Friday

KLYDE'S FIRST DAY



February 15, 1978… a day which will live in infamy… okay, well… maybe not. Anyhow for your reading enjoyment, this is what the day that the first Klyde Morris cartoon appeared in public was like for me; the newborn cartoonist plus some immediate results and non-results.

Keep in mind that I was a second trimester freshman at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where “The Avion” was the very popular student newspaper. Wednesday was always “Avion Day” and stacks of the newspapers were dumped at strategic locations all over campus at about lunch time. For the rest of the afternoon when you showed up for class EVERYONE had an Avion open and was reading it at their desk. It was not at all uncommon for the class instructor to be sitting there with an open Avion before class started. So, when you put an item into the Avion, everyone from the lowest freshman to the university president was going to see it. That was the environment into which I submitted my first cartoon strip.

The Avion staff had snuck that first cartoon strip into the paper because the idiot editor, the late Ray Katz, had ideas to make the cartoon what he wanted rather than what I created. It went to the printer on Monday night and after I waited all day Tuesday, it finally appeared on Wednesday the 15th.

Getting off the bus from our off-campus dorm (a motel out by the interstate called the Royal Scottish Inn, and in Riddle speak “The RSI”) I snapped up an Avion and headed off to my Nav. II class at the flight line complex. I took a moment to make sure the cartoon looked okay. After all, I’d hand drawn all of the frames and done the whole cartoon with a black Bic pen, so who knew what it would print up as. To my surprise it looked just fine. Now, however, came the real acid test- what would be the reaction… if any.

Strolling into the classroom I got my first taste of the best part of being a cartoonist… no one knows who you are! Since my last name is so hard for teachers to pronounce, on the first day of every class the instructors took one look at it and asked if they could just call me by my first name when they called roll. Of course my registered first name isn’t “Wes” so when the call went out for “Walter” I just said “here” and that was it. Thus, Wes Oleszewski never answered the roll in any of my early college classrooms. Now, I could sit in class with anonymity and watch the others as they opened their Avions with my cartoon strip at the bottom of page 2. There were no other cartoons residing in the Avion at that time.

As the guy in front of me opened to page 2 he looked right at the cartoon… and then went to the sports section without as much as a snicker. Nuts! Next over beside me another guy sat down, opened his Avion and then went directly to the fraternities page. Crap! The guy two rows up opened to page two, then folded his paper over to read page 3. Shit! Everyone that I watched seemed to just skim right past my cartoon. There wasn’t a single snicker or “Hey look at this,” or anything… no reaction what-so-ever. In my chemistry class that afternoon, it was the same exact nothing! I got back on the bus to the RSI and no one there seemed to notice my cartoon either. I dragged myself dejectedly to Room 182 and flopped into my bunk. I was sure that my cartoon had bombed. When my roommate got back he said that he hadn’t even looked at it. Gee, that helped. My other roommate just shrugged and said, “Yeah, I saw it.”

Ugh.

Late that afternoon we got a rain shower that moved through which added to my gloom as I boarded the bus back to campus to have dinner. As the bus stopped at the doors to the University Center, the bus doors opened and I saw a rain-soaked Avion resting in the gutter opened to my cartoon. The guy who got off the bus ahead of me stepped on the cartoon.

Cutting one’s wrists with a butter knife from the cafeteria was an option, but with my luck the paramedics would get there in time to save me. I considered that the food alone may just do me in. Then it dawned on me that in the strip I’d lampooned not only William Stafford, the director of admissions, but worst of all Jack Hunt the University President. Stafford probably couldn’t do me a lot of harm, but President Hunt could boot my smart ass right out of the school with little more than an afterthought. Now I’d put my college life and my whole future at risk over a bombed cartoon! I figured I was deader meat than the over-cooked cheese burger sitting in front of me.

The following day I went to the Avion office for their weekly meeting. I just knew that Katz was going to carve me up in front of everyone… but he wasn’t there. In fact no one was there but Keith Kollarik the assistant editor. He told me that there would be no paper this week because Monday was President’s Day. I mentioned that the first strip was a dud and he just turned and said, “It was fine, we’ll need another one for the next issue.”



Now I was puzzled.

What I would not actually realize until the following autumn was that I’d been judging the reaction through a keyhole. Where I was not looking, the reaction was that the strip was a major hit. So, I spent the rest of that spring 1978 trimester with my head down writing cartoons, turning them in and then running for cover. Meanwhile, the other students, the faculty, the staff, the administrators and most importantly President Hunt, loved the strips from the beginning.

I should have been tipped off when I got a message in my mailbox saying that Dr. Jeff Ledewitz, the VP of Student Affairs, wanted to see me in his office. I ignored that. Soon a memo came up to the Avion office telling me that Dr. Ledewitz wanted to see me. I vanished into the student body as best I could. Finally, Dr. Ledewitz’s secretary May, came walking into the Avion office and she had my photo in her hand! Looking around she spotted me. “You!” she pointed, “Come with me, Dr. Ledewitz wants to see you.” That was it… I was getting my butt kicked out of school. But all he wanted to do was tell me how much he loved the cartoons- especially the ones about him. Ooooook. (Many years later he told me that when we met I was not at all what he expected me to be. Instead of a wild and crazy cartoonist, I was this meek quiet guy. I told him that was because I was expecting him to kick my ass out of school.) As I left his office after that first meeting he had one final word of advice, “Oh, by the way, President Hunt’s looking for you.” A wave of doom swept over me.

About a week later I was coming down the staircase in the UC making my way from the Avion to the cafeteria when I looked up and saw President Hunt coming through the doors at the north end of the building! AKK! I knew that President Hunt knew every single student either by name, face, reputation or all of the above- so he’d know me in a heartbeat! When I got to the bottom of the stairs I ducked around the corner and pinned myself against the wall. I stood there hardly breathing until I was sure he’d passed, then I bee-boped out and headed to the cafeteria to fetch my morning tea. As I passed one of the pillars just outside the entrance, an arm reached out and nabbed me by the elbow! “GOTCHA!” Hunt barked. I probably could have paid off my tuition with the solid gold brick that I shit at that moment. But, just like Dr. Ledewitz, all President Hunt wanted to do was tell me how much he enjoyed my cartoons. He then offered me, “an open door” to his office to drop in and talk about anything. Yes, I often took him up on that. (A quarter of a century later, Dean Rockett told me that I was only one of two students that Hunt ever extended that privilege to. Hell, I thought he did it for every student.) Many times we disagreed on subjects, but when it came to “our” university we saw eye to eye. In one such visit in the early 1980s he said that I didn’t realize just how much power I had on campus. I scoffed big time- “ME… power… HA! I’m just a workin’ class Polack kid from the wrong side of Saginaw, Michigan who draws funny pictures that happen to show up in the school paper… I don’t even know what power means,” I told him. He’d always lean back in his chair when he went into teaching mode- and as he did that he said, “If you drew a cartoon that told everyone to break the windows out of the University Center, the next morning I’d get calls from campus security telling me there were windows broken.” I was shocked, “Good Lord,” I half gasped, “I’d NEVER do ANYTHING like that!” President Hunt smiled and said, “Exactly. That’s why you’re the right guy to be doing what you’re doing right now.” He went on to explain that our university was going through growing pains and would continue to do so for many years to come. As long I was lampooning him and the other characters and events on campus, the students would read it and say, “Yeah! That hits them where it counts,” rather than taking their frustration out on the property, the staff and the campus security. President Hunt gave me a wider view of our university and my cartoon strip, as well as my own, place in it.


