Posted by: paywindow7 | March 22, 2018

An Odyssey

From childhood I’ve had the feeling that some part of me was just along for the ride, taking notes for future review, and that I was the official observer of me. Even when heavily involved in something I’ve always felt I had a third eye that was, somehow, watching me from afar. My Mother passed when I was 12 and in later years, in looking back at that tragic time, I can remember a sudden, surprising and vaporous feeling of being detached somehow, from the fear, confusion and pain of loss. A part of me has always been locked in that dark alley moment and now, as I’m about to top the last hill, I’m burdened with questions about who, what or why I am. My mother had developed MS and my dad, my sister, brother and I had been living with her parents as her health continued to worsen. After her death my father took my seven year old sister and myself out of our grandparent’s home and moved all of us across town. My brother Don was only two at the time so my mother’s parents had adopted him. There was no such thing as grief counseling in those days so my sister and I were expected to learn to take care of ourselves. Our Dad helped by supporting us and our aunt Vera showed us how to do some homemaking tricks when she could but we had very little contact with the rest of the extended family.

As a kid I was a voracious reader and prior to my mother’s death I had been reading a book about Alaska and the adventures of some of the early bush pilots in the Yukon. After my mom passed away and as a distraction from those times and as a coping mechanism, I suppose, my mind decided that I wanted to go fly airplanes in Alaska even though I was just barely preteen. My dad shot the idea down, of course, so I went on to finish high school and try my hand at college. Big mistake, in college I had the worst classroom instructors before or since. I hated it, and near the end of my first year I dropped out and joined the Navy.

Military service was a very important time in my life and for some reason I fit right in even though I had no idea what I was getting into when I raised my hand to take the oath. Boot camp was in San Diego, and was annoying but I had a pretty good idea of what they were doing and why, so I did the work and got through it OK. After leaving boot camp I was deployed to Brunswick Georgia to be trained as an aviation control tower operator. Unfortunately my vision did not make the cut and I was transferred to a school in Jacksonville Florida that trained aviation electricians. Upon completion of that course I was assigned to an Anti- Submarine Warfare (ASW) squadron based in Jacksonville, Florida. I worked in the squadron’s electrical shop for a short time doing service and maintenance on the squadron aircraft. After doing that work for a few weeks my shop chief petty officer called me aside and told me that all the ASW squadrons were going to add an aircraft electrician to each aircraft flight crew and for me to go check in on our aircraft LG7. During that time, which was at the height of the Cold War, We were heavily involved in airborne Anti Submarine Warfare work, searching for and tracking Soviet subs and shipping. We also performed intelligence gathering activities for NATO while flying out of various military bases in the Bahamas, the Caribbean and NATO bases in Europe, the mid east and North Africa. Every couple of years we were deployed  to a NATO base in Sicily allowing us operational access to the Mediterranean, Aegean and the Adriatic Seas tracking and photographing Soviet submarines, warships and freighters. The Soviets, of course, were doing the same thing with U.S. military targets, for the same reason. We, searching for them, as they were looking for us.

During the summer of 1962 it was observed and noted that many of the Soviet freighters, crossing the Atlantic on southerly headings, were carrying containers exposed on their top decks that had not been seen before. Over the next few weeks we kept them under constant surveillance observing them…..closely. I can’t say we didn’t harass them and it was common for them to flip us off as we roared by at 100 feet off the water taking pictures of them and their cargo. It was edgy but when you’re twenty years old you see yourself as being bullet proof and while I was conscious of the dangers, being stalked by MIGS was just a part of the show.

There has been a lot said about the Cuban Missile Crisis during the fall of 1962,  that put the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of  an all out nuclear war that would have decimated the planet Earth. If you were born after 1962 you were almost not born. Everything and everyone you see around you at this moment would not exist. Our planet would now be burned and desolate.

Written history of that time states that the Cuban Missile Crisis lasted for about two weeks. Wrong. The Navy was tracking Soviet submarines and Soviet freighters for weeks before and after President Kennedy’s televised announcement to the American people that the Soviets and the Cuban government were setting up nuclear missile sites targeting the United States. A quarantine was put into place around Cuba to block anymore incoming ships carrying more Soviet missiles. As part of that quarantine my squadron, along with many other ASW squadrons based along the east coast, flew patrol aircraft all over the Atlantic from Bermuda south to Trinidad. The mission of those flights was to search for, find and track Soviet subs, warships and freighters. What is never fully revealed in the history books is the danger of that time. Castro wanted war with the United States especially after he became an ally to the Soviets and he had them to fight it for him.

The years flying in the Navy increased my interest in aviation and that interest would stay with me for life. The patrol flights were long and frequent, each covering hundreds of miles and eight to twelve hours a day. That in-flight time increased to 14 hours during the Cuban Missile Crisis with no days off. It was during these flights that I eventually became aware of an affinity with the aircraft and the laws of physics that were at work to create and maintain sustained flight. I also developed a sense of comfort when in a remote environment, and believe me the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is about as remote a wilderness as you can find.

After leaving the service some years later, I took my new and growing family back home where I worked as a surveyor with the Texas Highway department. We were laying out the new and growing network of interstate highways that were crisscrossing north Texas, as that system grew and evolved across the state and nation. It was especially interesting to me to use the construction (blue line ) drawings prepared by engineers and designers, then calculate the dimensions, angles and coordinates of various control points that would determine the shape and course of the highway, then take that math and then, physically, put those points in the ground.

