Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Down to the Wire

It would seem Decision Height is coming to an end soon, as retirement looms only a few weeks away. I haven't decided yet whether to keep posting or craft a profound finale and let the blog rest on its laurels.

In the meantime a question has been coming repeatedly my way in recent weeks by nearly everyone I know or meet anew: “What are you going to do when you retire?” I give them my canned answer, trying without much success, I reckon, to squelch any rumination that I might miss this job. I know I will though.

What I won't miss is the o'dark-thirty alarm that compels me out to the local airport to hop a packed 50 seat regional jet headed to Houston so that I can make an afternoon trip check-in. I won't miss standing in the depressing terminal being told the RJ is weight restricted and will fly away with three or four empty seats, leaving me and justifiably irate paying customers standing by watching it push off. I won't miss begging jump seats on other carriers, and I certainly won't miss riding the torturous, electric chair style jump seat on an ERJ-145. Actually an electric chair would be preferable.

I won't miss the morale-sapping labor/management wars and the impersonal government-style bureaucracy of an enormously bloated airline. I won't miss the plethora of absurd, smothering rules and nonsensical procedures that daily come down the pike from administrative "pilots" who rarely fly but need to justify their cushy weekends-and-holidays-off desk job.

Take the No Smoking sign switch, for example. They found a use for it. We cycle it passing through 10,000 feet to signal the flight attendants, which is a good thing. But the new rule—which we ignore—says the captain and only the captain can touch that switch, even though it is right in front of the first officer. So, picture this: I’m hand-flying the plane in IMC and passing through 10,000 (going up or down) I’ve got to take my eyes off the gauges, lean way over toward the first officer’s side of the cockpit and cycle that switch, which is right in front of his eyes. That switch must be so awesomely critical a first officer cannot be trusted with it. Jeeze, I won't miss that crap.

I won't miss the petty turf wars constantly being waged in both the company and the pilot's union. I won't miss bowing down three times daily to the sacred contract and abiding by its confusing, absurdly complicated and contorted commandments (Not to say I don't appreciate the contract; I'm just tired of ordering my life by it.)

And the big airport culture—boy, I will not miss that rat-race. No more being caught up in crowds of people running to catch their connections, either because they are late or because they stupidly booked too close a connection time. No more getting blocked in the moving walkway by someone standing there looking ahead, agog and clueless. (My "Excuse me" always startles them, makes them realize they are not the only person on the planet. They start walking, slowly, at a snail’s pace. No. That is not what I want. I want you to stand aside.)

No more answering brain-dead questions about where baggage claim is while standing right under an enormous sign that tells where it is. No more being stuck behind a slow walking group chatting with each other and who simply must walk line abreast blocking the whole width of the concourse.

No more crashing in to idiots looking down at their phones, or others with tunnel vision who suddenly reverse course, or cut across in front of you, with no awareness whatsoever. Why do people check their brains at the airport door? I will not miss this madness.

What will I miss? Too much to list. Examples: Taxiing the 767. What a delight it is to motor that beast around an airport—almost as much fun as flying it. I'll miss its awesome power and its delightful flying characteristics. I'll miss that odd sound the two big Pratts make when you reduce the power to idle for descent. Remember what a whale sounds like under water, from the National Geographic programs? That's what it sounds like. "Finally," they're saying to each other, with a huge groaning, mournful sigh, "we're going down. I'm tired."

I'll miss the moon-lit skies over the Caribbean and the Southern Cross over Amazonica. I'll miss watching from the North Atlantic tracks the summer sun dipping very slightly below the northern horizon and then angling back up in front of us blasting its retina-searing lasers into our cockpit. I'll miss that oh-so satisfying feeling of a grease-job landing, and the almost narcotic feeling of relaxation and relief knowing the long trip is behind us. I'll miss the satisfaction of binging her to a nose-bobbing stop at the destination gate. I'll miss the handshakes after the shut-down and the parting words that are exchanged. “Good job!” “Great flying with you.” “Enjoy your days off." "See you next time.” After July 20 there will be a lot of days off and there won't be a next time.

Mostly, I'll miss the folks. Quality people are drawn to airline cockpits. Most of them are top shelf. They love their work and they work well. They are consummate professionals. I have spent many years among the crème de la crème of the flying profession. I will miss them more than anything else.

So, back to the question; what am I going to do?

