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CHAPTER 6 

The Big L.O. 

Well, as they say, there comes a time when all good things must come to an end.  One night I came to work and went into the restroom to relieve the call of mother nature.  At the hangar where we worked someone years ago put a chalk board over the urinals.  I don't know why.  It seemed a strange place to put one, but it was there.  You would often see messages to meet somebody on it or someone saying bad things about somebody on it, but on this particular night someone wrote, "The big L.O.  is coming." After I left the restroom I went out into the hangar and there was only one DC-9 in the hangar for an inspection.  I started to ask questions about a possible lay off and was told by my supervisor that lay offs' were done on a company seniority basis and that my time with the commuter would protect me.  Shortly after this a company seniority list was posted and I had sixty-one people behind me so I wasn't too worried. 

The lay offs' were due to the rising cost of fuel and the stiff competition my airline experienced as a result of opening a new hub in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania around June of 1990.  When the first lay off wave took place two mechanics from my shift lost their jobs.  Now you might expect that there would be some type of warning from the company regarding the lay off, but this did not occur.  When USAir laid off two thousand employees they were given considerable notice that they would lose their jobs.  Unfortunately employees at my airline did not have that kind of luxury.  You just came to work and found out that you no longer had a job. 

The effects of the first wave were not devastating to moral but there were some noticeable changes in people.  There seemed to be a certain amount of tension in the air, a sense of anticipation and anxiety about what was about to happen to us all.  Several mechanics told me that there was nothing that I could do to prevent being laid off, that if the airline was going to lay off, they were in control and there was nothing I could do to change it.  I told them they were wrong and that I had a great deal to do with the financial well-being of my airline by how efficiently and cost effectively I performed my repairs.  They told me I was letting the fact that this was my first airline job affect my judgment.  I told them that they had been jaded by their experiences with other airlines.  As it turned out we were both right. 

About two weeks after the first wave I got a notice from administration that I was to attend Boeing 737 school.  I was immediately irritated because I had made plans to have three days off to visit my mother on her first flight on the airline and now my plans were ruined.  On the other hand you would have to be a fool to turn down Boeing school to visit your mother, especially when I was to attend the class so soon after arriving in Miami.  It just seemed that there must be someone in an office somewhere with a copy of my itinerary that was deliberately trying to ruin my plans.  Since the class was to take place in the mornings I decided that it would not be too much of an inconvenience for my mother to stay at my apartment in the morning alone, so she flew down on her first flight with the airline to visit me anyway.  You couldn't have found a more proud employee, because my mother was flying on the jets that I maintained. 

When Monday rolled around and I attended my first day of Boeing school, on break I discovered that there had been another lay off wave and that it had hit the mechanics hard.  I was walking through the hangar in a state of mild shock to see· grown men in tears, packing up their tool boxes.  There were some people that were jubilant over the fact that they had lost their jobs.  I thought they were insane.  All the while I thought that they wouldn't send me to Boeing school if I was going to be laid off. 

After class was over Tim and I were walking to our cars on the parking lot when a dock planner came running after us and told us that the director of maintenance wanted to see us.  Tim and I agreed that if we were going to get laid off we wouldn't try to avoid the subject.  So on my first day of Boeing school and the first day of my mothers visit and her first flight with my airline I got my walking papers.  You have to keep all of this in perspective though.  What happened to me as far as timing is concerned about the lay off isn't half as bad as what happened to one of our cleaners.  He was laid off the day after his baby boy died of pneumonia.  All the mechanics took up a collection for him to help him out.  This is the kind of brotherhood that exists among airline professionals. 

