Captain Kevin Garrison, author of "Clear Left, I'll Have the Chicken," and known to aviation readers as, Captain Kevin Garrison, stopped by the hangar at Ailerona Muni the other day. He dropped off a short story for our consideration and departed again before the airline discovered one of its Boeing 767s was missing. But, hey, his airline loses billions each quarter, so what's a another hundred mil here and there? So, please give the flight attendant waving the fake seatbelt your fullest attention while Garrison defies gravity and many TSA regulations by letting you, the reader, peak behind the reinforced door to the flight deck.
Thanks, Barney ©
By Kevin Garrison
(originally published in the February 2007 issues of Cessna Flyer and Piper Flyer. Used with permission of the author)
More than seventeen thousand pounds of dead, liquid dinosaurs would be burned into carbon dioxide and water in a long cold line through the skies between Boston and Cincinnati this morning.
Their many million year journey from egg to life to death to slime to petrochemicals to energy and finally to contrail all came to this. They propelled one hundred and sixty odd people home from war, to business meetings, vacations, weddings, divorces, funerals, cruises, colleges, and reunions.
My Jurassic homeboys may have damaged the earth’s environment a little bit as they passed through the hot sections of my engines and broke down into their chemical parts.
In their final roar before they left the scene, my dinosaur benefactors have provided me with a job and a life. Their final conversion from carbon-based life form to vapor in the sky was not an empty sacrifice. These ancient reptiles, while not being very tasty even on their best day, have given me the means to feed the family of an ape descendant named Kevin.
My old ratty captain’s hat is off to every single one of the big green fellas.
Layover mornings all start out like today. My wristwatch went off twenty minutes too late, buzzing me awake and sending me running for a quick shower in a cheap plastic motel tub with a sliver of soap that wouldn’t be enough to lather up an average Plesiosaur. My working day starts off with the melodic sounds of the latest in 5am CNN updates – it seems, according to CNN that another celebrity is on drugs.
Lobby coffee was waiting like a street drug pusher when I came downstairs for pick-up with my crew. “Come on baby, you know you need me,” the pot crooned to me.
Both the pot and I knew that I am a caffeine addict and it slyly poured me a Styrofoam cup load of chemical normalcy. If the government ever mandates that they test for caffeine in our random drug tests, many careers will be over.
The most dangerous part of our day was about to begin. The van ride to the airport can be more hazardous than a magnesium landing gear wheel fire or a flight attendant with your home phone number.
I’ve never been the kind of person to worry too much about flying, but there have been some van rides that have made my breath come out in little short gasps and caused my eyes to roll around in fear like a doomed dinosaur stuck in a tar pit.
A few years ago during a van ride from Manhattan to La Guardia, our combat ready driver jumped out of the vehicle at a blocked intersection and beat the living hell out of another guy’s car with a baseball bat that our driver kept handy under his front seat. My crew and I missed the rest of their little “business meeting” because we were too busy fighting each other for available floor space so we could avoid the bullets we were sure were about to fly.
We luck out today with a normal ride to the airport. It isn’t particularly frightening or even that interesting, but it does have the great feature of hitting every pothole between downtown Boston and the Logan entry ramp.
Early morning at an airport is a scratchy eyed, dark and sobering time. Nothing is open – it is too early even for the Starbucks ® to be plying its wares. If you are hungry for breakfast, let’s hope you like whatever snacks you can find on the airplane.
The passengers all wander around the terminal like wheel weary gerbils, muttering things into cell phones like: “We’re here at the airport” and “I’m not off the ground yet.”
Plus, there is no coffee made in any of the galleys on our 757. Looks like I’ll have to brew it myself. I’ll put two packs of coffee into the brewer instead of one. That ought to wake my crew the hell up. Even the most ambitious and energetic dinosaur wouldn’t be up and about this early.
Once the APU is fired up and the lights are all turned on (and the coffee is brewed) the people shuffle to their assigned seats on our Atari Ferrari, unaware of the fact that a small reptile from the dawn of earth’s history just gave up its essence to heat them up a cup of de-caf.
After they find their seats and we get done telling them all of the ways we can arrest them for doing various things and after we finish telling them what to do if things go wrong and our dead dinosaurs turn on us by burning our wreckage instead of propelling us to the stratosphere we button-up, push-back, and book.
Firing up a 757 is like bringing a metal dinosaur to life. It starts out cold and dark, sitting on a dark ramp. We make it a living, breathing thing after punching a few buttons.
Re-born every flying morning, the 757 lumbers out to the runway like a reluctant and brooding brontosaurus, heading out to munch some half-rotted jungle vegetation before the sun rises.