From that point on, I saw Klyde Morris as something much more important than just a cartoon- plus I was more careful about where I aimed it.

Monday

WILL THE FALCON 9 HEAVY FLY?



For anyone who may not know it, I’m NOT a SpaceX fanboy, or an Elon Musk zealot- not by any stretch of the imagination.  The big Hollywood style Dragon 2.0 unveil and the testimony in front of the Congress with the launch dates that could never be kept, the crowd of cheerleaders at SpX headquarters for each launch and the Tesla payload publicity stunt didn’t impress me at all. So, you may ask, do I think the Falcon 9 Heavy will fly?

Yes.

There may be a few scrubs and perhaps a delay or even a rollback, but I think that the big bird will quite likely fly and may actually complete its planned profile. Normally, in modern times as rocketry has grown up, it is a pretty good bet that the first launch of a new vehicle will be successful. I’m sure that the staff at SpX has looked carefully at every little detail and they are highly confident that this new configuration will indeed fly successfully.

Keep in mind also that the catastrophic Falcon 9 failures of the past involved the second stage and not the first stage. Now SpX has taken 3 of those pretty reliable first stages and strapped them together. Additionally, even though there are a lot of engines burning at once- the vehicle is NOT the N-1. This one has been fired on a test stand which was a luxury that the Soviets never had with the N-1. Nearly all of the N-1’s shortcomings would have shown up in a static firing. This is also NOT a Saturn V. Comparing the Saturn V to the Falcon 9 Heavy, as some have tried to do, isn’t comparing apples to oranges… it’s comparing apples to a grape.


The time when the glitches turn into bitches comes not in the first flight, but in subsequent flights. It comes when corners are cut, schedule pressures get high, management over rules engineering and the faults of sub contractors find their way into tiny little parts. So the time to watch for the fireball that is three times larger than any that SpX has made before, probably won’t be tomorrow. 

If it is, however, let’s hope it’s far enough out to sea so that any of the pieces over about 8 pounds won’t make as far as the Saturn V Center where they can actually do some damage.

Wednesday

AN OLD PILOT'S LESSON IN LIFE No. 133:

 THE GYM


One day, while in the middle of a trip as a corporate pilot I found myself flying with a much younger captain. Just for anonymity, we’ll call him “Luke” as in Luke Skywalker- the original from the earliest scenes in the first Star Wars movie; young and a good pilot but far short on knowing what the big world of airlines was like, yet yearning to get into that first airliner cockpit as well as other things. Me, well I’d come into that corporate job with three airlines in my past, a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science and a master’s degree in Who Gives A Shit, but Luke and I flew very well together- he was a lot of fun.

On this trip, however, we came off of an overnight at DFW and got a notice that our trip had been changed. Now we were headed to San Francisco to RON and pick up another customer the following afternoon. Looking at the dispatch Luke got giddy. Indeed our cheap-assed management had forgone our usual nice hotel in SanFran and stuck us in a crew hotel across from the United facility.

“Look’it this,” he nearly giggled, “have you ever been to this hotel?”

“Yeah,” I groaned, “been there a few times.”

“This place is crawlin’ with babe flight attendants,” he went on having not heard me at all.

I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses. Having the reputation as the most happily married man in aviation, I was far more interested in how many cable channels the room’s TV received- and from what I could recall- this hotel only had about 9. Yet as we went to the airport, got the aircraft and headed for SanFran Luke went on and on about the babes at the hotel. His zero knowledge of how airline crews actually work together and hotel together, plus having apparently seen a few too many movies led him to the fantasy that this was some sort of a meat market as opposed to a crummy crew hotel.

“The hotel gym is where they all hang out,” he began to school me where I didn’t need to be schooled, “ya’ just walk by the place and ya’ can see ‘em in there.”

I told him that he could do whatever he wanted, but I was gonna slam-latch tonight.

“No way pal,” he insisted, “yer’ goin’ with me to the gym, I don’t wanna be there alone, it’ll look like I’m just there for the chicks.”

“But you ARE just there for the ladies,” I scowled, “right?”

“Well it’ll just be cooler if yer’ there too,” he insisted, “this is an order, you’ve gotta be there, you’ve gotta do this.”

Now, anyone who really has known me for a long time will tell you that the last thing in the world that you want to ever say to me is any version of, “…you’ve GOT to do this.” The results will not be happy for the person saying it. In fact I actually take someone saying, “I’m gonna kill you,” better.

Yet all the way to SanFran and on the van ride to the hotel, Luke said it over and over. Then he gave me a time to meet him at the hotel gym.

Now, gyms and I do not get along. I have, in fact, so many old hockey bangs and dings that even the treadmill set on low makes me hurt. I’ve always said that if you ever see me running down the street you’ll know that the guy ahead of me just stole my wallet, and the only time I even enter a hotel gym is if the pool runs out of towels. So, up to my room I went- slam-latch!

At the appointed time I get a call from Luke; he’s in the gym and there are “babes” there. He wants me in there RIGHT NOW and he’s not kidding.

Okay…fine.

I took out an old pair of cotton running shorts that were at least a decade out of style and put them on. Then I took my black frame sunglasses and using my glasses tool, popped out the lenses than added a band aid wrapped around the nose bridge to give the proper nerd effect. I wore my uniform T-shirt and my black socks and black uniform shoes. Dressed like a total dweeb (which isn’t far from my normal look anyhow)- I walked to the gym… fortunately, it was on my floor, so no elevator ride was involved. Bursting through the door I gave Luke an oh-shit moment that he’ll never forget- but that was just the start.

Sticking out my chest like a rooster I gave a hello to the three young ladies in the gym as I strutted over to the free weights. I proceeded to perform a bit that I saw Michael Richards do on the old TV show “Fridays” where his dweeb character “Dick” shows up in the gym and tries to impress the locals.

“Hey there girls,” I crowed, “I’m Wes and Luke here is my captain. We’re corporate jet-jocks” I boastfully sighed aloud. “He told me that I just HAD to be here and check out the (winking clownishly) action.”

Grabbing a 10 pounder I struggled just to make it move as I grunted loudly.

“Oh yeah,” I groaned straightening up and leaving the weight behind, “that felt great.”

By this time Luke had his head in his hands mumbling something about “gonna kill” me.

Next I moved on to the treadmill and bumbled frantically as the three young ladies stood in the corner and giggled with delight. Then I moved to the water cooler, filled a cup and poured it all over my neck and shoulders.

“Whooo” I groaned, “workin’ up a real sweat.”

Just as Luke stood up to grab me and drag me out of there I nabbed a towel and wrapped it around my neck and asked if I should go to my room where I wanted to be, or if he wanted to pump some more iron with me? Hanging his head he said quietly that I could go now.

Pointing a pistol finger at the young ladies I winked some more and said, “I’d give ya’ my room number… but it’s unlisted,” and I swaggered away. 

They laughed and said “Bye, bye.”

Dinner that night was a fairly somber occasion as he said he never wanted to see me in the gym again. I said that was the idea in the first place. By the following morning he’d cooled down quite a bit as we sat in the lobby waiting for our van to the FBO. Crews were coming and going and suddenly from behind me stepped one of the three flight attendants who’d been in the gym. Luke just groaned. She was accompanied by another young lady FA as she addressed me,

“I was just telling Tammy here about your little show in the exercise room yesterday,” she snickered as she handed me her business card, “if you’re ever laid over in Denver, give me a call.” Her card had a phone number scrolled on the back. “Me too,” the other FA giggled as she handed me her card, also with a phone number on the back.

