[continued from Oshkosh]
After a full day of working on the flight line, moving jets in inappropriate clothing. I took the long walk home. Most of the WarBirds volunteers camp nearby but my camp was miles away. I hitched rides and walked but my blisters were worsening. Near by my camp was SOS Brother’s an off field bikini bar. I know your thinking this is where the story goes off the rails and it did, every night. The beer tent(s) were huge and the servers were super cute. The bar had three sections, the swingers section and two others that I never found.
Days earlier I turned up at SOS brothers in the morning while some guys were stacking wood for the fire pit. I asked if they need a bouncer, bartender or security. They passed. After my first day on the flight line I rolled up to the bar (swingers end) and asked for a beer. I’d hang out there almost every night on my way home. I stuck out because of my bright clothing, exhausted appearance and kind demeanor.
Many of the patrons were pilots. Very happy pilots, this was the highlight of their year. I heard stories and lots of folks offered dinner and beers in gratitude of me being a volunteer. I was happy — so many kind folks. there were bands and dancing too. Every night I’d find someone to dance with and we would start pulling people out on the dancefloor, it became a team effort and after a few days of doing this it became the highlight of my trip.
One evening between the band’s sets, I met eyes with a woman and she asked me to dance, the music was ambient, the band was on break having a beer. So we went out and just danced on an empty dance floor for 15 minutes — we were silly doing anything that seemed fun from break dancing to ballroom. When we were done her mom lamented I’d never held a man’s beer and cigar while he danced with my daughter. Later when the band started back and the dance floor was packed she tapped me on the shoulder looking over at the pile of bodies and said “we did that.”
My feet had become so badly blistered that I needed help. When I awoke, and couldn’t walk, my mood sank. I needed help and I was really sad that I wouldn’t be able to work on the flightline. I was really sad, I tried to make it to the bathroom which was about 500 yards away. I was seriously fucked — i couldn’t walk. I thought I can’t even walk up to the EMT shack which is another 1500yd from the bathroom. I’d crawl if I needed to, so I prayed a bit and stepped out of my camp and into an oncoming golf cart.
I’d neary been run down by this 6 person golf cart. They skidded to a stop and apologized. I recognized the fella sitting in the passenger seat, it was my CFI Mike Egglan from Oakland Flyers. Last time I’d seen Mike we were doing acrobatics in a Super Decathlon. I didn’t tell them why, but I asked them for a ride down to the EMT shack.
Driving the golf cart was Mike’s CFI and in the back seat sitting next to me was Mike’s wife. We had a great chat about how random this was, I had no clue I was going to be here and Mike had said nothing to me about coming to Oshkosh. We caught up about the completion of my powered pilot add-on and they dropped me at the EMT shack. I began to have faith, I’d had faith before, but I just began to rely on it. Whatever I needed would come. It did, it was consistent and I really felt loved by the universe.
The folks at the EMT shack were bored and were happy to help me with my blisters. The laughed a bit that I’d asked to volunteer and then ended up being a patient. In my EMT class I’d learned not to be shy about human bodies or for asking for medical assistance. They got me in good enough shape — I would walk back to camp and finish cleaning up.
During my training for working on the flight line I got a tour of the buildings the warbards use. As we passed through an ally, my tour guide commented “I smell cigars.” I made a mental bookmark of the large fella sitting on a pile of wood smoking a cigar. Later I would learn his name to be Skipper. This spot was about 500yd from the flight line and a lot closer than the nearest smoking spot two miles away.
Every afternoon after lunch I’d walk over to the alley and there was Skipper. The first time I entered, pulled up on a pile of wood and started to unwrap a cigar. Skipper (I referred to him just as Sir for the first couple days) barked, ” You gotta ask George.” I stood, said nothing and left. Who the F*** was George? I came back 5 minutes later and unwrapped my cigar, sat on a pile of wood and we smoked for an hour saying not a word. As I rose, Skipper stated we should get him a chair. I said I was good at appropriating materials and I’d work on that.
The next day after lunch I went to the Bodega and there was one chair. I sat on a pile of wood and began to smoke a cigar. Skipper came in after about 15 minutes sat in his chair and and for an hour we said nothing. I unwrapped another cigar and Skipper spoke up. He talked and I listened. He lamented about the lack of respect people have for airplanes, how there just isn’t any respect any more. He talked for a while and I said nothing. Eventually I finished and returned to the flight line. As I got up to leave, Skipper barked “Don’t fuck this up, they set it up for me.” I didn’t say anything and walked away, through 100 years of history and back to the flight line.
I loved moving the jets. I had no clue what I was doing but they let me move around priceless pieces of equipment. Sometimes the old fellas would complain about how fucked up a situation was. They had been doing this for 30 years, they had seen shit go wrong. “Let the new kid do it.” I was happy to, just move slowly and keep your head on a swivel. Don’t get hurt and don’t fuck up, rules I could understand and live by. I was happy that I’d found a little peace of chaos that I fit into.
One day after lunch about to enjoy a cigar with Skipper a fella came in to the bodega and introduced himself. We had a nice chat, Skipper grinned through it all and as the fella was about to leave he said “I’ll get you a chair,” I thanked him and asked him his name again, he said, “I’m George, head of security.” A few minutes later George’s son came by with a chair. I sat and smoked a cigar with Skipper in silence.
After a few days of smoking cigars the bodega had two chairs two portalets and a sign that read “SKIPPER’S CIGAR BODEGA.” One day a fella came in, saw us smoking and lit a cigarette. He tried to talk to Skipper and me. We said nothing, we sat in silence. After the fella left and a few minutes of silence, Skipper started telling stories about how all you had to do was ask your questions, show a bit of respect and they would tell you anything. He told some of the previous days stories and I started finishing them. I’d finish his sentences, and then finish his story that the told a few days ago. I’d been listening and this made him quiet again.
“I’m an acrobatic glider pilot” I said as I looked up, “I want to fly in airshows.”