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Thread: In The Beginning, Part II (The Sequel)

  1. #1
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    In The Beginning, Part II (The Sequel)

    Chapter One - Dope, Dope, I'm the Dope


    “So. You’re a pilot, huh?” said Don Ferguson, (the real-life “Dan Gunderson” in the first two CloudDancer books) as he took a half-step back after our handshake. He eyed my scrawny frame up and down quickly. I replied proudly “Sure am. Been flying for few years now. Why? What’s it to you?”

    I was still wary of this strange Mexican man whom I’d never seen before today.

    He had walked into this Denny’s restaurant which had been my regular
    hangout for years, taken a seat a few stools away at the counter, and ordered a meal. But, it was his all too obvious eavesdropping on my conversation with the restaurant manager Steve, that had gotten on my nerves.

    Sensing both my confusion and defensive verbal posture, there appeared
    instantly on his face, this absolutely impish and infectious broad grin. He
    said. “No, that’s good! I’m a pilot too!” Th e comment, combined with the
    now almost cherubic beaming of his face, served to slightly allay my concerns. And he continued “And you fly Cessna Skyhawks too?”

    “Oh yeah. Just finishing up my instrument rating in the Skyhawk now.” I
    answered.

    “Oh. Th at’s great. Yeah. So, how much time you got altogether?” asked
    Don. Again I tried to make it sound impressive. “Well, right now, I’ve only
    got 240 hours total, but it’s coming along pretty fast.” I was relaxing just a
    little bit now, as this was familiar conversational territory and the guy seemed pretty nice.

    “So how old are you CloudDancer?’ he asked. Now this was getting interesting again, as I noted he gave me another quick scan from head to toe. Was it because at 6’2” I towered over his slightly pudgy 5’8”? Also, it had finally dawned on me that this guy didn’t speak English with a Mexican accent, which I thought was pretty weird. I decided rather than answer, it was my turn to get some info outta’ him. So I hit him back with “You sure got a lot questions there Don. What does it matter to you how old I am?”

    Promptly he apologized. “Oh Gee. I’m sorry. I guess I should tell you. I own a couple of Cessna Skyhawks and some other stuff and I’m kinda’ looking for a pilot to go to work for me.” Somewhat stunned, the best I could muster was a short “Oh really?” in return. And then he barged ahead with “Yeah. I could really use someone to fly my Skyhawks, and I’ll pay you twenty bucks an hour.” he concluded.

    Immediately warning flags and sirens went off in my brain. I’m sure my
    eyebrows must’ve gone up. I started “Uuuh... ummm NO! I do...” but got no farther, as he jumped back in and said “Tell ya’ what. I could make it twentyfive dollars an hour. And the job comes with room and board!”

    Oh.. “This is bad!” I say to myself silently, as aloud I utter “Uh. NoNO!
    Thanks a lot. I’m not really interested.” (Th is was in 1973 by the way.) I
    thought to myself. Heck, my instructor, who actually has some experience,
    only makes FOUR dollars an hour! I don’t need what this guy’s selling!

    I had now put my hand up palm outward like a traffic cop. I shook my head no, and was getting aggressively negative, much to Don’s apparent surprise. The grin vanished on Don’s face to be replaced by an expression of utter bewilderment. He had absolutely no idea how this conversation had derailed so quickly, and why I now seemed to be growing agitated.

    “Whoa! Wait a minute!” he said as I jumped right back with “No thanks
    Mister! I’m not interested in doing your kind of work!” To which he answered “How do you know? I haven’t even told you about it yet.”
    Smugly I looked at him and said “Hey look. You wanna’ fly DOPE, that’s
    your business. I don’t want to...” “Dope?” Don interrupted. And with a truly
    a truly quizzical look he continued “Why would I want you to fly dope?”
    The only dope Don knew of being of course, the kind you spread on aircraft fabric, when building or repairing wood and fabric airplanes. This was the dope that he’d known since childhood.

    I barged on “Sure! You’re Mexican. And you want me to fly .. .” And
    then it hit him. He laughed heartily as he broke into my not-quite-on-the-mark analysis of his offer. “But I’m not Mexican.” he said, stunning me
    momentarily silent. Now I was puzzled and said “You’re not?” Whereupon
    he emitted another small chuckle before delivering this line with a genuine
    twinkle in his eye. “Nope.” he said. “I’m an Eskimo! You gotta’ go to Alaska for this money!”

