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CHAPTER 8 

The Lights Went Out
At Midnight
 

Well, now that you have read this far, you are probably wondering if I ever got another job.  The truth of the matter is that I did.  As I was filling out applications and sending resumes on my word processor I decided that I had nothing to lose by sending my old airline (the one that laid me off a resume.  After all it only cost me the paper, envelope and the stamp.  As it happened four days later I was called in by Joe Hendrix for an interview for the position of senior aircraft maintenance planner.  How about that for a title! When I spoke with him on the phone I asked him what a maintenance planner does, because I had no idea what the job was about.  He told me that I would be responsible for scheduling all the maintenance for the entire fleet of aircraft.  Automatically, "MANAGEMENT", flashed in my head and I was in his office for an interview the next morning.  I have to give Joe some credit.  He is an outstanding employee and has managed to re-hire almost all the Miami employees that were laid off that requested to relocate to Chicago. 

Again I am taught a humble lesson, if you are laid off from an airline the first company to get a new resume should be the one that laid you off If I hadn't done this out of frustration at the lack of response from my job hunt, I would still be lying in bed at home taping television shows and hunting for a job.  I know it sounds perfectly insane to send a resume to a company that just laid you off, but there must be some rather bizarre logic or reason behind it because I got the job.  One thing to consider about this new position is that it gives me experience in another facet of aviation that can be used as a tool to get myself employed.  For example if the company that I am applying to has no openings for mechanics, they might have an opening as a planner, therefore my experience in this position should double my chances for getting hired by that company.  Even disregarding this fact, the job itself has been a tremendous learning experience for me.  In the first three weeks I learned more about Engineering orders, Fleet Campaign Directives, Airworthiness Directives and how a big airline operates than I ever had before. 

Right after I was hired by the commuter airline I got several job opportunities. One of them was with United Airlines.  At the time though I was very involved with the Dornier 228 and had grown to love the airplanes that I was working on and couldn't bare to leave them.  I had grown to love my airline also and couldn't consider leaving it.  So I turned United down.  In addition I couldn't stand the thought of working in a shop in Oakland, California. 

You can call me crazy, but I think that there are some legitimate reasons for not living at the foot of volcano's and in earthquake zones.  Well, just like I had gotten several offers after I was hired by the commuter I received two offers from some large FBO's after I was hired as a maintenance planner.  Unfortunately I didn't consider them to be a viable opportunity so I didn't take them. 

When I first began to work as a planner I realized that the job was going to be very diff1cult, tedious and boring.  As time went on I began to believe that this line of work was no place for a mechanic to be.  This type of work seemed more suitable to number crunchers', computer gurus' and actuaries than to someone who enjoys working in the outdoors on aircraft with his hands.  The only advantages I could see to the job were that I worked in a climate controlled environment, I wore nice clothes to work in and I didn't have to get dirty.  The last item, that of getting dirty never really bothered me in the first place so I really didn't consider it to be a good selling point for being a planner. 

To make this a little easier to understand I will elaborate a little about what a planner does and how they do it.  First a planner determines when the aircraft comes in for their scheduled maintenance visits and what other inspections have to be performed then, because the inspection intervals are controlled by time cycles or both.  In a large modern airline a computer is used to determine this.  At my airline I was handed a calculator and was shown how to make the necessary computations.  Any mistake in the math would result in inspection's overflown beyond their legal lim1t, which then results in a violation of Federal Law. Believe me, no one wants to find out what happens after that.  You may not lose your license but you will feel like sh1t for at least a week.  By the time you start to get your spirits back up another planning period arrives to give you the chance to do it to yourself again.  At my airline planning periods began on Tuesday and continued through Wednesday.0n both of these days you could count on working till eight thirty or nine P.M.0n Tuesday you would do your calculations and on Wednesday you would pick your' inspections.  At a modern airline the time that an inspection is due is tracked by a computer that tells you what to have done and when.  At my airline these inspection items were recorded onto index cards.  This required us to search through a stack of cards thick enough that an entire airplane could just barely be grabbed in one hand with hardly any room to spare. 

