Tuesday

A DAY I WOULD NEVER REGRET


April 18th, 1977... exactly 40 years ago today, as of this writing... it was a day I'll NEVER regret. It was a spring Monday in mid-Michigan and it seemed as if winter had finally released its dark grip as the sun was out and the robins were singing. I headed off to another crappy day of work in my Highland Appliance company service van. My job was that of the now extinct TV and stereo repair man. I motored around the tri-cities, went into people's homes and fixed their new TVs and stereos that they'd just purchased, brought home and discovered that the damned things didn't work. That meant that I got to meet a lot of pissed off people. My boss was a total asshole who hated my guts almost as much as everyone at the store hated him. It was an insufferable situation that paid quite well as at the age of 19 I was making good money. This was the result of my attending a local career center in the 11th and 12th grades and taking both basic and later advanced courses in electronics. Now I had a job in electronics that I hated. Although I never had planned to remain in that job for more than a single year, I now could hardly stand it for a single week.

My routine was always the same; drive the van to the store, pick up my "calls" for the day, get nagged by the asshole boss, head out on the road and go into assorted homes to kneel behind TV sets while little kids in ketchup-stained pajamas tried to steal my tools. About the only solace that I had was the fact that my home town professional hockey team, the Saginaw Gears, were ripping their way through the playoffs and headed toward their first Turner Cup. So it was that I put my key into the van's ignition with it's Gears key-chain and headed off to every call and every TV.

After my day's suffering I returned home to Mom and Dad's house figuring to hunker down in my basement bedroom, draw some cartoons and call my girlfriend... just like every other day. As I walked into the house, my Mom pointed toward a large manila envelope on the kitchen table. It had arrived in that day's mail. It was addressed to me. It was from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, "ERAU." I had applied to the university in the autumn of 1976 and was looking for an Air Force ROTC scholarship in Aeronautical Science... which is a fancy name for "pilot." The university, however, notified me that the Air Force was no longer doing Aero. Sci. scholarships and required all candidates to be in the engineering department. I wanted to do engineering about as bad as I wanted to keep working for Highland Appliance, so I decided to change my option, drop the ROTC and go in as a civilian in the flight department. That decision was made way back in February and I had been waiting since then to hear back from ERAU.

Oddly, I'd wanted to go to ERAU since the 8th grade. It was then that I was working in the counselor's office at Webber Jr. High School when a stack of assorted college fliers were mistakenly delivered to the Jr. high school rather than the high school. Looking at them I asked Mr. Barris, the counselor, what he wanted me to do with the stuff? He told me to just throw them away and as I went to toss them into the waste basket I saw that one pamphlet had an airplane on it. I kept that one and later studied it. It was a school that taught all about airplanes and, for the crazed space-buff that I was, the place was in Florida just north of "The Cape." Being anywhere near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center was enough to fill my space-crazed imagination and learning to fly airplanes too was a sure winner in my book. This was the place for me and even though college seemed to be a lifetime into the future, THAT was where I wanted to go. When it finally came time for me to apply for college, ERAU was my first and ONLY choice. My high school guidance counselor tried to warn me off of that choice saying that he felt I didn't have the math background for it and perhaps I should go to the local community college instead. This was the same guy who, when I decided to take electronics at the career center in the 11th grade tried to warn me off of that too for the exact same reason. He said he thought I'd be better off taking sheet metal instead. I told him that I was going into electronics and if I wasn't carrying at least a "B" by Christmas, he could put me into sheet metal or even janitorial if he wanted. He just smirked and agreed. At the Christmas break I was carrying an "A" and he couldn't touch me. Out of the 24 of us who started Basic Electronics, only 3 of us made it to the advanced class for our senior year and only two of us graduated with a job in electronics. Now that same idiot was trying to warn me away from ERAU. The situation speaks for itself. Thus, on that Monday in April of 1977 I had an envelope from ERAU waiting at the table and countless implications waiting inside.

The envelope was fat, and squishy as if something was padded inside. As I held it the thought occurred to me that if this was an acceptance letter, opening it would likely change my whole life. I had no idea just how true that instinct actually was as I squished the envelope and stuck my finger in it to rip it open.