    I’m sure my jaw dropped and I must’ve had the “deer in the headlights” look on my face. He asked “You wanna’ go inside? I’ll buy us some coffee and pie and we can talk for a while.” As I dumbly nodded my noggin in the
    affirmative, he turned for the front entrance to the restaurant. I stuffed my car keys back in my pocket and fell in step behind. I’m sure the dopey look on my face lasted a while.
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  2. #2
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Chapter Two - I May be Dumb, But I'm not Stupid!


    As we walked back in the joint, Steve greeted us just inside the door, as curious as to what had transpired outside as anyone could be I suppose. He had been watching us through the huge plate glass windows. Laughing, I quickly relayed the important points and introduced the two men. Then Don and I assumed seated positions in two adjacent counter seats.

    Over the next forty-fi ve minutes Don told me about his family-owned air
    service and Kotzebue, the town where he lived. Although my interest level was very high, many times my conscious thinking and listening process would shut down as Don got into some more detailed aspects of the areas that his air service called “their territory”. Words like, blizzard, cold, and ice were barely penetrating my brain, for it often wandered
    off -topic to go back to....the MONEY!

    I was currently working as Assistant Ground Operations Supervisor for Metro Airlines at Dallas Love Field. For the entire month, my gross pay was seven hundred and sixty-fi ve dollars. But the guy seated next to me was telling me twenty-five dollars an hour would be my pay and I could fly maybe, up to a HUNDRED hours a month! Gadfrey! I could make $2500 a month AND I got free room and board

    As he listed all the diff erent planes he had the family’s fleet, something like eight airplanes of all shapes and sizes; I was busy mentally calculating how many months I would have to spend in Alaska in order to pay for my multiengine and Air Transport Ratings. I concluded about six or seven months just about the time he concluded his pitch.

    “Well. What do you think CloudDancer? You think you might be interested
    in going north?” he asked. “I know I just kept talking, and you must have
    lots of questions.” he finished. And actually, I did have a half dozen or so. Mostly they were questions about the airplanes, and how they were maintained. But honestly, I can’t remember much else. I guess I must have been about as thunderstruck as a person only 19 years old could ever be.

    Only thirty minutes earlier, I had walked out of this Denny’s restaurant intent on driving to the U.S.Army recruiter’s offi ce a mile-and-a-half up the road to sign enlistment papers. By the time my conversation with Don had reached this point, my ass should’ve been pledged to Uncle Sam. Unbelievably, as air-minded and ate up with flying as I had been since infancy, the thought of going to Alaska and being a bush pilot had never, ever crossed my mind. It was something you read about every two or three years in some flying magazine.

    It would be decades in time, and over 25,000 fl ying hours later, before the full impact of the decision I was about to make would come to be written about, along with so much more. Fortunately (or not) I had no crystal ball to foretell the future. I saw a short commitment to Alaska as far more preferable than a multi-year sell-my-soul to Uncle Sam deal. Turning slightly sideways in the bench seat, I reached across sticking my right hand out to Don. I said “If you’ll have me, I guess I’ll be going to Katzable...or...however you say it!”.

    And, pasting that big Alfred E. Newman grin, that I would soon come to
    know only too well, once again on his face, he shook my hand saying “Good! And it’s Kotzebue. Like Cots-uh-biew” Excited now it seemed, he started to speak when I interrupted him with “Hey! Don’t you even want to see if I can fl y first?” “Ooooh Yeah. Good idea.” he said before continuing “So, what’s the biggest plane you’re checked out in down here?” To which I proudly announced, “Well, I’ve got about seven hours in the Cessna 206 Don.” “Great!” he answered back “We use those a lot. Let’s fly one!”

    And in short order a plan was hatched. A quick phone call from the pay
    phone to my fl ight school at Arlington Municipal airport assured me that
    the Cessna 206 was available. With no rush hour traffi c to deal with, I could race the twenty miles or so over there, and be airborne within the hour. If all went according to plan, I should pick Don up in front of the main terminal at Meacham in ninety minutes. After exchanging phone numbers, just in case, I raced out the restaurant door for my car. I peeled out of the parking lot before Don had fi nished paying for our pie and coffee.

    It was a pretty accurate estimate on my part. An hour and a half later,
    Don and I lifted off Meacham’s runway 16 and proceeded to exit the traffic
    pattern as prescribed, on the crosswind leg. I switched over to Dallas-Ft.
    Worth Tracon to request VFR traffic advisories and then turned to Don
    in the right seat asking, “Well Don, aaahh, what do you want to do? Do
    you want to go to the practice area? I could do my stalls and steep turns
    for you.”

