A loud bang of the door knocking against the wall, clatter of nails on the wooden floor, and the wet, hot, moist tongue on my cheek. That’s how I was awoken this morning. It was immediately followed by a blaring light that stung my eyes and pieced my frontal lobe. My head was pounding, back aching from sitting in the chair, and part of my face felt bruised – most likely because I had fallen asleep, face planted onto my wooden desk. Cooper did not seem to mind, however, his tail was wagging and his tongue kept flickering to my face. Always glad to see me, even at my worst. He just sat there on my desktop, staring, and waiting for me to amount the will to stand.
I could smell the scent of coffee and bacon and the sound of footsteps in the hall coming closer, quick steps, deliberate focused. They stopped at the office door, and as I glanced at the figure standing in the doorway, the amount of aches and discomfort I felt was quickly replaced with embarrassment and shame. But I did my best to muster a smile at the lady in the doorway and a quick pat on the head for Cooper.
“Jack Logan,” she said, “You’re a fine mess. When I left last night I should have known things would go downhill. Can’t leave a bunch of pilots unchaperoned. I have breakfast cooking, coffee’s on, so get yourself cleaned up. We have two hours before the gates open.”
She turned on a boot heel and left, swiftly back down the hall. I looked at Cooper. He licked my nose.
“Get off my desk, dog. You heard the lady, time to get cleaned up.”
One of the many advantages to my office was that it was also my home, so though I had fallen asleep in the office chair, my bedroom was only a few steps away, and so was the master bathroom. Twenty minutes later I was showered, clean shaven, dressed in fresh clothes and starting to feel a bit more human. Cooper stretched his beagle body out on the bed and took advantage of this time for a quick nap. Today was the second day in the Murfreesboro Annual Fly In Fall Festival, and the dog new he’d need every chance to reserve energy for the daily shenanigans.
When I made my way into the main FBO building, connected by a breezeway to my house, I found the lounge filled with three groggy pilots sipping coffee in the leather recliners, staring out the window and the fifty or so planes tied down under a gray sky. Since the office wasn’t officially open yet, my bet was that these three never left last night. And judging by the sour look Olivia gave me from the kitchen, she was none too amused coming to work to find a bunch of passed out pilots drooling on the clean carpet.
I made my way into the kitchen and plucked some bacon off the massive pile that was prepared for the morning breakfast. Spying the coffee pots full, I found my mug and poured my first of many cups for the day. Olivia was preparing a huge breakfast feast, whipping pancake batter, having already prepped the grits, potato wedges, and of course bacon. Some kind of coffee cake was cooling in a pan and smelled of cinnamon.
“Janet and Christy will be here in a few minutes. Mike is out in the hangar. Said something about replacing a gasket on your generator in the Stinson,” Olivia said, placing her pancake batter on a large wheeled cart. Then she took the bacon away from my grasp, and all the other prepped foods, filling the cart. “Drink you coffee quickly. I imagine we’ll start seeing planes in the pattern very soon.”
I managed a grunt and a nod, then she rolled the cart out of the kitchen and headed out the side door connecting to the main hangar. We’d be serving breakfast there, rows of chairs and table set up the day prior and would soon be filled with pilots telling stories, children running and screaming, and soon the sounds of piston engines would rumble from the ramp.
I went up to the FBO counter and started flipping through envelopes full of mail, mostly junk and quickly found them hand shredded and tossed in the round filing cabinet under the desk. There was a knock at the front door, I looked up and saw Christy peering through the glass. I went over, unlocked the door and let her in. Christy was in college, studying aviation, and worked part time at the FBO. She did any job needed at the time, from answering phones to fueling planes. Overall, a good kid and a pretty descent pilot. She had completed her private lessons only a few weeks earlier and already starting to work on her Instrument rating. Christy’s father is a Captain with Federal Express, so flying was in the family blood. Their family had a Piper Cub based at the field, and Christy started flying, unofficially, long before she could ever drive a car.
Christy took one look at my face and shook her head. “Long night?”
“From what I can recall, yes,” I answered. “Coffee’s hot, and Olivia is in the hangar setting up breakfast. See if you can give her a hand.”
“Sure thing, Chief,” and off she went, her cowgirl boots clunking on the tile in the FBO. Never was quite sure how she could fly with those boots on, but also never saw her wear anything else so logic dictated she could get around just fine.
