Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Brooder

I don't relish flying with brooders. They're among the worst kind to share a cockpit with for three or four days. Not that they're bad people or bad pilots. They generally fly well and are knowledgeable.

But the brooder goes for long periods without talking. You sense he is intensely probing something within his thought world. He's turning stuff over in his mind. He's different from the ponderer, the dreamer, the philosopher—he's got troubles. You know you're in for a long trip.

But then—without warning—the brooder opens up. Ah, now you know what's eating him. He's mad at the company. Maybe. Or, perhaps he just sees something interesting, or hears something funny on the radio. Laughs. Talks furiously for three minutes. You welcome the opportunity to engage him. But its over as quickly as it began. The brood is back.

Another thing you can expect with the brooder is fixation on a subject. He will exhibit little interest in what interests you, but he will assail you with what interests him, and he will revisit the topic at intervals between brooding periods. If he puts forth an opinion that he is passionate about you can count on it being resurrected over and over again.

With brooders, you use your peripheral vision a lot—and I mean a lot. You'll be reading or scanning, or whatever, and out of the corner of your eye, you'll watch him. You cut eyes toward the center console and pretend to be looking at the switches but you're really trying to get a better angle on what the brooder is up to without risking eye contact with him. You don't want him to know he is being watched, because—in his mysterious perspective of things—that could pose a problem for him.

Brooders make unusual sounds. The most common ones are sighs. You may also hear heavy breaths being taken in or let out, lips popping and tongue clicking. These noises are usually not associated with any talk or other actions.

His movements tend to be a bit jerky—almost bird-like. You notice a flash of a hand in your periphery and cut eyes toward him, but you're too late. His hands are at rest again. Sometimes he glances abruptly at you, then quickly turns away.

One particular brooder I recently flew with spent a lot of time on his cell phone, fiddling with it, playing games, reading downloads, or whatever. You learn quickly not to engage the brooder when he is doing something like that. Unless it relates to one of his pet subjects, he will not respond. When you see him put the phone, or other object of his intense interest away, he may exhibit a slight interest in what you say or ask.

On layover the brooder often morphs into a human. When he downs a couple of beers he opens up and talks about his life and even takes an interest in yours. You actually enjoy an evening with him. You think you have established a rapport—a friendship even. But you're wrong. Next day he returns to his curious ways.

After the third day of this you start to get antsy. You keep asking yourself, Does this guy have something that's eating at him or does he have a problem with me? You start evaluating yourself. Every move you make, every thing you say now becomes carefully calculated. You start to take on his traits. Now you've become a brooder as well.

The hours turn into days. The end of the trip is a long time coming and when it does, your home never looked so good. You will watch your schedule in the weeks ahead, wary of the appearance of his name on it once again. Happily the next trip out you are back with one of the many outstanding guys and gals you fly with and the brooder is forgotten, until you see his name on your next trip.

And you will.


Cedarglen said...

Thanks, Alan. Yet another great post. Those flight decks are small, tight spaces and from which there is no escape for many hours. All came to that intimate space via different routes. If everything remains at least professional, you'll both survive the week.
On the flip side is the chattere box, the guy or gal that simply cannot or will not shut [insert word of choice] up. They will blather constantly and in such detail that you may pray for an attack of flatulence or wish to climb out the escape hatch at FL390. Which to you prefer ? I'd guess that most flying partners who share your tight quarters are mid-range, 'Normal' folks. We've all experienced similar individuals, but as ground-huggers in our professional lives, we can always find and escape. I guess this is yet another occupational hazzard in your profession. Again, the Brooder or the chatter box? Best wishes, -C.

Daniel said...

Are the ponderer, the dreamer and the philosopher fun to fly with? I've certainly gone for periods in the cockpit without words being spoken, and I guess you can't be talking constantly for an 8 hour flight!

Daniel said...

Are the ponderer, the dreamer or the philosopher good cockpit-mates? I've certainly gone for long periods of time at the controls without speaking a word, but hopefully not making my companion feel so uncomfortable. You can't speak continuously for an 8 hour flight, can you?

D.B. said...

Another good reason to bring back the Flight Engineer :)

Dave W said...

Hello Alan,

Thanks for another thoughtful and enjoyable post!

I am a relatively recent follower of your blog and have now caught up with all your previous posts and therefore have to wait for the next along with everyone else.

I'm curious, are your colleagues aware of your blog and if so, do you wait a certain length of time before relating tales so as to prevent anyone realise you are talking about them?

Once again thanks for the posts!

Dave from the UK

ps - I am an avid 767 simmer on FSX and so love the technical detail you apply to some posts

pps - Hello Cedarglen, I haven't seen you since Capt Morris' blog!!

Alan Cockrell said...

Dave W: A long time ago I quit telling my flying partners that I keep up a blog about the airline pilot profession. Few were interested. The usual reaction was, "That's nice," or something like it. If you told this to a brooder he would reward you with two seconds of eye contact sans any comment at all. And so, I suppose that answers your second question. Thanks for reading.

S. J. Crown said...

Ran into one of these guys last week at the bus stop. Sat down beside him. He had that sullen expression, so I tried to engage him. “Could sure use some rain,” I said. He flipped me off and walked away.
The next day it was raining and everyone crowded into the bus stop shelter. There he was again. Same sad face, but this time he spoke to me. “Great that it’s finally raining, isn’t it?” he said. Thought I even caught a hint of a smile.
“Yes, I should say so. Seems it’s improved your mood since yesterday.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “Name’s Matthew.” He extended his hand. “I’ve been away. But I see you must have already met my twin brother. Magruder, the ruder brooder.”
(With humble apologies. I couldn't resist.)