for 18 hours. Fly home. I decide vaccination is prudent. I bring the rum I thoughtfully bought for my wife last week.

Day 1

Wife tells me to clip my nose hair before going to work.  I defer to her judgment, she reads fashion magazines. The driver on the employee bus has angry Ice Cube eyes. He accelerates hard around the horseshoe before I even get my bag in the rack.

I play printer roulette and manage to print my schedule on the 5th machine. Meet up with Barbie on the plane. “I have a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Why is my bag so heavy?” he wonders out loud. It makes clanky noises as he stows it under the jumpseat. I take this to be a good sign. 4 hours to Vegas.

Flying all night should be outlawed along with clowns and mullets (or any combination thereof). The thinking is you’ll be well rested when you show up for work at 1900. This is never the case.

Kids are up at 0700. They quickly tire of the “Leave me alone. Daddy’s trying to sleep” game. They can’t reach anything even vaguely nutritious, and giving a 3- and 5-year old stove privileges proved not to be as practical as I had imagined. The point: by the time we push for Vegas at 1945 I’m already tired and only another 12 hours till bed. We fly into the sun for 3 hours.

Sitting in an empty gate in LAS for two hours I see a diminutive older woman with dark spiky hair and bee-hive glasses. She’s wearing orange plastic flip-flops and yellow bike shorts. She’s not fat so much as compressed like the gravity in Fashion Bug was dialed to “Jupiter” the day she purchased this ensemble. Around each ankle she has wide, gold metallic bands apparently for further research after she’s released back into the wild. This is the high point of my sit.

We depart at 0100 <<HOME>> time. I have that warm back of the head ”I’m getting a D in math” feeling. I concentrate on not falling asleep or touching anything with a red guard on it (career-be-gone switches).

In the “Time” section of the AOM I find an article – “Embrace your inner loser: New research suggests it may be time to accept your shortcomings.” This fills me with a sense of accomplishment and pride. Embracing the whale breach ballistics of my own mediocrity has been one of the crown jewels of my personal development.

We stumble into the hotel at 0630. I’ve been up for 24 hours now and do not feel lemony fresh.

Day 2

Wake up around 1130 and kick off the day with a mile walk to the Loco Jalapeño, which was actually 2 blocks away. We break out phones. Compare phones. Pull up maps. Compare maps. Turn around.

Two highly trained professional aviators standing in the street rotating phones like we’re trying to guess the time of day. Divining directions we should have gotten from the front desk before we left. Assholes, in other words.

I ingest what later proves to be a highly unstable foundation of Mexican yumminess on which to construct the day’s shenanigans. If I had any inkling how much misery would result from this, I’d have just punched myself in the face and been done with it.

We take the not-retarded way back to the hotel. Mr. Beam is waiting patiently for us when we get back.

There’s really only one way to describe the elegance and sophistication of the Milwaukee Airport Clarion – Prison sex. And not the good kind. It is misery incarnate. The kind of hotel that makes you question your career choices and dream of the good life in America.

It LOOKS like a prison. Two floors. Small windows. Copious usage of Industrial beige. Clarion – helping you feel depressed about being away from home since 1987.

The rooms are antagonistically small. Opening the bathroom door completely blocks the main door. The accordion mirror door is off the track and won’t close. (Incidentally, I scare the shit out myself the next morning at 0430 thinking some fat Mexican in a towel is hiding in the corner.)
Everything looks like it’s probably bolted down. The TV actually is. The wall mounted AC unit is 6 feet off the floor in that uniquely Midwestern way. Apparently wall decorations would only conflict with the industrial “stop hitting yourself” motif.

We get ice. Cokes are $2 a piece from the vending machine. I buy $8 worth of mixers and off we go.  We take turns with YouTube selections. We drink. We order pizza from some local Italian joint. Eat the whole thing. The Beam evaporates of its own accord in 5 hours of super-sedentary happy time.

Barbie turns me on to Method of Destruction: “Anally Inflicted Death Sentence (AIDS),” “Bubble Butt” and “Spandex Enormity.” I watch the flag waving outside and am proud to be an American. Hit the sack about 2000.

You’d think there would be more funny in this day, but 2 guys sitting in a prison cell drinking all day, as it turns out, is a surprisingly monochromatic experience.

Day 3

Wake up at 0200 and can’t go back to sleep. Give up and get in the shower at 0430. The scary Mexican is waiting for me when I get out.

Headed to <<HOME>> my tummy begins to make ominous sounds. There is cultural unrest. The Mexicans are fighting the Italians on the mean streets of my lower intestines. I can’t tell who’s winning but I am going to lose. Bad. And soon.

Shitting on the airplane ranks just slightly above Nairing my balls. (A ”fuck off it’s not funny” experiment in being colossally stupid resulting in 2nd degree chemical burns. But that’s another story.)  We have an hour to go when the streets of Intestinisco catch fire.

I look over at Capt. B. He fares no better. Wild cow eyes of incontinence. Waxy desperation is coming off him in waves. He looks a little tense. We make fun of each other. He caves. “I’m not gonna make it.” I spend 15 minutes in the oxygen mask of victory. It is fleeting, but it’ victory.

We’re 30 minutes early in <<HOME>>. Gate is occupied. We sit. Emergency out-gassing is not at all appreciated by the Capt. I sit very still and practice not shitting my pants. When we finally park, there’s no jetway driver. DANGER! DANGER! STRUCTURAL FAILURE IMMINIENT!

When the door opens, I follow three little old ladies up the jetway. They are old people oblivious to my presence even though I’m ping-ponging back and forth looking for a hole. Takes most of my self control not to just punch them all in the back of the head.

I hit open turf and speedwaddle to the John in that totally undignified ass-pinching way that screams “This man has to take a massive shit” or “is gay and in a real big hurry” to anyone who cares to look. (Which is of course most everyone). Evacuation is accompanied by bath house dance party sounds of ecstasy.

Back among the living. We push for SFO. At cruise, I beg aspirin for my shoulder. Flipped my golfcart about 5 years ago. Never been the same. Digging for my relief, Barbie discovers half my bottle of Don Q has soaked through my clothes, bag, his bag and his clothes. Smells like professionalism and duty.

I fly us into SFO on the Quiet Bridge Visual to 28R. Basically a step down merge with arrivals for 28L. This is a cool approach. The 2 runways are 1200 feet apart which means when we roll out over the bay, I can tell what the guy in 37F is wiping off his tie. If you do the join quickly or aggressively, collision alarms go off. Children cry. People ask for your employee number.

I do it nice and easy. This is as close to formation flying as we ever get. Big 777. I can see both our shadows on the water. Nice. I do not descend while I’m enjoying the show. Then I realize I’m high. Like 3000 feet high. They tell us not to pass the 777.

Meow. I’m in the awkward position of trying to slow down and go down. Something <<My Airplane>> is famous for refusing to do. “Fuck you. Pick one.” Sums up the aerodynamic quandary I’ve put myself in.

We hang everything out. Hover like a blimp as I bleed off 60 knots of head up my ass. Get settled and spooled by 1000′. Barely.

Off to the hotel. We change into civies and march across the highway for resupply. (I’m down to a half bottle of rum and wringing out my clothes yielded only damp disappointment). We buy beer and nest in a human-sized room.

About 1630 we embark for happy hour at yet another Mexican place. Barbie shames me into a tequila shot. I don’t like tequila. (Which is like saying I don’t like being stabbed.) I’m not about to back down, but I come really close to decorating the bar and his Jesus boots with Meximent.

A man reeking of car salesman sits down next to us at the bar. Dark suit. Slicked back hair. Shooter fingers for the bartender. And the watch. Big. Shiny. Lots of gold and silver. An extra link or two so it dangles on his wrist. He shoots his cuff a few times to make sure it’s in plain sight.

The Capt. and I launch (loudly) into a conversation about Stupid Pilot Watches (of which I’ve owned more than a few.) Acres of dial. Multi-function and fierce. Big gaudy rotating bezel computer for quickly calculating how many chicks will assume you have a tiny or no penis.

If you can accessorize one of these with a pair of Ray Ban Aviators, you are guaranteed not to get laid. Ever. This is the sterilization ensemble. Add a class ring and a permanently attached Bluetooth and voila! You are a full blown asshole. Literally a walking O-ring of pretentious fuckheaditude.

Somehow, amazingly, I get the impression that The Closer next to us is taking all this as a complement. He preens.

We amble back to the hotel. Illustrating his point on how irritating and wondrous kids can be, Barbie kicks a purple flower. It explodes and his right hippie slipper vanishes in midair. Literally.

We poke around in the shrubbery. Find a dead cat but no shoe. I try coaxing it out with gentle language. Nothing. Maybe it’s seeking political asylum, realizing a lifelong dream of a place where liberal footwear is free to pursue its dreams without prejudice or fear, a place…O.K. seriously, where the fuck did it go?  We search for five minutes before I CSI that it might be behind us. We carry on.

Back in the room we mourn the passing of Don Q with Everybody Loves Raymond re-runs and Bud Light. Things unspool pretty quickly and I’m nigh-nigh by 2100.

Day 4

As a “can’t we all just get along?” gesture, I try to drop the kids at the pool before heading downstairs. They don’t want to swim. This will not end well.

In the lobby, Barbie looks worried. We share a Laugh of The Damned and get on the shuttle. Break formation in the airport for coffee and breakfast. The intestinal streets are quiet, but war is coming and I am afraid.

In preflight the ACARS comes back with an elevator trim setting of 6.66. This is a bad omen. We pass the point of no return as the main door closes and we push for home. At cruise it’s all over. I am going to Shit on the Airplane or shit my pants. But not first. He caves. I mock. We make the call.

The flight attendants assemble for our emergence. Their code word is “Thriller” in honor of Kato’s recently departed, kid can-poking compadre, Sir Michael Jackson. I try not to laugh. Mr. “Soon to be in a better place” goes out to make poo-poo. One of the friendly twins comes in and glares at me while I breathe free 100% oxygen. She wants to talk.

“Why you gotta wear that mask?” I have to pry it off my face to explain that the Time of Useful Consciousness at this altitude is probably about 5 seconds. If we had an explosive decompression with Capt. Shitting-his-brains-out locked in the happy place, and me up here alone, and I pass out………..

“I know that. I mean, why you gotta wear it?”

“Regulations.”

“Oh. It’s bright up here.”