When Tim and I walked into the office of the director of maintenance there was a line of mechanics waiting to see him and get his farewell speech along with their discharge papers.  I still was in a state of disbelief when I was handed an envelope with my name on it.  I still refused to believe it as I read what was contained inside.  Then all at once it hit me when I started to think about how my life was going to change.  I knew immediately that I would not be able to live in Florida on unemployment.  Fortunately I had saved up an extra month rent.  All the sudden a tremendous sadness overwhelmed me and I bolted up from my seat and left the directors' office in tears.  I was walking out of the hangar when Rocky saw me crying and asked me to stop.  I told him that I couldn't talk now, but that I would see him tomorrow.  I was so upset that I forgot to take a quarter with me for the tollbooth when I left the hangar and was forced to drive home a different way.  As a result of this I got lost and by the time I got to my apartment Tim had already called my place and told my mother about the lay off.  To be completely honest he couldn't have done me a kinder favor because I was really dreading having to tell her what had happened.  In fact I had planned to keep the news to myself until she had gone home.  As soon as I walked through the door she let me know that Tim had called and that she knew I was laid off.  That afternoon she and I went to a restaurant on the beach in Ft.  Lauderdale and tried to have as good a time as possible.  Sometimes having the people you love the most around you at a time like this isn't the best thing you can do.  When I am confronted with a serious problem like this I withdraw into myself and try to find an answer to my situation.  My mother does just the opposite.  So we were both going in different mental directions.  In spite of it all we did manage to maintain an even strain and even have a good time. 

Having that extra months' rent was a very important thing because it permitted me a chance to look elsewhere for employment.  The Miami area has many other aviation possibilities and I developed some strong leads and even some opportunities for employment with an FBO and a charter airline but none of them offered any medical benefits and the pay was substandard.  I had one opportunity with a charter airline whose maintenance department was run by a twenty-five year veteran in aviation.  I couldn't understand why this guy wasn't in the airlines.  The pay he was making was ridiculous and he had no medical insurance through the company.  On top of that he was working with Convair 340's and the turboprop model of the Convair 340, which is equipment that is over forty years old.  I just couldn't figure what his motivation was or if he had any at all.  He also scared me, because he caused me to question my career and myself.  After all, is this the result of twenty-five years of experience in aviation? As it turned out I was offered a job with this outfit and I turned it down because of the distance I would have to drive and the lack of benefits.  It was comforting to know however that there was work available to me if I had to stoop that low.  You see the primary reason I got into aviation was to provide my parents and myself the travel benefits that the airlines have to offer. 

All during my last month in Florida I tried to make it as enjoyable as possible.  I went scuba diving as much as possible and visited with my friend Laurie.  There came a time when I had to move so I packed up my things and returned home to St. Louis.  In a way I was glad to be home but it was such a disgrace to have promoted airline maintenance so greatly to my parents as a career only to have to return home without a job seventeen months after graduation. 

For about the first three months I was home I was so concerned about being a nuisance that I tried to make myself as scarce as possible by staying in my bedroom. For about three months I only came out of my bedroom to eat, get typing supplies or send out the mail containing my resumes and applications.  I was extremely depressed. 

Then I got a job interview with Delta and I flew to Atlanta and found myself interviewing with about fifty other mechanics.  Unfortunately I did not get the job and when I found out the bad news I sank to depths of depression I had not experienced since the Coast Guard.  I began to feel as if I was trapped and that because of the crisis in the middle east it would be a long time before I ever laid hands upon another airplane for an airline.  In fact the crisis in the middle east occurred with such precise timing in conjunction with my lay off I felt as if it was Gods wrath being pour out upon me.  I mean, what else could come along and ruin my day! It was around this time that the number of companies that I was corresponding with, had become so large that it was impossible to do it all by hand.  So I started looking at word processors and bought one to program my resumes and applications.  I also looked into F.A.P.A.  and became a member.  I have to admit that the resume that they developed for me shortened the response time by one half over my previous resume that I had designed.  That in itself to me was worth the cost. 

