With the UC being torn down and hauled away like so much trash, I figure it’s a good time to publish some of my memories of the place that was my home away from home for so many years… the Avion office. Considering that I was the one who haunted the office for a full decade… well, okay, it was just three terms… one for Carter and two for Reagan… I guess I’m best qualified to tell the story.
Often people attend Embry-Riddle and stay in the dorm for a term or two and then move off campus to a series of apartments, rental houses or even fraternity houses. Your classes and labs rotate and even your daily mean cycle can take you to many differing locations. The Avion office, however, had the unique ability to become an anchor point for us from our freshman year until graduation and perhaps a little bit thereafter. You could join the staff as a freshman and remain attached to the Avion through your entire tour at ERAU. There was no need to pledge or take an oath or change yourself to fit in, as we are all misfits. Dean Rockett has often said that no fraternity, organization, club or even ROTC has the sort of bonding that takes place in the Avion. Both as a student and as an alumnus, the Avion mafia remains strong.
I always wondered what non-Avion people did to survive on campus. For me, the Avion office was in effect- my office. I had people from back home come to campus and walk around asking where I may be found and the answer that always worked was, “Check up in the Avion office.” I had a phone number where I could be reached, a place to sleep when I got back to school and hadn’t found a roommate yet, free postal service and especially important; a family when I was away from family. We all had that same benefit. The Avion office was the place where we vented, goofed off, created, sang, scammed, mourned, laughed, argued, made fun of one another, ate, drank, celebrated and just simply relaxed. We were all equals with a common interest, differing goals and assorted points of view and we all respected one another. Those are rare circumstances in the real world.
When Teresa and I were first engaged, she told me one day that she was going to join the Avion staff, “…because you’re up there all the damned time, so I may as well be up there too.” For me the Avion office was just a part of my normal existence at ERAU. I’d first ventured into the office on Friday, February 10, 1978. In those days the Avion office was the narrow room that would later become the common purpose room. It was packed with upper classmen and instead of simply going in and taking some time to be the fly-on-the-wall, I was introduced by Dan-the-man to the whole staff as “This is the guy with the cartoons I’ve been telling you about!” as he slammed my portfolio of cartoons onto the layout table.
“Uncomfortable” is a rectal exam, this was more a kin to being dragged grudgingly to a back yard party at a complete stranger’s house and being immediately thrown into the pool.
As the entire staff began reading my cartoons and snickering, smiling and laughing, I started to relax a bit. What struck me was that they all “got it” they understood most of my twisted humor and understood jokes that my own family back in Michigan didn’t understand. Then it came time for editor Ray Katz to read… he never cracked a smile. He just stroked his beard pensively and then said, “Here’s what we’ll do, (Yes “we’ll”) you draw your ant life size and we’ll call it the adventures of Empty Ripple. I politely scooped up my portfolio, quietly said “thank you” to everyone and made tracks for the door. Jeanie Snyder and Keith Kollarik (the guy who was then assistant editor and would soon be editor) apparently both saw this coming and were standing at the door as I went out. Jeanie grabbed me by the sleeve and whispered to “forget Katz” and do it my way. Keith pulled me over and said that he was the one who took the paper to the printer and I should do my cartoon any way I want. He’d put a junk story on the editorial page where my cartoon would go and after Katz did his Monday read and went home, Keith would remove the story and insert my cartoon. “Once it runs,” he whispered, “Katz can’t do a thing about it.” I’d fallen in with authority-scoffing scamsters… I’d found a home!
By the end of that first trimester I found myself spending more and more time in the Avion office. The staff members there were nearly all upper classmen and being around them allowed me to become more and more a part of the university. By the following autumn term I’d gotten my roommate Jeff Barrow onto the staff and we were spending all of our free time up in the Avion office. I’d been tipped off to some nasty and underhanded events in the university and worked them into my cartoons, so I was soon a target. But I had two advantages- first, no one really knew who I was. The classroom instructors could never pronounce my last name always asked if they could just call me by my first name, which was registered as “Walter.” So when they called the roll and got to the “Os” I simply answered to “Walter.” Second was the sanctuary of the Avion office. With the prog. pilots, food services, housing administration, Delta Chi and WERU all gunning for my scalp, the Avion staff got quite protective of me. I don’t know how many times over the years that pissed off people came stomping into the office with an Avion opened to my strip and demanding to see me. The staff would just shrug and say that I only came in on weekends to drop off the cartoon. Of course I’d be sitting right there.
To say that we were friends on the Avion staff would be a short sale of what the relationship really was in that office. In the Avion office we were a family. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor or what color your skin happened to be or what part of the planet you came from.
It wasn’t unusual at all to walk into the office in the morning and find someone still sleeping on the couch, or find a few people actually having spent the night mapping out a new computer game that they’d loaded. Rafts for the raft race were built by staff who guzzled October Fest beer and the construction quality showed it. ( in October 1978 the Avion raft was so poorly constructed that raft race officials had to send a power boat out to tow it across the finish line so the awards could be given out the same day as the race) Photographers worked until all hours, sometimes printing off rolls of photos taken at the previous nights staff party, the approach plate for which had been laid out on the light table.
And, then there were things like “The Boards.” Someone would scroll something on the white erase board like “Tim meet me at the library at 10- Pat” and seeing that someone else would scroll, “Pete, you and me- the cone of silence at 1:45” And another staffer would write, “Holly, I really need you to meet me at the adult detention center at 4, bring a file in your underwear- Brian” which would bait a response of, “Brian, I don’t wear underwear- Holly” and so on until the whole frigging board was just filled with hysterical nonsense. When nothing more could be fit in, a photographer would take a picture of it and after enough time for everyone to tickled by it the board would be erased. No one in any other office on campus ever did that sort of shit.
