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Early Years

I'm switching the rest of the story to the Flexible Flyer banner.  I have always thought that would be a good title for my memoirs.  My ...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ground Hog Day - Deja vu all over again.

The similarities are still painful to think about, let alone write about.  When Pacific Express went broke, a friend I had been talking to on the phone several times that day called and asked, "Do you know what's going on?"  I thought he was talking about a trip swap he and I had been working with crew scheduling and started blabbing about that.  He interrupted and said that it wasn't that, the company had suspended operation and was having all the crews working that day fly all the planes to Chico CA.  They were filing Chapter 11 under the bankruptcy laws of the country.  It was Groundhog Day, in February 1984.

This time it was a day late in September 1989.  Twirly called me, we talked frequently.  He asked, "Do you know what's going on?"  I knew the answer this time, but it still hit me like a ton of bricks, worse than PacEx.  I was 5 and a half years older now, age 44, really long in the tooth to be searching for an airline job.  We had another child in the family.  We lived in a house that the bank owned and I was paying them a mortgage payment every month.  We had just leased a new station Taurus wagon for Doreen to haul the kids around.

Years of flying airplanes had conditioned me to try to avoid panic.  Start thinking of the worst case scenario and look for ways to mitigate your situation.  As long as you are still moving, you are still OK.  It's the sudden stops that cause all the problems.

ALPA held sessions in which they had people try to advise us what we could do.  Priority number one was to get another job.  They had people explain the process of personal bankruptcy, with all its pitfalls.  They told us about unemployment compensation.  It wasn't much.  I bumped into one of the flight attendants at the office and she was cussing the Braniff management.  Somehow we got into a discussion about what a flexible word fuck was, you could use it as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb.......  

I started calculating bottom line stuff and knew that I had to sell the house.  Even if I got another airline job, the first year pay sucked so much that there was no way I could afford the payments.  Perhaps I could work something out with the bank, explaining my situation and my previous stellar credit situation, but I was not going to do that just yet.  I signed up for unemployment and hated doing so, but I guess my employers and I had been paying into that.  It was a drop in the bucket compared to my financial responsibilities.  I could try to sell the house to make a little or to break even, but I could see no way to get out of the lease on the wagon.  We had a garage sale and sold lots of good stuff for pennies on the dollar.

There were bright spots.  My Aunt Ann Cleary lived in Orlando.  She was the widow of my dad's brother, Gerard "Duke" Cleary, who had been a pilot in the Air Force and was at least a small part of the inspiration for me to be a pilot.  We had established contact with Ann, when we first moved to Orlando.  Her daughter, Char, lived in Cocoa Beach on the east coast of Florida, near Cape Canaveral.  Doreen had helped her with her son, by staying there and watching him, while Char went to nursing school.  My parents sent us what little they could.  My flame ass liberal sister in law did nothing. 

Our kids called Aunt Ann, Grandma Ann.  Doreen's parents had both died before I met her and my parents still lived in Pittsburgh, so the kids saw Grandma Ann more than their own grandparents.  She was at our garage sale and we were talking about what we were going to do after we sold the house (if we sold it).  She said we could stay with her, if there were no other options.  I didn't want to do that, but filed it away.

I was looking into the intricacies of foreclosure and calculated that I had to stop making the mortgage payment, because we needed the money for food, etc.  I was trying to determine how long we could stay in the house before the bank foreclosed.  I called the agent who had sold us the house and we looked into what we needed to do to get it ready to sell.  We decided to paint the exterior.  One of the male flight attendants painted house on the side, so I hired him to help me paint it.  He was a good friend and gave me the best break he could, but he needed money too.

I did the same thing I had done when PacEx went broke.  I called everyone I knew, especially in the airline industry, and told them the situation and asked if they knew of any jobs.  Everyone wants to help, but some of the advise is just not useful.  I tried to be as polite as I could.  You don't want to burn any bridges at a time like this.  All of my Flex friends were doing the same things I was doing and we were now in competition for the same jobs, so everyone plays their cards close to the vest.  I reviewed and updated my resume and mailed it out to all the airlines.  I knew that I only had two good opportunities to get hired by an airline, United and United Parcel Service.  Those were the ones that did not now require a college degree.  A few of the others did not technically have the requirement, but they did in a practical sense.  It is a way to thin the vast herd of pilots who are trying to get their attention and get a job.  