They both just giggled and headed out the door giving a flurty wave before getting on the UAL bus.

I thought Luke was gonna pass out. 

After their bus drove off I took both cards and stuck them into his shirt pocket.

“Lesson in life,” I told him, “humor beats macho… every time.”


Friday

Christmas Break 1977- 40 years ago

Christmas Break was a magical term as my first trimester at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University came to an end in 1977. When I’d started the tri in September I didn’t give a thought about getting back home, but by November it was all I could think about. Finally, on December 15th, 40 years ago today, that day had arrived.

My former roommate, Mark “Doc” Holliway and I had booked our flight to Flint together- mainly because I’d never flown on an airliner before and I wanted to travel with someone who knew the ropes… like Doc. (I stuck him with that nickname because when his freshman packet of checks came from the Sun Bank printer they read Mark “Holliday” rather than “Holliway.” He turned around and nicknamed me “Hawkeye.” Lucky for me I’ve never had a nickname that stuck). Like good ERAU students we asked for a flight itinerary that had as many takeoffs and landings as the Eastern Airlines CSR could pack into it. Thus, we went from Daytona to Atlanta, to Chicago- switched to United and flew from Chicago to Muskegon and then to Flint, Michigan. The adventure took almost the entire day and we enjoyed every second of it.

When we were on the ground in Muskegon we went up to the cockpit and talked to the crew. The UAL 737s in those days had an FE, so there was lots of room in the cockpit. They told us about the VOR approach that they had to fly into Muskegon because the ILS was out and about hiring curves and stuff. The chat went on for quite a while- then the FE came dashing in from the terminal sayin’ “We were supposed to be off the ground seven minutes ago! They wanna know what the holdup is!” Well, the captain just said “whoops, you guys better scoot- we’ll make up a good story.” Mark and I just scrambled back and nabbed two of the many empty seats and strapped in. On the way to Flint the captain came on the PA and gave some BS announcement about ATC delays and told everyone we’d burn some extra fuel and make up the time. Oh yeah… the days before de-regulation and ACARS… you could get away with lots of stuff. Doc and I just snickered.

After landing in Flint we taxied toward the terminal and Doc was at the window seat.

“Holy cow!” he exclaimed, “There’s a huge banner hanging up there that says "Welcome Home Wes!”

Looking past him I could see it strung up on the rail of the terminal’s observation deck with several people waving at us. He said that it must be for me and I said that unless there was another Wes on the plane, he was probably right. As it turned out a long-time young lady pal of mine, JL, had made the sign and rode down from Saginaw with my parents to meet me. Considering that my relationship with my steady girlfriend of nearly three years, Debbie, had evaporated by long distance over the past three months, JL was a great sight to see.

Me on December 15th, 1977- happy to be back in Michigan and lookin' forward to getting back on my skates!


This was the biggest welcome at an airport that I’d ever get. Of course that goes with the territory. As a pilot, you are always arriving at and walking into terminals and no one ever gives you a second glance. You do, however, get to witness a lot of welcomes like the one I had back in 1977.

The following day I drove to Kalamazoo to pick up my sister from Western Michigan University and that evening we all went to the Saginaw Gears hockey game. JL had posted my banner high up on the arena wall among all of the booster club banners. After the game the Gears radio announcer, Wally Shaver, saw me in Zamboni alley and put two and two together. He said he’d been wondering all night who “Wes” was and why he was being welcomed to the arena. Now it finally dawned on him that I was home from school. That was a pretty good laugh.

During the Christmas break I ate cookies, chowed on Mom’s home cooking and even played a pick-up hockey game. I was in mid-season form, or so it felt. We had a Christmas party at JL’s house and a bunch of the Gears players attended- primarily because her brother-in-law was one of the players. Meanwhile, Michigan provided plenty of snow for a white Christmas. About the only downer was when I had to drive down to Novi and meet Deb for the last time so we could exchange personal items that we were both holding. I never saw her again, but all of those love letters made great kindling in my folk’s wood stove later on. By the way- don’t feel sorry for me. I can safely say that every guy who came to ERAU that trimester and had a steady girlfriend back home saw the relationship crash and burn. Either that or they dropped out of school and went back home to her. In that era there was a fad where when you went away from your sweetie you could first buy matching pendants shaped like a heart or a coin zigzag cut in half. So when you were reunited you’d put the two halves back together and make it a whole… how sickeningly romantic. Personally. I didn’t have one because I never wear chains around my neck, but lots of guys had them. By the middle of the trimester you started seeing those frigging things tossed everywhere around campus- in the grass, in the parking lot, in the mote, in the gutter… I even saw one, (no foolin’) in a urinal out at the flightline restroom. That must have been really bad break-up. The worst incident was when a pal of mine and I went bicycle riding and as we were coasting through the RSI dorm parking lot one of the room telephones came flying through a window as the guy in the room was screaming, “You rotten cheating f$#%ing bitch!” At least my relationship died a quiet death.

As the days of my Christmas break began to expire a friend of mine from high school held a New Year’s Eve party and I attended. There were a lot of old friends from my high school class there and it was a real blast. Thus ended the year 1977. Four days later that great Christmas break came to an end as well. I did not want to get on that aircraft and fly back to the ERAU pressure-cooker, but I did it anyhow. Oddly after my summer break I couldn't wait to get back to the university and keep flying. I had realized that visiting the people back home was pleasant, but I no longer belonged in Mom and Dad’s basement.


It’s just too darned hard to punch holes in the sky from there.

Thursday

MOON BURGER



Thanksgiving break at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the autumn of 1977 was a bit strange. It was my first Thanksgiving away from home and I was dreadfully homesick. To make matters worse my long time girlfriend back home was trading me in for parties at Western Michigan University, bong hits and red Solo cups full of temporary feel-good. Add to that the normal meat-grinder / pressure-cooker of attending college at ERAU and I was pretty beat. Thus, my pals and I decided on an excursion to Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving day as good medication for the bunch of us. I’d been looking forward to that adventure for nearly a week.

By late November the huge crowd of 2,500 freshmen that had invaded the campus at the beginning of the term had thinned a good bit. Classrooms where there was almost standing room only, now had a number of empty seats. That number seemed to grow every day. Our dorm, the “RSI” or Royal Scottish Inn motel, where we had been packed in by three to a room in the final week of August now had some solo rooms and some vacant rooms. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I went to campus and found that in my Foundations class there were exactly seven of us in attendance. My English class was cancelled and my late night Reading and Comprehension class, which was a pain in the ass non-credit bullshit class intended to increase my reading speed (which instead soaked me for some extra tuition dollars) had its door locked. Apparently the upperclassman who proctored it had split early for Thanksgiving break. In fact, everyone who could bug out for the break, did bug out. It was the first time I’d ever seen the campus nearly vacant- that was a bit strange.

On Thanksgiving day five of us piled into our dorm neighbor Russ’ land-boat car and motored our way to the Magic Kingdom. For most of the guys it was their first time, but I had been there in February of 1973 on a family Florida vacation. Of course in 1973 not all of the attractions were fully open. By 1977, the park was in full swing. We parked the land-boat in the Goofy lot and jumped the tram to to the monorail and the main gate. A 1977 “12 Adventure” ticket book was $9.50 and contained “A” “B” “C” “D” and “E” tickets. For those of you who did not “do Disney” in the ticket era; “E” tickets were the good stuff, “D” tickets were the fairly fun stuff, “C” tickets were the stuff you did when you ran out of “E” and “D” tickets, “B” tickets were for the stuff you did because you didn’t wanna leave yet or spend any more money and “A” tickets were the ones that always went home with you and lived in a drawer forever.