Because there were some careless people who handled the cards it was not uncommon to find them out of sequence.  This situation required us to inspect every card from the first one to the last and return them to their proper sequence, only to find the next week that some schmuck had done it to you again.  I began to sincerely dread Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Especially Wednesdays because those were the days that you went through the cards to select your additional inspections and if you missed an inspection and over-flew it you wouldn't know about it until then.  Until I got the hang of it, (and I never thought I would) I made some pretty big blunders.  I also had this asshole that I had to work with who was the closest thing to a living machine that I have ever seen.  Every time I made a mistake he would make certain that everyone knew about it.  This included telling high ranking officials at critical airline meetings with me standing or sitting right next to him.  Boy was I having a good time.  All of this served to enlarge his perfection to a point bigger than life and bolster his already fat headed ego.  I hated him! Fortunately for me he had a shortage of patience when it came to the schizophrenic management methods employed at my airline and he had already spent three years working there so he was ready for a change.  It wasn't more than two months later he left to work for a charter outfit as a planner.  In the meantime I had visions of so much time being wasted plotting when the next airplane came in for inspection when I could be out there in the hangar next to my office working on airplanes, learning about them and increasing my experience.  It made me sick.  There were several times I was called into the boss's office for an ass chewing and broke down in tears because I wanted to be a mechanic again so badly.  I positively detested this kind of work.  There were several times I resigned claiming that it would be in the best interests of the airline and that I doubted that I had what it took to be even a poor planner.  Each time my boss would tell me that he believed that anybody could do the job and would talk me into staying for another week.  I found out later that it was next to impossible to get anyone from inside the company to take the position due to the asshole I worked with and the lack of computers.  They had already invested a considerable amount of time training me and even though I wasn't as perfect as "the living machine" I was easy to work with and very cooperative.  After a short time it became apparent to me the point at which I would be asked to resign and I was a long way from there.  Still, I hated the job. 

My boss at the time had been in charge of the planning department in Miami.  I had been told by him that when he took on the job as manager of planning in Chicago and found out what he had gotten into he turned in his resignation only a week after taking the position.  I guess it goes without saying there were a lot of unhappy people working in the planning department.  The airline practically begged him to stay and granted him certain privileges only given to upper management such as a four day work week and a "must ride" ticket to and from his home in Miami.  It wasn't long though before commuting that distance and being separated from his family took its' toll.  About three months after I started work as a planner he finally resigned and another planner from Miami took the position.  This new guy I had spoken with on the phone many times to solve problems or make changes to my "C" checks that were being done both in Chicago and Miami at the time.  For those who are unaware, a "C" check is the equivalent of general aviation's annual inspection for airline transport category aircraft. 

This new boss was a breath of fresh air.  A chance to get my act together and one of the best people I have ever worked with.  His name was Joaquin Ochoa. Joaquin was a computer genius.  He never took a class on the subject in school or so he said, and was entirely self taught. 

When Joaquin was called up to Chicago to fill in temporarily for "the living machine" when he quit, Joaquin created a computer program using Lotus 1.2.3.  that permitted the calculators to be thrown away.  In short he saved my job.  At the time he created the program on the computer there were more people than me who were beginning to have doubts that I would be around for much longer.  Joaquin made it possible to treat Wednesdays like any other day of the week.  Out of gratitude there wasn't and isn't anything I wouldn't do for him.  He also taught me most of what I now know about computers. 

Joaquin was the kind of director that preferred to let us take care of ourselves and step in to solve only the big problems.  We had no anxiety about confessing our mistakes to him.  Invariably he would find a way out of the dark for us.  He was such a quiet person, you knew you would never get yelled at by him or be accused of something even though you had screwed up big time.  Problems were challenges to him.  He loved the tough ones that required tremendous problem solving techniques. He was like a fascinated child with a puzzle box.  I don't have a lot to say about his reign as manager of planning because there were very few rough times, which has to be a testament to the kind of person he is.  All I can add is that I miss him very much! It was about three months after he took office that he resigned because of the fact that he was torn away from his wife and children every Sunday to go to work in Chicago. 

You see the people I worked with in Miami don't really want to live anywhere else.  Having been there myself I can understand why.  Most of them are hoping that Eastern or Pan Ams' facilities in Miami are sold to another airline and they can all go back to work there.  I think even as much as I like my airline I would do the same if the opportunity presented itself. 