For starters I'm flying my RV-6 to AirVenture (I've finally learned to land it) to meet up with several of my old USAF pilot training buds, some themselves recently retired. After that there will be a few trips to make with the family, and every Bama football game, and the enjoyment of the Fall—every single day of it. There will be hiking treks, canoe trips, boating, fishing, airshows and fly-ins, and frequent visits to kin and friend.

There will be church and Sunday dinners with the family,Thanksgiving to enjoy at home, all the parties and delights of December, Christmas Eve candle light service, Christmas Day, New Years, and the Super Bowl—things most people take for granted. Liberally dispersed in amongst all the above activity will be long visits with a wee little guy that came into our family about 18 months ago. I aim to see him grow. Wow! Such freedom.

Is a new blog in the offing? One that celebrates sport and general aviation? Maybe. We'll see. If I decide to do that I'll post a link to it. I plan finish up a novel I'm writing and start another. It may surprise you that they're not about flying.

I’m not sold on the currently popular trend of having your blog posts bound into a book, although I will ponder using much of what you have read over the years to write my story about “flying the line.” We’ll see about that too.

It appears that guy is going to FOD the engine.

OMG! He is FODing that engine!
Ham Lee and me. Such hunks.


Paul said...

Alan, please do drop me a line when you're down for a Bama game-- I'd love to take you to lunch. Paul at robichaux dot net will reach me.

bradcockrell said...

This looks like a good final flight script:

Scott said...

Dad, it's been a pleasure reading your blog since the beginning. From as far back as I can remember, I've been captivated by the stories of your life in the cockpit. Because of you I can't keep myself for looking skyward whether it's a Cessna or a small pinpoint painting a contrail through the thin air. Perhaps we can add one more thing to your list of retirement adventures. I sure would love to learn to fly.. said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this. Hope you fine time to blog in the future. Enjoy your next life adventures!

Bob said...

Alan, if this is indeed your last blog, I just wanted to thank you for the many enjoyable hours I have spent reading them.
Will miss your insight and talent for writing.
Enjoy your retirement, sounds like you will keep pretty busy.

n0aaa said...

Thanks, Alan. You, Rand, Geek in the Cockpit, 25, and a couple of others have been great fun to follow for those of us forced to enjoy your craft vicariously. Enjoy retirement, whatever you do.

Bradley Smith said...

I'll miss your writing. Hell, I missed it all during May. I think you should write about the experience of a current airline pilot when you are released from the restraint of being an employee. Some of the things you alluded to in this piece.
Now I have to see if I can interpret the filter to actually get this comment through.

Anonymous said...

what a great career you have had, made it without any serious injuries to yourself or your passengers, you WILL enjoy not having to set an alarm clock, enjoy ole Saban, enjoy the RV6 and PLEASE blog us with your GA ventures.

wayne in louisiana

76ERB said...

You have said it all and said it so well. There might not be a better ending to the blog.

Blue skies and fair winds to you and your family. And to paraphrase former president Bush '41, "keep the blue side up."

76ERB said...

Thank you for describing so well what I'm sure so many of us feel about leaving the cockpit for retirement.

Blue skies and fair winds to your and your family. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Mike said...

Alan - great picture of you in "Ham pose"! Thanks for all the great articles and insight! Will miss them if you don't blog something else!


Anonymous said...

I hope you do continue to write about flying...I've so enjoyed your posts, whether about airline trips, or flying your RV cross-country. Very fun to read, as I pilot my cubicle on the 4th floor, especially in the cold MN winters.

AA278 said...

Thanks for all your great blogging! As for what you'll miss, I would agree with them all, well said. When thinking about what you don't miss, I would add pax asking me where the mens/ladies room is located. In initial training, I guess there was a day devoted to memorizing the location of every restroom in the system but I must have been out sick! Many nights, you will have "airline dreams". Nothing terrible, but you will be taking a few checkrides and missing sign-ins in your sleep. Even a 80 year old retiree I know still has these dreams. Lastly, remember being a school kid, waking up in the morning and suddenly remembering it's Saturday? You'll be getting that feeling a lot. Best Wishes!

Rob said...

Hi Alan, Always loved reading the blog. Hopefully it won't be the last post and I have always loved your stories from the past. But if it is blue skies and thanks for the adventures!
Rob, From a Cessna 210 cockpit in Northern Australia

Anonymous said...

Capt Alan - I've followed your blog and I read Tail of the Storm. Thank you for these, and please continue writing.


Mike said...

Alan - I assume they'll do a water cannon for you on your last flight? I'd love to see the pictures! One piece of advice - keep the window closed!!

Keep the blue side up!+