Then I got another interview with a company that shall remain nameless.  They wanted me to maintain a Metro III as well as the maintenance records and the parts' department and do a parts inventory twice a year.  On top of that they wanted me to do all of this in Alexandria, VA.  without a hangar, year round for only $10,500 dollars a year.  Needless to say I didn't take that job either.  I began to feel as if I was in interview purgatory where only the undesirable jobs would hire me.  Which brings me to a word of advice if you find yourself laid off.  Be on your guard for outfits like these looking to hire you at unreasonably low pay or where the salary will not provide you an adequate standard of living in the area you will be required to live.  Also watch out for levels of responsibility that don't fit the level of pay.  If you smell something fishy don't jump into the garbage because you can't seem to find a flower bed.  That is unless you have no other choices to make. 

All through this period there were only two things going for me.  The first was that I had my parents to fall back on for a place to live and food to eat.  The second was that airlines all over the country were laying off and I knew that there were some mechanics that had it worse than I did.  Then the Arts and Entertainment channel began showing the program Wings Over The World.  I had already been videotaping The Discovery Channels program Wings and when I started recording Wings Over The World I began to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  What really changed my attitude was the episode on the Boeing Company.  When I learned that Boeing had to build household furniture and boats during a time when aviation wasn't a practical way to make a living, I realized that periods like these in an aviators' life were normal.  Then in several subsequent episodes I saw the same thing repeatedly in several of the great aircraft designers lives.  I also became aware that all persons involved in aviation share in the glory of the great aircraft designers no matter how small a part they play in the game.  This to me was very important, because I had begun to feel as if I was going to spend a long time sitting on the bench before I would return to work in the field. 

I want to talk in depth about what a lay off will do to you emotionally.  It is as bad as loosing your mother or father to a terminal disease.  It can be even more upsetting if you have nothing else going for you in your' life as I do.  I think that if you have a family even though you may be wondering how your' going to feed them, you have them available as a support group.  In my situation all I ever had was my job.  All I ever was or wanted to be was an aircraft mechanic and now all the sudden it was gone.  I wasn't anything to anybody, especially myself.  Then several weeks after being laid off the Persian Gulf flares up and sends our nations' economy on a roller coaster to hell.  Naturally the effect on the price of fuel caused all the airlines to re-think their plans for future growth.  When this happened USAir decided to delay delivery of aircraft they had ordered from Boeing.  Then they decided to lay off about two thousand people by years end.  Shortly after this TWA decided to lay off several hundred employees and about the same time McDonnell Douglas decides to lay off two thousand.  I felt like that little guy in those drawings you often see around someone's desk where the little guy is trapped inside a vise and the caption reads, "Go ahead you son of a bitch, give it another turn, I work better under pressure." I couldn't stand for people to see how low I was.  I felt like I did after my first divorce.  As if somehow I had gotten some dirt on myself that wouldn't come off As if I had shamed myself in some way.  So I cut myself off from people and only saw close friends infrequently. As a result I put on about thirty pounds because I had nothing to do except eat and watch TV as if I had some kind of illness and had to stay in bed.  I knew that this couldn't continue very long or I would have a health problem.  I knew that the only defense that I had for what was confronting me was to get those resumes and applications out or I had no hope of getting back to work and I would die in my bedroom. 

Everybody handles their problems differently.  I handled mine the only way I knew how.  My parents thought I was in need of serious help I am sure.  I think that even they knew that the only cure to my problem was to get back to work in aviation and to get back as soon as possible.  I think that under the circumstances I was experiencing and having to take Delta's psychological examination may have affected the results.  I am afraid that my mental state may have been revealed in the test.  Anybody under these circumstances can't perform to the best of their ability.  I think the important things to remember at times like these is that only you can create opportunities for yourself.  If you never return to aviation after something like this and get yourself a regular job with all it's mundane qualities then that is the course you chose for yourself.  Whether you're in aviation or not the world is a very tough place and nobody cares about your problems, no matter where you work. 

A person who succeeds in aviation is the kind of person who will succeed anywhere, doing anything, because this kind of person makes his own opportunities by his own efforts and doesn't wait around for success to fall into his lap, because it never will.  This kind of person can handle the tough breaks because his character is like a Timex watch that takes a licking and keeps on ticking no matter what the adversities are.

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