For ERAU students the one place that you could go to and actually fully escape the pressure-cooker was Disney World. Almost everyone went once each term and some went more than once. There you could forget classes, tests, prog-checks and just be gone for a day. You could even forget how much you wanna kill one of your roommates. It was a true escape and we strolled around without a care- for a change.

For my Thanksgiving dinner I had a Tomorrow Land moon burger and large fries as well as an iced tea. It probably cost me as much as going to the store and buying a whole turkey, but it came with the privilege of eating while watching Michael Iceberg performing live. He covered the Moody Blues “Dear Diary” in a great fashion.

As the time for park closing drew near our driver, Russ, remembered a critical piece of information. He told us that he suddenly remembered that his car was nearly out of gas! Of course he shared this fact with us after we ALL had completely spent every last cent that we had. Now we wandered around the park trying to figure out how in the hell we were gonna get all the way back to Daytona. We were totally devoid of ideas until my roommate Mike came out of the Arcade waving a ten dollar bill over his head! He had been walking around looking of change in the machine return slots and spotted the tenner laying on the floor under a pinball machine. Four of us rejoiced, but Russ, who was so Midwest that we other Midwesterners noticed, insisted that it didn’t belong to us and we had to put it back where Mike found it. Russ nearly got the shit kicked out of him at that moment. Of course we headed home with ten bucks worth of gas in Russ’ land-boat.

I’m 100% sure that our Thanksgiving trip to Disney gave me the boost that I needed to get me through the rest of that first trimester at ERAU. Of course a huge percentage of my freshman class went home for Thanksgiving and never returned. After that break there were A LOT of empty seats in the classrooms, because once back home a lot of guys didn’t want to come back to the pressure-cooker. That’s what led to the saying that ERAU was the easiest place to get into, but the hardest place to finish. I filled my place in my classes right up until Christmas break and returning to Michigan.

When I told my mom that I’d had a moon burger for Thanksgiving dinner- she cried saying, “Don’t you dare ever suffer like that again.” I told her it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’d ever had.


She never really did understand why I love moon burgers… at Disney.

Sunday

If your check bounces, so do you.

As a freshman in the Aeronautical Science department at Embry-Riddle in 1977, that first month on campus was somewhat dizzy. It’s sort of like stepping from the comfort of your home directly onto a moving sidewalk that is traveling at 75 miles per hour- it’s a bit hard to keep your balance. To add to the circumstances you have no real idea as to exactly where you are going, but yer’ goin’ fast. In that first freshman month we saw a good number of our fellow freshmen that wanted off of that train and who headed back home.

For the rest of us the school had a “clubs and organizations day” to help us bond with other students and hang in there. It was at that event that I noticed a really good looking girl at the table for the ERAU Skydiving Club. She was signing up people to take their first parachute jump. Hell, she could have been signing up people to do razor-wire climbing and I’d have put my name on the clipboard that she handed me. There were at least 60 other names that had been signed above me as I added my scribble onto that list and agreed to show up at room C-405 on the following Tuesday evening. Thus, in a heartbeat she had gathered my name as well as the name of my roommate Mike. We’d signed up for a series of evening ground schools followed by a visit to the airport at Eustis, Florida for more ground training and then a static-line parachute jump. Walking away my roommate giggled, “Do ya’ think she’ll be there?” Forever the cynic I replied, “Probably not.”

Although that pretty young lady had probably gathered more than 100 signatures at that event, when Mike and I showed up for the first night of parachuting ground school only 25 other individuals were in attendance. The previous Sunday, on the phone, I had made the mistake of telling my parents that I was going to learn parachute jumping. My Mom sounded like I was already dead and my Dad urged me not to do it because, “It’s just not worth it.” So, I can easily imagine what parental pressures were placed upon the others on that list. For me, I tried to explain to my folks that my reasoning for doing this was quite logical and professional. If I was going to make flying my future and career, you never know when I may have to strap on a parachute as required by the FARs. In such a case I’d be wearing it as a safety device and if I had to use it I would need to do so without hesitation. A moment or two of doubt could, in such cases, mean the difference between life and death. Learning to use it now, early in my career, would erase that hesitation. As an example I told my folks that I may one day get a job carrying sky divers in order to build my flight hours- most pilots who do that wear a parachute. Or I may do aerobatic training- a parachute is required. My Dad saw that reasoning- Mom still thought I would plummet to my death. I didn’t mention the part about the girl who signed me up... they’d have thought that I was making decisions with parts of me other than my brain.




While the 27 of us sat there in room C-405 there was a high degree of apprehension in the room. No one came out and said that they were nervous- some gnawed on their pencils, or tapped pens on their desk. The rest chewed on their fingernails or moved their legs rhythmically to unheard music. Personally, I’ve always been a fingernail chewer- it drives my wife nuts to this day.
Jimmy Godwin was the owner of Paragators Inc. and our ground school instructor. He was a strong blunt man who could make a total malfunction sound like an old classic joke. His first act of business was to get all of us to pay for the class. One guy blurted out, “Will you take a check?” To which Godwin replied, “We sure will- but remember, if your check bounces, so do you.”

As the class went on I slowly realized that the whole point was- if properly trained you’ll develop an instinct for your equipment and knowledge for how it works and through that you could readily do something that so many people were frightened away from doing. If I had a confidence in my training and in the equipment and procedures I could not only do this, but I may actually enjoy the ride. I found that lesson to be true through all of my aviation career. I also realized that the pretty girl who’d signed me up was nowhere in that classroom. It was just my ass there training to do something that gives other people nightmares; another basic axiom of aviation.

On Saturday, September 24th, 1977 we all gathered at Eustis Airfield for our jump day. All 27 who had attended the ground school were there. It was 95 degrees in the shade and that was at 0900 in the morning. Fortunately the temperature would only climb to 97 as the day went on. We all went through two hours of additional ground training using a mock-up wing strut and step, a small three-foot high platform with a pit of saw dust where we could practice our PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) roll and then to the actual aircraft where we practiced getting in and out.  We also visited the “peas” which was a large 12 foot circle of pea gravel that was the target we’d be aiming for- hopefully with a fully deployed main parachute over our heads rather than streamering above our heels. They showed us a big florescent orange arrow. The ground crew would be holding this up as we descended and pointing it in the direction that we needed to steer our canopy. We were told that once they felt we had the knack of steering, they’d turn the arrow onto its side and we’d be responsible for the rest of the steering. The object was to “hit the peas” but they joked that probably none of us would actually hit the target. It was my hope just to hit Eustis, Florida.

After our final ground training we all gathered under an old tin-roof shade cover and stood in front of a huge, ancient blackboard. Jimmy Godwin was in front and shouted out, “The light weights will go first. Give me 3 light guys.” A chorus of 27 names were blurted out- everyone wanted to go first! By this time, Jimmy knew who was who and he quickly picked the first three and placed their name on the board as “Team 1” then he selected three more for the second team. I couldn’t believe that anyone was lighter weight than scrawny ol’ me, and then I saw Jimmy write down “Novac,” “Karger” and “Olesz.” I was on the third team to jump. We all watched the first team suit up with the help of Team 2 and then watched as they tromped out to the Cessna 182 and took off. Next the three of us on Team 3 helped Team 2 get ready. I went with Bill Rose and Wes Goodman to the trailer where they were tossing out our jump suits and Rose and Goodman both got theirs and started dressing. Both Rose and Goodman would go on to make a lot more jumps as the year went on. Goodman even joined the ERAU skydiving club. We took a short break to watch Team 1 jump and then saw Team 2 off to their Cessna 180- then it was our turn.
Jump team #3 (LtoR) Karger, Novac and me.