From there I worked for a major aircraft manufacturing corporation for many years. After the first two I could feel that, by now, familiar restlessness. I felt at the time that I wanted to do something else but what that “something else” would turn out to be I had no idea. But I had a family to take care of then so I could not jump and run as before so I stuck it out for another few years then left to try my hand in other industries. Before making the change from factory manufacturing to the corporate environment there were some radical changes to my persona that had to occur. My personal communication skills were not up to corporate par so I had to go to school and learn what I needed to know. That school was Highway U. with classes and labs conducted on the street so to speak. I would go into a store (clothing , appliances, furniture or especially auto dealerships) with a scenario in my head then engage a salesperson and take mental notes about how that salesperson had greeted me and reacted to what I told him and how he had progressed through the selling process to closing. Later I would play the “I said, he said” game over and over in my head. It wasn’t easy but after a few years it resulted in a small business of my own and more confidence in my ability to re-arrange the landscape of my professional life.

Then the big leap into the volcano of uncertainty starting in residential real estate sales then moving into commercial /corporate property sales and leasing. A few years later I moved into the insurance business. Five years later after a promotion to sales manager and a growing feeling of frustration with the actuarial aspect that is an essential to that world I again changed careers. The time spent in both those ‘training’ industries was immensely valuable and I learned a lot about how businesses work and had good success. So I left the insurance trade and took a temporary job with a sign company. I took that job to give myself time to evaluate where I had been and what I had learned to determine my next move.
Of all of the different types of industries in which I had been involved, the signage industry was the most demanding and complex of them all. When I tell people that I get quizzical looks like “the sign business is complex? It’s mostly construction, how can that be”? But it’s true, If you have a national retail chain and if you want a quality product on each of those locations that is going to last; going to conform with the rest of your ‘big boxes’ with national brand identification continuity; advertising and marketing brand name to logo standards; good readability in all-weather and environmental lighting at all hours of the 24 hour day during all seasons of the year; and (here is a most important factor most buyers don’t consider) be ‘legal’ by conforming with local construction and sign codes, it’s complicated. It’s an industry made up of manufacturing corporations that are almost invisible to the public and yet to fabricate and install those products for national accounts is very complex. The temporary job went away and I was asked to continue on as a permanent employee. So I woke up one morning and went to work at a new job in national accounts signage and went back to sleep 30 years later.

It was during the last few years before retirement that I allowed myself to revisit the ancient fantasy I had in flying. There is an area of wilderness an hours drive away from home where my wife and I had taken our kids when they were young to get away from all things urban and tune in to nature. In that remote area was a rural airport that we would drive by on each adventure and when passing it I would glance, casually, at the comings and goings of the many small craft that called those runways home and would feel a resurgent desire to get back in the air. These family outings lasted for over twenty years then one afternoon as I was driving by that airport alone, I could see the busy air traffic activity and for some reason I stopped dead in the middle of that country road and out of the blue I suddenly found myself wondering what flight lessons would cost.

A couple of weeks later, same road, same airport activity but this time I drove into the airport and made contact with one of the flight instructors there. He was a retired international airlines captain who maintained his addiction to things airborne by teaching others to fly. On my first training flight, this very professional instructor, walked me through the preflight and start up process. He continued pointing out this and that as we taxied to the business end of the runway and upon reaching it we turned and looked straight down the white centerline of the runway. He said “I’ll get us up while you put your hands on the yoke and your feet on each of the rudder pedals so as we take off you will be able to feel what I’m doing”. Ok I thought, that makes sense I guess. So he pushes the throttle handle to full power and we start to move down the runway with him telling me to notice this and that and to feel the controls as he did this and that. Then we lift off and his instruction dialog continues and I’m trying to feel what he’s doing and how the aircraft reacts. Now we are about 100 feet in the air and still climbing out and suddenly he say’s “You have the airplane” and takes his hands off the yoke and holds them to his side. My heart leaps into my throat as I try to keep us straight and the nose up and we continue to climb while he corrects me here and there. We finally gain some altitude, in spite of my green horn ineptness and us going up and down like a porpoise in the Gulf Stream. But he got the result he wanted and I was hooked and spent the next couple of years in flight training for my private pilot license.

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A few years later my wife and I were vacationing in Alaska where we stayed a few days at a B&B in Palmer and while she and the lady running the place became best buds, I took a tour around town and discovered, you guessed it, a very nice municipal airport. So I booked a flight with the owner of a Cessna there for the next day. As we were roaring down the runway for takeoff it occurred to me that this part of my life had now come full circle. From the early years when I wanted to go to Alaska to fly to escape the pain, I was now in Alaska, about to lift off the runway. As we reached rotation speed I eased the yoke back and felt the nose wheel come off the ground and a second later we were airborne and I laughed out loud.

Now, as I look back, I seem to be constantly wondering: Why. Asking God: why did that happen, why did I do that, why didn’t I do that, why did I make it through that, how did I manage to accomplish all that I had done and been to all those places. The one ‘life note’ that makes it all worth while is my family. My wife Becky and my sons Mike and Scot who are good men . Strong, smart and committed to helping their own children. So I guess when I’m gone God will tell me the why and the how. His why and how.

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