When Joaquin decided to resign a replacement had to be found.  As it turned out one of the directors of the C check line had an old friend that was looking for a job.  In this line of work you will find that you will develop many friends that will help you get a new job.  You may have to move from one coast to the other to get it but the assistance you will get from friends is invaluable.  As a result I keep close tabs with all my friends in aviation.  I have an extensive photo album with names that not only records fond memories but helps me to remember a persons name when I meet them years later.  That definitely impresses people when I can remember them by name after so long.  So this friend of the director of the C check line comes on board to take Joaquin’s' position and I was not very happy about it.  On his first day I was making espresso for my boss and the C check crew, which was an everyday occurrence.  I went into my boss's office to give him a cup and as I handed him the cup Joaquin asked him if he wanted any espresso.  Without even looking away from the paperwork he was reading he replied "no" in such a cold and dispassionate tone of voice it sent shivers up my spine.  I had been told that Joaquin’s' replacement was soon to arrive and by looking at what the man was reading I was able to determine that this was my new boss.  Since he never looked up at me and I was still speechless I just pointed a finger at him and Joaquin told me that this man was his replacement and proceeded to introduce me.  I then shook his hand.  I am always amazed at how a handshake can tell you a tremendous amount of information about someone and when I shook his hand my intuition told me that this guy was an efficiency expert. 

During the week of his training period I became unsure of my initial suspicions about him, but when he called us into our first meeting with him after he had officially taken over, he started to talk about Wrights curve and Maslow as if they were old time buddies of his.  I knew who Maslow was from my college psychology classes but I had never heard of Wright.  So I asked him who he was and there was this dramatic pause followed by "You don't know!" He then began to tell us that he was the guy who developed the mathematical formulas for computing man-hours. 

He also statistically determined the time curve created when a person does repetitive assembly line type work for the first time as opposed to the time it takes that person to do the work after he has gained experience at the job.  Then my new boss added that Wrights curve was the formula used by efficiency experts to determine the time it takes to complete a new project and how long it will take to do the same job after experience has been gained.  Well, when he said this I could hardly believe that I could have been so correct about the guy just from a handshake. 

All of this is nice but it doesn't do a thing to help you get along with the guy.  Which I was obviously going to have to do.  All I knew about efficiency experts were the stereotypes that I think everyone is familiar with.  This didn't soothe my doubts about the future at all.  I knew that I was going to have to try harder to keep from being prejudiced to him than at any other time in my life.  To be honest, I don't care for people that aren't human and about all I knew about efficiency experts was that they were cold callus people that were never wrong.  I knew that the first thing I would have to do is to find the human side of this man or I might as well resign. 

I don't want to go into the dynamics of my relationship with this new boss.  It wouldn't be productive and as I stated earlier I am trying to refrain from being critical.  I will however say that I tried very hard to get along with him and that it appeared to me that there were some personality conflicts between us that were.  primarily due to ethnocentric causes.  He was much older than anyone in the planning department and had a tremendous amount of experience in aviation.  Yet because of his background and the way he grew up he found it very difficult to relate to the people he was in charge of.  Kind of a scary situation now that I think of it. 

Shortly before this new boss arrived my airline had filed for chapter eleven bankruptcy protection.  What this means to the average guy is that your company can't pay its' bills and is about to go out of business so they ask permission from a federal judge to hold at bay the businesses that your company owes money to while your company restructures and tries to determine a method of paying their debts.  While your company is under chapter eleven protection you should constantly search for work as if you were going to lose your job tomorrow.  The reason is that you just might lose your job tomorrow.  When airlines shut down they do it with less than a twelve hour notice in most cases. 

The Chief Executive Officer and his associates are usually fighting down to the last minute to find some investor to lend them money to continue operating or some way of paying off the debts the company as acquired through arbitration with the debtors.  It is this last minute struggle that results in last minute announcements that the airline in question will cease operations at midnight.  If I had a choice next to being an air traffic controller, being the C.E.O. of an airline in bankruptcy would be my last choice for a job. 