Reaching into the trailer one of the guys tossed me a crappy blue jump suit with a huge rip in the crotch. Lucky for me it was way too small so I handed it back and was issued a new green suit with a cool Paragator’s patch on the right shoulder and an American flag on the left- now we’re talkin’. If I was gonna burn in, I wanted to do it lookin’ like an aviator and not a hobo. In a heartbeat they hustled us over and strapped on our parachutes. Those damned straps were so tight that I thought my ability to have children would be removed when the chute deployed. The shoulder straps cut into me and when they placed the reserve chute onto my chest I felt like I was in a nylon vise. I was soaked with sweat and it was about then that I discovered that both of my chutes had been packed by a 15-year-old kid.

They marched us out across the little wooden foot bridge that led to the aircraft and we paused just in time to see a guy jump from Team 2- it was Rose. Now, Bill Rose and Leo Wood were the most noticeable guys on campus. They were fresh out of USMC boot and both still sported their Marine crew cuts among all of us long haired 70s students. Of course when you go through Marine Corps boot you learn to use your voice in a big way. For all of our parachute training we had all practiced the vocal count, “Arch thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, five thousand, six thousand, Check Canopy!” We had shouted it over and over countless times and we lay on our bellies practicing our arch. Rose and Wood were, of course, the loudest. What no one had told us was that the parachute deploys with one hell of a jerk and does so in just over one second. So, off the wing goes Rose and down on the ground we clearly heard his now familiar voice shout, “ARCH THOUSAND, Gaaaak!”  followed by, “CHECK CANOPY!” The entire field cracked up.
Rose and Wood- my two favorite Marines from ERAU


On Team 3 I would jump last, Karger first and Novac in the middle. We all squeezed into the back of 182 with Novac and I up against the bulkhead and Karger crossways. Nothing could have felt better that that prop-blast coming in through that door as the engine started- we were really over heated up until then. We’d been told to guard our reserve ripcord with one hand at all times- I took no chances and hugged mine with both arms. If that reserve deploys and goes out that open doorway- you’re gonna go too, and it won’t be pretty.

Soon we were climbing toward 3,000 feet. Novac looked at me and asked, “You gonna go through with it?” I nodded confidently. Actually my only fear by then was that I would chicken out. Upon reaching altitude, the jump master guided Karger over to the open door. “Feet out,” He commanded to Karger, “Get out,” Karger’s on the wing strut, “GO!” Karger’s gone as the jump master reels in his static line. The aircraft banks around and he motions to Novac. Again it is “Feet out, get out, go!” and Novac is gone.

Now it’s my turn and I slide up on my butt toward the door and the jump master has me turn around so my back is up against the instrument panel. As we bank around the jump master opens the door and I stick my head part way out and look down. “Get ready,” I hear through my helmet. Then he orders my feet out and forcing against the slipstream I put my boots on the airfoil wooden step. “Get out,” and I push myself out and grab that wing strut as tightly as I can while the relative wind shoots up my nose and is nearly as bad as having water going up your nose. “GO!”

The sensation was that of being sucked up a vacuum cleaner feet-first and the speed was unexpected as I shout “Arch thousand…” and do my best arch yet my senses were momentarily overwhelmed. I seem to be falling and falling at high speed for a long, long time. Then some huge unexpected force takes hold of me and suddenly I’m looking at the toes of my boots right in front of my nose! I spring like a puppet on a rubber band and I hear myself blurt out, “THREE THOUSAND!” Looking up I see the chute fully deployed over head and I mumble, “check canopy.” The entire process took just over two seconds.

My biggest worry through all of the training was the steering toggles that are used to slightly deform the canopy and allow air to flow through the two modifications in the chute, thus turn the rig.  I worried that they may be out of reach or tangled somewhere, but they are both right there in front of me. I nab one in each hand and begin to look around of the airport. Scanning around in the distance I cannot find it. At length as I lower my gaze I see it’s directly under my left toe! And the arrow is pointing in the direction that I’m going.

It is totally silent around me and I felt as if I’m sitting on a cloud. “This is of f#$&ing cool,” I giggle to myself. In short order, however, I’m a bit impatient with the arrow guy. I want to make a turn and see how this thing handles but he has me going straight. “Come on, gim’me a turn,” I whisper to myself. Just then he turns me left and then right is a brief “S” turn and then back on heading. I figure he’ll have me on the arrow nearly all the way down like the others that I’d watched and I have a long way to go. Just then he turns the arrow on its side and I’m on my own! Nuts! Now I gotta work!

In retrospect I just did the best that I could to guesstimate my course, but I had no real idea if I was right. I just tried to keep the peas between my toes. Then, as I still felt high up in the air they shouted the command, “Feet together- look at the horizon!” I did what I was trained to do and wham! The Earth came up and smacked me! I crumbled into the pea gravel and tried to do some sort of PLF as the canopy deflated over top of me. Looking at the ground all I saw was pea gravel- I’d hit the dang target. Officially I was 4 meters from center and only one other guy hit the peas that day- but he was almost dead center and totally beat me.

Me at about 30 feet up- feet together and lookin' at the horizon


Overall we stayed there all day and watched our whole class jump. Rose jumped at least one more time that same day. We all had fun and we all learned a lot about ourselves. There was only one close call and that came when one jumper lost his glasses and could not see the arrow. We’d all been warned to get sports bands for our glasses, but he’d forgotten. So when the parachute deployed and jerked his head back he lost a pair of badly needed glasses and managed to almost get up close and personal to a barbed wire fence.

I’ve never regretted signing up on that clipboard handed to me by Barbara Shalit, that good lookin’ girl at the Skydiving Club’s table. She was then the club president and managed to get a few new club members and a handy chunk of change for Paragators. I always wanted to do it again, but really had to knuckle down on studying for the rest of the trimester. Thereafter, I never had enough money to eat, let alone go parachute jumping. In my career as a pilot I only wore a chute two more times, but was always confident in doing so thanks to Barbara, Jimmy and Paragators. Jimmy passed away on March 26, 1998 while in his hangar doing light maintenance on N5357B, the aircraft from which I had jumped two decades earlier.


None of our checks bounced- and on September 24th, 1977, neither did any of us.

Wes Oleszewski is the author of  23 books and you can find much of his work at Amazon.com


Friday

What're you laughin' about?


Imagine if you will a crowd of 2,500 students registering for the same two dozen or so freshman classes, on the same day, in the same building while another 2,500 upperclassmen attempt to register for their own classes. Now imagine that the school never really planned for this influx of students and really did not have enough teachers or classroom “sections” to handle these students. Next add to it the first-come-first-serve, festival seating manner in which each student was going to register. Now you have the situation that developed 40 years ago today at the Embry-Riddle aeronautical university’s fall registration… and I was in that crowd.

I made the mistake of getting to campus at just after 9am, figuring I was early. At that time the line for registration extended out the front door of the University Center (UC) and around the building. Of course we were lucky because the Florida sun had been replaced with overcast skies and light rain. As I stepped into my place in line the line itself rapidly continued to grow until it extended the full length of the UC and around the north side of the building.