Inside that envelope was not only my letter of approval for admission to ERAU, but also a T-shirt with the ERAU crest. Unseen by me at the time the envelope also contained failures, struggles, frustration, poverty, discouragement, success, accomplishment, pride, glee, victory, new friends for life and a wife that I could never have imagined.

Suddenly I felt as if I was seated aboard a Saturn V moon rocket and the hold-down clamps had just released- I was on my way! Frankly, it's a good metaphor- because that thing had millions of parts that could fail and it launched to do the impossible. Now, I had to overcome countless problems, any one of which could lead to failure and I was setting out to do the impossible. "Impossible?" you may ask. Yes- think about it, I was a workin' class kid from the wrong side of the Saginaw River whose parents had both dropped out of high school (and so they both insisted that all three of their kids must finish school and go to college). I came from a place where the norm. was that you go to work in "the shop" or some other outlet that supported the auto industry. ERAU was, and still is, "the Harvard of the skies" (although it is my opinion that comparing ERAU to Harvard somehow degrades ERAU a bit), there was no way that I could afford to go there and I knew it. I was told over and over by the relatives and neighbors and assorted know-it-all blow hards "that's not for people like us," and NO ONE other than my cousin Tony believed I could do it.

I couldn't wait to get started.

I called into work the following day and just told them I wasn't going to be coming in. I took my bicycle for a long ride on the country roads of Michigan and just felt free. It was 79 degrees outside and the sun felt great. I got a money order for $100, which was the deposit fee that the university required and I mailed it gleefully off to Daytona. That evening I went with my Dad to the hockey game. Dad was the Zamboni driver and so we got there several hours before game time. He always let me go out and skate before he started doing the game ice. I took my stick, gloves and a half dozen pucks and hit the ice. It had been about a month since my final game playing in the juniors so it felt great to be back on the ice. I screamed around the rink, deep into the corners and blasting back out again firing shots. I had the whole of Wendler Arena all to myself and enough adrenaline pumping to bottle it and sell it in pharmacies. Under my ever-present hockey jacket I wore my new ERAU T-shirt. It was the only time that I wore it until I got my official letter of enrollment- I didn't wanna jinx myself. Dad was watching somewhat proud, yet probably deeply worried that I was setting myself up for a huge failure. He told me later that while I was out there one of the Gears players came through the arena's back door and stood watching. The professional hockey player mentioned that I was, "a real skater." Dad said something to the effect that it's too bad I didn't skate like that when I played and explained that I was blowing off steam because I'd just gotten into college. The player asked if I was "gonna play" there. Dad said no, I was going to Florida and gonna be a professional pilot. The player's comment was "Great!" I didn't even see the exchange- I was too busy ripping up the rink.

On April 25th, 1977, just one week after I'd gotten my approval letter, my admission letter from ERAU arrived. Four months and one day later, on August 26th, 1977 I said goodbye to my girlfriend Debbie, the state of Michigan, hockey and my life as it had been for the previous two decades and I headed off to ERAU.



I'm not at all shy about saying that it it took me a full decade to work my way through that place- in fact I'm quite proud to say that. My goal from the start was not some seat in an airline cockpit... my goal, my focus, was simply and directly to finish- to do the impossible, to take every doubter, critic and smug tit feeder and show them that a kid from the wrong side of the river CAN do this. Along the way I gained so much beyond my degree that today, 40 years later, I feel like the richest man on Earth. I have no regrets- NONE, and I especially will never regret opening that envelope... 40 years ago today.


Friday

YOU NEVER KNOW WHO'S GONNA BE ABOARD

On January 12, 1999 I had a trip aboard N225CC, a Falcon 100, from ESN-MTN-LEX-MTN-ESN and our prime customer was Senator Mitch McConnell. This was an insane time for Senate travel because it was at the peak of the Clinton impeachment trial. Senators had obligations after the hearing adjourned for the day, but had to be back in chambers by the next morning. So, they had to leave the chamber, hustle to an airport, board a private jet, make their appearance and then hustle back to DC. DCA was slammed every night so Senator McConnell and his aids limo'ed to Martian State airport just north of Baltimore where we picked them up and headed for Lexington, KY.