When my airline filed for chapter eleven many of the employees became frightened for their jobs.  Their managers tried to calm them by saying that Continental Airlines had pulled out of chapter eleven on seven different occasions.  I asked myself what does this prove?  Does it prove they are very clever to have pulled out seven times or that they are very stupid for having gotten into it seven times.  Since chapter eleven is something any airline tries to avoid I would have to conclude that they are stupid once and exceptionally stupid on six other occasions.  Or at the least it proves how easy it is for an airline to get into this kind of situation.  Later I found that Continental had only been in chapter eleven a total of two times and I must congratulate all the employees at Continental for hanging in their and getting their airline back to profitability.  Way to go! Your efforts have saved an airline and an untold number of jobs, making it possible for us all to someday work for Continental. 

When an airline goes for eleven they have to find a way of restructuring the airline so that it costs less to operate.  One of surest ways to do this is cut flights to cities that produce the least amount of revenue.  To do this means that you have to remain in touch with the revenue data concerning all the cities that the airline serves, which means computers.  If it were done any other way it would take weeks to sort through the data and produce a conclusion based on the facts.  But by that time you'll be out of business.  When you are in chapter eleven you don't have that kind of time to waste and if you don't have the computers you can't even begin to make those kinds of decisions.  I am not a computer expert but I believe this is probably why my airline continued to serve cities that brought in so little money.  We were flying to Louisville Kentucky with only five paying passengers onboard a DC-9 and we did this for months.  I was remotely aware of the computer system that we had.  I didn't know all the things that it could do, but I did know that it was slow and cumbersome to use and very primitive as computers go nowadays.  All of which are undesirable attributes for an airline computer. 

Part of our restructuring plan was to reduce the number of aircraft that we were flying.  When I came back as a planner we were operating a fleet of sixty-nine aircraft.  They were mostly DC-9's and MD-80's along with ten Boeing 737's. Because of the similarity of parts between the DC-9's and MD-80's and the lack of similarity in parts for the 737's it was decided that we would return the 737's back to the lessors.  Another aspect that factored into this decision was that the Boeing 737 was an aircraft that was in high demand throughout the industry.  This made it an aircraft we could get rid of quick.  We as planners had to produce return to lessor packages for each aircraft so that when the aircraft was returned the lessors would know exactly what needed to be done to them to return them to service.  Naturally we didn't have allot of time to do this.  On many occasions we were given a day to do the necessary records research to gather the information we needed.  If the aircraft records had been computerized the required information could have been provided in minutes.  Naturally this type of work was performed in conjunction with the normal planning duties for the operation of the airline.  I think you can see that there never was a shortage of work to be done in the planning department. 

When these aircraft were returned to the lessors our director of maintenance was sent out to the Mojave Desert where they were being stored with a small crew to do some work on them.  When he was out there he happened to see a small fleet of DC-9's that Eastern had once owned that had been sent out there to be moth balled by their lessors.  He came back and mentioned the aircraft to a vice president who then mentioned it to the C.E.O.  This caused a unique plan to be developed whereby we would return to the lessors half of our fleet, which were being leased at very high pre desert storm prices and lease these old Eastern Airlines aircraft for half the cost of the ones we were giving back.  This in itself was a sound business decision, but it seemed we couldn't resist the temptation to screw things up.  The aircraft in the desert had their interiors configured just as Eastern had left them when they had shut down at the last minute.  Eastern at that time was in the middle of a big promotion that was designed to snatch the business travelers away from the other airlines by permitting them to fly first class for coach fares in their newly expanded first class section that consisted of sixteen seats on a DC-9.  Which was eight more than what we were currently operating with.  It was decided that rather than save money by pulling the extra seats out we would spend money to put additional seats into the aircraft we intended to keep and that we would resurrect Easterns' steal the business traveler plan that failed to pull them out of chapter eleven.  Also this was occurring at the height of the war in the Persian Gulf, a time when many businesses refused to permit their corporate officers to travel by air in fear of terrorist reprisals. 

Now you might be wondering how an airline that is already deeply involved in maintaining it present fleet is going to find the time and manpower to re-configure all these new aircraft and get them ready for return to service.  Well, those brainy boys in the big offices had this one covered too.  They decided that we would contract the work out to F.B.O.'s or repair stations across the country.  Wait a minute! Didn't I just say awhile back that we were on the verge of going out of business because we couldn't pay our bills? Almost every employee at the airline thought this was the most ignorant direction our company could take.  This did us little good because we were in no position to control the decision making process.  So we sent the aircraft to these repair stations that are notorious for poor workmanship.  Some of these repair stations go out of business and are sold and reopened under a new name to avoid legal action being taken against the previous owners. 

