Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lucky Ones

I hate it when I get to flight operations for a trip and see a table laid out with sandwiches, cookies, drinks and such. That means I'm working on a holiday, which I do a lot of these days. The company puts out free food for pilots, ostensibly to express their thanks for us coming in to work while everyone else celebrates—as if we had a choice. I grabbed a sandwich and printed the flight paperwork

We crossed the continent, landed at San Fran, changed planes and launched for San Diego. “Have a nice holiday,” the LAX controller said, as he handed us off to San Diego Approach.

I shot back with my now standard retort to that enjoinment. “Holiday? What's that? I've heard people talk about that. I need to look that up.”

He laughed and said, “I know what you mean.”

It was Memorial Day weekend, and there I was out plowing contrails across America, the Land of the Free―made that way because of a bunch of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, some who never came home.

I knew it would be this way when I took the 767/757 captain vacancy. I was enjoying great seniority and a good QOL (quality of life in airline labor contract-speak) as a Pig Jet (737) captain, but the lure of the big iron, the sheer beauty of the 757, and its attendant pay raise captured me into it.

So, here I am working on those holidays and...those other what-you-call 'em's? Weekends, is it? Isn't that when they play ball games, and families get together, and concerts happen, and people go to church? You know, those times when people do most of their living.

But at least I was in San Diego. Not a bad place to be on Memorial Day weekend, but when the family calls you while you're out walking around and says they are all together, cooking out and chilling out and wishing you were there, it really sucks.

I strolled around the waterfront. The USS Midway was crawling with people. They wanted to see its combat legacy. Its flags were flapping and its colors flying high. Parents chased fleeing kids and bored teenagers loped around the ship with I-Pods plugged in their ears. A few old timers with caps that bore the names of their military units stood to the side staring at the the ship and its planes, remembering, perhaps, somebody they knew who didn't come back.

On the wharf beside the ship people hawked T-shirts, caps and ice cream. An old hippie wearing a Che Guevara shirt strummed a guitar singing Stairway to Heaven, still seemingly pissed about Viet Nam.

I headed back to the room to turn in early. I'd be airborne next morning before sunup. And I'd get home just as everybody else in the family finished up their holiday festivities and headed back to college and work.

On the way back to DC, we stopped in Chicago. While holding short, we beheld a beautiful 757, painted just like ours, slipping past us on a crossing taxiway. My first Officer, Rocky, said, “Look at that big beautiful bird, would ya?”

I knew what he meant. I looked. I smiled.

He said, “Boy, those guys sure are lucky, aren't they?”

“Yep,” I said. “That, they are.”

So, there's a silver lining in that lonesome cloud. At least I get to spend those what-you-call-'em days flying these big beautiful birds—for a little while longer. Then I'll get out my unit cap (355th Tactical Fighter Wing) and spend my Memorial Days watching the parades, and remembering a few airmen I knew that never came back.

When I pulled the curtains back on my hotel room window 
in San Diego on Memorial Day morning 
I saw this very appropriate sight.

Some of you commentators had a bit of fun with me on that last post, coming frightfully close to causing me to get short with you. BTW, I heard it again today: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Huntsville.” (We were still 17 minutes out.)

Quote of the post (I actually heard this one, today): “United 896, Chicago Center, there's an area of continuous occasional light chop 40 miles ahead.

1 comment:

Bernie said...

Bravo! I knew you would give us a Memorial Day tribute. Thanks.