I have my 90 day review at my “new” job today… I quote “new” because honestly, it feels like I never had a career prior to being a full-time writer. Sure, I have a bunch of IT knowledge and business smarts that I’ve amassed over the years. However, each day is now a day that I get to do what I love the most: write.
I’ll put this out there – DO WHAT YOU LOVE.
Now, that aside, I’m here to tell you that this is my second-favorite job I’ve had.
Yep, you heard it right. Second favorite…
You know how most high school students work at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, hate their job, their boss, and basically their very existence? That wasn’t me.
This was my entire world, right here…
I worked at the Tacoma Narrows airport for a tiny little airplane rental company (the company and the airplanes both qualified as “tiny”). My duties included fueling planes, handling the rental logs, selling snacks, and occasionally cleaning out the coffee pot with airplane degreaser – don’t judge… it worked. I worked exceptionally long hours in the summer, when the sun didn’t set until nearly 11 PM. In the winter, I spent lonely hours watching the fog banks roll over the runway, obscuring the far side of the field. We had no air conditioning in the summer, and a crappy space heater in the winter. It was very much a “family” environment… all the way down to our occasional arguments and cat fights. Looking back, I loved every minute of it.
I often wondered over the years what it was about that minimum-wage job that made me cry when I had to leave for the last time. It wasn’t until several years later that I truly understood; when I embraced my writer’s soul, I found the truth behind my passion for working at that tiny FBO.
It was the stories… Everyone who walked through that door had one. People don’t come learn to fly by accident. They are, by their nature, passionate people with rich lives. They are the risk takers. They are the ones who don’t sit still.
I remember the other high school students who were learning to fly: some, whose families could support their training, and some – like myself – who worked for every spare dime they could grasp to secure another flight hour. I used to sign my paychecks directly over to my boss, and then borrow $5 for lunch from the cash drawer. But there was just something about being behind the controls of an airplane was liberating, exhilarating, and utterly necessary.
I loved listening to the aircraft owners: how they found the perfect plane, and the places they had gone. There was one guy flew a Piper cub all the way from the East coast, and all of the times he had to stop and repair. His face would light up when he came to part of his tale that detailed his emergency landing in a corn field in Iowa. And how he’d spent nearly two weeks in various hotels across the country, grounded by the weather.
One of our regulars had a little Jack Russel terrier that he always had tucked under one arm. He’d say to the dog, “Sing for us, Pepper!” and Pepper would let out a long, happy howl.
But my favorites were our War Birds – military pilots who fought in battles dating back to WWII. They would sit on the couch and tell the same stories every day while I wiped down the counters and stocked the pop fridge. Daring air battles were demonstrated with grand hand gestures. Talks of USO dances reminded them of loves both won and lost. They’d talk about the planes they flew and the boys they served with. And every day, their stories would change just ever-so-slightly. They’d laugh and share their tales until they’d all be dozing on the couch in heat of the afternoon.
As I go into my 90 day review as a professional writer, I realize just how solidly my foundation as a writer is built upon the stories of those who I encountered during my three years of on-and-off employment with Sunrise Aviation. I owe so much of my inspiration, creativity, and drive to that job.
I’m so fortunate to have had that job when I did. I’m not sure that opportunity exists anymore. Flight schools of old have given way to pilot mills run by major airlines. If I could, I’d work that job for the rest of my life. That chapter in my own personal story has long-since ended. But the memories will never fade – even if I do tend to recount them a little differently each time I tell them.