As the aircraft were nearing arrival we discovered that the companies holding the lease on the aircraft that we were currently operating had given us until the twenty third of June to pay up at which time they would take our aircraft forcibly away from us.  The aircraft coming from these repair stations were supposed to arrive to us in f1ight ready condition, ready to return to service.  But this was not to be.  The aircraft started to arrive about two weeks before the twenty third and when they got to us they were in no way ready to return to service.  Most of the aircraft arrived with less than fifty percent of the work we had contracted for completed.  Personally I thought that it might have been corporate sabotage.  I thought that this was it.  That it was all over.  There simply was no way with two "C" checks in the hangar and thirty-six aircraft to maintain that we could get those additional airplanes ready.  The condition the aircraft arrived in shook terror into the hearts of the employees.  They new that if they didn't find some way to get those aircraft into flight ready status they wouldn't have a job tomorrow.  Mandatory overtime was called upon, work on the "C" checks stopped and the full power of the maintenance force was poured onto every aircraft that came in.  Work continued nonstop twenty-four hours a day.  Mechanics worked so hard they were too tired to safely drive home so they slept in vacant offices or in their cars on the parking lot.  Wives would bring food in to their husbands.  This swap of aircraft proved to be a tremendous burden that affected every department right down to the guy who swept the f1oors.  We did it to save our jobs.  We did it to save a company that for most of us had taken us straight out of school and gave us an airline to run and a chance to make something out of ourselves.  Even though we had very little belief in the promotion scheme we did it anyway.  I think the way most of us felt was that if our airline failed and went out of business it wasn't going to be because of something we did.  It would have to be because of a lack of business or some other factor out of our control. 

The aircraft were put into service on time.  Just as the old airplanes were being flown away the new ones came on line.  When they were finally put into service we became confronted with what you can normally expect out of aircraft that had sat in the desert for a year.  They were like sleepy people that had just woken up.  There were all manner of minor breakdowns that resulted in a tremendous amount of delays and canceled flights.  At one point we were canceling thirteen flights a day.  Everyone knew that this was going to happen and everyone was hoping that the damage done to us financially as a result of these delays and cancellations would be minimal.  It was a big gamble and we all knew it.  Delays don't really hurt you too bad if they are not too long.  Cancellations will kill an airline because the airline either pays for your' hotel room, meals and transportation or buys you a ticket on another airline to get you where you want to go.  We were getting creamed by cancellations! The mechanics working line maintenance were the ones who had to deal with it. 

The amount of cancellations that we were taking continued for almost a month and then began to slowly taper off I could tell if we had a good day by the number of them on the delay and cancellation reports that we got at our morning board of directors' meetings.  At one of these meeting the technical center director made a comment that we had to have a load factor of seventy percent to turn a profit.  I was so shocked by what I heard I asked him to repeat himself and then asked him what our current load factor was.  He replied that our current load factor was fifty percent.  I left the morning meeting shocked and extremely depressed.  All that effort I had put out and all the effort everyone around me was putting out, the tremendous push to get the planes ready was all completely futile.  It was obvious to me that the reason we weren't snatching the business travelers away from other airlines was because there were no business travelers to snatch.  All the other airlines were reporting that load factors had gone down thirty to forty percent.  At this point it was obvious to me that we weren't going to make it.  From that day on I lead a life of quiet desperation wishing and hoping for some miracle that would save my airline and my job.  My airline was a grassroots homegrown airline that was the only airline that called Illinois its' home. 

This was important to me and I didn't want to see it end.  One of the ladies in my department Judi Newhall, a planning analyst that had become one of my most trusted friends noticed that I was very upset that day and tried to comfort me.  Judi is a very special person.  I can honestly say that I have never met another woman quite like her, but I hope that I do and that she's single.  It was at this time that I had reached my breaking point.  I couldn't stand the strain any longer and buried my airline in my own mind before it had even happened.  I knew then it was just a matter of time before the final decision was made and the curtain came down for the last time.  The feelings that I had then were incredibly intense and it wasn't until I had bought a compact disk by The Innocence Mission that they were finally solidified and expressed into words in a song they wrote called "Now In This Hush." It was a song that I was sure every employee at my airline could identify with if they only had a chance to hear it. 

