Taking Flight

Back in the day, when the minimum wage was $1.25/hr., gasoline was $0.25/gal. , and barely edible McDonalds burgers were $0.35/ea., it wasn’t hard to get a job of some kind.  In fact, if you left or were released from a job, you could probably find one within 48 hours as I did many times.

Not all jobs at that level could considered good jobs or starting points for brilliant careers, but a single person like me would at least be able to keep up a place to live and meet normal living expenses and maybe set a little aside and I had my share of both the good and the bad.  But the worst job I ever got was by a referral from the Texas Employment Commission for a job as steward on a private aircraft owned by Fort Worth Pipe and Supply, a well-known oil industry equipment and services firm.

The TEC counsellor I met with had little in the way of details, but the basics sounded good – I would be responsible for the in-flight needs of company executives and their guests and for keeping the aircraft, which was located at a private airstrip just outside Arlington, Texas, clean.  And since I was living in Arlington it wouldn’t be much of a trek.

Okay, I thought, and although I didn’t really get what keeping the aircraft clean meant I went for the interview and was hired, with instructions to get the details from the pilot the next day at his office in the hangar.

When I arrived at the hangar I wasn’t terribly impressed because as hangars go, it was strictly C47low-rent and seemingly unworthy of a leading oil industry supplier.  Just an over-sized Quonset hut open on both ends with a small built-in and air-conditioned box of an office for the pilot and co-pilot at the far end plus an unpainted and un-branded aircraft out in mid-hangar which I knew from childhood to be a C-47 Skytrain.

I was met by the pilot – a gruff and seemingly congenitally irritable man – at the aircraft’s staircase and given the Cook’s tour.

The aft cabin of the aircraft was no more impressive than the hangar.  It had been converted from that of the Spartan multi-purpose utility transport I knew to a carpeted seating area sporting a sofa and several overstuffed easy chairs, all clad in cloth, each with a small table mounted to one side or the other, a magazine rack with the latest issues of a few trades, and a variety of lounge accessories such as coasters and ashtrays.

Behind a wood-panelled partition between the aft cabin and the flight deck there was a small storage area and liquor cabinet, a coat closet, the head, and minimal accommodations for the steward.

While showing me around, the pilot rattled off the duties and the terms of employment and I have to say that if it’s true that the Devil’s in the details, he and his whole fuckin’ extended family were in these:

1.  Attending to the passengers’ needs meant that I was to learn the names of every executive and guest, remember their preferences in drink and smokes, and ensure such were on board for the flight.  It also meant that I was to speak only when spoken to and that I would have to be polite and deferential to the point of reverence to frequently abrasive oil industry luminaries, each with more money than God.

2.  Keeping the aircraft clean meant both inside and out.  The cabin was to be kept as neat and tidy as it was at that moment and the exterior was to be cleaned without assistance at the end of each flight using chemical cleaning agents and equipment provided.

3.  Compensation would be a straight-up $1.25/hr. flat while in flight and when tending to the aircraft before and after a flight if I was to be aboard and on it’s return if if I was not.  There would be no time and a half for overtime and no coverage of food and lodging at any destination city or for the cleaning of the company jump-suit I was required to wear.  And company benefits would kick-in only on completion of a six month probationary period.

4.  My normal hours would be 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM with an unpaid 1 hour lunch break and I was to be on call 24/7 with no more than 30 minutes to appear ready for duty if called in.

5.  The hangar office was off-limits unless invited in.

Now, I ain’t stupid, but if I were it would still have been obvious that everything about the place, the plane, and the job was being done on the cheap and paraphrasing Woody Guthrie, I wasn’t gonna be treated this way.

Still, I was there and I was expected to do the work, which on that day meant cleaning the exterior of that plane, something which according to the pilot hadn’t been done in 600 flight hours.

And out of pure spite I did so –  all 63 ft 9 in from nose to tail and all 95 ft 6 in from wing tip to wing tip – within my one 9 hour shift and I never went back.

I mean, washing cars could get me ten bucks a day in tips, but ten bucks for washing a fuckin’ C-47 on my own?

Get real…