Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Black One

In January our chief pilot decided to clean house. Her target: The bag room. It's a huge repository—probably 3,000 square feet or more—for pilots to store their bags, sundries and paraphernalia when off duty. The interior is walled into separate long corridors with multiple layers of shelves along each side. The shelves are home to layover bags, duffels, pubs bags, storage bags, boxes, back packs and hang-up bags of all sorts and sizes in which commuting pilots and even some locals store their extra stuff.

My layover bag resides there. I rarely drag it home. I keep layover clothes, toiletry kit and other items in it that don't need to regularly go home. That lets me make the commute to and from work with only a small back pack that I don't have to gate check on those oh-my-aching-ass 50-seaters. I once figured that the 10 minutes I spend waiting for my gate-check bag to be retrieved—twice for each round trip commute—added up to 25 hours in a year's time. A full day out of my life every year standing on that lousy noisy hot/cold jet bridge. But now, with my nifty system, I breeze off the Rjs like a bat out of a cave.

But back to the bag room. The room is so expansive you can lose your bags if don't take careful notice where you left them. It's common to see a pilot wandering through the complex scanning with wrinkled brow, looking for his stuff. During the first five minutes of his search, he will draw at least two “It's the black
one” remarks from passers-by. They're all black, thousands of them—I'm not exaggerating. He will force out the obligatory chortle, curse the perpetrator of the remark under his breath and continue to scrutinize the melange looking for his name, initials, or a tell-tale sticker he put on to aid in picking it out.

At first it's interesting to stroll through the halls looking at the stickers and decals:
military units, ball clubs, flags, college letters and logos from other airlines the owner may have flown with. But after months and years looking at the stickers you tire of their sight. They remind you of the huge chunk of your life you're spending away from family and dog.

The place is dusty, musty, dimly lit and even at times a bit spooky. It's easy to imagine the ghosts of pilots who passed through those corridors hundreds of times across a career. Some now retired. Some gone west.

When our chief pilot planned the clean-out she had her staff place an orange dot sticker on every flight bag, layover bag, hang-up bag, and container of any sort. She told us we had 60 days to take the dot off. After that she would consider all dotted bags and items abandoned and would dispose of them. 

I was there the day she and her staff collected their bounty. The amount of abandoned bags staggered the imagination. They were piled high in every place available and then the long process began of going through the contents. They sorted items for trash and charity. She told us what they found in her monthly newsletter. Here's a sampling:

  • A vintage leather flight bag in mint condition with original manuals, last revised 1987. 
  • Complete newspapers from 20 years ago in unread condition.
  • A VCR with a pile of movies from the1980s.
  • Bags of long ago retired and deceased pilots.
  • Medical certificates from the late 70s.
  • Prescription medicines of many kinds, lots of them, some dating back to the 70s.
  • Enough bottles of wine beer, and liquor to supply a tiki bar.
  • Flight attendant bags.
  • Flight manuals from long obsolete aircraft (747-100, DC-9, B727).
  • Layover pictures from 30 years ago.
  • Several “recreational items for personal entertainment.” [Hmmm.] 
  • A petrified banana.
So, when I leave these portals for good, some 15 months hence (if not earlier) I'm thinking I just might leave something in the room. Maybe I'll leave that layover bag, but I'll take the clothes and stuff out of it. I'll leave something interesting in it as a surprise to a future cleaner-outter. It'll be my legacy.

But what?

I won't.