Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Circle (Part Two)

We left off in April 2002, just after my promotion. From 04:00 to 14:00, Monday through Friday, I had full responsibility for DMC's warehouse and distribution operations in Albuquerque and northern New Mexico. This included receiving and sorting the day's pharmaceutical shipments, dispatching our aircraft to all corners of New Mexico, and overseeing the driver who had taken over my Los Alamos route. In practice, I was often at work by 03:30 and didn't leave until closer to 5 pm. There was seldom time to even sit down on the job, unless I needed to grab an Aspire and cover for an absent driver.

It didn't take very long at all for me to tire of this routine. Everything I'd appreciated as a driver -- the open road, the people -- was absent from my new position, and I soon determined the bump in pay wasn't really worth the added stress. I knew I was near the end of my rope, but I didn't want to leave the company outright. I truly had grown to appreciate the job we did, and the people I worked with.

Fortunately, I'd made an impression on the manager who oversaw the Customer Service department. A fair amount of lobbying on her part convinced Ops to let me transfer over, though not until the middle of August -- about three weeks away. I agreed to suffer through it; at least there was light at the end of the tunnel.
However, it was just three days later that my world changed forever, with the words "we need you to cover a route in Farmington." Our regular driver needed to take some time off, and no spare drivers were available to fill in. Considering my lame-duck status in my current position, I was the obvious choice.

I thought I'd be driving a van up there and back -- making for a very long day -- but instead the Site Manager handed me a spare headset. "You'll fly up and back on the 104," he said, "and use her truck while you're up there."

This made me a little nervous. I'd always been fascinated by airplanes, but I'd never flown on a plane smaller than a 737. (For that matter, I was 16 before I flew for the first time -- on United, from Albuquerque to Omaha and back.) Plus, I'd seen our planes. Hangar queens they're not.

Nevertheless, a sense of adventure followed me to the airport early the next morning. As I parked my Focus in the Seven Bar parking lot, a FedEx cargo jet (an Airbus A300) roared down the runway, its twin turbofans shaking the ground for a few seconds. A flush came over me; that seemed like a good omen.

That feeling changed somewhat as I walked up to the twin-engined aerial chariot that would take me to the Four Corners. N591DM had clearly seen better days over its 33 years, the once-proud white-and-burgundy paint job severely faded and chipping almost everywhere. I knew outer beauty wasn't necessarily an indication of how well the plane was maintained... but, well, some shiny paint and gleaming propellers still would have been nice.

I shook hands with the pilot, then stepped aside as he loaded the freight and did his preflight check. I watched with some alarm as he struggled with the starboard landing light, which refused to descend from its housing under the right tip tank; a solid smack with the palm of his hand finally coerced the light downward.

With his preflight complete, the pilot motioned for me to climb in after him. Both cabin doors on the Cessna 310 are on the right side; after I was seated, the pilot reached across me and slammed the door shut. "I have better leverage than you would," he explained. "It takes a solid pull to latch it all the way."

For all the worrisome quirks One-Delta-Mike had presented so far, I was heartened when both engines fired up on cue. I followed along as best I could as the pilot first called Clearance Delivery to obtain our route to Farmington, then ground control for our taxi instructions. I could feel my heart racing as we rolled closer to the departure end of the runway. I wasn't scared, really, but at the same time I honestly didn't know what to expect. In a sense, that pretty much described how I'd lived my life up to that point -- not knowing what to expect, not necessarily scared, but only because I wasn't really expecting very much.

Years later, I would write how we can spend our lives "drifting idly through our existence... down the paths of least resistance and lesser stimulation, focusing only on those things that ensure we have enough novelty in our lives so that we may want to survive to see tomorrow, that give us just enough momentary satisfaction to continue on down the road to Who Cares What." It sounds pretentious (because it is) but that entire sentence came from experience. That was me the morning of August 8, 2002, as we taxied into position for takeoff...

...And that same wandering, pessimistic, rudderless approach to life ended, for me, the moment the wheels of that Cessna 310Q lifted off Runway 3.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Circle (Part One)

All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

All my life's a circle;
But I can't tell you why;
Seasons spinning round again;
The years keep rollin' by...
"Circle," by Harry Chapin

Today was a pretty crummy day at work. The kind of day in which all the victories I've managed to amass in the past six months now feel completely hollow, useless, and not worth the effort. Time will tell whether that feeling sticks around (past history tells me it won't) but suffice to say I felt a dark cloud surrounding me as I walked out the door tonight.

However, the cloud did manage to lift as I left the miles behind me. Part of that was thanks to listening to some old podcasts of mine -- reliving past glories, I guess, from back when I was at least somewhat relevant to aviation journalism -- but most of the doom and gloom waned as I reflected on the series of events that have brought me to this point in time.

It's kind of a neat story, really, and telling it always makes me appreciate life. And, as is often the case, it all started with a girl. And a breakup.


July 2001. I'm living in my rented guest house on El Pueblo. I'm 25, unemployed, living off savings (along with more than a few parental handouts) and feeling generally sorry for myself. I've also just broken-up with a girl... for the second time. After reentering my orbit for a few fleeting moments earlier that summer, she'd found me very much the same insecure, awkward and needy mess I'd been before. I'm self-aware enough to know that... and to realize I'm depressed, directionless, and in desperate need of a shower.