    Responding, he said that he felt assured that I must’ve mastered the basics by now. Then he asked “You guys got any SHORT fields around here?”

    Now. This being America, where I learned to fly, and not Alaska, which I
    would find out before too long, was a whole different kettle of fish; you should not be surprised to learn that Don and I had two different understandings of what constituted a “short” field. Arlington Municipal was about 4,000 feet in length, which, when compared with the newly opened DFW’s 11,000 foot expanses, certainly qualified for “short” in my book. But even I knew Don was looking for something less roomy.

    Immediately I thought of Mangham Airport with it’s fifty foot wide and
    thirty-one hundred foot long asphalt strip. Of course, there was also a couple of grass strips, one in Arlington and one in Bedford that were shorter. They were both a couple of hundred feet or so shy of 3,000 and I had flown out of both. In a CUB! And while occasionally I may be dumb, I’m certainly not stupid! There’s no way I was going to consider trying to shoehorn THIS big plane into tiny strips like those! So I told Don “No sweat Don. We’re off to Mangham!

    Mr. Ferguson sat quietly in the right seat observing as I entered the pattern and made my approach to the small strip landing to the south. When I turned base leg, he leaned over and said “Okay. Show me your best short field landing, and see where the road crosses right before the runway?” “Yeah?” I came back. Don continued “Let’s make that rode twenty foot trees instead, okay?”

    I tensed up slightly, as this was going to be just a little tougher than otherwise just clearing the four foot wooden fence that ran alongside the road, no more than twenty feet this side of the end of the runway. I silently thanked the Good Lord that Don hadn’t chosen instead the “standard” F.A.A. test of a fifty foot obstacle, which would’ve made the landing all but impossible in my mind at that point in my career. I mean hell, it’s not like I’m fl ying some STOL machine here.

    I clear Don’s imaginary twenty foot trees with room to spare, before slightly easing back on the throttle and pointing the nose down for just a couple of moments before starting my roundout to a flare. I was proud to note that I landed only just beyond the runway’s halfway mark. With some good braking, I stopped and turned off with nearly 400 feet of runway remaining in front of me. As I turned off the runway and onto the parallel grass taxiway, my heart rate now was slowing back to “normal”. The muscle tenseness, hitherto unnoticed in my back and shoulders, was draining away. I awaited Don’s evaluation, but instead all he said was “Okay. Now let’s see you make a short fi eld takeoff . Get me the maximum altitude in as short a space as you can.”

    The tailfeathers shook mightily, as the aircraft’s meager braking system tried to restrain the machine in place against the thrust being generated by the engine at full power. I gave one final glance at all the instruments. This was going to be a by-the-book textbook “short field” departure. The lightly loaded Cessna lunged forward down the narrow strip when I pulled my feet off the brakes. Upon seeing the airspeed needle reach the bottom of the white arc I eased the wheel back and we leaped into the air!

    I eased the wheel back a bit further, resulting in an outrageous climb thanks to all the extra lift generated by the 20 degrees of flaps I had hanging out. I held the airplane about 10 to twelve knots above the bottom of the white arc on the airspeed indicator until we reached seven hundred feet and it was time to turn crosswind.

    I recovered and turned to Don asking “You want to see it again Don?” He
    said “No. That’s okay.” There was no further comment beyond that. When
    I asked what he’d like to do next, he simply responded “That’s good enough. You can take us back to Meacham now.”

    I couldn’t stand this. Was he going to say something or what? Finally I blurted out “Well Don?” But, acting as though he had no idea as to what I was referring he answered “Well? Well what?” “So”, I replied, “WHAT do you think? Was that okay?” A very slight grin broke out on his face, and with a twinkle in his eye he said “I think we can teach you.” I guessed I’d passed preliminary scrutiny anyway.
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  3. #3
    12Geezer2's Avatar
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    Really like your story, Cloudy. Such a good reminder of the old saying 'Don't judge a book by the cover".

  4. #4
    Flying Miss Daisy's Avatar
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    Good Story I remebered it I believe from your Chronicles and always laughed that being from Texas all short dark skinned folks were Mexicans to you. :P
    FMD
    Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a well preserved body but rather to slide in sideways, well used up proclaiming "WOW What a Ride"

  5. #5
    crazyivan's Avatar
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    For those of you who follow Cloudy's adventures on this forum and are addicted but haven't bought the books - but the books, all 3 volumes!!! Best money you'll ever spend.

    But, readers want to know....what happened to Cloudy, the Baron, and the Bootlegger?