He comes back a new man. I am jealous. It’s my turn. Winning the not going first contest rewards me with the fragrant company of whatever crawled out of his ass. This is not funny.

I hold my breath. Drop trau. I’m in there for 15 minutes. Hunched over so I don’t hit my head. Knees, elbows and shoulders pressed against all things pee. I decide holding my breath only exposes my delicate interior pink parts to his corrosive aftermath. Breathe shallow. Never shit on the plane. I reach my pants on the 2nd try. A personal best.

The rest of the flight <<HOME>> is standard. Vectors for spacing. Slow to 210. Speed up to 280. As we taxi in, Barbie says he’s hungry.

“Me too. Mexican?”

“Fuck you.”

SPACE1

(Posted 5/24/2010)

SPACE1

No Good Deed

(DISCLAIMER: Not self lubricating. Should be taken with food. Do not consume if tamper-resistant seals are broken. Braking performance not guaranteed for frictional coefficient values <3.)

SPACE1

Had a trip over New Years. Decided not to write about it. Take a break. Now I regret it. Wanted to do a whole year of Follies. Every trip.
But here’re the highlights. Gonna drop that rhino without expending a Folly: Another FCapt. Perky with emotional pin striping that might look “bubbly” in the right light. The staff at the new hotel in Bean Town hasn’t learned to despise us yet. Met up with FCapt. and another crew in the restaurant for 50% off and sake. Had the scallops.

On New Year’s Eve, parted company with FCapt. Took the bus up to Santa Rosa to see BIL (Brother in Law) and GoBIL (Girlfriend of Brother in Law. Went out to visit MIL and FIL (Mother/Father -In-Law.) 6 weeks after the surgery and MIL is still only about 60% operational. She’s been out of the house twice.

FIL shaved his mustache out of some elaborately misdirected sense of sympathy. Some people were just born to -stache. FIL is one. Thomas Magnum, Freddie Mercury and Ned Flanders are also charter members. Like Santa without a beard. Sure I can get used to it, but why?

Back to BIL/GoBIL’s house for lots of vodka. Rang in the new year by accidentally looking at my watch at 11:59:58. Seemed like asking a lot that I should stare at it for 2 more seconds. Caught the bus back to SFO and flew home at 1300 on New-year’s day.

Happy New Year.

PREAMBLE:
Got a call from Charter to take a bunch of Alabama Alums and fans to LAX for the BCS National title game between The Tide and The Longhorns. Sit for 12 hours. Bring them all back on the redeye and return the empty jet to <<HOME>>. Don’t like giving up my days off, but I could use the money.

Especially now. Wife returned from the wilderness of holiday soul searching. Brambles of conflicted purpose in her hair. A spirit quest to find some way to balance business with family. And there, in the dewy meadow of personal growth – the shiny fresh deer pellets of realization: It can’t be done.

On the 29th of December, 2009 she shared out controlling interest between her two partners, promised to help out occasionally, and came home for good. This is a sacrifice of mind-bottling proportions. Her business was 2 weeks away from a major expansion push – more employees, more contracts, more work. And it came down to go big or go home. More work would mean more time away from home, and when your kids are so used to one parent at a time that they jump up and down when you’re both home at the same time, maybe it’s time for a change. Go big or go home. My wife is amazing.

But now, all of our eggs of fiscal onus are in my shitty little basket of hourly wage. So yes, I’d love to help out with that charter for time and a half. What’s the difference between a whore and a prostitute? Prostitutes get PAID bitch. (And for you English majors – “bottling?” – Really? You really need to fidget with this shit? It’s funny. Go sit down.)

My 6 year-old daughter lost another tooth last night, playing “yank the Frisbee out of my mouth while I bite down” with her brother. Helped her write a note, “DEAR TOOTHFAIRY, PLEASE LEAVE MONEY AND MY TOOTH!!” Maybe it sets a bad example, something for nothing. Funny though. Worth $5.

Day 1
I never learned to shave with a razor. Not well anyway. Down strokes alone are about as effective as dental floss on corn stalks. Upstrokes create bloody swaths of incompetence. Finally switched to an electric when I got tired of shaving of my scabs’ scaby scabs. Like every other toiletry item, need 2 razors. One for home. One for away.

My home model has 2 annoying features. It can’t run and charge at the same time. And the shaver head doesn’t come completely off. It has a neat little half-assed hinge (so you don’t lose it I guess.) But it will separate if you pull hard enough, or if you tap it too hard getting the hair out. But I’m always careful. So when I tap it on my palm, in the dark, at 0430- A little “sploosh.” A tiny insignificant sound inversely proportional to my shocked horror. The shaver head disappears beneath the saturated floes of toilet paper into the briny depths of yesterday’s mellowing yellow.

Reach in and fish it out. Wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to make a hole in the hideously viscous tendrils of decomposing paper to find a place to Cousteau my hand. Dump it in the dishwasher on the way out. Not even last on the list of ways I’d like to start my day.

Forgot to use the creams and lotions on my hands before I left. They look like I fight a lot. Cuts all over my knuckles. Red and swollen. Hurt like hell. Last winter, some Capt. asked me if I box because my hands were shredded.

“No. I just need to moisturize.”

Wife apparently is having a similar problem. There’s a bottle of lotion in the ashtray of my car. Get on the highway headed north and lube up. As I’m working the stinging goodness into my cracked paws and steering with my knees, I’m thinking about hitting deer. How utterly boned I’d be if I had to maneuver. Hands slithering comically on the wheel. Careening headlong into a bunch of pointy deer parts spring-loaded to leap up to windshield level like an anti-personnel mine. Stupid way to die.

And literally, as I’m thinking this, a Mama and baby deer flicker into existence in the middle of the road. Slam on the brakes. Both arms 90 degrees up like a miss-posed action figure. That stupid illusion-ruining way they look before you pull the arms back down and attach the hands to something. Steering with my forearms. Kung-Fu action grip completely useless. Everything not belted down flies forward. ABS makes crunching noises as the car lunges to a stop.

They saunter off in that maddeningly nonchalant way that just makes you want to hit them anyway. So far, this day is not bucking for a promotion.

Catering is already loading 142 meals (and crew meals!) when I show up. Awesome. The coordinator is on board making sure all is just so.

‘How much does it cost to charter one of these anyway?’
“I think this one was $125,000.”
“Holy shit!! Really?”
“Yeah plus $1300 each way for catering.”

That’s almost $1,000 per person. About 3X more expensive than just buying a seat and eating snack mix. Does go direct, but it’s still quite a premium to make sure there are no Texas fans on your flight.

The lead FA says “Roll Tide!” to all the pax as they board. I don’t follow college football and if I did, my allegiances are well west of here. “The Crimson Tide” is the strangest nickname for a team I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what it means. Every pax on board has on something red with “BAMA” the elephant, or the stylized “A” on it. If I shared my deduction that it must have something to do with elephant menstruation, they would probably rush the cockpit. I ask 10 or 15 passengers what “Crimson Tide” means. Where it comes from. Get the same answer every time – “It’s a long story.”

FA comes up before departure. Capt. is eating his crew meal. I’m making to get out of my seat. ‘Excuse me. I gotta hit the head.’
“Why? Does cinnamon make you shit?”
‘WHAT??’
“Cinnamon roll.” She points at pastry in the Capt.’s box.
“No. Just a coincidence.”
“Just wondering. Makes some people shit.”
“Wow.”

At cruise, the passengers keep asking where we are. Pretty standard expect the whole eastern U.S. is covered with clouds. We could be orbiting Venus for all the familiar landmarks. Gets a little irritating, the FA calling every 20 minutes or so. Don’t normally mind, but what fucking difference could it possibly make? We are “not there” and about 20 miles south of “the clouds on the right.” But we pull charts. Find fixes and dutifully report our position in relationship to large cities. The next time she calls, it starts to make sense.

“We are about 100 miles north of Dallas.”
“Oh…” <pause> “They want to know if you can dump the lav.”

The power of the foosball. They’re probably not kidding. (We can’t by the way.) Good thing I kept my pachyderm period theory to myself.

Run into Proto in the elevator in LA. He looks like he was in a fight. A black eye, and scabs on his hands. Later, he sends me a picture of himself reclining on the “L” of the LAX sign outside the airport on New Year’s Eve. He looks like Neil Diamond. I mock his Diamond-ness. Then he sends me photos of his New Year’s injuries having fallen down and into things a lot. More scabs and scars than is really necessary or just. I ask him if he got rolled. Only by gravity it turns out. Impressive. I miss the guy.

Bad timing. The wife says the Follies have gotten a little droll. Says I need to get back to my roots. Suggested I go find Proto and fly with him. Do some damage. Can’t think of a better way to kick off the new year, but I have to fly in a few hours. Shake hands and head morosely back to my room. Do some tactical napping and resting. Head back to the airport at 2330.

216mph of tailwind on the way back. 694mph groundspeed. Make it back almost 45 minutes early. We are #3 for the gate to disgorge happy and spent Alabamians. Wait about 30 minutes. Dump them off and we are still early. Let’s get the fuck out of here. Home early for my one afternoon home this week? Yes please.

Push with no restrictions back to <<HOME>>. Go to start 1 and….nothing. No fan rotation, nothing in the core. Check the bleed switches. Try again. Nothing. Decide to start 2 and try a cross bleed start. (Picture the pod race where Anakin starts his dead engine with the working one.) No joy. Call operations and have the ground crew come back out. They verify the fan is spinning, but it’s not registering up here. Weird. Reattach the air stairs.

Ground crew says they saw smoke. But we never put fuel to it? (1st half of the start is just getting the thing to spin up some airflow so it doesn’t go boom when we add gas.) Smoke with no gas = fried Air Turbine Starter ? fuck me.

Capt. calls maintenance control. The mechanic they had assigned here for the week with all these charters conveniently left this morning. Scheduling wants us to wait with the plane while they drive someone out from <<HOME>> with what is probably the solution. 4 – 8 hours. Having just stayed up all night, and feeling like there’s a beach of sand in my braingina, I craft the finest, sharpest and most poignant argument I can for returning to <<HOME>> and letting another crew come retrieve the plane when it’s fixed:

“Fuck you! Fuck that! Tell them to eat a dick. There is NO WAY I’m doing that! I have a better idea. How about they suck shit out of my asshole?!”