 

O bless me.
Am I going silent now!
O have I overnight been emptied?
If I could call these thoughts
to come, to stand on this paper
I could read what I mean.
May I? May I?
 

O bless us
for we give our hearts to fear,
for so we give our minds to worry.
If I could brush this sorrow dust
from off of our faces
and see our joy again...
May I? May I?
 

O bless me.
Now I seem to come apart,
to sink inside this overwhelming,
What can I do?
What have I made of all of these new days?
And forgive my despair.
 

Where is color this hour
Where is music this hour?
Are they still going on somewhere?
But where now, in this hush?
Where are words in this hush?
And what am I?

 

O let us make a joyful noise resound.
O let us make a noise and hear it.
Where is color this hour
Where is music this hour?
Are they still going on somewhere?
But where now, in this hush?
Where are words in this hush?
And what am I?

  

The Innocence Mission
Copyright © 199I
Songs of PolyGram International, Inc.
and Umbrella Day Music
Used By Permission.  All Rights Reservred.
International Copyright Secured.

       It was around this time that it seemed as if the Cavalry might be coming over the hill when the fourth largest airline in the U.S. made a proposal to buy us out and provide most of our employees continuing employment with them.  It seemed too good to be true.  Many of our employees who had chosen the airlines as a career had been trying to get a job with this airline for a long time but had never been selected.  The agreement that was made initially concerned our gates at Midway airport that we had just signed a new lease for with the city of Chicago.  Gates are commodities that an airline can sell in times of trouble to rival airlines.  Of course you don't sign over the gates to your only hub if you intend to keep operating.  Yet this is exactly what we did.  We sold them for twenty million with a lease back agreement stating that if we couldn't buy them back in a year the gates were theirs to keep and we were out of business. 

While all of this was going on this airline made an offer to buy us out totally.  All that was required was the bankruptcy judge's approval and for both parties to sign on the dotted line.  The moral at our airline had gone from the lowest low to the h1ghest high in a matter of weeks.  Everyone was bringing in newspaper clippings about the deal.  Then the two airlines went to court and the judge approved the merger.  We started to receive letters in the mail from this airline welcoming us aboard and saying how proud they were to have acquired our airline as a result of their plans for expansion.  We were all convinced that it was a done deal.  Then an interoffice memo came out severa1 weeks later stating that if this airline did not sign the paperwork for the merger that my airline would cease operations early in January.  This caused us a great deal of concern because we were under the impression that the paperwork had been signed when the judge approved the merger, but it hadn't.  Then employees started to bring newspaper clippings to work about how the deal had gone sour.  It was then that we realized this airline's real intentions.  They were after our gates not our airplanes and landing slots at other airports.  We had sold the farm before we had secured our jobs.  The people running my airline couldn't even dig a hole and bury themselves without screwing it up. 

Shortly after this the announcement was made that the deal was office I was informed of what had happened when I arrived for work on the afternoon shift.  I immediately asked how long it would be before we shut down and was told that nobody knew for certain when we would cease operations.  Many of us believed that if this occurred we would simply roll over and disappear without our airline taking any legal defense of ourselves.  The atmosphere in the office was a great deal like a funeral parlor.  There was a tremendous amount of silence and several people wept.  People began to empty their desks into plastic trash bags and boxes concerned that they would be unable to collect them later when security locked the place up.  Then at about 4 PM it was announced that we would remain operating until the beginning of the next week at which time we would petition the bankruptcy judge to make a ruling to force this airline to buy us.  Everyone jubilantly left work relieved that at least we weren't going down without a fight.  There were parties held immediately after work where employees shouted hateful slogans about this rotten airline that was trying to do us in.  I remained at work and planned to attend the rally myself when I got off" Then at 6 PM there was a news flash through rumor control that the attorneys for my airline had advised the administration that their defense was very weak and would take several months if not years to pursue.  At the same time it had become apparent that there was not enough money to continue operating even for a short time.  We would have to shut down immediately.  Then at 6:30 PM the announcement was made public that as of midnight November l3th 1991 we were ceasing all operations. 