  6. #6
    Flying Miss Daisy's Avatar
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    What did you think of volume 3 Dave.
    FMD
    Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a well preserved body but rather to slide in sideways, well used up proclaiming "WOW What a Ride"

  7. #7
    crazyivan's Avatar
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    It was as good as the first two. Because of the subject matter it's not light hearted and fun like vols I & II, but the story-telling is classic CloudDancer. Gut wrenching but I couldn't put it down.

    As I was reading vol III, I kept thinking it was on par with Enie Gann's Fate is the Hunter. Granted, Gann's writing style was eloquent and very tightly written like a book from a college literature class and CloudDancer's style is like he took the extra bar napkin next to his seltzer and began penning his ideas. The awesome thing is that Vol III is every bit of a masterpiece as Fate is the Hunter. It's just that Cloudy is much easier to read for us non-literature types. The New Yorker book review section may disagree, but what the hell do they know? They wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a Supercub and a C-46.

  8. #8
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Gentlemen -

    I am humbled almost beyond words. I have read "Fate is the Hunter" cover-to-cover no LESS than 20 times in my life.

    To have the name CloudDancer even mentioned in the same sentence with the name Ernie Gann, is something I never could've DREAMED possible.

    It is an honor and a privelege to write for all of you.

    My deepest gratitude and unending admiration for you all.

    Your Friend,

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  9. #9
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Hiya CrazyIvan -

    Yeah. I know. I just GOT to finish that damn story (The Baron and the Bootlegger).

    I been busier than a one-legged man hangin' wallpaper....or a one-armed man in a butt-kickin' contest...or...onea' those things.

    I'll write it down afore too long. Don't wanna' box myself in, as you can tell. But, when you guys find up what I've been up to as I've been continuing the "Learn to Live Sober" program (6.5 months now), and alla' the hoops I gotta' jump through to get back in my AiryBus seat, I think you'll forgive me for hangin' ya'll out so long on this one.

    Let's jus' say I've been REAL busy.

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  10. #10
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Chapter Three - Omens and Crystal Balls

    With little 206 total time, and none in the last two months, naturally I
    botched the landing back at Meacham. My hopes for a feather-soft touchdown shattered on the first bounce. I fed in a little throttle at the top of the bounce and prayed quickly for just a solid, final contact with the grooved surface of Meacham’s runway one-six. Fortunately, whacking the power to idle as both main gear made their second contact with the concrete worked. We remained glued to Mother Earth this time.

    Don acted as if he hadn’t noticed. He leaned over toward me said “Hey
    Cloudy. Get us a taxi clearance over to the motel.” It was one of the first, if not the first hotel/motel built on an airport. Overnight guests were allowed to taxi their airplanes right up to the building. I must admit, I thought it was pretty cool.

    Don helped me push eight-seven-zero-one Zulu backward into a set of
    tiedowns before we retreated into his room. It was, not unexpectedly, littered with all things flying. The bed, the desk, and even the circular table next to the window, were all but invisible, layered with piles of books, aircraft manuals, and both visual and instrument flying charts.

    Besides the manuals for the DC-3, in which Don was attempting to complete his Air Transport course work, there was seven-twenty-seven stuff , weather books, and the Airman’s Information Manual as well. It all added up to a dead giveaway that the man was eyebrow deep in preparing for the Airline Transport Rating written test.

    Don indicated the circular table next to the window, off ering me a seat. As I parked myself, he swept all the assorted learning materials off the table onto the bed alongside. Then he turned and headed for the desk stating “I’ll get you my stuff from home, so I can show you more. Okay?” I watched him picking through the piles of material stacked on the desk, waiting in silence. “Oh Good! HERE they are!” he exclaimed as he whirled about with what appeared to be Visual Flight Rule maps in his hands.

    A broad grin again creased his face as he approached and took his seat across from me. I remembered that among all the other things we discussed at Denny’s, he had mentioned how terribly homesick he was after over two weeks in Dallas - Ft. Worth. Seems he did not think to highly of the hustle and bustle, as compared to the lifestyle of his hometown of 2600 or so residents. Just holding the charts seemed to reassure and comfort him.

    At this point in time, I couldn’t even imagine the feeling. I had no frame of
    reference for comparison in my young life. At that point, had someone told
    me that, all too soon, I would not only understand the difference, but actually value it, I would’ve most likely laughed in their face. I guess that’s why there are no working crystal balls in life. Why ruin the surprise of discovery?