Capt. keeps his head down like a man in a storm. One ear plugged with a finger. Shoulders hunched. Hand over the end of his phone. Shielding scheduling from the inescapable logic of my words. I start digging through my man purse looking for a crazy straw to up the enticement of shit sucking vs. sitting here all day.

“OK. Let us know.” He says amicably and ends the call.
“What?”
“They’re trying to decide what they want to do.”
“I see. Did you mention the shit sucking? I couldn’t hear. I was yelling.”

Time for some industrial strength “not giving a fuck.” There’s really nothing I can do. I can’t override the Capt. and call them myself. I could call fatigued, (which I definitely am.) But that would just land me in a hotel. Ultimately it rests on the Capt.’s narrow shoulders to make them see the light and get my ass home before I start another 4-Day tomorrow.

About 40 minutes later, they call back. Give us 2 choices: Wait for them to send a limo out with another crew, and we can take the limo back, or be released to find our own way home. We opt to fend for ourselves. I go over to <<Another Airline’s>> gates. Capt. goes to rent a car. The FAs decide to wait for the limo. All the flights to <<HOME>> are delayed or cancelled. I join up with the Capt. at the Hertz desk.

“Hey would you mind putting it on your card?” He asks me. “I gave mine to my wife.” (For Botox treatments it turns out.) “They can take a debt card, but they have to pull my credit, and I don’t want to damage my credit score.”

I’m fairly sure this is a completely idiotic argument since you have to “shotgun” multiple checks for it to affect your score, but I don’t feel like fending off cheap, stupid or naïve. I hand over my card.

“Get the smallest car they have.”
“Why?”
“To save money.”
“Why the fuck do you care? It’s on my card and the company is paying for it in the end anyway.”
“Saves the company money. Good for everyone in the end. You know. Cheaper.”

This macro-view lap dog pandering bullshit on top of the credit card equivocation bullshit is forcing me to reassess his relative douche quotient. But again, I don’t care enough to argue for the sake of arguing. Big or small, a car will get us home. They give us a brand new Flacida Sans-a-Point Mark II. Makes me miss my Jetta. Makes me angry just to sit in it. Devoid of any grace, this is utilitarian need at its most desperate and soul-crushingly bland. Like a stripped down 80’s computer chassis with 4 matchbox wheels. The plant that makes this car must have a ridiculously high rate of absenteeism due to suicide.

I drive 80 for the first hour until it starts to snow and cars begin to drag swirling wakes. Every little puff of wind makes this skittish stallion jiggle and waver. I start to get the nods and tell him I need him to drive for a while. As he slides behind the wheel, he gives me a sheepish look. “I’m not going to drive quite as fast as you, but I’ll get us there.”

“If I wake up and you’re doing 55, I am going to be pissed.” As far as I’m concerned, his command was terminated when we got released. And any residual deference evaporated with that credit card nonsense. Now he’s just a wishy washy opinionated guy between me and home. I fall asleep.

When I wake up, he’s not doing 55. He’s doing 15. Traffic is backed up for miles. Don’t know if it’s an accident or ice or what. I pull it up on my phone, but it just shows all the pavement between here and <<HOME>> as red congestion. The roads are icy in increasingly large patches. He drives carefully, but with no finesse. On the gas. On the brake. Little jerks of the wheel. Fuck it. I probably wouldn’t survive a drastic lane change in this piece of shit. I go back to sleep.

He drives the rest of the way. The traffic thins out as the roads improve. Just ice. Offers to drop me at the airport and go return the car since I have to work tomorrow and he has the day off. This plus the driving most of the way mostly abates the potent douchey stench.

I can’t enter the employee lot on foot, so I have to go to the airport, through security, ride the train, go to ops and then catch the bus. I can’t remember the last time I felt such a sense of accomplishment and peace for making it home.

(Original Nowhere story, 4/21/2010)

SPACE1

Good Idea, Bishop Should Go

(DISCLAIMER:  This folly does not meet DOT impact resistance guidelines.  Not suitable for electrical or grease fires.  WARNING:  This folly contains tedious descriptions of flying and flying stuff.  Pilots should reference watch bezel E6B for technical corrections.)
SPACE1

Day 1
Same trip as last week with a different day 1. Same Capt. Same morning. Get ready in the dark. Trip over sharp loud things on my way out the door. My car makes passive-aggressive overtures toward reconciliation. Moist anemic “gosh you’re excited Grampa” breath seethes out of the vents. Automotive equivalent of a weak side hand job. If I were common-law married to this thing, it would SO be getting tickets to Springer.

Plane’s on D9. Hop the train. Stand in line at Starbucks behind a very heavy set African-American woman doing things to a pair of spandex shorts that are expressly prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

Her fro is sticking straight out the back of her head a good 14 inches a-la Mercury. She doesn’t look terribly fleet of foot, maybe she’s strong in the water. Looks like she’s smuggling pairs of avocadoes behind each knee.

Her family is waiting for her. The mom (who’s got to be 70) is decked out head to toe in woodland camo complete with boonie hat. Only it’s a Nauru jacket (in camo) and long G-shorts down to her ankles (in camo). Defensive bright pink flip flops to distract predators from more vital areas. Smart.

A boy maybe 4 and his mother come by. He’s yelling “BOP BOP BOP BOP!” and snaking back and forth through the retractable people maze trying to knock over the poles with his head. She doesn’t stop him right away. Doesn’t seem to notice right away. It sort of seeps in and she gives him a distracted little Jedi wave like “You don’t want to act like an asshole.” Impressive.

“I will not fail” is etched into the lines of her face. Not angry or impatient. Just tired. One foot in front of the other. The end is out there. Her will to endure is inspiring. Inspires the single to never EVER to have kids. Inspires the toddler entranced to do a better job presenting good life choices when this teaching opportunity arrives for them. Inspires those of us spit out the far side of the Tasmanian Space Monkey phase to buy her a beer and tie the kid’s leash to a chair. Give him a spork. Pour some sugar in the carpet. Good for hours.

Takes me a while to get my coffee. Supposed to be iced. Hot instead. I get ice and do it myself. The boy is now screaming the same atonal short burst of anger over and over. A klaxon for the end of the world. His mom has made it across the hall to the bathroom.

The kid is completely horizontal. The last I see of him are 8 tiny fingers clinging to the promise of life against white tile.

See the Capt. on the plane. The kissey zits are almost gone. He recounts a Friday afternoon of beer and Best Buy. Bought an iPod touch. He also bought a PS3 and a surround system. Slipped and spent 2 grand. No big deal.

The lead FA wants me. Tells me how cute I am. Asks if I’m married. Where I live. Rubs my back. Tells me all the cute guys are taken. Shows me pictures of her grandkids. They’re in high school now.
Still got it.

Fly to Chicago. On the jetway I make funny with a couple happy to be off the plane. I tell them to go double or nothing on the ride back to <<HOME>>.
“As long as we don’t have to sit near that boy again.”

‘What boy?’

“You didn’t hear him? He screamed the whole way. He spit on the man next to him.”

Yep. Same kid. I muss his hair and give him a “Hey slugger” as he comes by. Other passengers radiate low grade hostility.

PanAm_complete
Day 2
Waking up at 0430 is an automatic process. My higher functions take a while to warm up. (Blinking in unison, the cognitive prowess to not drown in the shower, etc.) Maybe 4 neurons in my limbic brain strung in series are running the whole show. So if I don’t keep it simple, fuse goes pop, and they’ll find me sitting naked, spread-eagle in the bathroom trying to dig gum out of the bottom of the trash can.

So early morning shows get the same ritual treatment every time. Clean up the night before. Throw all my trash away so I can see any evidence I shouldn’t leave behind. Lay out socks shirt and underwear so I can find them by grope. Set my phone for a wakeup 45 minutes from the van. Get a hotel backup for 40 minutes from the van.

Tie is in my hat. Show time is written on the key. Do not disturb sign is hanging on the privacy latch to remind me not to forget my food in the fridge. Tip dollars for the van driver are in the right front pants pocket. If I had mittens, they would be safety-pinned to my sleeves. This methodology applies well to flying. The more you do it the same, the more it should stick out when you fuck up.

At the plane, the windshield is bug covered. <<My Airplane>> has escape windows. Ropes pull out of the ceiling. The idea is you’d repel down the side. Never mind the 500 degree heated probes on both sides of the plane, or the fact that once you swing out, you’re trying to repel down a hot dog 20 feet off the ground, or that we have never practiced this maneuver. What could possibly go wrong?

The window is great for cleaning the front windshield though.  Kids get a kick out if this. I pop the window. Haul myself out. Sit on the sill. Dump water on the windshield and wipe it clean with C-folds. Wave to a couple kids in the terminal. They jump up and down and point.

Capt. decides to clean his as well. Takes a different tack. Pops his window. Splashes the windshield with club soda. Turns on his wiper. Sprays all over my clean side. Doesn’t clean shit. Nice work.

Aloft, FA calls up and says someone got sick in back. I tell the Capt. his flying sucks and is making people puke. We both look at the autopilot.

After landing, in the terminal bathroom, a kid comes in. “Oooohhhhh Auto Soap!” “Hey Russell! Dad, DAD! Come look! Auto soap! Auto soap. Auto soap Auto soap Auto soap!” I back out slowly without making eye contact.

The Capt.’s friend picks us up again in SAN. They have big plans. The lack of invitation saves me from my “I gave up hookers for Arbor Day” speech.

Go across the street to the mall to shop for my son’s 4th birthday. Got him a 22lb. bulk lot of Legos off eBay. Need a side dish. Buy more Legos. The target sells surf boards and Danica Patrick toys. Feels like a foreign country.

Day 3
See the Capt. in the lobby. He mumbles a lot, but I get something about Tijuana, tacos, split open toe, washing the wound with salt (??) Girls in the afternoon, tequila shots, yadda yadda yadda. It’s only cute when I do it. I recount my mall experience with such eloquence and verve I can tell he’s jealous.

We take the van to the airport. The driver says “Damn it’s good to get out of that place for a few minutes…….”Yeah.” And nothing else. After 5 seconds of silence, the topic is over-ripe so I decide to hold onto the shit I was going to give and get back to staring out the window. Trying to get it all done before we get to the airport.

Stop at La Salsa for an infant-sized burrito. At the plane, the inbound crew is still hanging around. #2 engine burned 7 quarts of oil. Oil is dripping from the bottom of the nacelle and spreading wet on the ramp.