The annual “Avioff” spurred another office thingy- nicknames, many of which stick to this day. As staffers wrote their National Lampoon worthy prank stories, they began signing them with some prank names that evolved into their staff moniker. Around the office we had “Uncle Pat” “Jabba” “T.A. Binzo” “Tim Van Militant” “Larry Newguy” “Cheff Spagetti” “The Ferret” just to name a very few.
One of the best kept secrets of the Avion office in my era was the back hallway. Campus security almost never patrolled that hallway. In fact I’m quite sure that some of the campus security officers didn’t even know it was there. At night, the single guard who was on duty at the UC switchboard very rarely left his little nook. Thus, aside from being a good place to study for a test or a prog. or have a private conversation, it was also a freeway to monkey business. In the spring of 1979 the staff of the food service had set up a fine luncheon for the visiting board of trustees in the room next door to the Avion office… and neglected to lock the back door. Discovering that, Dan-the-man got a tube of super glue and went in and started gluing shit. He glued cups to saucers, napkins to silverware, water glasses to tables, menus to the walls he even glued the carrot sticks and celery sticks to one another so when you lifted one the whole lot came out retaining the shape of the dish! Oddly, for the rest of that afternoon, no one seemed to be in the Avion office… hummmm. Of course the best one that I can recall took place about seven years or so later- just before Christmas break. The trimester was over and the bookstore was doing their end of the tri. book- buyback… where they buy your text books back at about half price or less and then mark it back up to a buck under new and act like buying it is a bargain. They conducted this term’s buyback in the room next door to the Avion- and of course locked both doors at the end of each day. Rob Watt, however, found that if you stood on the back of the light table in the Avion office and slid some ceiling tiles aside you could drop down into the buyback room, open the door to the back hallway and fleece the book store right back. We went in and nabbed assorted high price books for three nights in a row and sold them back to the book store for three days in a row. Rob had to make it even more fun by selling them back the same text books for three days. You see, the people doing the buyback had no idea what your major was and if you watched and caught different clerks each day, you could sell the store back the same book you’d sold them the previous day. Some of those engineering books were expensive to. I made enough cash to buy my plane ticket home for Christmas and had some left over to buy gifts.
Yet no established society can exist without taxation. It was Brian Nicklas who introduced the “fry tax” to the Avion office. Thus anyone who brought French fries into the office was subject to the tax. It allowed everyone to reach in and deduct one fry from their plate while uttering “fry tax.” It’s a lesson that many of us passed on to our kids and grand kids.
For some unknown cosmic reason the university never fully understood the Avion office and the people who called it home when we were on campus. Solid proof of that came when a hurricane was heading toward Daytona. As a part of the standard preparedness plan the Avion office was issued huge black trash bags to cover our equipment- in the event of a roof leak, or loss. Additionally, a large roll of duck tape (yes folks, the original name for that magic gray tape was “duck” and not “duct” because it was waterproof. You never stop learning from me do you?). The tape was for taping up our office windows so that when the hurricane force winds shattered them deadly shards of glass would not blow everywhere. Big gray “X”s were to be placed over everything glass. Of course we had no windows- so we taped everything else that had glass… Uncle Pat’s glasses, my watch crystal, the computer CRTs and so on. It mattered little, because Pete Merlin dressed up like witch doctor and with hands full of palm leafs and stuff went out on the balcony, danced around and chanted “Booga, booga, booga, hurricane go away…” and the damned storm actually turned and went out to sea.
The most important thing for all of us, however, was to protect the sanctity of the paper itself. Forever the SGA and the university administration have wanted to gain control of the Avion. It is a struggle that continues to this day. More than once I have seen SGA henchmen physically “removed”… okay… bodily thrown from the Avion office. Our greatest protection from their low level tyranny has always been the fact that advertizing made the Avion self-sustaining, so when SGA threatened to pull the purse strings we simply told them to shove it… the Avion would be better on its own. Recently, even that protection has come under threat.
It was always a given that the Avion would take first prize in college journalism conventions. I’d always thought that the reason was that our staff were not journalism majors- thus we were not trying to advance any points, we were just reporting the news. Additionally, we learned hard lessons about layout and context and were garnished with some of the most amazing photos.
On the first day of March, 2019 I was again on campus… the university had actually put up a temporary sign in front of the administration building reserving a parking spot for “Klyde Morris” because my name wouldn’t fit. I was guided on a fantastic tour of the campus which is far, far larger than anything I’d ever expected. The campus is fantastic, but the students are the same- they’re all there for the same reasons that we were there. The institute for the incurably professional remains itself; a bit over crowded, a few hassles, a few delays. While other campuses are wasting time protesting, our students are working hard with a goal in sight among the towering buildings and newly paved walkways. Yet, in the middle of the new campus I saw large equipment that was chewing away at what was once the UC. The final walls were coming down as I was there. The Avion office that I once knew was nothing more than a void. Of course the new Avion office is open on the second floor of the death star… directly across from the SGA office. Tyranny seems to never be far away.
Safely stored in the new Avion office is “the door” from the old office of my era. Avion alumni who visit are asked to autograph the door and it is covered with tons of signatures. Interestingly… the SGA has no such door. That’s because Dean Rockett was right- no group on campus has ever been as closely knit as those who resided in the Avion office.
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