Why I Couldn’t Be An Airline Pilot.
When I was a teenager, like all of my close friends I decided I was going to be an airline pilot. But somewhere along the way between our teenage years and the reality of adulthood, one by one my friends all let go of the dream and wandered off to do other things with their lives.
The standard refrain I hear from them–and most guys when they find out I’m an airline pilot–is this: “I was going to be a pilot, but . . .” The “but” ranges from physical deficiencies to fate to a million reasons–all beyond their control–why that never happened.
Which got me to thinking. There are a lot of good reasons why I couldn’t be an airline pilot either. Here they are:
1. I hate mechanical stuff. Always have. In fact, during those same teen years my Saturday mission was to sneak out of the house before my dad could grab me and put me to work as tool caddy for his day long under-the-hood misadventures. Dad decided my brothers and I needed to do the cliche stuff like work on cars in order to grow up “like normal guys.” In my opinion, that was a waste of a perfectly good Saturday afternoon.
“Get over here,” he’d growl, and you were busted. “This will only take forty minutes and you can go do whatever afterward.” Never forty, maybe four hours and forty minutes, then your day was shot. Dammit. So I’d be the reluctant tool lackey as Dad hunkered waist deep in the yawning engine compartment on the Chevy 396 with a four-barrel carb that with the air filter off, looked like a toilet flushing the way it guzzled gas (that was cool) even at idle.
He’d say “Gimme the 3/8 inch box wrench” and I’d hand him pliers, on purpose, thinking the next time he’d remember how pissed off that made him and perhaps he’d select a more competent tool monkey–like either of my brothers. Nope. So besides cursing whatever procedure that despite the tome-sized shop manual just wasn’t working, or never mind three trips to the auto parts store (another special hell) ranting about parts that didn’t fit, he’d have me to blast for being an idiot (What? A screw driver is not a socket wrench?) sous chef under the hood.
So now, flying a complex, state-of-the-art (some are only weeks old–they still have that “new jet” smell) aircraft, when something goes wrong under the hood, I call an expert and let them fix it.
But I fly with a lot of guys who like my dad have wiring diagrams, flow charts, Lamm schematics–they like to get under the hood, yacking with the mechanics. “Shows 28 volt three-phase; now if you lose one phase . . .” blah blah blah is all I’m hearing. Just let me know when it’s fixed. Unlike my dad, they don’t want me handing them wrenches and like his Chevy Caprice, I don’t want to know how it works or even why it works–just let me know when it’s working again. I can fly the hell out of it for sure but the rest is all just details eating up my afternoon. Fix it, I’ll fly it, end of story.
2. I’d prefer to be invisible in uniform. Seriously: I don’t want to play the “this is your captain speaking” Disney character. Darling Bride and I used to fly together as crew, and people would of course see us in our uniforms–her flight attendant polyester hell, my pilot suit–and they’d seem to be watching us like zoo animals to see what we’d do.
So I don’t relish any of the showtime beyond the sanctuary of the bolted shut cockpit door. Walking through the terminal, it’s like encountering a pack of stray dogs: don’t make eye contact; just go about your business in an unobtrusive, non-threatening way and they’ll leave you alone.
Somebody else is going to have to do the playacting for the public; I’m not good answering questions about the bathroom, yucking it up about flying, or hearing about how (this is standard) “we dropped a thousand feet straight down” on some other flight. Doing the pilot thing as a pilot in the air–that is my only concern. Don’t worry about a thing, it’s taken care of–just keep your seat belt fastened and like Lewis CK says, “You watch a movie, take a dump and you’re in LA.” Just don’t expect a show before or after.
3. I really don’t get along with pilots. That goes with the “invisible” thing above: don’t play the role, don’t relish the identity. No cheesy aviators sunglasses, no 1980s-vintage mustache, no vanity plate like “JetJock” or bumper sticker that says, “My other car is a Boeing-737” or god forbid, this:
This is actually a sticker on sale at the Crew Outfitters store at DFW Airport. Which means some douchebag pilot thought it was a “cute idea,” (what the hell is “giggity giggity?”) and enough are actually buying the sticker to make it worthwhile. Wonder why I want to be invisible?
And in the cockpit, I do not want to take turns parroting whatever talk radio host is the hero of the week, don’t need to analyze the stock market that none of us ever really has any real expertise in, and I definitely don’t want to hear about the merits of home schooling (why is it that some many pilots’ wives are browbeaten into this?) as THE way to raise the only decent kids in the world after “the balloon goes up.” Have a weapons cache ready? A shack in Montana? Just keep it to yourself. Want to talk about sports? Fine: how the heck did Sabathia hit the Yankees for $25 million a year when he looks like he ate everything on the Dairy Queen menu every day since the All-Star break?
See, I can be sociable. But beyond sports talk, I’m completely avoiding discussion of The Big Three: politics, religion and god forbid, pilot contract talks. Other than conversation related to actually flying the jet, I’m a big fan of what Archie Bunker used to call “A little bit of shut up around here.”
So there you have it: like most guys, there are a lot of good reasons why I couldn’t be an airline pilot, or at least not one like you’d see on TV or in the movies with the cliches and stereotypes. But when the weather’s crap and your pink butt is in the back of the plane heading for the runway at 150 miles per hour, I will guarantee you a safe landing. I’ve got over thirty years of experience and practice doing exactly that.
But afterward, it’s best for all concerned if I just slip out the door unnoticed before anyone can corral me into spending my time off being somebody I’m clearly not. If only my dad had figured that out so many Saturdays ago.