This is when not being a Captain really pays off. I don’t have to coordinate with SOC or MX control or call dispatch. I go look because I’m curious and then settle in for some not giving a fuck until more information comes in.

MX shows up about a half hour later. They open all the cowlings. A crowd gathers at the widows. They can’t find the leak. Want us to run it. A Continental 737 ingested a mechanic about 3 years ago doing the same thing. Sure. Why not.

We get clearance from ground. Start it up. Idles for about 10 minutes. Bigger crowd at the window. I open my window and lean out to watch. The guy with the headset looks up at me, points at the engine and makes swirly motions with his hands. He shrugs. I wonder if the faces in the window are as reassured by this as I am. Shut it off.

They can’t find the leak because it’s not leaking anymore. Fill it up. 18 quarts. Tell us to keep an eye on it.

—?—

The engine is using 8X as much oil as normal and is leaking out the bottom. You can’t find the leak so let’s just fill it up, fly 1800 miles and see what happens? I love this plan. Here. Hold my beer a sec.

We load up and push for MKE. FA wants to come up somewhere over Colorado. Tells us the Lead is an idiot. Apparently she was disappointed she couldn’t sit up front for the arrival into SAN. She really wanted to see the bridge — The Golden Gate Bridge. Capt. tops that with a tale of once telling the back end that the flight to DEN was over-water. This is a 5 minute addition to the boarding PA on how to evacuate in the ocean. They did the whole thing.

The right engine is still leaking oil. About 2 quarts an hour by my stick. Everything else looks normal. Just losing oil. We debate the merits of giving SOC time to prepare a solution, or just telling them when we get there.

If we spring it on them in MKE, we might get re-crewed. Get home earlier, but likely we’ll have to deadhead to New York tomorrow and complete the rotation. Or worse, a complete crew on the hook for 36 hours with nothing to do. Decide that presenting for scheduling is likely to result in a “no means yes” mandatory ass raping. Send an ACARS message to SOC so they can get ready to do that voodoo they don’t do so well.

We lose a total of 7 quarts. When we park, I poke my head out. Oil is dripping on the Tarmac. They down the plane. We wait an hour and a half for a replacement.

At the hotel in New York, the Capt. and I embed in the gazebo by the pool. I learn a bit more. He is in fact younger than me. He was married only once. For 6 months.

A cute blonde FA and her friend join us. They tell FA stories. We tell pilot stories. What fun. About 0100 we decide the prudent thing to do is go to Joey’s Place. The van takes us. No Jack. Disappointed. Brought my camera this time. About 0230 food is necessary. Nothing is open except the Buccaneer Diner. We call the van. They also have a bar. The waitress recommends 4 PMFs (Purple Mother Fuckers).

There has never been a more aptly named drink. Tastes like grape cough syrup, motor oil and Everclear. We eat a lot. Van gets us back to the hotel by 0400.

Day 4
Wake up around 1100. Don’t leave till 1700. Steven Segal is in the gym again. Inbound is late so we don’t leave for the airport until 1745. When we get to the airport, the plane’s not due in till 1845.

Oh LaGuardia, let me count the ways you suck. It is overcast. Not raining or storming. Just clouds. The inbound flight had to hold for 40 minutes. There are almost 50 planes waiting to take off when we push. Takes us 15 minutes just to exit the ramp. Takes another hour to get to the runway. The taxiways are asphalt so the plane sinks every time we stop. 40% power on one engine won’t move the plane, so we have to gun it. (We don’t start #2 until just before reaching the runway to save gas. Even on 1 engine, we burn about 75 gallons an hour for taxi.) Every plane is shaking every other plane trying to get going. They land on a crossing runway and with the bad weather spacing restrictions, takeoffs happen half as often as normal.

The Whitestone climb off runway 13 is a pain. At 400 feet, turn right to 180. At 2.5 miles from the VOR, turn left to 040 do not exceed 210 knots until you roll out on that heading. Climb to 5000. Don’t exceed 250 knots until 11000′. Fly north (the wrong way) to Canada. Turning south takes almost 15 minutes. Step climbs a thousand feet at a time for 25 minutes until we are almost over DC.

Our Jet Blue jumpseater has apparently eaten a dead cat’s ass before joining us. I offer him gum, usually a fairly subtle and innocuous way to hint that maybe your breath is malodorous death. “Oh no thanks.” A stinky cherry to top the shit-sundae that is always LGA on day 4.


Coke_complete


Si, Guapo

(DISCLAIMER: Continuous operation reduces battery life. Delicious but not necessarily nutritious. Contains trace amounts of MSG for flavor.)

SPACE1

Day 1
Feels like I was just here. Oh wait. I was. Yesterday. Still ridiculously cold. Bring my overcoat for the first time this winter. 3 PIT overnights and it’s colder there.

In ops, can’t check in. All the computers are logged off and my codes don’t work.  I just want to know what gate we’re departing from. They took down all the monitors that used to show gates at a glance. Told us to use a particular program. Program was stand alone, then they imbedded it in the company’s website. Now I have to enter 3 separate usernames and passwords just to check in and find my gate. There’s less security to buy yellow cake uranium.  And you have to change your password all the fucking time.

Has its own sadistic logic. Workplace eugenics. Make superworkers by weeding out the weak. Those without the tenacity and faculty to figure out how to get where they need to be will be fired. Then breed the survivors. Brilliant really.

Meet the Capt. on the plane. Freight dog. Smokes. Jensen boots. Leather jacket. Big into WWII history and General Aviation. Lives in a fly-in community. Built his own plane. Seems like a good egg.

He just dives in with: “My sister-in-law thinks I’m the devil. She is one of these ultra-liberal hippie types and she hates my guts. I don’t like Obama. I don’t like the healthcare bill. I don’t like socialism, queers or people who are afraid to pray.”

Could be worse. He could have said the exact opposite of those things.
It is cold cold cold. The #2 generator won’t come on line after engine start. We wait a few minutes for the oil in the accessory gearbox to return to liquid form.

On our way to PIT Capt. gets an ACARS message to call scheduling on arrival. Turns out he has to fly back. Sit for 5 hours. Then return to PIT. Whatever. It’s day 1. He was just going to sit in the hotel all day anyway. May as well get paid.

Day 2
Early show. 0500 van. I’m talking to the Capt. about whether or not we have overnights in Puerto Vallarta.

“I think we do, but it could be rumor or misinformation.”
A Shuttle America pilot lobs a pellet of lameness into our conversation in with, “Misinformation?  I know her! She gives me everything I need Misinformation.”

Capt. And I decided to take the 0500 van vs. 0430 cause we didn’t want to get up at 0345. But now in the plane, we’re feeling pressed. We’re headed to Mexico via Cuba, and there are a couple of location/time critical calls we have to make along the way to avoid seeing what a MiG looks like up close.

Normally not a big deal. They used to give us international kits with the charts all highlighted and marked with the important stuff by guys who’d done it. But they just switched (today) to Airside Bags. All the books and maps I normally carry in my 40lb. Flight kit and the stuff in the international kits is now permanently installed in the planes. Very cool. I don’t have to haul that boat anchor around anymore.

But they’re brand new. We have to plot and double check everything. And I don’t have the little things in MY kit like highlighters, frequencies, parking spots, door codes. Page markers. Everything is just slightly awkward. Like peeing with another man’s dick. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

We push on time but have to de-ice. We are pulling out of the ramp. Headed for the de-ice pad. Trying to do checks, briefings and configure for getting hosed.
‘I’m feeling rushed.’ I say, putting my hands in hover mode.

More often than anyone would probably suspect or like to know, rushing kills people and breaks stuff. You end up missing things. Important things.

I don’t know what anybody else does, but I’ve cultivated a hypersensitivity to rushing. A Spidey sense of future flashback – sort of continuously previewing what will be on the CVR and the black box when they pull it out of the wreckage. Was I a dumbass? Am I being a dumbass? Did I miss something? What’s really important here? Did I put on clean underwear? (Not that! Quit thinking about that! Ok. But did I?)

“You’re rushed. I’m rushed. Let’s slow down. We’re off the gate. Let’s do it right.”

I like this guy.

Over the tip of Florida, I’m checking on with Havana. It’s a female controller. Capt. says, “I’ll bet she’s not wearing any panties.” This is an idea that has honestly never occurred to me. Controllers are just disembodied voices. The concept that this voice has panties and the appropriate lack of exterior plumbing to be covered by them, is unwieldy and awkward. A dimension to our relationship I really don’t have room for. Like the sex life of the clowns or Rosie O’Donnell’s top or bottom preference. Some things are better left unexplored. Besides there’s generally some truth to the saying “a face made for radio.”

Took a picture of the receiving line as we pulled into CUN. You can’t see the fuelers and bag men standing ready on the sides like our carcass is being pulled onto a whaling ship. But you get the idea.

scan0007_COMPLETE

I don my orange vest of awesomeness and head out to do the walkaround. Goes clockwise from the nose. Make it back under the tail and around the rear airstairs when I hear whistling and “Hey!” from above. There are 4 cleaning girls in white at the top of the stairs waiting to be let it. They are giggling and smiling. One of them has gold rimmed teeth. The leader lobs a wad of rapid Spanish at me which bounces harmlessly off the orange vest.

“I’m sorry?” I put my hand to my ear and cock my head a little.

She says a few words followed by “guapo.”

“Me?” I point at me for confirmation.
“Si Guapo!” They all smile and nod and giggle.
I put my heels together and slowly raise my arms from my sides, palms out and bow formally.

I have GOT to get one of these vests! The wife will go crazy!

The gate agent brings the latest knee jerk stupidity from TSA regarding international flights bound for the U.S. in response to the Christmas day attempted bombing of a Northwest flight:
1. Passengers are not allowed to cover their laps at anytime with anything except a laptop or DVD player.
2. DVD players and laptops cannot be stored in seat-back pockets at any time.
3. Passengers are not allowed out of their seats for the last hour of flight.
2. Once we are feet dry, we are not allowed to make any announcements regarding our position.

Thanks guys. That should do it.

It’s windy as we are taxiing out, I look out my side and see 4 dumpster-sized plastic trash cans on wheels blowing toward the taxiway like stampeding prehistoric armor plated tumbleweeds. I’m keying up to tell ground about it when here come 2 airport trucks with light bars strobing.