Back at the FBO desk, I thumbed through the rest of the mail and decided all could wait. I logged into the computer and went through my usual routine, which always started with a search of the Barnstormers network to see what new vintage aircraft might be for sale. I had been eyeing off a Taylorcraft for the last couple weeks. It was up in Ohio, having just had the engine overhauled, and fabric replaced about five years back, they were asking $23,000. I was hoping the owner would come to their senses and lower the price. Be nice to have that plane on the field and with the Champ, have two planes to teach tailwheel instruction in, leaving my Stinson only for me. Most of the flight instruction at the field was through the University, but I offered a couple more unique aircraft to fly and with Janet, my only person qualified to give instruction, give students the chance to fly something that didn’t have a nose wheel or a glass panel. The University instructors loved it, because if they had a student that was really struggling, they’d come over and rent our Champ or if I was feeling generous, the old Stinson, and go back to basics. Stick and rudder, forgetting about everything except the shear joy of flying.
Besides the Champ and Stinson, Mike Barnes, our resident Chief Mechanic, was working on a restoration project for me. After nearly eight years, it was finally coming to a close, which was great news since it had near enough bankrupted me and certainly took all my worldly personal savings into the great blue beyond. The Grumman Goose had been a boyhood dream for me, but I had never really fathomed the chance to ever own one. Fewer and fewer were left, and parts were near impossible to find. The restoration has been challenging, and often at times so daunting that we all nearly gave in, vowing to make the plane a very large lawn ornament. Yet, through the miracle of the internet, hundreds of correspondence, and so many cross country flights, we managed to scrounge up what we needed, and if unable to reclaim, we found the resources to engineer our own. All completely legal, and that’s the story I am sticking with.
The Goose was to be the debut event at this year’s fly in. Over the course of the three day fly-in, we would have many events from flour sack drops, to competition for the shortest take off and landing, but on the last day, just a couple hours before sunset, we’d wheel the Goose onto the ramp and fire up the engines for the first time in twenty years. Today was that day. All other things for today were just preludes to this evening, and it was all that was occupying my mind.
I went back to the kitchen and poured myself one more cup of coffee, then headed into the main hangar to see how Olivia was getting along. As usual, she had gone above and beyond anyone’s expectations. Olivia Hughes was the office manager, a great leap smarter than myself in the world of business. She retired a couple years back, or was asked to leave, but as a Corporate Controller those lines are often blurry. Either way, she found herself single, rather wealthy, and slightly bored. At fifty two years old, she was a long way from moving to Florida and taking shuffle board lessons. So, two year’s back, we had a small parachute company come through for a fly in event. It had been advertised for weeks around the Middle Tennessee Campus as well as all local radio. All the advertising drew quite a crowd down at our humble strip, mostly young twenty-somethings eager to get their adrenaline fix. Then in came Olivia to the office, quite and curious. She had taken a seat in the FBO lounge and just watched the events on the ramp from the comfort of a lounge chair. The office was remarkably quiet that day despite the crowd outside. With nice weather, moderate temperatures and a long winter, most were glad to be outside. They only came in to use the restrooms.
I was sitting behind the counter with my feet up reading the latest AOPA magazine, putting off paying the fuel bills. I watched Olivia from the corner of my eye, but could tell she was unsure of her surroundings and uncertain whether she wanted to have a conversation. That’s my thing, I guess, able to read a person from the first second I meet them. Overall, been very helpful in business and personal relationships, and often very good and determining the good from the bad, the lies from the truth.
Olivia had been very curious, but not surprisingly, very nervous if not completely scared about the possibility of jumping from an airplane. When I finished the article I was reading, I had slipped back into the kitchen and grabbed a pitcher of sweet tea and two glasses. I loaded both onto a tray and carried them to the lounge, setting the tray down on a table between Olivia and the other empty chair. I sat down and poured us both a glass.
“Nice day,” I said. “Nice to see the sun, beginning to think Tennessee was having more gray days than Seattle.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said. “And yes, this warmth is a welcome relief.”
“You thinking of taking a jump?”
“Good Lord, no!” Olivia exclaiming, confirming my suspicion that she was intrigued enough to come down, but not to execute.
“That’s alright by me, I fly for a living but I don’t jump out either.”