As we flew out, we could hear them talking in the back of the aircraft, but could not get all of the conversation because much of it seemed to be about the closed-door evidence so it was in hushed tones. What we could pick out was something about tiger stripe panties and it was apparently quite funny.

Before we left LEX they told us that we had one additional passenger. Didn't matter to us, we had 3 empty seats and no weight issues. The young blond lady extra passenger said that her airline reservation back to DC had gotten screwed up and she was about to get stuck in LEX. When the senator heard that, he told her she could hitch a ride back with us. I immediately recognized her as one of the news show "talkin' heads" that I'd seen on all of the networks, but I couldn't remember her name. We got them back to MTN and they caught their limo back to DC without as much as a bump. It was a an easy trip with good weather and we re-positioned back to ESN.

About a week later I was channel surfing the news and there she was! I read her name it was Kellyann Conway. Today, January 20th, 2017... 18 years later... the man whose campaign she brilliantly managed was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States and she became the first woman in history to successfully manage the election of a United States president... and I transported her when the airlines couldn't... thanks to Senator McConnell, or course. Congratulations Kellyann, even though you never knew who I was, you are now in my file of fun pilot's stories.

Thursday

"The Program" cartoon strip is BACK... again.


Yes after being idle through Obama's entire second term after it was repressed by censors of the administration for looking too much like the real thing... "The Program" cartoon strip has now been re-started.

Those of you who actually work on black projects or who work in aerospace can now revisit the place where ants really fly in space... or at least they try.


Constant training is required to not get turned into a smoking hole in the ground, yet most of the side characters have the the life expectancy of one of the red shirt guys in Star Trek (we use the red shirt joke a lot). Of course no corner is too sharp to cut and penny pinching is always a way of life in the training department.


You, however, can safely enjoy the work of Sims, Twik-O and Dr. Zooch as they challenge the unknown as well as management.


Lord willing and the creek don't rise I should be able to have this up once a week as my writing schedule gets back to normal after having just written 8 books in the past 4 years.


Now you can catch up on the adventures in the insanity known as "The Program" and never mind about those Russians- it's those gosh darned Dorrillians you gotta watch out for.





Wednesday

WHAT'S IN A NAME

At a recent doctor's visit the office staff were shuffling my paperwork around and the new office manager looked at mine and asked her co-worker, "What'll we do with Mr. Oleszewski's?"

That caught my ear because she pronounced my name exactly RIGHT! That's VERY rare and so I exclaimed, "You said my name correctly! How in the heck did you do that?"

"I'm from Ukraine." she replied with a smile and slight accent.

Growing up on the East Side of Saginaw, Michigan names such as mine were like "Jones" they were so common. Yet, out in the real world I found that many people have a real tongue-twister with names that are not actually Jones... especially flight attendants, or "FAs" as they are often called.

At one of my airlines, in the days prior to 9/11 when civilization actually existed in air travel, the company required that the FA making the pre-takeoff announcements had to greet the occupants of the fart thrones in the back of the aircraft by saying the cockpit crew's full names. This led to a lot of comedy in the cockpit as we listened in on the PA waiting to hear how they scrambled my last name. For the poor FA's, however, it was a frustrating and somewhat embarrassing way to start a flight. One FA actually had me spell it phonetically and then she sat in ops. and practiced it, yet still got it wrong as we taxied out, much to our giggles in the cockpit.

In order to help fix the problem I did a bit of research in the company manuals and found that nowhere did it state that the FAs had to give the passengers your ACTUAL name. So, from then on when the crew card that they read from was handed to us in the cockpit before the flight, I'd give them easier and more fun names in the "First Officer" blank:

"Roy Flemming"
"Frank Gifford"
"Max Peck"
"Anson Harris"
"Joe Patroni"
"Dan Roman"
"John Sullivan"
"Luther Higgs"
"Carl Griffin"

and so on.

Often the FAs would come back into the cockpit with the card and say, "This isn't your real name."

To which I'd reply, "No, but you can pronounce it."

They'd just sigh, or snicker, shake their head and return to their duties.

Then one day after a perfectly smooth and uneventful flight into MSP, the passengers were de-plane-ifying and I had my head down in paperwork when one of them stuck his head into to the cockpit, looked right at me and said,

"Please tell me that your name is NOT really Ted Striker,"