Self-illustrated post card that I sent to my parents 9/4/1977
By noon I had actually gotten through the front door and into the building itself and then the line slowed down. You see the systemic problem was that when you had 2,500 freshmen seeking about 24 classes that equates to about 104 students per class and if those classes are divided into sections, or the hour and classroom and teacher, and each section is to contain no more than 32 students it all can equate to about 3.25 sections for each class. However, when you throw in students cherry picking their times and days for each class and the conflict resolution of each student’s schedule a large monkey wrench looms over the plan. Next, when you figure that this is all done manually with pencil and paper and each student is required to write a schedule that must be conflict free you have students bouncing around before finalizing. Worse yet, as many of those students are in line at conflict resolution, sections that they have chosen close because other students have beat them to it. Now they have to go back and do it all over again. That process slows the whole show down to a speed that a snail can beat.

Standing inside the building we could now hear the P.A. system where they were making the frequent “closed course” announcements, “Closed course… MA-111, section five…”  and so on. Those announcements would soon become the bane of our existence. We heard it over and over and soon it came at an increasing rate.

As we waited, the endurance test of being in that line led to camaraderie. Before long we entered into a gentleman’s agreement (yes ladies- it was mostly guys in those days. A quick survey of the 1978 ERAU yearbook, for example, showed just 64 female students of the approximately 2,100 student photos) that we’d hold the place of anyone who needed to go and use the rest room. Later we came up with the concept that if someone was willing to do a food run for a bunch of us, when he got back we’d not only have his place saved but he could go the head of the group. After gathering the cash for one of the food runs the runner left and the guy behind me asked, “What’s to keep him from takin’ off with our money?” I replied, “Darwin… because if splits the only place for him to go is at the very end of the line.”

The insane crowd- note the black wall with the course cards in the background.
c/o Phoenix yearbook 1978
Eventually I got to the point where I could look up onto the flight deck and see the swarm of where registration and conflicts check was going on. There was a huge wall of black felt that contained cards marking assorted classes followed by cards with their open section numbers. For the classes that I needed there was almost nothing left and I still had at least another two hours or more in line. There were members of the teaching staff plowing through the crowd trying to help and every now and then one of the student assistants would pluck one of the section cards away and take it to the upper classman who would announce the closed course. It looked bleak for me.

Soon I spotted a familiar face in the crowd of people sitting in the dining room. It was Pat Kelley, a guy that’s I’d attended high school with in our tiny farm town of Freeland, Michigan! Pat was two years ahead of me at ERAU and had dropped in to see me and calm my apprehension a couple of days before I left for ERAU. Pat was in Aviation Maintenance Technology and was sitting in the UC playing chess. I asked if he’s already registered and replied that all of his classes were mandatory, so he would just wait until the nonsense was all over and get forced entries for everything… which is exactly what he did.


By the time I was nearing my turn to step into the madness the closed course guy began calling out “new section.” That meant that the school was opening up more sections for closed courses. This was not an easy task because first they had to find an instructor willing to take on the new section, then they had to find a classroom that was unoccupied and place that section in that time-slot. Yet, one after another new sections were popping up.


Conflicts check line- note the guy with the migraine.
c/o Phoenix yearbook 1978

After more than six hours in line I finally stepped onto the flight deck in order to register. We were shoulder to shoulder trying to figure out a schedule on the fly. By that time my wish-list registration form was toilet paper as nothing that I’d put on it was actually there anymore. Some were working very hard to get what they wanted, I just scribbled out a section for every class that I needed without regard for time or day. I figured “What the hell, I’m gonna be here anyway and I have nothing better to do during the days between now and the end of the term- so any day and any time was as good as any other.” I jotted out my classes and a few back-ups and jumped into the conflicts line. Amazingly I went right through, but when I got up to the faculty approval, I heard them do closed course for my “Foundations of Aviation” course! “Damn!” I half shouted. But Mr. Wencel, who I recall was doing my approval, just glanced up, sighed “Don’t worry about it,” and made me a forced entry into that class. He signed me off and said, “Welcome to Embry Riddle.”


In the years that followed the administration at ERAU took steps to ensure that the fall 1977 registration nightmare did not happen again- or at least not on the same scale. For the spring trimester, for example, those of us who were left from the fall got to register early and that at least helped us. As the years passed the computer revolution did much to streamline the process. Yet still the students and especially the freshmen bitched- not knowing how much worse it could be. After my being in and out of school, (sometimes for as long as two years,) while working my way through ERAU, I found myself in 1986 as an orientation leader. In that role were we did our best to help the new students as much as we could. On registration day I was assigned, as an advanced flight student, to help the new aero. science students with registration. I was standing in line with one kid who waited for exactly eight minutes to have his schedule signed off by none other than Mr. Wencel. He took one look at the kid’s paperwork, crossed out two classes that were filled and two that were the back-up list and picked out one from the third back-up list and signed off the guy’s schedule. Of course the kid was a bit shocked because he didn’t get exactly what he wanted and he objected. “That’s what ya’ got,” Wencel told him half smiling, then he looked at me, winked and told the kid, “Welcome to Embry-Riddle.”  As I guided the still perplexed freshman out of the line he looked at his schedule and said, “This sucks!” Then he looked at me and said, “What’re you laughin’ about?”

Monday

He’s finally been institutionalized


August 28, 1977… the day that I first stepped foot on the campus of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to begin a “four year” program that would earn me a BS degree in Aeronautical Science and commercial pilot, multi-engine, instrument airplane ratings. Yep- it was a “four year” program… and Gilligan started out on a “three hour” cruise too. On August 15, 1988, just over a dozen days short of a full decade I would walk across the stage at graduation- it would be a long, life-changing road and in order to get to the end, I would have to do the impossible and I actually knew that from the beginning. Looking across the campus in those first few moments I decided that there were only two ways I was going to leave there; either with my degree and ratings or in a whole bunch of little Ziploc bags. The objective was not a seat in some airliner looking toward retirement after making a pile of money- it was very simply just to finish what I had now started.

 My quest to get to that campus on that day in 1977 had actually begun many years earlier when the hand of fate reached out and held the bait right under my nose. I was the in the 8th grade at an inner-city dump of a Junior High School monikered “Webber” on the east side of the industrial city of Saginaw, Michigan. Very little real learning took place there as the classrooms were in a constant state of chaos ruled over by the delinquent offspring of LBJ’s “Great Society.” Strong arm robberies, petty shakedowns, and plain old violence too often took the place of education. Making the honor role got me thrown against the lockers and told “Dat ain’t cool professor.” Thus, those of us who didn’t wish to take part in the madness resorted to library passes and classes involving assisting administrators. My 5th hour “class” involved assisting in the office of the school counselor. One day a bundle of fliers intended for the high school was inadvertently delivered to our office. I asked Mr. Barris, the counselor, what he wanted me to do with them and he told me to just throw them away. As I went to do that I saw that they had airplanes on them! Being a rabid space-buff and aviation fan I nabbed one of the fliers for myself. Later in the safety of the library I studied it. It was all about a college with airplanes and it was in Florida close to Cape Canaveral. There was a book called “Astronauts in Training,” in the 629 section of the library and on page 8 was a photo of Astronaut Al Worden preflighting a helicopter and the caption read “All Must Fly.” That school with the airplanes down by the Cape was the place for me! I wanted to fly too and this Embry-Riddle school was the place to go and learn.

 Looking up Embry-Riddle in the library I saw that they were listed as “Highly Selective.” Crap! I’d never been highly selected for anything. I was a working-class Polish kid whose parents were both high school drop outs and I was stuck in the worst part of the one of the worst school systems in the Midwest! How the hell was I gonna get highly selectable? In the end none of that mattered because when I applied in the fall of 1976 Embry-Riddle had decided to double its student population and went from “Highly Selective” to “Can you pay your deposit and are you breathing.” Fortunately, even though I was an asthmatic, I was able to do both and thus became one of the 2,500 new freshmen enrolled for the fall 1977 trimester.