Others see that, too. "Get out of the house," my friends say. "Go find something to do... preferably something that also pays at least a little money!" my folks add. "OK, seriously, are you ever going to leave your house again?" my landlady asks, with more than a little worry in her voice.

Finally, those messages ring through. My friend Lee recommends a job he only recently left, as a courier for a company called DMC. "It's great if you like to drive... which you do... and like to talk to people... which you used to," he says.

With a copy of my driving record in-hand, I fill out an application... and am immediately interviewed by the manager, Carlos. I'm sure that interview consisted of more than, "have you ever been convicted of any felonies and can you drive a 5-speed?" but that's the part of it I remember. A few days later -- July 25 -- I'm riding along in a van filled with bank bags and medical totes, heading up to Los Alamos and Espanola in the wee hours of the morning. By the following Monday, Route 112 is mine.

Me & 333, outside the Radisson Santa Fe. February 2002
The next eight months are rather fulfilling, and seldom dull. The long drive from Albuquerque suits me well; I average right around 250 miles round-trip, five-days-a-week. Some days take me as far North as Angel Fire. Most days I'm in a brand-new Toyota Tacoma (shown above) that I soon adopt as my own. I'm more proud of that truck than I am of my POS LeBaron convertible, and keep it spotless -- even waxing it during my hour of down-time in Espanola. Playing old cassettes in the tape deck helps me work on my singing voice... and work through some personal issues as well.

I also rediscover how much I enjoy talking to people, and find the challenge of keeping on a tight schedule to be invigorating (particularly in winter, while maneuvering a lightly-loaded Econoline up the hill to Los Alamos.)

Driving that route was just what I needed at that time in my life. By April 2002, however, I felt that time had mostly passed. So, I went after a promotion, to morning warehouse supervisor. I got the job...

...And soon realized that was a big, big mistake. But that's a story for tomorrow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In Thanks

Sunday morning, I woke up in a hotel room in Dallas. I knew immediately where I was. Low-hanging cloud cover spread outside my window on the 24th floor, and even in the air-conditioned suite I could still feel the telltale heaviness of humidity permeating the atmosphere.

I tried to soak it in all I could... because, as I have on each visit back since I moved back to New Mexico in July 2007, I truly felt I was back home.

I don't fit Albuquerque well. I've always known that; at first I held that against the city, and its citizens. I'm mature enough now to realize we're simply not a good match for one another. I just don't function well in the Land of Manana. I much prefer a fast-paced environment and being surrounded by five million people.

While I certainly appreciate the beauty that New Mexico has to offer -- and acknowledge all the faults of a big city -- I still prefer concrete, freeways, and even traffic jams over the Sandia mountains. I wish I still lived in Dallas. Alas, I've also resigned myself to being back in Albuquerque for the foreseeable future, due to sheer necessity.

My family doesn't function very well when it's spread apart. Again, I also used to hold that against them... but today there's simply too little room for resentment to creep in. My parents are as loving, as supportive, and as gracious with what they have as anyone could ever ask for. They are worth the sacrifices I've had to make. Period.

I am also mindful of the sacrifices others have had to make, and the simple truth that it could be worse. Much as it was in December 2009, things still remain very difficult for a good many people. For all the talk of a rebounding economy, few I know have seen those signs yet.

And even those I know who don't fear where the next paycheck will come from are dealing with more personal losses. A good friend lost her mother to breast cancer earlier this year... and just last week, her brother died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. I wouldn't trade places with her... while also knowing all-too well the years ahead will bring similar tragedies for those close to me, due solely to the cruel passage of time.

But that time is, hopefully, far off... and today I chose to focus on the positives, and what I have to be thankful for this year. I still have my health, my heart, and my happiness. This year has also shown me that I have some wonderful, caring friends.

So, yeah, things could be better... but then again, how many people have flown to Scottsdale in a B-17 this year?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today is Veterans Day

On November 11, 2005, (ir)regular Aero-News correspondent, features writer, and all-around good guy Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien wrote a short and simple note on the meaning of Veterans Day to our country... and, perhaps, what it should be.

Hognose -- who has seen action in some of the crummiest parts of the world, in faithful service to the United States Army -- has a way of capturing pure emotion in relatively few words. He wrote this article quickly, almost a "throwaway" even, in the short time between the end of that year's AOPA Expo and the start of the National Business Aviation Association conference in Orlando.

Back then, I was just 11 days into my job at Aero-News, and "green" in almost every sense of the word. I'll admit that on that day in 2005, I was probably more grateful for the content to post on the site, than I actually considered the meaning of the words themselves... but I did recognize this as a special piece, which is why for every year after I made a point to repost Kevin's article on Veterans Day.

That small tradition of mine ended with the end of my tenure in Zoomland. That saddens me... but at least I may still link to it here. It's my small tribute to our veterans, and to our active soldiers. I will never know the challenges they face each and every day... but I can pause, remember, and contemplate. 

May we earn this...