I figure they’ll pull in front of the restless receptacles and hop out to corral them. Nope. Each truck targets the closest can and rams it doing maybe 20. This is such an awesome display of machismo I can’t look away. I’m staining to see as we turn the corner. The drivers get out casually. Giant Aviators glinting smartly. I swear one of them has a lasso. The cans vibrate and huddle together in fear.

Somewhere over the US (I can’t tell you where.) (….) We are comparing the seats in <<My Airplane>> to the seats in <<Another Airplane>>. He says the <<Another Airplane’s>> are much worse. “But they’re rated to 6 Gs. I think the human heart explodes at like 12gs. That reminds me!! I was talking to this AME and he said if you’re going to crash, you should void your bladder. That extra mass rips organs and stuff. Just keeps going. So if you’re going to crash and you have to pee, just go. Piss your pants! Shit yourself! You’ll have a better chance of surviving.”

You heard it here first folks. Crash like the professionals.

Back at the PIT hotel, they give me a different room. Go to the gym. Head for the bar for $2 drafts during the Arizona/Green Bay game. Two of today’s FAs are there. I launch into a tirade on Jet Blue’s douchebag beards with some Republic pilots.

Pilots can’t have beards. The oxygen mask won’t seal properly with a beard. Plus it just looks unprofessional. Somehow the facial follicle enthusiasts at Jet Blue rallied to be allowed to wear goatees because they stay within the perimeter of the mask. So now they can have goatees. Douchebags of the sky.

As I’m ranting, a professorial man with a goatee and glasses sits down next to me. Pretty much as I’m saying ‘goatees are for douchebags.’ He looks at me and I channel Rodney Dangerfield, ‘Looks good on you though!’ Give him a slap on the shoulder. Then I backtrack and re-tell the whole thing.

“So you’re jealous.” He says.
“Yes. Yes I am.” Let him have this one. I did just basically call him a douchebag.

Day 3
Catch a leisurely 0700 van. Never been to Higuely Field, Punta Cana. Maybe 120 miles due west of San Juan. (Don’t know for sure, my plotter is in MY kit I’m first class.) Lots to do. Have to plug the fixes in manually because the route is not yet in the company database.

Pull out the maps and find the ADIZ border for Cuba (Air Defense Interdiction Zone.) “See Ball Note ‘G’ for Dominican FIR contact requirements.” This takes the 2 of us 15 minutes to find. They don’t put supplemental info near where you’re looking (going) because he charts are so hideously dense with information, you could blot out a whole country. So you have to search around for a tiny black ball the size of a BB with a white “G” in it. The map is the size of a picnic table.

Three things I hate in life: Trying to get stickers or tape off of anything, untying knots, and finding Ball Notes. I have this irrational fear that I’ll never be able do it. I’ll be fumbling with the unfathomable contortions of that fucking knot or scraping that princess sticker off the floor by the piano with my thumbnail, forever.

Wife and kids know about my sticker phobia. (I think that’s why she buys them sticker books by the metric ton.) Hampster once put a “NOPI” sticker on the back window of my car in the employee lot and I almost shit my pants. Those paper-backed fuckers. Those are the worst.

The flight down is over-water and uneventful. I can’t understand the Dominican controller as she’s trying to give me a reroute. After 3 tries, she hands off to a controller whose accent is not quite so thick.

The airport is a village of thatched roof huts. No jetways. (Took photos but they didn’t come out.) Big planes parked in the salty breeze. Hundreds of pasty Pittsburgians disgorged into the beautifully cruel light. Squinting. Whooping. Smiling. Snapping photos of anything that will hold still. Palm trees, each other, the planes, the ground, the sky, the signs.

Their more subdued and sunburned post coital counterparts are standing in the shade, waiting for the inevitable call that their vacation is officially over and it’s time to get on the plane.

Breech into the heat and down the airstairs in search of Duty Free. The retail girl is cute in that overly-made up Hispanic retail archetype. Eyebrows drawn on. Tight shiny black pony tail. Tight black stretchy pants encasing an ass that is 25% too large, and those blunt nosed platform dress shoes that are the exclusive domain of the Hispanic Service Industry.

She holds up a bottle of something and says a lot about it. I can’t tell if she’s speaking Spanish or heavily accented English. I get the impression that whatever it is, it is potent and sexy in some way. I reach for it and she hands it to me. It’s nothing but sticks. No liquid. She tells me you add rum, red wine and honey, and let it sit for 2 days.

Waiting is not something I feel the need to purchase as an accessory. It’s $28. I put it back. She makes “before and after” gestures at the red liquid on display above. I pick up a pint. She flips it and shows me the words she was pelting me with in her initial pitch. I see ”Sexual” at the end.
‘I know what that means!’ I say and we both laugh at what a stupid asshole I am.

I buy the pint. Sexy red juice AND the orange vest ought to get me ultra laid when I get home.

Head back to the plane and excuse myself up the stairs to “we can’t go without you ha ha ha.” And, “Bob. BOB! Let the pilot through.” I’m actually deadheading back, but it’s hot out here so I don’t bother correcting anyone.

Back in PIT, we make it through customs and then wait. And wait. And wait. We are a bit early and there are no TSA screeners at the international checkpoint. We wait 35 minutes.
‘This waiting has a fair amount of not awesome in it.’ I say.
“That’s a perfect way to put it.” One of the FAs says and giggles.

We eventually make it back to the same hotel and I get my third room on the 6th floor.

Day 4
I don’t have to get up at all because we don’t leave till 1000, so of course I wake up at 0600. Figure if I hit the gym early, any damage that follows when I get home and drink to my success, is already paid for. Showered by 0830.

Sit in MCO for an hour and a half. Do Follies. This time plus the deadhead back from PJU has me pretty much real time.

On the way hone, the Capt. reveals the porous and dilapidated state of his marriage. Another story of a man with everything sliding inexorably towards a one-bedroom apartment and all the hobbies he can stand. I don’t pry for detail. Just toss tried-and-failed ideas on reconciliation on the pedestal. Hope is not among them.


United_complete

Secret Service

(DISCLAIMER: Supple but not soft. Do not stand aft of red line while Folly is operating – INGESTION HAZARD. Easy like a Sunday morning.)

SPACE1

Day 1
Same computer shit. Can’t log on. Can’t check in. Can’t find the gate. Can’t find a printer that works. Then can’t find one with ink. Pathetic.

At the gate the agent hands me the paperwork and says, in a “watch your ass” tone, “There’s an FAA inspector onboard. He wants to see the walkaround.” (??) This is a first.

Sure enough. Wilfred Brimley is in the jetway scowling up at me myopically behind smudged thick glasses. “Gonna need to see your tickets and medical.” He says by way of introduction. Want to ask him if he can still fly with ”diebetus.”
‘Sure.’

He does indeed want to see the walkaround. Capt. offers to take him out, so I go get settled in the cockpit. Still getting set up…..
“If you could just lay ‘em out for me…”
I turn, but he’s already turned away. Assume he was talking to me, so I dig out my cards and set them on the center pedestal.

Capt sits down. Calls MX on the radio. Inspector Brimley spotted some loose speed tape on the leading edge of the stab. They come and inspect it. Tell us it’s on a long term watch. No biggie.

Capt. asks if I wouldn’t mind flying since he’s been off for a month.
“Sure.” Hand fly up to cruise. Call for the AP. Get out a sandwich.
“You MUST be married with kids!” Brimely says and laughs.
‘Why?’
He points at my sandwich and makes those little shrug hiccups with the pointing that mean “you know!? Sandwich! Laughs some more.

Not clear. Best guess is this is a divorced guy joke. No single man would ever pack his lunch. Not sure how the kids fit in. Garnish maybe.

Then maybe 15 minutes later, “That’s smart.” I turn around. ‘What is?’ He points at my face, circle finger like he’s casting a spell on me.
“Earplugs?”
“Yeah. You keep that up till you’re 80 and you’re going to still be able to hear when all your friends are deaf. That’s smart.”
“I used to listen to a lot of loud music. Seemed like a good idea.’

Drop Wilfred in MCO. Go get coffee. A tightly clad cougar tells me to ”keep it smooth” in flight so she won’t spill her coffee. She wants me.

Back on the plane, 5 1/2 year-old Ella comes up. Sun dress. Lots of blonde curls. Overdeveloped precociousness bulging like she’s mainlining steroids to pump up her adultitude. She gives me a note. (See photo) I promise to do a good job.


I ask her if she’s flown before. Shocked disgust surfaces on her little face. Her mouth drops open. Her hands fly to her hips. Her eyes don’t look angry. She looks like she’s trying to remember dance steps.
“No!” (Not the answer I was expecting.)
‘No? Did you go to Disney World?’
(Shocked disgust with a touch of horror)
“Yes!”
‘Did you have fun?’
(incredulity and possibly fear)
“Yes!”
My daughter is 6, so I am totally enjoying this Ewokian imitation of Big People stuff. The Capt. never had girls and is a Grandpa by 11months. He looks like he has an action plan if something pops out of her forehead.
Capt. says, “I took my niece to Disney World when she was about your age. She loved the princesses. Did you see any princesses?”

Her hands are ratcheting up from her hips with each offensive question. Now she looks like a double-jointed Ed Sullivan. She hikes them up a bit higher. That has to be as far as they’ll go. She looks a little confused like she’s not sure where to go from here. Her face is out of surprise. There’s nowhere else for her features to go. No more up. No more out. Her jaw must be sore. I could probably stick a tennis ball in her mouth and her teeth wouldn’t even get furry
“Yes I did!!” (Anger with a little doubt)

I think she knows these expressions don’t quite go with these answers but may as well stick with it, lest the entire routine be judged on the dismount.

The Capt. is baffled. Throws his hands up a bit and looks away. Not pissed, just confused. I love this, but I can’t help but wonder how often her mother must respond to things this way for her daughter to assume this is SOP for all questions on any topic. Cute kid.

Taxiing into FLL, there’s an Air Canada airbus parked out on the ramp. Capt. Says, “I hate that color blue. Stupid color for an airline. Not blue. Not white. Looks GAY.”
“The Ambiguously Gay Airline?” I say, like it’s the answer to a question on Wheel of Fortune. I sit up a little straighter like a Mir Cat scanning for predators. He laughs.

I claim responsibility for this act of cultural sabotage. Come get me Canada.