Stepping onto the campus on that classically humid Florida morning I found two large tables set up on the sidewalk outside of the Dorm with about six people standing behind them and a mountain of large manila envelopes. Most of the campus was obscured by trees but there was no question that we were indeed ON what was then Daytona Beach Regional Airport. In fact we were standing just 2,453 feet from the threshold of Runway 24 Right. Aircraft were buzzing overhead like bees. I had no idea that I’d be there long enough for not only the name of the airport to be changed, but for the actual magnetic field of the Earth itself to shift far enough for runway 24 to be renamed runway 25. (Yes, I’m laughing with you). 

 
In short order my “packet” was found in the pile and my parents, who had driven me down to school, and I were directed off campus and back out toward Interstate 95. My “dorm” would be a place that they called “the RSI.” Because everything in aviation is in acronym, I had to begin my career and aviation education living in one. The RSI was an acronym for a motel in distress monikered the “Royal Scottish Inn.” ERAU had given them a windfall by leasing the entire two story motel which was located right about where Chili's is today on US 92. The place had about 200 rooms and each one was now equipped with three pull-out beds and one “study table” so the facility could be crammed with 600 Riddle freshmen. Arriving there I was issued a key for Room 182 and told to stop at “linen” and pick up my bed sheets, blanket, pillow, 3 wash cloths and three towels. I was the first guy in room 182, but was told to expect two roommates. I picked the back wall rack to sleep in and stowed my trusty 10 speed bicycle “Champagne” back behind the cloths hangar and told my parents and my little brother to “scram.” I’d see them at the BBQ later on campus. Before they could leave my first roommate, Mark Holloway, showed up dragging along his baggage. Mark was from Flint, Michigan and since I was from Saginaw, we quickly became friends. A while later our third roommate, Mike Krkuc showed up. I’d scored the best two roommates that a newbee at college could have. 

That afternoon at the orientation BBQ we got to see the campus for the first time. Compared to the ultra modern ERAU campus of today there wasn’t very much.
Other than the dorm we had the University Center- forever known simply as “The UC”...
 
the Maintenance Technology building- “AMT,”...
 
the Gill Rob Wilson building- known simply as “The Flight Line”...
 
and the Academic Building which was called “A building.”
 
It never struck me that we had an “A” building, but not a “B” or a “C” building.
 
Up the road toward the airport entrance was located the expanded World War II surplus Quonset Hut that was our Administration Building.
That was it folks! That was ERAU and the entire area between the UC, A building and the AMT building was a huge parking lot that had once been a runway for the airport. For us 2,500 freshmen, however, that was plenty- because our campus extended into the vast blue sky above and so it was the largest campus in the world.


That afternoon our parents had listened to President Hunt speak about “our” university. If you ever made the mistake of saying “your university” or “the university” in front of President Hunt, he would stop you and correct you by stating, “No… it’s OUR university.” He wanted to engrain into you the mind-set that this place was not left to us by long-dead bearded men with mutton chop sideburns and powdered wigs- it was being built by us- now, at this point in time. Indeed we and ERAU grew up together. Most impressed with the president’s talk was my Mom. When I saw her at the BBQ that evening and we said goodbye she told me, “This is gonna be quite a place for you.” Later, as my Dad, Mom and younger brother drove back toward Michigan she said that she felt as if they had left me where I truly belong- to which my little brother quipped, “Yeah- he’s finally been institutionalized.”
 
That night I sat in my pull-out bunk at the RSI and scrolled the day’s events into my pocket journal and ended with the phrase, “My God… I’m actually HERE!” I was setting out to do the impossible. “Impossible?” you may ask… and then scoff, “Naaa.” Yet, from my point of view at that time, this endeavor was indeed the impossible. No one back home, and I mean NO ONE, thought I could ever do it. My high school guidance counselor flatly told me that I couldn’t do it and urged me to just go to the community college instead. Relatives scoffed and quipped that, “people like us can’t do that sort of thing.” I’d seen plenty of eye-rolling and heard a lot of doubtful snickers. Hell I left home with a $2,500 student loan for the full year while knowing full well that ERAU would cost me $2,900 per trimester- without flight! Yet I jumped into the meat-grinder anyway knowing that Mom and Dad could not help me and  I would have to work to make up the difference. I had left my long-time girlfriend (who would outgrow me in the first few months and be gone), hockey (of course I really didn’t need that third concussion anyhow), my cozy community of Freeland, Michigan, my home and everything to set out on this new path with all of the odds stacked against me- it was impossible. My goal, however, was fixed in stone and it was very simple- it was just to finish.

Friday

HOW TO GET FIRED AND LIKE IT.


The great Highland conspiracy happened 40 years ago this month- it took many weeks of planning and diligent effort. On May 20, 1977 the fruits of all that labor came to pass; I got fired by the Highland Appliance Company. As a result I suffered through having the entire summer off before leaving for college and getting paid for it. Here’s how it all happened…

 It actually began on the day that I got hired at Highland Appliance. The local district manager, fellow by the name of Stan, had interviewed me specifically as their TV and stereo "road technician." I was to replace a guy named Arnold who, I suspect, the character of Les Nessman from the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati had been patterned after by the show's writers. The job was essentially little more than that of a TV repair man- I drove around in a Highland van, went into people's homes and fixed their brand-new TVs while little kids in catsup-stained T-shirts tried to steal my tools. It was a crummy job but the pay was great and as a 19-year-old bachelor looking toward college I thought I had it pretty good. The service manager, however, disagreed with Stan's choice and hated me from the very beginning. Just for the record I won't use his real name, we'll just call him "Doink.”


From the very beginning Doink was on my case. You see the company headquarters in Taylor, Michigan had set up what they called “a required completion rate.” In other words, there was a specific number of calls where I was supposed to arrive, completely fix what was wrong and move on to the next call. When it was not possible to fix whatever device it was that Highland had sold the customer that was defective right out-of-the-box, I had to bring it into the shop; such things were called "shop pulls" and did not count as a "complete." According to the home office figures I was required to get 8.6 completes per day. The problem was that the home office had based their figures on service calls being performed in the densely populated suburban Detroit area. Not only were sales greater in those areas but calls were closer together. In my area of operation, which was Saginaw, Michigan, my calls were often in rural areas that required a good deal of driving to and from the call. Additionally sales were far lower than they were in the Detroit area. To make matters worse, I vary rarely had more than 8 calls, so getting an 8.6 average was almost impossible. To Doink it made no difference, my daily completes had to come up to the home office's average; no excuses.


As the months went on through the winter my job became more and more of a pain in the ass. Then came that magical day when I got my letter of acceptance to the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach Florida. My final letter of enrollment arrived on April 25, 1977 for a class that was supposed to begin on the first day of September. When Doink found out that I would be leaving in four months he decided to try and get rid of me more quickly by really turning the screws to see if I would quit. However, the other technicians that worked in the shop, who hated Doink perhaps more than I did, had a different idea. Ken, who is the shop lead, did little bit of homework. He discovered that under the Michigan Employment Security Commission’s (MESC)schedule, my wage level was the lowest that would provide maximum benefit. Meaning that if I made any higher wage, I would still get the same benefit, but if I made any less I would be in a lower benefit category. Also under that same commission, if I were to be fired without having provided any damage to the company, such as theft, damage to facilities, or punching my boss in the mouth, I was entitled to collect unemployment benefits immediately. But, if I were to quit, it would be six weeks before my benefits would kick in. Together with his friend Gary, who was our "white goods technician" or the guy who fixed the stoves, dryers and dishwashers, they hatched a plan that would allow me to depart Highland Appliance and get the summer off with pay. All I had to do was be so crappy at my job that Doink would just have to fire me. It was a diabolical scheme that I bought into immediately.