As we taxi out and fall in line with the rest of the herd our aircraft prepares itself for flight through subtle changes. Leading edge devices quietly slide out on wing. Trailing edge flaps rumble down to fifteen degrees and a whirring motor sets the stabilizer trim. The engines on our dino have to warm up a little, but with this line of lumbering giants awaiting their turn to fly, time should not be a problem.
When it is finally our time to leave the surface of the planet, the seven-five wheels itself smoothly onto the runway and commits a flagrant act of aviation.
When you fly airplanes for a living, taking off is like punching in for the day. Other work, like updating your Jepps, putting new batteries in your two company required flashlights, checking the weather and entering the route into the airplane’s FMS doesn’t count because you don’t actually get paid until the door is shut, the beacon is on and the engines are lit.
We are still drowsy from our previous night’s lobster dinner at Legal Seafood as we climb out of a solid overcast into the feeble early light of a new day. The 757 is a cold blooded creature like the animals that make up its fuel. It takes a while in our climb-out for the heat to finally reach the cockpit as we claw our way up into a chilly, pink-gray sky.
Below us in what other ape descendants on this planet call the “real world,” so-called “normal” people are going to work. They get to see their families every single day and always know for sure that they’ll be home for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and school plays.
To them, weekends are always time off and they are so firmly in the groove of going to work Monday through Friday that they can do it without even thinking. Their jobs and lives are predictable, comfortable and to most of them, dead dinosaurs are something to show your kid in a museum. They never are overly excited or scared.
God, I really pity those people.
My dead dinosaurs aren’t in a museum. They are currently pushing the speed of my 757 up to eighty two percent the speed of sound. Airline pilots work holidays and weekends and more often than not, start their days in the pre-dawn darkness and end their work shift in the murk of unknown motels, thousand of miles from their families.
We wouldn’t be “normal” people if you held a gun to our heads.
We are breaking free of the clouds now, passing twenty thousand feet. The rising sun paints the sky a bright pink. It is a little bumpy now, but my coffee only sloshes a little in the cup. Smarter pilots than this one would have a lid firmly secured to their coffee to prevent spillage. I don’t – I like living on the edge.
Nobody in the back is complaining about the bumps. Most of them are probably asleep and if I turn on the seat belt sign we’ll have to make a PA, which will wake most of them up to tell them what they already know. I leave the seatbelt switch alone.
Our awake passengers that we are carrying above the earth through the largess of rotten reptiles are peering at magazines, fondling cell phones and wondering about such things as their connection in Cincinnati and whether or not this collection of metal parts and ancient dinosaur byproducts will arrive on time.
Ground bound ape descendants don’t get to play tag with pink clouds and get paid for it. They don’t have the nervous acid-stomach feeling of shooting a tight approach during a snowstorm. They don’t deal with thirteen-hour duty days made longer by long lines of fire-breathing thunderstorms. They don’t have to face the blame of the entire country if they screw up on the job, nor do they die a searing death if things go wrong at the office.
Of course, they don’t get to interact with the magic of the clouds or have a close personal relationship with dinosaurs or wear these cool hats like we do.
© Kevin Garrison
About Kevin Garrison:
Captain Kevin Garrison is a storyteller who weaves his unique views on life, politics, and aviation into a presentation that’s sure to amuse, inspire, and possibly even inform.
Kevin’s monthly column on AvWeb.com, The CEO of the Cockpit, reaches hundreds of thousands of readers, and he’s been a longtime contributing editor at IFR magazine. He’s also contributed to: Air & Space Smithsonian, Plane & Pilot, Upside, Salon.com, Flyer Newspapers, Creativity, Writer’s Digest, Biztraveler, Mercator’s World, AOPA pilot, Airline Pilot, US Aviator, Private Pilot, Ace Magazine, Southern Aviator, Equus, Horseplay, The Lexington Herald Leader and a few others.
When it comes to flying he’s done just about everything from banner towing to hauling candidates for Governor and a few dead bodies. He’s flown forest fire missions, carried sky-divers, surveyed turtles, flown air show routines, and has flight engineered, co-piloted and captained transport jets for over fifteen thousand flight hours, most recently as captain on a Boeing 767.
His books, Mad At America --What You Can Do About It? and, Clear Left, I'll Have the Chicken--are available for through his website (see Link). He lives on a small horse farm in Lexington Kentucky (actually, the farm is rather large, but the horses are really, really tiny), thinks that humans are the otters of the universe, and is pretty sure that professional wrestling is real but the rest of the world is bogus.