Day 2
When I get to the gate, there’s a Secret Service agent waiting with ”carry” paperwork in hand. He is unlike any law enforcement officer I have seen ever. Even on TV.

Tall thin young black guy. He has on a cropped black denimish jacket. Vaguely military, but it fits too well and has lots of unnecessary zippers all over. Sort of modern toned-down Michael Jackson jacket. Black button down shirt with a huge collar. Tight grey pinstripe slacks. And those shoes. Those pointy witch shoes that look like they must have 8 inches of unoccupied duplex in the toe. Wingtip type detailing and a big ass silver buckles on the outside.

I’ve never seen a straight person dress like this. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen ANYONE in person, dress like this, much less a Secret Service Agent. Seems like the wardrobe alone would be grounds for a psych eval. Kenneth is going to LOVE this guy.

We ask the FAs to brew up some double bag, also known as Crew Coffee, also known as STS “Shit That’s Strong.” Passenger coffee us too meek for the likes of Sky Kings. The FAs brew a pot, then toss in another whole bag to steep. Could probably be used to screen for a heart condition. Good stuff. Puts hair on your hairs.

We’re both a little chatty after a couple cups. Get to talking about checkrides and inevitably, the differences between <<Another Airplane>> and <<My Airplane>> training programs. <<My Airplane>> is considered the “gentleman’s program.” If it’s not in the book, you don’t have to know it. The <<Another Airplane>> is ”Survivor.” The book is maybe 50%. The rest is tribal knowledge. All in the heads and experience of the instructors. Classic case in point: The Molecule of Fuel Question.

It’s devilishly simple. Goes like this: “If you were a molecule of fuel in the number one wing tank, how would you get to the #2 engine?”

In order to answer it correctly, you have to have the entire fuel system crystallized in your head. Every tank, valve, pump, feed line, return line, suction line, sump drain, NACA vent, bypass line, cross feed valve, and filter. Know which pumps operate when, which valves open from which electrical source, whether they fail open or closed, where the fuel gets heated and how, etc. Basically, if the examiner doesn’t like you or smells fear, you’re dead. Guys who spend every day thinking up “stump the chump” questions can always find a question you can’t answer if the answer isn’t printed anywhere. Pilots have been known to call Boeing and ask the engineers the most obscure and arcane details of the <<Another Airplane>>, fearing for their lives.

The <<My Airplane>> philosophy is simple: if you can’t do anything about it from the cockpit, don’t worry about it.
But as we’re talking about it, the perfect answer to the “molecule if fuel” question pops into my head. If I am a molecule of fuel, do I have free will? If so, I choose to stay in the tank and not be incinerated. If my path is predestined, then the journey is irrelevant and all that matters is what I do when I get there. Go boom with style.

Like I said, the security blanket of a fall back career as a DCT (Dish Cleanliness Technician) affords me some latitude.

At the hotel, work out some flab, shower and get the van to drop me at the closest theater. See “The Book of Eli.” <<Meh.>> It’s snowing when I get out. Run back to the hotel.

The fire alarm goes off at 2000. As I’m only mostly nude, I dress and grab my Murse and plod down to the lobby. Put in some ear plugs to thwart the screeching siren and tap out some Folly until the FD shows up and resets the false alarm. Exhilarating.


Day 3

I catch the 0615 van because there’s an errand I need to run at the airport. Get to the plane first. Stow my gear. Power up the jet and go out for the walkaround. When I get back, there’s another set of pilots in the cockpit. My stuff is in the galley. WTF?

Turns out we deadhead to Punta Cana and then fly back. Would have known that if I’d read my pairing or done the math that 4:15 + 4:25 > 8. Deadhead time counts as flight pay but not flight time. We can only FLY one way but get paid for both.

Park my dumb ass in first class and ride the pine for 4:15.

Go to duty free in PJU. Buy Crown and Jameson’s. The sales clerk says ”For you…” and gives me the wait a minute finger. Comes back with an insulated Crown Royal backpack. As a crew we decide one of my kids should probably use it as a lunchbox. Maybe send some juice in a flask. Act shocked and offended at the parent/teacher conference.

The FAs follow the new TSA protocols and shoo items off people’s laps for the return flight. We diligently do not point out our position to the passengers. Safety first.

Day 4
An Amazonian union rep stops us at the gate. Wants to take pictures of us “in action” for an “Pilots in Action” collage for some big union dinner. I look up at her and smile. It’s not often I get to use my Chevy Chase ‘Sure.’

I’ve never been to Nassau, but unlike flying over Cuba, I’m not particularly concerned. What are they going to do? Launch balloons at us? No, I kid (sort of). I get out the stuff and “due diligence” the route. Nothing to it. Beautiful water.

No time for duty free. We scramble and scurry and get ready to return to the US of A. On the way in, as we approach DC, they seem to be testing us. Speed up, slow down, say heading, call these guys then call these other guys, turn to this heading, turn back. Subtle things that don’t quite jibe with the familiar nuance of control. Just making sure the right people are in control of the plane, I guess.

Tell the Capt. ‘I think it’s you they’re worried about.’ He looks genuinely concerned for a second, then laughs mechanically.
Suspicious. Maybe it’s true. I’ll have to keep an eye on him.


old American_complete

Proto Folly

(DISCLAIMER: No pilots or passengers were harmed or endangered on this 4-day. All alcoholic consumption was performed by a professional pilot on a closed course. Results not typical. If personally witnessed, induce vomiting.  If my name is ever associated with this 4-day, seek immediate medical attention…you’re going to need it.)

SPACE1

Day 1

In the shitter in MCO the dude in the stall next to me gets a call and the ring is “I just called to say I love you.” To keep from laughing I hold my breath and break a blood vessel in my right eye. 24 hours in SJU. Got drunk. Smoked cigars. Clogged the only (and as I found out way too late -inoperative) toilet in the bar with my hideous and mysterious diarrhea.
In keeping with the vague lazy-eye handyman ethos of – “that’s probably good enough,” the toilet is directly opposite the bar less than 5 feet from the doomed drinkers. The door fits like it’s from a tree house. The toilet won’t flush. And I have to wipe with cocktail napkins I stole from the bar. I tell the waiter who laughs his ass off and makes me repeat it to the bartender. Capt. puts photos of said shit on his Facebook page. Drunk female united FO (not a typo) asks me, “Your place or mine?” I decide neither so the Capt. spills more beer on her. In retaliation she gives her Captain a lap dance, forgets her sunglasses and staggers out.
We order takeout pizza and eat it in the bar.

Day 2

Wake up to the bland horror of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. It does not mix well with my headache. Decide to walk old town since we don’t leave till 1500. Sweat so much I’m forced to buy a child’s baseball hat with a shark on it. Only a propeller would make me look more retarded. I pretend I don’t speak English.

Get into PHL late (2330). Get the security guard to give me a ride to a rough part of town for beer. Sit out front of hotel with Capt. and a cute FA drinking duty free rum till about 0230. Capt ends up getting a blow job from the FA. All I got was this stupid headache.

Day 3

Capt. buys massive sushi in PHL airport. We chow down at FL410 and take pictures of how much our job sucks. Manage not to see the shuttle launch from the terminal in MCO due to the haze and possibly looking out the wrong window. Tell the bitchy ground controller in BWI “Don’t control angry.”

Parking in BOS we wait for ten minutes as the NOT fat ramper runs back and forth between gates looking for lighted wands. The fat one watches with rampaging disinterest. Skinny finally comes back with A wand. We give up and park. Dee and Dum turn out to be supervisors.

Decide to go down to the bar in BOS and let the bartender be rude to me for an hour. This costs me $40 but comes with all the Obama-esq socioeconomic mosquito bite metaphors I can come up with while I continue my studies on the effect of cursing and cigar smoke on mosquito behavior. Scratching my metaphors, I spill “That Which Will Soon Be Pee” on my crotch. The irony leaves a large yellow stain.

Transport Book_complete

Day 4

Capt forages clam chowder in Boston. Swap planes in <<Home>>. Medical emergency going to DFW. Lead FA immediately implodes and delaminates. Calls the cockpit to complain that one of the other flight attendants was rude to her and then hangs up before we can get any information about the patient. Calls back to tell us we’ll be grounded in DFW because the doctor on board opened the EMK. (If the Emergency Medical Kit is opened, we need a new one which they don’t have in DFW. We have a spare up here, but she wanted us to be late so her PHL overnight would get re-crewed). Still no info on the sick guy. Turns out the man just hasn’t eaten all day. Passes out repeatedly. Paramedics meet the plane.



Shakes and the Fat Man

(DISCLAIMER: Supplemental oxygen required above FL250. Closing your eyes will not make it go away. If you can’t lift your bag into the overhead, you’ve packed too much. And for god’s sake, leave your shoes on.)

SPACE1

9 hours of pay for 12 hours of work is about as densely efficient as it gets for us. As always, there’s a catch. 6pm to 6am. Like the last Folly but I knew it was coming this time. Got to do my breathing exercises. Relax into it. And I don’t have to spend 23 hours in the cheese grater nothingness of the Milwaukee Airport Wyndham. Doesn’t mean I’m rested.

My son got the stomach flu last night. Threw up 3 times. Slept through purges 1 and 2. Woke up for the third hurl and scrubed vomit out of the carpet.

Day 1
My wife is wiped out when the boy wants to get up at 0700. I take him down stairs. He collapses bonelessly on the couch and doesn’t move for a half hour. Then he lurches to his feet, “Daddy?! My throat feels spicy….!” and throws up on the rug. I steer him over to hardwood. Let him finish. Clean him up and calm him down. While I’m cleaning the puddle of mostly water, he goes back to bed. Doesn’t come down for 3 hours.

Comes down eventually and sleeps on the couch till about 1500. Then everything’s fine. He bounces up and starts tear assing around screaming happily. Making up for lost time.

I leave for work at 1700. Deadhead to Vegas and fly back. Stay up all night and hopefully be home and in bed by 0600.

Get to the gate and am pleasantly surprised to be flying with the Omega Quaffer. The final evolution of The Quaffer.  Older with a resplendent mane of meticulously sculpted hair.  He is what happens to quaffers that last long enough to mellow. He retains a bit of the idiosyncratic micro-managing self-absorbed arrogance of the younger models, but congeniality has fully bloomed. He’s aged into a fairly cool guy. We’ve flown together before and he’s mistakenly decided I’m “one of the good ones.” We get along fine.

