3.00 AM Graveyard Shift,
"Move Crew" Room, United Airlines San Francisco Maintenance Base.
"Hey Aussie, 'ave ya
"Naw," I say.
"He's probably sleeping in the seat storage room. He was flying this
"When's he gonna get
his Commercial license?"
"Dunno, but didja
y'know he's taking classes at San Mateo JayCee for his A & P."
Any conversation to stay
awake. We keep one eye out for the foreman, a good bloke but a company man.
John Blackwell, fresh out of the Trappist Monastery in Ogden, is out on the
ramp in the morning chill saying his Rosary; Jerry Mukai's leaning back in his
chair staring into blue collar airspace; Brown is reading yesterday's Chronicle
he found on a DC6 coming in for overhaul. It's the ugly hour when you know the
shift's half over, and you don't want to be farmed out for some grunt job with
another mechanic who's behind on his job and all that's left is the shit work.
"Todd, what's Sather
have to pay for his flying time?" I ask.
"I think Cessna 140
time's about $14 an hour solo," Todd replies.
"No way," says
Brown, always ripe for an argument, his eyes just clearing the top of the
broadsheet newspaper paper. "A guy I know only pays $12." Brown
always knows a guy.
Todd, "when I was a mechanic in the Air Force they had a program called
Aviation Cadets - they will teach you to fly. It takes about 18 months and when
you're done, ya got yer wings and they make you an officer."
"No shit! Where do you
Brown, "you'd never qualify, Todd. You've gotta have two years of college
and they only take the smartest guys." Once again, Brown knows all about
"Bullshit, I was with
a mechanic who didn't have any college and he got in! Dunno what happened to
him but I know only 50% of the guys make it through. It's tough - the
academics, the military chickenshit. It's a real 'Tiger' program. They keep
saying they only take the top 2% and wash out half of them."
I think, "Well that
let's me out. I'm no 'Tiger' and my academic career was not brilliant having
left school at age 16."
"Hey, Aussie, wanna go
down and find out about it?" asks Todd.
"Sure, why not. I
don't have anything planned after the shift's over."
Don't have anything planned? What's to plan. I've been in the USA since
Christmas last year and the horizon is void. Can I get my A & P? Perhaps.
Go to college? How and where and with what? I have no money saved but perhaps
if I joined the service I could get something out of it without shelling out any
dough. My background as a mechanic is mostly fabricated although I'm a quick
study and smart enough to stay out of trouble.
Shift over, coveralls
sweaty and dead tired, we head out in Todd's car for Mission and Market
Streets, and up the stairs to the Air Force Recruiting Office.
Todd takes over.
sergeant, we'd like to sign up for Aviation Cadets."
The six striper takes a
look at us and figures if he can talk us into signing up as enlisted swine, he
just might make his weekly quota. "Aviation cadets, no way," he
"Well, you have to
fill out the application, have a physical and take the written test. It'll take
all morning, do you have the time?"
I look at Todd, his eyes
like two pissholes in the snow. "Why not?"
Now, thanks to the sisters
of St. Joseph I've always been good at tests. All you have to do is figure out
what the test writer or the prospective employer wants and give it to him. .
Education: Hmm. Attended St
Ignatius' College Riverview. Sounds good and it's true. High School: Gunnedah
High with passes in, let's see: Physics, Chemistry, Math I and II, English.
Work Experience: Mechanic,
Clegg and Tyrrell (well that's stretching it a bit, but they'll never check
that out) QANTAS Sydney, Aero Engineer and Mechanic (got a certificate proving
that) United Airlines, got a job there.
Citizenship: Got my
passport - Thanks Mum, thanks Mary.
He looks and is pleasantly
Thank God it's general knowledge, aptitude and some basic math and
What's this airplane? What's that capital? Sines and cosines.
Pythagoras. Elementary algebra. Some nonsense about train schedules and
interpretation of graphs. Fun stuff. Piece o'cake; Coulda done it in 7th grade.
An hour later, I emerge
from the test room. Ex Airman 2nd Class Todd is still in there.
The sergeant takes the test
and runs it through a scoring machine. He is more than pleasantly surprised,
he's impressed but tries not to show it.
"Take this paper over
to that office across the room and give it to the nurse. We'll give you your
physical this morning."
Geez, a physical, at this hour. Don't know if I can even make water. Oh
well, what the heck, it's something to do. Nice nurse, bit old for me 'tho.
Fill out the medical form. Childhood sickness? I'm not totally truthful, but
then I'm not sure what I've had. Good thing I don't know what caused my
brother's or parents' or deaths.
Venereal Disease? No, never. Christ, can't tell the truth here but I'm almost a
virgin. Physical restrictions? Nope.
Strip off down to my
shorts, see the doctor, turn, cough, get a 'finger wave up the rear. Touch the
toes, look left, look right, can you see my fingers? How many? Say aaah!
Back to the Recruiting
Sergeant. Still no sign of Todd.
"Am I in?" I
"Well, no. This is
just the beginning. You'll have to have another more extensive physical, and a
two day exam north of here at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento. You'll get
a letter setting it up."
I head out and find Todd in
the waiting area sitting in the cheap leatherette seats.
"How'd you make
out?" I ask.
"Didn't pass the test.
Aww. I really didn't want back in the Air Force"
Todd's 3 AM "Hey,
Aussie, wanna go down and find out about it?" changed my life's direction
more than any other planned decision.