Can you imagine what it was like when the news came across the radios and television sets in those bars where the employees had gathered to cheer our airline on to a legal victory and had been told when they left work that we would continue to operate.  Shortly after the announcement was made I was given instructions concerning what I needed to do to put the airline to bed for the last time.  The word was given to the mechanics in all the hangars and toolboxes started rolling out the doors into waiting pick-up trucks.  All you could hear in the hangar was the roll of 2000 toolbox wheels.  On the hangar floor all you could see in the faces of the mechanics was a look of sadness in their eyes that spoke of the far too many times this had happened before. 

I went to my office to clear my desk when there was a knock on the front door.  It was Tom Bailey who was a fellow planner and Judi Newhall.  They had been at the rally and had heard the announcement on television that we had shut down and came over to find out if it was true.  Judi was crushed and had tears streaming down her face.  I was more hurt to see her this way than I was that our airline had shut down.  Judi has the kind of personality that makes it very hard to be sad when you're around her.  I had seen her bored, depressed and frustrated but I had never seen her like this.  She sat down at my desk and said that ever since she had been a child she had always wanted to work for an airline and that she had been so happy to have her wish come true by working for one in her home town. 

She said that she couldn't even consider the possibility of doing anything else and being as happy.  I asked her if she knew what it meant to be saying that and she replied that she didn't.  I told her that there are two types of people, ground people and air people and that to a ground person an airplane is just a machine that gets you from A to B, but to an air person it means much more than that.  An air person loves aviation and can't imagine life without being around airports, airplanes or airlines. 

Tom and I cleared our desks and took care of last minute business.  We called our friends and family to give them the sad news.  Tom called a fellow avionics technician that he had worked with in Miami who said that he had already heard the news about our airline on CNN and offered him money from his savings account so.  that his family would have something for Christmas.  Here again is an actual demonstration of the brotherhood that exists in this business.  About this time my boss called and told us to be at work at the usual time to pick up paperwork concerning our shut down and that I should come in the morning with everyone else.  Tom and I f1nished clearing our desks and then Tom drove Judi home.  I stayed to say good-bye to some friends and shut the lights off in the office around midnight and went home. 

As all of this was going on our aircraft were arriving as if nothing had ever happened, but there were no departures.  The last flight into Midway by our airline came from Los Angeles and arrived in Chicago around 12 PM.  As the aircraft approached the Chicago area the pilot tuned in his radio to a local twenty-four hour news station and heard over the radio that our airline had shut down.  When he heard this he realized that he was the last aircraft to land and got on the aircraft's' public address system and announced that all on board had the dubious honor of being our airlines last passengers. 

When the aircraft arrived at Midway that's where they stopped.  Passengers on connecting flights didn't get them.  Passengers who were continuing on to another destination were told to get off the plane.  It was Southwest Airlines that came to the rescue of most of these passengers by almost immediately honoring our tickets.  Later American and several others followed suit, but for the first two days after we shut down the dirt bag airline that double crossed us refused to help our passengers by accepting our tickets.  When I arrived at work early the next morning they even had the audacity to immediately begin to us our gates as our employees were picking up their walking papers.  Many of us who still had access to the ramp wanted to go out and flip the bird to one of their aircraft that was taxiing to the terminal, but we decided that it wasn't very professional so we didn't do it. 

After I came back from Hangar One with my walking papers my boss asked me for a copy of my resume.  I asked him, "What do you want with that?" He replied, "I'm trying to get you another job silly." I was really surprised.  We had been at odds with each other for so long and so many times, I couldn't believe he would try to get me another job.  He came back later and told me that a very large and prestigious company was building a new 747 repair station in southern California and that if I was interested they were sending representatives to interview employees from my airline exclusively.  He gave me a name and number to call for an interview and as it turned out I got the job. 

You may recall in an earlier chapter I said that there seemed to me to be some pretty good reasons for not living at the foot of volcanoes and in earthquake zones.  Well, I am now living on top of the San Andreas fault.  Don't feel very comfortable about it.  At the time there isn't much I can do about it.  I have no flight benefits and took a six hundred dollar a month cut in pay to have the privilege to work on the Boeing 747.  I guess it all evens out.  In all fairness I must at this point offer my sincere thanks to my boss who helped me to get this job. 