We shoot the shit while we wait for the plane to be tugged from the international concourse. The fight is totally full, as Vegas flights usually are. No full row to myself this time. We joke about how we never get to sit with the attractive girl, we always get stuffed in with aged gamblopods with questionable hygiene and a passion for shoe removal. He jokes that if he gets the hot girl, (there’s one in the gate area) he’s going to have to play the slots in the Vegas airport, because clearly, his luck has changed.

We board first. Get aisle seats across from each other. My luck has definitely not changed. (I hate slots anyway.) Down the aisle rolls a matched set of spherical chanceoids in their 50′s. The male so perfectly round that a belt would just be silly. Have to continue north to about neck town to find enough decreasing circumference to do any good. Suspenders are the uniform of the day, holding up jeans that would rocket to his ankles if those cheap aluminum clasps aren’t up to the task.

He’s bald with a wispy circumference of straw around his shiny pate. He’s sweating. His eyebrows look as though they might be offensive weapons. Dangerous brambles of malignant disregard. Like deer antlers. Maybe these are a prideful rack. Eyebrows of prowess proudly displayed to intimidate younger challengers. I am a little afraid of them.

For reasons I can’t even guess at, he picks the middle seat. His wife’s diameter is smaller by 10%. She cautiously guides her girth into the window seat. A morose cardigan obscures the overlapping border between boob and belly.

The FAs are trying to make me laugh. Catching my eye with raised brows and a “Now what the fuck are you going to do?” body language. To acknowledge this would be noticed by all the other passengers held up by The Corpulents insertion into their seats. I stand at parade rest and stare straight ahead, trying not to laugh at the 4:30 of blatant horror in store for me.

To their credit, they are nice folks from New Jersey headed to Vegas for a week of winter break. (The wife is a teacher.) They politely try to occupy as little space as possible. A completely futile effort, but I appreciate it all the same.

I get smacked by every overgrown ass and shoulder bag of every passenger sitting aft of row 11. I can’t sit in the center of my seat. My upper body and head are hanging out in the aisle. The Capt. is laughing at me. I flash him a quick “eat a dick” stare and keep my composure. He’s not going to be playing the slots either. He gets a very kind and bovine 20ish girl with “lifetime subscriber to Cat Fancy’ and ‘experimentally disappointed lesbian” etched on her worried face. Now we are both hanging out in the aisle like an arterial blockage.

It’s going to be a long flight.

My new massive man purse won’t fit under the seat, so I pull out my phone, earbuds, iPod and a sandwich and stow the Murse in the overhead. As we ready for push, my stuff and everything else in the seatback pocket disgorges on the floor. I can’t reach it. The New Jerseyadons prevent me from bending over. I have to stand and kneel in the aisle. Figure out how to reattach the pocket to the back of the seat and stuff everything back in.

“Sandwich huh?” the male says hopefully.
‘Yeah.’ Additional caloric volume would not be good for either of us. He can eat snack mix.

He spends most of the flight with his arms wrapped compressively over his rotundity. I break out my phone when allowed and watch a (not) pirated episode of Battlestar Gallactica. (I’m a closet nerd.) 42 minutes later, the husband says, “Couldn’t help but notice you were watching ‘Sanctuary.’ BSG is a great show!”

I didn’t know the name of the episode. Switch and watch “Dude Where’s My Car?” That’ll throw him off.

He reads and dozes. The dozing is an issue. He’s been diligently compressing his bulk. When he sleeps, he just sort of expands like some non-Newtonian fluid. Like cornstarch and water. Without the constant pressure, he reverts back to liquid form. Pressing me further out into the aisle. The Capt. and I are almost touching. Awkward and horrible. It’s 2 things.

Now it’s time for the first of 3 services the FAs will perform. Carts come out. I look like I’m trying to masturbate with the insides of my elbows. My shoulders hurt. My neck is sore. The FAs mimic my posture like playground bullies. They look like seals clapping. (“Look at the stupid pilot! Neah neah ne neah neah!”)  Try to relax a bit and not “look” so scrunched. Bang my elbow on the cart for my trouble. The suck is here to stay.

Then there’s the smell. Takes a while to build up power, but after about 2 hours it’s not coy anymore. Cat piss. Cat piss and vinegar. And it’s coming from the Suspenders Sphere. I check, but he still has his shoes on. The stench of round I guess.

Holy crap. This is a lot of suck. My suck eyes were bigger than my suck stomach. Maybe I should put something back. Gelatinous blob ass creeping into my seat? No… I need that to keep my ass in pain and my spine numb. Cat piss smelling salts? No… If I did manage to fall asleep in this position, the catering cart will take my head off when it comes back. Nosy interest in whatever’s on my phone?  No… I need that to keep me from writing Follies about fat people because that would pass the time and I wouldn’t be paying attention to the shooting pains in my ass and down my legs.

More of the same. I don’t sleep at all. The Olfactory Orb of NJ keeps up the dozing squeeze/relax/squeeze/relax routine for an hour or so. Every time his left leg touches my right, it reflexively snaps back. Like one of those skittish hair-follicle sea creatures that lives on a reef. His leg rolls outward like the tide. Snaps it back. Bout 5 seconds per cycle.

This is by far the most irritating part. I can’t move any further away. My right foot is under my left leg and hooked under the metal frame of the seat on the aisle side. If he would just let it all hang out, I might be able to stop scrunching. An unspoken dual usage of fat guy. He can be fat and I can relax since I can’t get away from the fat anyway. Both tacitly agreeing to set aside our personal space boundaries and press flesh in the interest of fatigue. I’m game. But no. Tense/release.
Tense/release.

2 hours to go.

By the time we land in Vegas, my ass is killing me. Right where the Semitendinosus muscle attaches to the pubic bone (Yes I looked it up. Where ass meat attaches to ass bones.)

The flight back is like a pleasant afterglow. I’m so happy to be out of the fat locker and back in the cockpit, I almost forget that it’s 0200 and I have 5 hours and a cross-country flight to navigate before I can sleep.

Almost.

Day 1:
Feels like I was just here. Oh wait. I was. Yesterday.  Still ridiculously cold.  Bring my overcoat for the first time this winter.  3 PIT overnights and it’s colder there.

In ops, can’t check in. All the computers are logged off and my codes don’t work.   I just want to know what gate we’re departing from. They took down all the monitors that used to show gates at a glance. Told us to use a particular program. Program was stand alone, then they imbedded it in the company’s website. Now I have to enter 3 separate usernames and passwords just to check in and find my gate.  There’s less security to buy yellow cake uranium.   And you have to change your password all the fucking time.

Has its own sadistic logic. Workplace eugenics. Make superworkers by weeding out the weak. Those without the tenacity and faculty to figure out how to get where they need to be will be fired. Then breed the survivors. Brilliant really.

Meet the Capt. on the plane. Freight dog. Smokes. Jensen boots.  Leather jacket.  Big into WWII history and General Aviation.  Lives in a fly-in community. Built his own plane.  Seems like a good egg.

He just dives in with:  “My sister-in-law thinks I’m the devil. She is one of these ultra-liberal hippie types and she hates my guts.  I don’t like Obama. I don’t like the healthcare bill. I don’t like socialism, queers or people who are afraid to pray.”

Could be worse. He could have said the exact opposite of those things.
It is cold cold cold.  The #2 generator won’t come on line after engine start. We wait a few minutes for the oil in the accessory gearbox to return to liquid form.

On our way to PIT Capt. gets an ACARS message to call scheduling on arrival. Turns out he has to fly back. Sit for 5 hours.  Then return to PIT.  Whatever. It’s day 1. He was just going to sit in the hotel all day anyway.  May as well get paid.


Day 2:
Early show. 0500 van. I’m talking to the Capt. about whether or not we have overnights in Puerto Vallarta.

‘I think we do, but it could be rumor or misinformation.’
A Shuttle America pilot lobs a pellet of lameness into our conversation in with, “Misinformation?   I know her!  She gives me everything I need Misinformation.”

Capt. And I decided to take the 0500 van vs. 0430 cause we didn’t want to get up at 0345. But now in the plane, we’re feeling pressed. We’re headed to Mexico via Cuba, and there are a couple of location/time critical calls we have to make along the way to avoid seeing what a MiG looks like up close.

Normally not a big deal. They used to give us international kits with the charts all highlighted and marked with the important stuff by guys who’d done it.  But they just switched (today) to Airside Bags. All the books and maps I normally carry in my 40lb. Flight kit and the stuff in the international kits is now permanently installed in the planes.  Very cool.  I don’t have to haul that boat anchor around anymore.

But they’re brand new. We have to plot and double check everything. And I don’t have the little things in MY kit like highlighters, frequencies, parking spots, door codes. Page markers. Everything is just slightly awkward. Like peeing with another man’s dick. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

We push on time but have to de-ice. We are pulling out of the ramp.  Headed for the de-ice pad. Trying to do checks, briefings and configure for getting hosed.
‘I’m feeling rushed.’ I say, putting my hands in hover mode.

More often than anyone would probably suspect or like to know, rushing kills people and breaks stuff. You end up missing things. Important things.

I don’t know what anybody else does, but I’ve cultivated a hypersensitivity to rushing.  A Spidey sense of future flashback – sort of continuously previewing what will be on the CVR and the black box when they pull it out of the wreckage. Was I a dumbass?  Am I being a dumbass?  Did I miss something? What’s really important here?  Did I put on clean underwear? (Not that! Quit thinking about that!  Ok. But did I?)

“You’re rushed. I’m rushed. Let’s slow down. We’re off the gate.  Let’s do it right.”

I like this guy.

Over the tip of Florida, I’m checking on with Havana. It’s a female controller. Capt. says, “I’ll bet she’s not wearing any panties.” This is an idea that has honestly never occurred to me. Controllers are just disembodied voices. The concept that this voice has panties and the appropriate lack of exterior plumbing to be covered by them, is unwieldy and awkward.  A dimension to our relationship I really don’t have room for. Like the sex life of the clowns or Rosie O’Donnell’s top or bottom preference.  Some things are better left unexplored.  Besides there’s generally some truth to the saying “a face made for radio.”

Took a picture of the receiving line as we pulled into CUN. You can’t see the fuelers and bag men standing ready on

the sides like our carcass is being pulled onto a whaling ship. But you get the idea.

