Several things started changing at PacEx about the time I upgraded to captain.
The Chico base was closed and I was reassigned to San Francisco. Doreen and I found a really nice house to rent in Santa Rosa and I would commute to the SFO airport on a commuter van that left from a local hotel. There were lemon, grapefruit and navel orange trees in the yard. The owner paid to have the lawn and the trees cared for. All we had to do was pick the fruit off the trees.
The other thing was that there was an hourly pay scale installed. You may remember that prior to that, we had a salary system. First officers were paid $18,000 per year, captains $32,000. The upgrade meant an increase in pay, but the hourly system meant even more income.
When the company first started flying, the pilots and fly attendants were supposed to share hotel rooms. The pilots unanimously said they did not want to do that and cited safety reasons. They claimed that they could not get proper rest sharing a room, because of snoring and other problems. Pilots often play the safety card, but these pilots backed it up with money. They said they would pay the difference in cost and the company deducted it from their checks each month. Eventually the company decided to pay for the second rooms. This happened shortly after I began working there. I think that is something those guys can be very proud of. They kinda shamed the company into doing that.
We loved Santa Rosa. It is the county seat of Sonoma County and is the largest city in Wine Country, located just west of Napa Valley.
Nearly all of my flying prior to Pacific Express had been as the Pilot In Command (PIC). Nearly all of the charter and pilot service trips had been single pilot. Getting used to flying as a copilot took some adjustment. I had always put airline captains on a pedestal. When I began flying with captains, my philosophy was always to keep them in their comfort zone. I didn't want to try anything that they had never seen before. Early on, the only way I could do that was by screwing up. Later, as I began to fly with more new captains who had freshly upgraded and I was getting better, I tried to fly a conservative airplane.
One of the more experienced captains, Ron, was pretty cool and we tried lots of different things to learn how to use the energy of the BAC 1-11 while flying visual approaches. I tried to develop this thing where I established a bank angle as I reduced power to idle, let the plane slow, then began to extend flaps and gear as we passed through their maximum speeds and descend to the runway, finally rolling the wings level between 500 and 1,000 ft. Above Ground Level (AGL) and lined up with the runway. When it worked out, it was a thing of beauty, but sometimes it appeared it wasn't going to work out early in the process.
Shortly before my own upgrade, I was flying with a friend, Dave, who had just upgraded. I was flying the leg into Sacramento and we were high on the downwind leg, abeam the approach end of the runway. The controller asked if we had the field in sight and I told Dave I had it. He relayed that to ATC and we were cleared for a visual approach. It looked like a perfect setup to do my constant bank angle/make it look like it isn't going to work out/visual approach.
I began the maneuver and noticed the young captain squirming a little in his seat. An older guy probably would have starting to tell me what to do, but this dude remained cool. He thought I was going to be too high, but he gave me a chance to correct myself. I respected that. It went perfectly. As we exited the runway, Dave said, "I didn't think that was going to work out at first, but nice job." I smiled.
As a new captain myself, the first officers were doing a great job helping me and not doing anything to scare me too much...intentionally.
The other guys in my new hire class were upgrading also and I had been on the phone one day in early February 1984, trying to work out a trip trade with one of them through crew scheduling. He and I spoke a couple times and I was busy doing something when he called back. He asked if I had heard what was going on. I said I had talked to the scheduler and yadda, yadda, yadda. He interrupted, "No, not that. The company has suspended operations and is having the crews fly all the planes back to Chico. They are filing for bankruptcy."
I felt sick. I had been single all my life, except for a few years of marriage, without children. Now I had 2 lives besides my own that I was responsible for and I did not want anything bad to ever happen to them. I needed a job and I needed it fast.
I called some of the other pilots to confirm what was happening, but realized we were all now competitors for whatever jobs were out there. On Ground Hog Day, February 2, 1984, I was 38 years, 6.5 months old. A little long in the tooth to get an airline job and remember, I had no college degree. These facts greatly limited my opportunities.
Despite all that, I had to do what we frequently do when flying - compartmentalize issues and focus on doing what has to be done. I called everyone I knew, literally, everyone. I told them my company had gone broke and I needed a job. Somehow, I got some information that a company named Orion was hiring pilots. They employed pilots to fly planes owned by United Parcel Service under contract. I called and was offered an initial interview in Los Angeles on February 9. This was good progress and I was encouraged, but I didn't know how long that process would take and knew I needed to exhaust all possibilities. Nonetheless, my head was in a better place.
The pilots were heading out, in all directions, like a starburst and I would never see most of them again.