    Of the three maps, I recognize the names “Nome” and “Fairbanks”. And
    although, at that point I had no idea where either lie in relation to the other, at least I knew the names. The last map was named “Cape Lisburne”. Nothing displaying the name of my new home-to-be....uh... what was it? Oh yeah. Sounds like cots-ah-biew. Don tossed two of the maps on the bed. As he begins to unfold the Nome sectional he looks at me and says, “Oh-h-h KAY! Let’s show you your new home!”

    The crispy paper rustles and pops as the map spreads fully open across the table. Two feet tall by eight feet across. Of course, out of habit, Don had opened it facing himself at first. Yet, even though my first view of it was upside down, as he began to spin it around, first impressions registered. Wha-a-at the.....? There’s nothing there!

    In the brief three to four seconds it takes to rotate and re-flatten the map so it is facing me, my eyes flash left and right a couple of times. There is....nothing there! My eyes take in lots of green (land), dark green (higher elevation land), and lots of brown (mountains)! Also, it appears a third of the map’s total area is light blue. That is water! What I DON’T see however is... anything resembling civilization. At least, as I know it!

    Don stops the map, now centered in front of my face. His pudgy right index finger he points to a spot on the edge of the water. With a bursting pride I can hear in his voice, he announces, “See! Here’s my HOME. And your new home!”

    I am aghast. Next to the tip of his finger, smaller even than his fingernail,
    there appears to be an NDB with three magenta lines running outward. One north, one south and one to the southeast. Indeed there is a magenta dot with a runway symbol in it. Okay. So there is an airport there. That much is for sure. The circular magenta dotted symbol for the non-directional beacon almost covers everything else up!

    But! There is no YELLOW anywhere to be seen! Not only in this Koztebue
    place, but... man there’s no yellow anywhere on this whole map! I mean, yellow means....PEOPLE! You know? Like population! There’s no YELLOW! On this whole....HUGE...damn map! Man! You look at a Dallas-Ft. Worth
    Sectional map, and it looks liked they drained a couple of yellow markers on those things. I mean. Shouldn’t there be a least a little.....SPECK of yellow somewhere?

    I mention this to Don, who is enjoying the look of absolute bewilderment
    on my mug. He laughs and says “Oh. We got yellow. Just turn the map
    over.” I do this, and find myself on the reverse side looking at far more brown (mountains!) than before. For the life of me, here again, I can find no yellow!

    This prompts me to glare at Don suspiciously and quietly ask “Where’s your yellow?” Then he laughs and quotes Horace Greely saying “Go WEST, young man .” So I slide the fingers of my left hand westward along the coastline until finally my eyes fall on Nome, Alaska. And there, in Nome Alaska, apparently live enough people to rate the color yellow!

    The size of the yellow splotch is the size of two pinheads side-by-side. A quick glance and you would’ve never seen the yellow. “But. We hardly ever go down there” Don explains as he re-flips the map over to the Kotzebue side. “DOWN there?” I repeat slightly incredulously. “Oh yeah. They’re almost two hundred miles south” comes Don’s reply. It stuns
    me for the what, I don’t know; the sixth or seventh time since we’ve met three hours ago? Nome is...almost 200 miles.....south?!

    He carries on “Now see. THIS is what I call our country”. His hand
    sweeps around the entire perimeter of the Kotzebue side of the sectional,
    encompassing a vast area. “We’ve got...” He is interrupted by the ringing of the phone on his desk halfway across the room. As he rises from the table he says, “Here. Just stay on this side of the map. Everywhere you see an airport symbol, we go there. Just look it over good, while I get this.”

    He scurries past me to the desk and the phone rings louder as it emerges from beneath the pile of books and papers. Finally freeing the receiver Don picks it up and answers. It is his brother, Ray, calling from Kotzebue. Informing me of this, he says he’ll just be a few minutes, but I should start studying that map, which I turn to do. Don’s voice fades slightly into the background. He was generally a somewhat soft-spoken individual anyway.

    My eyes focus back in on Kotzebue, noting it lies at the end of a very long
    peninsula. Once again I stare in disbelief at the tiny representation of this supposed town. I know for a fact that Arlington Municipal airport, where I learned to fly, takes up more space on a map than does all of Kotzebue. Whatever ALL of Kotzebue might actually be! Wow.

    My eyes wander all over the map. Two quick scans of the full map reveal
    absolutely no other electronic navigational aids outside Kotzebue. Not one.
    But, I note terrain heights as high a 6,000 feet on the northeastern borders of the map. I think to myself, “Man. This is some seriously desolate stuff here. This gives a whole new meaning to the term pilotage.” (That’s a term meaning flying visually by reference to a ground map only.)

