Friday, July 23, 2004

Crossroads

"You're sitting on a winning lottery ticket and you're too big of a pussy to cash it in."  - Chuckie, Good Will Hunting

This is going to be a bit of a bizarre post in that I think that there will be much personal stuff in here.  I'm the sort of person that values opinion and am not afraid to solicit it.  Sometimes the path you don't see is obvious to those standing next to you.  So be it.

My father spent his life piloting airplanes, and for the entirety of my existance, did so flying jets for an airline.  For anyone that has a pilot friend/wife/husband you know how the schedules they work are nothing like the 9 to 5 grind of the "typical household".  I spent most holidays without Dad around.  Christmas on the 21st, Thanksgiving on Tuesday, you get the point.  Didn't matter to me.  I was a kid, and it was just the way it went.  I imagine this has seeped into my adult life, as the actual day Christmas and the actual day Thanksgiving and such really are not important to me.  I have a small family and they're scattered across the country, so getting everyone together is an extreme rarity anyway.

Anyway, to my dad, flying wasn't a job.  It was his life.  And I, as his son, saw how excited he was about work and about flying airplanes for a living, even during the hard times.  Thus, I became enamoured with airplanes and flying.  I wanted to be like my dad, and so I started flying at age 14.  Of course, I couldn't get my pilot's license until I was 17, so it was slow going.

I ended up with my license when I was 19.  Why so long?  Here's where it gets complicated.

(Here I wrote about two paragraphs that rambled on about academics and work and... blah blah... then erased it.  I'll publish my autobiography later).  The short story, I spend most of my effort through high school and college trying to get through high school and college with the least amount of effort.  I missed out on some golden opportunities.  Dad sat me down my senior year in high school and said, "give me two good years of junior college, and I'll send you to any University you want to go to", and was dead serious.  If I had been accepted to Harvard (not that going to Harvard would have interested me in the least), he would have found a way to fund it.  I never really grasped how amazing of an opportunity I had, until it was way to late.

Having effectively blown off school, I eventually had to start working and the dream of becoming a pilot sort of faded away.  I did score the pilot license while in school, but I lacked the money to do anything with it, and I wasn't able to see the possibilities of tying aviation and academics into one in the same.  Work and other things took my attention, and I eventually ended up in the IT industry and figured I had my career set. 

Every once in a while, though, I'd get the little twitch in my gut.  When the train rolled past the airport on the way home from the city, my nose was always to the glass.  I'd sometimes drive out to where my dad and I would sit at the end of one of O'Hare's runways and watch the planes land.  I was happy with my life, but sometimes I would sit and watch the planes go by and wonder, "what if..."

Early 2001, I would be uncerimoniously laid off from the place I fully intended to spend the rest of my professional life with, and dumped into a job pool that fully had passed me by.  I spent 4 months looking for work and made zero progress.  I was sitting on a nice bit of cash that my company had given me as a severance package, but I had been living partially off of it for this whole time and it was slowly eroding away.  As I sat day after day scouring the job rags and making phone call after fruitless phone call, that pilot twinge was getting stronger.  One day I decide to see what, if anything, I could do to get into this aviation game.  It took me very little time to realize I didn't have the cash to put myself though a dedicated airline flight school but I did have enough to go to dispatch school.  I was thinking this was my ticket to the cockpit.  I'd struggle for the short term while I made shit for money at some little regional airline, but at that point you were about 3 years from working at a major airline and some acceptable money.  I could live on the cheap, put money away, and work on my ratings while working in the industry.

So off to dispatch school I go, and I kick ass, getting my license.  I already had a job lined up before I graduated and after returning home for my stuff, I packed up and headed down to Nashville, TN. for my first day of work.

That day was Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.

I didn't even make it into the office, and that afternoon my fiancee and I drove back to Chicago, listening to the news and trying to find a gas station that wasn't charging $4.00 for a gallon of gas.

As I was to learn very quickly, that day changed the face of aviation.  For me, in the immediate future, I was looking at a license that wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.  As the smoke cleared and things started moving again, it was clear that this was the straw that might well break the backs of the major airlines.  No longer were they hiring with abandon, but instead they were laying people off.  The pipeline from regional dispatcher to major airline dispatcher had become clogged, and was even backflowing some, as furloughed dispatchers were looking for any work to feed their families.

Three months later, I was able to find work with a small regional airline in Wichita, but I was making very little in the way of money and I was now married.  Again, the path towards the front seat of an airplane was blocked.

Fast forward to now.  I've moved onto another airline.  It's still a regional airline, and the pay is only marginally better.  I'm in a much better location, but I am still faced with making just enough to cover the bills.

The frustrating part of all of this?  I work day in and day out with flight crews.  Our office is on the airport, so I watch the planes come and go.  Hell, I even ride in the cockpit of these flights.   The airline I work for is hiring pilots at an alarming rate.  Pilots who have no other airline experience.  Hell, some of these guys came right from the instructor ranks to this job. 

If ever I was in a position to take advantage of this, it would be now.  The chief pilot's office is right down the hall, I have the endoresement of literally dozens of pilots should I choose to apply for the job, not to mention my immediate supervisors and, I would hope, the Director of Operations.  I've sat and talked with the fleet management pilots, the regional chief pilot, the director of flight standards...  Everyone says that if I had the certifications and the experience (flight time), I'd find a stick somewhere.

The only problem is, I just can't get the cash to get back into the airplane and get my training done.  All that stands between me and my childhood dream is, roughly, $25,000.

Thanks to a broken first marriage and a broken promise, my credit is shot, so a loan is out for something like this, and frankly the last thing I want when I get a job as a pilot is a loan payment, as I'll be making less initially then I make now (though, surprisingly, not much less, and if I had the option of a loan, I probably would take one out).  So that leaves cash.

For a guy like me, $25,000 in cash might as well be $25 million.

But there's that little glimmer in me.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll continue to be successful with poker.  Maybe I'll get to a level where I can grind out a decent coin.  Even if I make a fraction of what David Ross makes.  Hell, Schneids at Two Plus Two made a hell of a run.  He fell short by almost half his goal, and still that alone would have more then funded my required training.  Obviously a "$60,000 in 60 days" challenge would be, at this point in my poker career, quite ambitious.  But I look at people like Lord Geznikor and what he's doing is an attainable goal for me, though I would expect that I wouldn't be able to put the hours he does into it.  I'm no professional, nor do I have any aspirations of becoming one.

Maybe someday.

43 Comments:

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