And the Song Remains the Same

There are days and there are days.

Alternate opening: Could things GO more wrong?

As we swim through life, there are moments that reveal to you crystal clear insight of The Ultimate Human Condition. I had such a moment this evening as I tooled around the airport on my scooter. To recap for those of you playing the home game: While I have a very glamorous life as a freelance writer (I’m living the dream over here, remember?), I used up a substantial chunk of my savings and incurred some debt while playing slumlord to gypsies, tramps, and thieves over at the Money Pit. When the Pit sold last month, I paid off some (most) of the debt but put a lot of my profit in a CD (the temptation to run to Tahiti was too great and I feared I would not return), and vowed to pay off the last of the MP debt and rebuild my sailboat fund with monies earned working as ground crew for the Advertising Air Force (AAF) at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Pete.

This job is fantastic fun… and, of course, I have that whole aversion to regular jobs thing goin’ on, so this is right up my alley. A friend of mine commented only yesterday, “That’s the thing about you, Cathy, you always have these interesting jobs.” I love the planes, love the work, and think the whole gig is basically cooler than government cheese. I’m not the only one; people who don’t know (and even many of those who do) about flying banners see it as somewhat exotic. It’s not putting on pantyhose and heels and trading stocks, I’ll grant you that.

But even the most glamorous jobs have their problems. I just didn’t realize today how similar to shit professions these glamorous lines of work are. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I owned a commercial cleaning company. Our crews cleaned mostly vacant properties for Realtors and property management companies, and within several months we had enough work that I rarely had to clean. We rented office space and shared a secretary with several other small businesses.

But cleaning toilets is cleaning toilets, and while the job allowed me to do what I wanted and be my own boss (which I quickly learned meant that I had 32 bosses instead of one, because when you are your own boss, each paying client is your boss, but I digress), running a cleaning company presented its own challenges.

Some people have called me a snob, which I’m not sure I agree with, but in deference to the idea that I might in fact have some elitist qualities (they’re intellectual rather than social, but still…) I’m going to put this as gently as I can. The pool of applicants left something to be desired. I had one or two great women cleaning for me, but by and large I ran a big revolving door for gypsies, tramps, and thieves (yes, much like my tenants, I know). One stellar moment came when I had to tell an applicant I couldn’t hire her because he background check revealed attempted murder. Suffice to say, I had a hard time keeping good staff.

But we had other problems, and most of them fell under the “anything that can go wrong, will” category of days. You know the sort, where 3845 small things build and build and build? Yup. We would have too many properties to clean, things would malfunction, people wouldn’t want to work, you know, general chaos. And I remember thinking on those days that if only I had the experience or money to own a more glamorous business, these problems would magically disappear.

I’m pretty sure the entire AAF got punished today because I thought that eight or nine years ago. And, oddly, today wasn’t even that bad. It was just so fucked up it was funny (to me). We started the day with two planes, 13 banners, and bright and sunny expectations. I can lay out four banners at a time, which means I rolled in there at 9:30-ish ready to lay out each pilot’s first two banners.

Except two of the four banners needed changes, which took me a lot longer than it should have, and by the time I call Tom (Banner 2) to tell him he can take off, he lets me know that Henri (Banner 5) wasn’t ready to go because his plane had some issues. I, ever the optimist, lay out Henri’s first two banners anyway, thinking our mechanic will come on over and fix him right up. As I finish rolling out the last of Henri’s banners, though, my phone rings. Henri. No ETA on a fix; he’s going home.

Fine. I go back over to the letter hangar where Mary (our Banner Diva) has reworked the day so one plane can fly them all. She has slashed and trimmed and we think Two can get it done, although banners that don’t fly mean banners that don’t pay, so no one’s particularly happy about this. Two drops his first banner and picks up his second and a monsoon the size of Connecticut descends upon the airport. Now, usually this is no big deal- summer in Florida, right?- but this one just stays. And stays. And my mind starts to calculate how much gas Two has left. He sends me a text message- “Comin your way!”, to which I respond that he may want to contact the tower because I think- just maybe- we’ve gone IFR (instrument conditions, which these guys can’t land in). Two ends up flying around until a hole opens up and he skeeters in and lands, lightning cracking around his wings (did I mention that Two is something of a cowboy?)

So we have gone from 13 banners to 2. Not- pardon the pun- a banner day for the owner. And, oh, yes, he’s got one plane out of commission with two, possibly three, bad or weak cylinders. I am constantly amazed the man doesn’t just walk around with a malt liquor IV, but he seems to take it all in stride. Not so our salesgirl, who repeatedly calls and insists “But it’s clear at MY house!”, not quite getting that all that means is that if our pilot COULD take off, he could only fly at her house. Perhaps she should sell banners that fly around her house.

So we call it a day, and return at about 4 to fly one last banner that we thought could go. And Two picks up the banner and I turn the key in the van to go pick up the banners in the field that I couldn’t get to in this afternoon’s monsoon, and… clickclickclick.

Dead. And I’m out on the field, across the runway, and it’s raining. I try to screw with it for about ten minutes, then grab my bag and the radio and walk to the runway. Usually when we cross the runway in a vehicle we call ground control and say something like “Whitted Ground, this is Banner Van to cross 36” (36 is the runway), and they respond with either “Banner Van, cross 36” or “Banner Van, hold short”.

“Whitted Ground, hello there… this is Banner Person to cross 36.” And I swear to you I can hear them laughingin the tower.

“Well they’re just taking all your toys away today, aren’t they? Banner Person, uh, go ahead and, uh, cross 36.” I do. And Two lands, piles on my scooter, and call Ground again.

“Whitted Ground, this is Banner Scooter to cross 18.” (which is 36 in the other direction; winds shift and they re-designate.) I want to, just for fun, show up on a horse one day and call Ground: “Whitted Ground, this is Banner Horse to cross 36,” but I’m afraid it might send one of the controllers plum over the edge. Once we cross, Two does some mechanical guy thing that seems to work, although apparently I need to tighten something tomorrow.

Any-hoo, the point here is, the song remains the same. It’s always gonna be the little things tripping you up. And maybe the secret is not doing things for money but for fun. After all, when I had a day like that when I owned the cleaning company, all I could think of was the money I was losing because we didn’t have staff or whatever to finish the day. But the guy who owns this place takes it all in stride. I think it helps that he loves planes, and it IS a pretty great way to spend your working hours. It’s like pizza and sex… when they’re great, they’re fantastic. And when they’re bad… well, they’re still pretty damn good.

So my crystal moment came as I was going back to the hangar to clock out… the owner lost money today. He had just had a day like I had when I owned the cleaning company. But he seemed ok when I saw him. I guess because when you’re doing what you truly love, bad days are still pretty good.

So, yes, the song remains the same, but I guess the difference is whether you’re listening to the easy listening version or the reggae one.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.