    No ROADS man! No railroad tracks? How in the heck are you supposed to
    fi nd your way around this mess? The first doubts about whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew start creeping into my consciousness.

    Meanwhile, Don’s voice has occasionally broken into my thoughts. It would
    be impossible to sit five feet away from someone and not pick up parts of
    the conversation unless they had been whispering, which Don hadn’t. So
    I’d heard parts of phrases and sentences that Don spoke into the receiver.
    “Yeah....Okay, but not so good really, yeah, they just don’t understand.....
    too many rules...found us a new pilot....he’s young, but I flew with him in a 206”.

    Now I started to focus on some of the runway symbols by the village names on the map. Th e runway length numbers were....Holy CRAP! All these little places were UNDER four thousand feet long! There were a few that weren’t even, or just barely were THREE thousand feet! Don’s comments continued to penetrate my thoughts.

    “Yeah Ray....I know.....I thought of tha....yeah...but this way we can teach
    him....yeah...go ahead”. And then Don was silent for almost a minute before suddenly bursting out with what sounded liked a surprised and much louder “Really!” This truly caught my attention, as did the fact that Don was now quite animated and speaking fast in a much higher tone of voice. But again, I am only hearing one side of the conversation, while trying to pretend I am ignoring it.

    And, as I still look from village airport to village airport symbol (Hmmmmm. Wonder why they’re all named so-and-so “memorial” airport?) Don says “When! How long ago?! No wa....he couldn’t ha....oh no. He DID! Oh-h-h man. Did they..... they di.... Oh-h-h no. Is he...
    Oh-h-h nooooo.” I’m starting to figure something ain’t right back at the
    hacienda, as Don continues “Was he alone?”

    Then Don falls silent for a few minutes as Ray obviously has a lot to say, and I return to studying my map. A question runs through my mind. “What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

    Finally, after a couple of minutes, I hear Don speak again. “Yeah. He seems pretty sharp. And he’s nice, as soon as he figured out I wasn’t a Mexican trying to get him to fly drugs!”

    I looked at Don and the big grin was spread again across his face as he
    enjoyed sharing the memory with his brother over the phone. “Yeah Ray. If we teach him I think he’ll do real good in the Skyhawks, then we can decide later. Yeah.” And then suddenly the last trace of the smile disappeared. Don listened for a moment before saying. “Yeah. You’re right. He needs to know. Okay. Bye.”

    Having replaced the receiver in the cradle Don turns to fi nd me staring at
    him. Now, with barely a hint of a smile at all, Don asks me “How long did
    you say it would take you to finish your instrument rating?” I answered I was estimating only another two to three weeks at most. “Okay good.” replied Don. Continuing, he said “I really, really don’t want you to come up without it. It’s way too important. But try to get it done, and get up there as soon as you can Cloudy.” “Sure Don. No sweat.” I answered before asking “You guys just get a bunch more work?”

    Don hesitated, appearing slightly uncomfortable for the first time in our short acquaintance. “Well. I don’t really want to tell you this right know, but you have a right to know....” “What Don?” I ask.

    “Well. There’s lots of work to go around already and we just lost a pilot
    today”, and then he quickly added “I mean...we didn’t just lose a pilot...um.... our competitor next door did. And so now there’s just that much more work that needs to get done.” his voice trailed off slightly as he looked down at the carpet.

    “Oh, no sweat Don. I can work hard. Some guy bailed out and went to work for an airline somewhere, huh?” I commented.

    Don still looked at the carpet as he said quietly “No.” Then he raised his
    head and looked my in the eyes and said quietly “He got killed taking off
    from Kiana in an Aztec. Well. Actually he died in the National Guard
    rescue chopper a couple of hours later on the way into town.” Don continued to speak softly as once again his head lowered, his eyes no longer holding mine. “He was a real nice guy too. Schoolteacher. Married. Not good. Too bad.”

    Stunned yet again, I remained silent. Once more Don raised his eyes to
    meet mine before saying “Ray and I figured you should know from the start. Otherwise, it’s not fair to you.” He added “We’ll teach you good though. Don’t worry. We been doing this since we were kids. Listen to us, and you’ll do fine, okay?”

    I answered him with one word. “Okay”.

    I turned my attention back to the map on the table. My eyes fall on the
    words written next to the airport symbol at Kotzebue. Ralph Wien Memorial Airport. So now I know why they’re all memorial airports......

    The End
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

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