Later in the evening we got together at a local pub to sing the blues together for one last time.  At this gathering I met a lady from reservations who told me something about how the loss of her job was going to affect her that I hadn't considered before.  She said that she was in her late fifties and remarked that it would be difficult for her to get medical insurance at her age let alone a new job. She said, "Who's going to hire me at my age?" When you're young and in good health you don't think of these things.  As far as a young person is concerned your going to live forever.  Right? Well, it is a fact of life that when you get older companies don't want to hire you because of the problems the older folk create in the form of health care and productivity.  Her remarks caused me to think about myself and what I would do in a similar situation.  It caused me to think about the direction my life was taking.  Maybe you can purchase a medical insurance policy that covers you only during periods of unemployment.  Who knows? It warrants an investigation considering the nature of this business. 

Even before my airline went out of business I knew that the loss of it was going to have a profound effect on me.  Unfortunately I was not aware of how deep the wound would become.  I came out to California to work on Boeing 747's and was quite excited about being able to work on this airplane.  When I arrived out here I found it very difficult to find anything redeeming about the area.  One of the things that is immediately noticeable about this area is that it is not very pleasing to look at.  I knew before I even touched the airplanes to work on them that I would have to try very hard to avoid comparing this facility with my airline.  I tried very hard indeed to keep an open mind.  In the end however I came to the conclusion that I couldn't ignore something’s about my new place of employment.  I discovered that bad planning is just that and that no attempts by me to overlook what is wrong was.  going to make it right.  At this facility I became intimately aware of people who had worked for Eastern Airlines and later after Pan Am went out of business I became aware of them also.  I became good friends with all of them and began to notice something about them and the industry they work in.  I noticed that all of them for the most part had put in nearly thirty years with their respective airlines.  Few of them had risen to any position of power or security.  All of them had lost their jobs as I had.  These situations being repeated over and over again caused me to think about myself and my goals.  I came to the conclusion that this is not what I had intended for my life.  When I got into this business it was with the intention of finding some security and stability in life.  Instead I was given a red bandana and a concertina and became a member of "The New Gypsies." 

I am left wondering what I can do to obtain what I have searched for all my life.  I have tried just about everything I can think of and I am running out of alternatives.  I never intended to wind up in this situation.  There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of my airline and ask myself, "Why did this have to happen?" I think of all of the lives that were torn apart by its' ending and how since 1990 I have followed a mass exodus of airline mechanics from Miami, FL.  to California.  Literally one end of our continent to the other in search of a job.  This trail of tears has displaced families, resulted in innumerable divorces and suicides.  It has taken foremen and lowered them to the position of mechanics which is where they began in this business many years ago.  No one in the outside world has a word to say for any of us.  No not even the creation of "Tent City" was enough to raise a cry of support for us.  Tent City was created by homeless airline workers that were caught unprepared by the strike at Eastern Airlines, which resulted in many people living in their cars or in tents under highway overpasses. 

I never thought I would come to this.  I seriously doubt that even if I were to find some other way to make a living that I would be any better off because our nation appears to be plunging into the dark ages in respect to employment security.  It is precisely these things that prompted me to write this book.  The public believes that everything is fine with us and it's not.  People every day come into this line of work with great expectations only to have their hopes smashed to pieces when they learn the realities of being an aircraft mechanic.  They waste many years of their lives getting into this business and waste many more trying to make it work when the conditions that prevail make success and security impossible.  It is important to remember that not everyone makes it to the majors and since they are now laying off thousands, working for the majors is no longer a guarantee of security or success.  I have been sending the majors resumes and applications for five years now and they haven't hired me.  The closest I ever got was the first interview at Delta and they never called me back.  Just exactly how bad this can get or how far it will go is anybody's guess.  My advice to the flying public would be to buy a ticket from a bankrupt airline and save an airline workers job.  We need the load factors and revenue passenger miles to go up, and we need it bad.  People need to start traveling more, not less, or we will never get the money we need to get out of bankruptcies and fix this mess.

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