I don my orange vest of awesomeness and head out to do the walkaround.  Goes clockwise from the nose. Make it back under the tail and around the rear airstairs when I hear whistling and “Hey!” from above. There are 4 cleaning girls in white at the top of the stairs waiting to be let it. They are giggling and smiling. One of them has gold rimmed teeth. The leader lobs a wad of rapid Spanish at me which bounces harmlessly off the orange vest.


‘I’m sorry?’ I put my hand to my ear and cock my head a little.
She says a few words followed by “guapo.”
‘Me?’ I point at me for confirmation.
“Si Guapo!” They all smile and nod and giggle.
I put my heels together and slowly raise my arms from my sides, palms out and bow formally.

I have GOT to get one of these vests!  The wife will go crazy!

The gate agent brings the latest knee jerk stupidity from TSA regarding international flights bound for the U.S. in response to the Christmas day attempted bombing of a Northwest flight:
1.  Passengers are not allowed to cover their laps at anytime with anything except a laptop or DVD player.
2.  DVD players and laptops cannot be stored in seat-back pockets at any time.
3.  Passengers are not allowed out of their seats for the last hour of flight.
2.  Once we are feet dry, we are not allowed to make any announcements regarding our position.

Thanks guys.  That should do it.

It’s windy as we are taxiing out, I look out my side and see 4 dumpster-sized plastic trash cans on wheels blowing toward the taxiway like stampeding prehistoric armor plated tumbleweeds.  I’m keying up to tell ground about it when here come 2 airport trucks with light bars strobing.

I figure they’ll pull in front of the restless receptacles and hop out to corral them. Nope. Each truck targets the closest can and rams it doing maybe 20. This is such an awesome display of machismo I can’t look away.  I’m staining to see as we turn the corner.  The drivers get out casually. Giant Aviators glinting smartly. I swear one of them has a lasso. The cans vibrate and huddle together in fear.

Somewhere over the US (I can’t tell you where.) (….)  We are comparing the seats in <<My Airplane>> to the seats in <<Another Airplane>>. He says the <<Another Airplane’s>> are much worse. “But they’re rated to 6 Gs. I think the human heart explodes at like 12gs. That reminds me!!  I was talking to this AME and he said if you’re going to crash, you should void your bladder. That extra mass rips organs and stuff. Just keeps going. So if you’re going to crash and you have to pee, just go. Piss your pants! Shit yourself! You’ll have a better chance of surviving.”

You heard it here first folks. Crash like the professionals.

Back at the PIT hotel, they give me a different room. Go to the gym.  Head for the bar for $2 drafts during the Arizona/Green Bay game.  Two of today’s  FAs are there. Nice Girl and Stanley.

Stanley is a real life version of Stanley from “The Office.” If you’ve seen the show, then I don’t have to say another word. For the rest of you: Our Stanley is a large heavy-set dour black guy with a shaved head and two of those rolls on the back of his neck you could hide saltines in. He never smiles.  He is taking supplements to bulk up but doesn’t work out. He wears athletic clothes and new impossibly white sneakers.

He will not disdain to look at me when he talks. Been pissing me off all day. I go into the galley and ask him something and he looks away, says something low and cryptic and turns his back to me. Not everybody likes me. I cry a little inside.

He has a blutooth in his ear. Always. Even at cruise at 41,000 ft.  Turns out he bought it yesterday at Sears and has been having some trouble making it work. (But was wearing it anyway.)
Nice Girl offers to help him with it.
“What’s your number?” He doesn’t look at her either.
She tells him. He reaches into his warm-up pants and fiddles with his phone. Tucks it back in his pocket.  Goes back to staring straight ahead.

Her phone rings.
“Are you calling me?” He doesn’t say anything.
“Hello?” She says.
“Can you hear me?” He says, staring straight ahead.
“No. Is it on?” She says. He paws at his ear. The blue light starts flashing.
“Can you hear me now?”
“No?” Now she’s staring straight ahead too. They’re sitting right next to each other. I put my hand on my chin, knuckle bent over my lips.  Trying not to smile. Seconds away from laughing uncontrollably.  Somehow I don’t think Stanley would appreciate the joke.
“Oh well. We’ll work on it tomorrow.” She closes her phone.
“Hello?” Stanley says like he’s being very patient with someone very stupid. Sticks a finger in his ear. Adjusts the Blutooth. Goes back to staring at the TV.

Deciding the night would be incomplete without another awkward moment, I launch into a tirade on Jet Blue’s douchebag beards with some Republic pilots.

Pilots can’t have beards. The oxygen mask won’t seal properly with a beard.  Plus it just looks unprofessional.  Somehow the facial follicle enthusiasts at Jet Blue rallied to be allowed to wear goatees because they stay within the perimeter of the mask.  So now they can have goatees. Douchebags of the sky.

As I’m ranting, a professorial man with a goatee and glasses sits down next to me. Pretty much as I’m saying ‘goatees are for douchebags.’  He looks at me and I channel Rodney Dangerfield, ‘Looks good on you though!’ Give him a slap on the shoulder.  Then I backtrack and re-tell the whole thing.
“So you’re jealous.” He says.
‘Yes. Yes I am.’ Let him have this one. I did just basically call him a douchebag.


Day 3:
Catch a leisurely 0700 van. Never been to Higuely Field, Punta Cana.  Maybe 120 miles due west of San Juan. (Don’t know for sure, my plotter is in MY kit I’m first class.) Lots to do. Have to plug the fixes in manually because the route is not yet in the company database.

Pull out the maps and find the ADIZ border for Cuba (Air Defense Interdiction Zone.) “See Ball Note ‘G’ for Dominican FIR contact requirements.” This takes the 2 of us 15 minutes to find. They don’t put supplemental info near where you’re looking (going) because he charts are so hideously dense with information, you could blot out a whole country. So you have to search around for a tiny black ball the size of a BB with a white “G” in it. The map is the size of a picnic table.

Three things I hate in life:  Trying to get stickers or tape off of anything, untying knots, and finding Ball Notes.  I have this irrational fear that I’ll never be able do it. I’ll be fumbling with the unfathomable contortions of that fucking knot or scraping that princess sticker off the floor by the piano with my thumbnail, forever.

Wife and kids know about my sticker phobia. (I think that’s why she buys them sticker books by the metric ton.) Hampster once put a “NOPI” sticker on the back window of my car in the employee lot and I almost shit my pants.  Those paper-backed fuckers. Those are the worst.

The flight down is over-water and uneventful. I can’t understand the Dominican controller as she’s trying to give me a reroute.  After 3 tries, she hands off to a controller whose accent is not quite so thick.

The airport is a village of thatched roof huts. No jetways. (Took photos but they didn’t come out.)  Big planes parked in the salty breeze. Hundreds of pasty Pittsburgians disgorged into the beautifully cruel light. Squinting.  Whooping. Smiling. Snapping photos of anything that will hold still.  Palm trees, each other, the planes, the ground, the sky, the signs.

Their more subdued and sunburned post coital counterparts are standing in the shade, waiting for the inevitable call that their vacation is officially over and it’s time to get on the plane.

Breech into the heat and down the airstairs in search of Duty Free.  The retail girl is cute in that overly-made up Hispanic retail archetype. Eyebrows drawn on. Tight shiny black pony tail.  Tight black stretchy pants encasing an ass that is 25% too large, and those blunt nosed platform dress shoes that are the exclusive domain of the Hispanic Service Industry.

She holds up a bottle of something and says a lot about it. I can’t tell if she’s speaking Spanish or heavily accented English. I get the impression that whatever it is, it is potent and sexy in some way. I reach for it and she hands it to me. It’s nothing but sticks. No liquid. She tells me you add rum, red wine and honey, and let it sit for 2 days.

Waiting is not something I feel the need to purchase as an accessory.  It’s $28. I put it back. She makes “before and after” gestures at the red liquid on display above. I pick up a pint. She flips it and shows me the words she was pelting me with in her initial pitch. I see ”Sexual” at the end.
‘I know what that means!’ I say and we both laugh at what a stupid asshole I am.

I buy the pint. Sexy red juice AND the orange vest ought to get me ultra laid when I get home.

Head back to the plane and excuse myself up the stairs to “we can’t go without you ha ha ha.” And, “Bob. BOB!  Let the pilot through.” I’m actually deadheading back, but it’s hot out here so I don’t bother correcting anyone.

Back in PIT, we make it through customs and then wait. And wait. And wait. We are a bit early and there are no TSA screeners at the international checkpoint.  We wait 35 minutes.
‘This waiting has a fair amount of not awesome in it.’ I say.
“That’s a perfect way to put it.” One of the FAs says and giggles.

We eventually make it back to the same hotel and I get my third room on the 6th floor.

Day 4:
I don’t have to get up at all because we don’t leave till 1000, so of course I wake up at 0600.  Figure if I hit the gym early, any damage that follows when I get home and drink to my success, is already paid for. Showered by 0830.

Been looking at the same ad in the elevator for the last 3 days for Rukus Wireless. (See photo below). There are 3 panes showing happy people at different elevations on the summit of wifi utility. The middle and right panes are totally forgettable.

The left pane is pissing me off. Conference room shot. Chick at the table taking notes. Black guy giving the presentation and another woman up by the easel pointing at something on the paper.

Here’s the problem. The page is completely blank. So is note-taking girl’s legal pad. So what the fuck is she pointing at?  Keep trying to guess what might be said at that moment.

BG:  “Bitch.  You need to sit your ass down before I sit you down.”
W: “No seriously!  It’s right there!  Can’t you see it?  It’s…….. -
“Jesus riding a unicorn!”
“My name!”
“The mole pattern on my husband’s back. Swear to god!”
“More white in this area here.”
“Like a tractor beam!  I can’t look away from this spot. You should start the pie chart RIGHT HERE!”
“Got a smudge. I think someone used this pad already.”
“Dangerous in this area. I wouldn’t write here. Anywhere but here.”
Etc.

I have a lot of spare time.

Sit in MCO for an hour and a half. Do Follies. This time plus the deadhead back from PJU has me pretty much real time.

On the way hone, the Capt. reveals the porous and dilapidated state of his marriage.  Another story of a man with everything sliding inexorably towards a one-bedroom apartment and all the hobbies he can stand.  I don’t pry for detail. Just toss tried-and-failed ideas on reconciliation on the pedestal. Hope is not among them.

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