For a time we just sat and watched the activity on the ramp and sipped our tea. From time to time the phone would ring and I’d excuse myself to answer, then reclaim my seat. It was nice, we both had the comfort of another, and watching through the glass was like watching a large screen TV, viewing a glimpse of life happening.
Finally Olivia asked, “what’s your name?”
“Oh, so you’re the manager here,” she said, if wasn’t a question either, she knew my name enough to know that I was the manager and the owner of the business.
“I am,” I replied. “There are worst jobs in this world.”
“So there are.” The phone rang again, and I excused myself for at least the fifth time in as many minutes. When I concluded the call, I started to turn and found her standing at the counter.
“Would you be by chance hiring?” Olivia asked. “Seems as if you might be a little short handed.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Events like this tend to spice up the phone lines a bit more than normal. Usually pretty quiet here on Thursdays. I don’t believe I caught your name?”
“Olivia Hughes,” she said, extending her hand. I took her hand and we did a polite but seemingly awkward handshake after just spending the last hour sitting and watching the jumpers. With that the phone rang again. I rolled my eyes. Olivia came around the desk and grabbed for the phone, picking the receiver and answering the call.
“Logan Air…Yes…Yes…No, I don’t see that it is…Why yes, of course you can….I don’t see why not…..Very well then, we will see you tomorrow at two…..Thank you…Good bye.” Olivia placed the phone back in the cradle. “Well, Mr. Logan, I assume you have some space to rent to transit pilots for an overnight?”
I nodded, mouth agape.
“Good, a Cherokee Six, yes, believe that is what he said he was flying, it will be here tomorrow afternoon and he’ll want to rent that space.”
“Ok. So you’ll start tomorrow?”
“I think that should be fine. Now, shall we have some more tea?”
“Well,” I said, “If you’re going to work here, Mrs. Hughes…”
“Ms. Hughes. Yes, if you’re going to work here, then you must go through the proper paperwork.” I reached into the display cabinet and pulled out a pilots log book, removing the for sale price sticker. “Here, take this and come with me.”
Ten minutes later, Olivia trailing after me like a lost confused puppy, we were pushing out the old red Stinson onto the ramp from my private hangar connected to my house. I got her seated into the passenger seat, explained all the seat belts and how to work the door latch. In moments, I had the engine fired, and we were taxiing out to the runway. Olivia fumbled a bit with the headset, but she was smiling and most definitely looking forward to the flight.
After the quick run up check on the engine, we took the active runway and I coaxed the throttle open, letting the 1947 airplane loose down the runway. In seconds we were airborne and climbing in the great big blue. After reaching altitude, throttling back and starting a turn out to the east, I looked at Olivia and saw that immense grin on her face. This was her first flight in a small airplane, and she was absolutely captivated.
“Ms. Hughes?” I asked.
“Yes, Mr. Logan?”
“Did you happen to turn on the answering machine?”
She smiled and laughed. We flew for over an hour and I pointed out all the buildings and the streets below, the hills in the distance, and as the sky was clear and haze light, we could see the skyline of downtown Nashville just twenty miles to the north.
It would take a few weeks for us to come to work out all the details as to how to work as a team, but Olivia didn’t ask for much of a wage. She finally confessed that she just needed a purpose, and after explaining to me that her father was a pilot in the Korean War, she confessed she had always been curious of aviation. She saw this chance to do something that would bring her back to the the stories her father told her as a child, maybe understand why it was that he only really ever felt at home when he was hanging out with his mates at the airfield.
In the end, I gained a business partner, and over the course of the last five years we had worked out the financial arrangement that suited both our needs. Olivia headed up everything I hated: marketing, finance, sales, and investors. I kept the planes flying and did my best to be the managing director of the business, hiring the help, keeping the planes flying, and generally being the distraction she needed and providing her purpose. The business flourished with this arrangement. We weren’t rich, but we had managed to expand the business offering vintage aircraft restorations, adding the small kitchen and coffee bar, and bringing aviation to the community with monthly events from fly-ins that drew crowds all over the mid-west, antique shows, fashion shows, community markets as well as hosting the only outdoor movie night in Murfreesboro that brought the local families down to the airfield two nights a month from April through September.
All these events brought pilots and non-pilots down to the airfield. It sealed our place in the community and forgave the shenanigans with the neighborhoods that surrounded the airfield and often had to put up with some late night parties.
We are, after all, pilots.