I started thinking about possibly getting a job with a corporation, flying a company jet.  I began thinking about what I could do to support my family in anything close to the way I had been able to up to this point, if I was unable to come up with another flying job. Working my way to learning that flying was such a perfect occupation for me, made that last part very difficult to contemplate.  I was afraid that I would not be able to put as much of myself into another profession and would end up hating it.  I was now in such a tight crack, that I could not afford the time or money to go back to school.  Just thinking about all this now is making me feel bad.  At that time, it was almost physically painful.

One advantage I had on selling the house, was that I had a GI Bill loan.  This meant that it was an assumable mortgage.  Not to get too deep in the weeds, partly because I don't remember the details, I could have a buyer assume my mortgage.  

The perfect buyer came along.  A real estate agent brought a man and woman to see the house.  He was a dentist and she was his dental assistant.  They were not married.  He had a wife or ex-wife in Puerto Rico.  They had tried to close on another house just days before, putting it in the name of the woman, because Doc did not want his wife to be able to get her hands on it.  The dental hygienist could not qualify for a loan.  Their agent started looking for homes with assumable mortgages and found us.  Our agent explained all this and the risk that was involved.  If they defaulted on the loan, I was responsible.  I was already considering foreclosure, so I felt this was more hopeful than that.  I could always fall back to that position.  Doc was putting $12,000 down, so I felt that would not be easy to walk away from.  If they stayed in the house for a few years before defaulting, I would hopefully be in a position to resume the mortgage and rent or sell the house again.  We closed on the house about a month after we put it on the market.

I had talked to Grandma Ann and said I hoped she was serious when she said we could stay with her for a while.  She said she was.  One of the problems with that was that Caitlin had started school and we would be living in the district of a different school.  We had an older couple, Jim and Helen, living next to us who had kind of adopted our little family.  We were great friends with them. Jim was a retired Naval Aviator, a Captain, and when the school system came snooping around, he told them we were living with them.  Stories like these were keeping me going through a very tough time.

I shot gun blasted resumes and applications to all the airlines and some corporations.  Then had to sit back and wait to see what fell out of the tree.  My old friend, Jim Weber, (Sky King Himself) was managing a Fixed Base Operation at the Akron Canton Airport in Ohio.  He let me come up there to do a little flying for him.  Otherwise, I was just curling up in the fetal position and trying to maintain my sanity.

I got a response from UPS and had my first interview with them in Dallas.  My old friend, Bob, one of the guys who had been twice bitten by Braniff, was there in training.  He had been hired by UPS and was learning to be a flight engineer on the Boeing 747.

He had started the process with UPS after Braniff bought Florida Express and was called for an interview.  He asked if he could postpone the interview, because things were starting to look pretty good at Braniff right after the contract was ratified.  That day, as he was walking in his uniform out the concourse to our gates, he saw that the shut down process had begun.  He immediately recognized it for what it was and made a left turn to a row of pay phones to call UPS and ask if the interview he had just asked to postpone was still available.  They said yes, he took it and was the first of the Branflakes to be hired after the bankruptcy.  He started about a month later.

When Bob heard I was coming to Dallas for an interview, he told me he would be there in a hotel room with an extra bed and that I could stay with him.  When I got there, I told him I was thinking about mentioning to UPS that I had previous airline management experience and trying to explore that possibility with them.  Bob had been a check airman, director of training, chief pilot and director of operations for Florida Express.  He sat me down in that hotel room and spent an hour talking me out of trying to get into management with UPS.  The first and biggest issue was that the management pilots at UPS were not on the seniority list.  They were kept separate from the line pilots.  The assumption for why they do this is that they are being maintained as a scab force in the event the line pilots go on strike.  That was enough for me, but Bob went on to explain that they had so many of them, that they were tripping over each other and were just rearranging the magazines and writing useless bulletins and shit like that.  They wore suits, not sport jackets, Bob emphasized, every day.  He knew me and said I would hate it.  I can't tell you how correct he was.

My thought was that by going into management, I would be able to make more money.  The starting pay for line pilots was much lower, as I have said, but it did not get better for years.  I don't remember exactly how bad it was, but I learned that if I did not upgrade to captain, it would take many years to return to the income I had been earning at Braniff, let alone Florida Express.  But, it was a job and I really needed one.  I took Bob's advice and did not mention the management deal and neither did my interviewer.  Despite my constant state of worry and depression, I felt I did well.  I was soon called for another interview, this time in Louisville.



This time, UPS paid for an airline ticket to Louisville and a hotel room.  I had to go to a doctor's office in downtown Louisville while I was there.  What I remember about that, is that when I came out of the office to the street, some guy approached me for a hand out.  I told him my sad story and that I was there to try to find a job and couldn't afford to take anything away from my family back in Florida.  He just shrugged his shoulders in defeat and walked away.  I didn't feel any better.






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