Suddenly while out on the road I acted as if I just couldn't figure out how to fix the most simple problems. At nearly every call I would have to phone back into the office and ask Doink what I should do about this broken piece of equipment. I took extra long lunch hours, in fact, I even took a few occasions to throw my hockey bag into the back of my van and go to the ice arena at noon and spend a couple hours playing pickup hockey. One of the girls in the office told me that Doink was positive that I was hanging out in a bar somewhere. She giggled at the fact that Doink didn't know me well enough to know that I'm a non-drinker. My average of completes soon dropped to about one per day and Doink was slowly going out of his mind as the home office pestered him to do something about me other than firing me.


I have to admit here that I was not the stereotypical TV repair guy that some of you reading this may remember from the days when people actually got their TVs repaired in their homes. I didn't walk around wearing a jacket with a white oval patch that had my name on it. I didn't lug around a big giant tube caddy and I didn't spend a lot of time counseling customers on what was wrong with their television. Instead of the horn-rimmed glasses wearing repair nerd that they were expecting to come into their home carrying a giant case filled with assorted electronic tubes, which we didn't use anymore, what they got was a 19-year-old kid in blue jeans with a nut driver in his back pocket, a clipboard in one hand and a module to fix the TV in the other hand. For example, we had a rash of Admiral TVs that always seem to blow their sound cards. I'd look on the dispatch, see it was an admiral, see it was a sound issue, grab the module, enter the house, pull back of the TV, swap out the module, replace the back of the TV and have the entire repair done before the customer was finished bitching about the problem. I made it in and out of one call in just 11 minutes- and then scooted over to the ice rink to spend an hour or so playing shinny. That was all it really took to get the job done. At one point they had one of the technicians from in the shop ride with me to ensure that I carried my tube caddy around, "because that's what the customers expected to see." Needless to say nothing worked- they were going to have to fire me for "inability to perform job function" which was exactly what Ken and Gary had planned.

 The final straw came when on May 18th when Doink handed out a series of blue-and-white patches made in the form of the Highland logo. They were intended for us to sew on a jacket or a shirt. That night I sewed mine onto the ass of my blue jeans, and wore them to work the next day. As I was bending over filling out my trip sheet for the day Doink walked by, stopped and asked, "is that all you think of the company you work for?" Glancing over my shoulder I simply said, "Yep." Doink stormed off to his office and slammed the door. I walked back into the shop, glanced at Ken, who had watched the entire thing, and said, "I think I'm all done here." We both snickered- our plan had apparently worked. He asked if I was gonna enjoy having the summer off with pay?
 
The following morning I showed up at work and only had four calls on my list with a note saying, "return to shop after last call." Again I walked back into the shop, showed the guys the message and we all quietly celebrated. Gleefully I ran my last four calls telling every single customer that this was my last day and I was going away to college in Florida to learn to become a professional pilot. Every one of them congratulated me and a couple of them said that they wished they could go with me.

Returning to the shop I walked in with the same feeling I had when they open the penalty box door and let you in after you've just won a fight. Doink beckoned me into his office and sat me down as morose as an undertaker. He gave me a long-winded explanation about how I was unable to come up to the company standards and they were going to have to "let me go." I tried to act a bit stunned and somewhat sad when in fact I felt like I’d just scored a goal. It was all I could do to not raise my hands in the air and shout "Wahoooo!” Then, being the completely inept manager that Doink was, he made a critical mistake. He asked me if I wanted to wait while he inventoried my truck or if I just wanted one of the guys to take my truck and drive me home? It was similar to him having asked, "do you want to stay here and talk me out of hanging myself, or do you just want to leave and let me do it." For a moment I thought of that scene in the movie "Silver Streak" where the state trooper asks Richard Pryor if he'd like to chase the bad guys, or just go home and he hangs his head pretending to weep and says, "this is been a terrible ordeal I just want to go home." Although I didn't pretend to weep I acted glum and said, “I just wanna go home.”


The reason why I was so eager to not hang around while he "inventoried" my van was the fact that I knew full well that once I left the van in his charge without having it inventoried in front of me I was no longer responsible for anything that may be missing from the van. But, Doink thought that this was his big opportunity to really hang me. When I showed up at the unemployment office to file my claim they told me that Highland was withholding my paperwork as well as my final check which, by the way, under Michigan law he was required to give to me at the moment that he fired me. Now I had to go back to Highland and face-off with Doink to get my check and my paperwork. When I got there he accused me of major theft of items from the van. Of course I hadn't stolen a thing. My whole goal was to get cleanly fired so I could collect my unemployment right away.

One thing that I've always learned in life is that when you're going up against a company and an idiot  such as Doink the best thing that you can do to ensure that you win is to go up as high as you possibly can and dump a large load of shit down toward them. Because shit travels downhill and increases in velocity as it does so. In this case it was actually my dad who came up with a very unique idea. He advised me to call my local state congressional representative and complain about Highland’s antics with my unemployment. Believe it or not the congressman was actually in his office and took my call. He listened intently and then simply said, "We'll take care of this immediately." Within an hour I got a call from Stan my former district manager. He said, "I have just one question for you. Were you present when Doink inventoried the van?" Of course I said "no" and then he went on to read to me the list of items that Doink had submitted to the company of things missing from the van. About 90% of those items were things that I did not carry in the van at all, nor did any of the other drivers in the company. I brought up that point with Stan and he simply said, "I know." Stan then told me to wait about 45 minutes, go to Highland, pick up my final paycheck and then proceed to the unemployment office where my paperwork will be waiting.


To let you know just how popular Doink was at that Highland store, there was a day when one of the salesmen approached me in the parking lot and seriously told me that he would give me the biggest TV set of my choice if I would kill Doink. I thought it was a joke but he went on to tell me that he thought I was one of the few people he knew of who had the temperament to do such a thing and was savvy enough to dispose of the body! The attitude of almost everybody else that I met at that company was the same when it came to Doink. When I showed up to get my final paycheck Doink was in and out of the office several times while I waited on the sales floor. Ken came out, took me aside and said that Stan was on his way up from the home office and Ken had been told to be ready to take over Doink’s job. The salesman were all giddy with delight. One told me he's never seen Doink this nervous and they’re loving every second of it. Before long Doink showed up and reached through the service window with an envelope. I took it and then pointing it right back at him said, "You had no right to hold this from me." Standing just behind me, my dad placed his hand firmly on my shoulder; perhaps sensing that I wanted to ask Doink if he remembered birth and then pull him through that window. As we left the store and got into the parking lot I threw my hands in the air shouted out aloud "Wahoo! He shoots- he scores!” Dad laughed and just shook his head.

Indeed I got the entire summer of 1977 off with pay. I spent my time between camping up north and going down south to Plymouth and hanging out with my girlfriend. Highland Appliance was the only job from which I was fired in my entire life. Although I have been furloughed from three flying jobs, in aviation we don't consider that as being fired. I had a lot of managers who were idiots, but none who were as inept as Doink. So, I needed a summer vacation- with pay.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: All of my typos belong to Dragon.