Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (8) “The Sports Section “

Posted on March 20, 2010

“The good-looking guy is ME. C’est MOI. As for the ugly looking weirdo, with his arm around me… Some crazy old chopper jockey, I believe… “

Of Helicopters and Humans (8)

The Sports Section

It was just another routine helicopter flying day in the Gulf of Mexico.
I had landed on a platform, and I was watching my next load of passengers approaching the helicopter. I was “turning and burning “, meaning I was not shutting down.
One of them was a big, burly guy, rather overweight, with a red, flushed face. Even as I watched him coming up the stairs, I noticed he was not pleased about something. He was bending the ear of the passenger he was walking beside, with fast mouth movements, and emphatic facial expressions. Something had obviously occurred on the platform and seriously displeased him.
Oh well, nothing to do with me…
I busied myself, loading the Magic Box with the next destination, and when I next looked up, the HLO was handing me the manifest, and the passengers were climbing in. I checked the weights quickly.
Boy! Old Fatso here weighs 300 pounds…hmm…
I turned around, and decided to re-distribute the rear passenger cockpit weight a little, to better allow for the honorable customer’s ample poundage. I turned on my usual sickly sweet, cheerful Captain look, and shouted to get his attention above the helicopter noise. He didn’t hear me. He was too busy buckling himself in, extending the seat belt, and puffing and panting with the unaccustomed exertion.
“Excuse me! Sir….! “
He turned around and positively glared at me.
“I’m sorry, Sir, could I ask you to move to that seat, please? “
I pointed with my finger. It was a request I’d made hundreds of times, and passengers always understood, and immediately complied. Weight distribution… everybody kind of understands that has to be done on a helicopter. It’s no big deal. Everybody complies.
But not Fatso. His face, red and flushed, now contorted with anger. He positively yelled, his voice reverberating around the helicopter:
“Well, FUCK! Couldn’t you have asked me that BEFORE I buckled up??? “

The front seat passenger beside me, flinched. The other rear seat passenger stared in horror. Peoeple don’t normally address helicopter captains like that. Mostly, we all get along just fine. And it’s “Hey Skip! ” or “Captain! “, and “Sure, no problem! “
Well, FUCK… eh?
I counted silently to ten. I do that. It helps when I feel my blood pressure rising. I’m Irish you see, with a bad, Celtic temper. Trouble is, I’ve learned often enough and long enough, that if you lose it, you lose. Period. Regardless of the argument. You’ve gotta keep the cool…
I got to fifty. I was still hot. Way, way hotter than I like.
seventy two, seventy three, seventy four…
Okay, this ain’t gonna work. I rolled the throttle shut.
The turbine wound down. There was silence on board. The front seat passenger, a regular, who knew me well, flinched in his seat, and covered his eyes. Whatever was coming, he knew it wasn’t going to be good.
I climbed out. Shut my door. And counted past a hundred….
I composed myself as I walked to the back door.
Okay, sunshine, now you are going to see a different side of me…
I opened the door. The honorable customer was there, crouched in his seat, face red, arteries bulging, fists clenched, with “Fight ” written all over his ugly snout. He was ready, itching, just waiting to go at it.
Ah…. but I worked in Law Enforcement for a while. I watched the pros in the Sheriff’s Office. I know JUST how to drive you crazy, you dumb, fat, ugly, son of Dumbo the Elephant…
I smiled. He glared.
I smiled really, really sickly sweetly. Saccharine. Three lumps of sugar. He wanted to fight.
“Sir “, I said, really, really nicely.
“Here’s the story. I can see something has happened, and that you are all upset about something that has happened on the rig. I watched you come up the stairs, and I could already tell you were angry about something… “
He interrupted me, shouting. Flushed. Red-faced. I waved him to silence, smiling su-su-sweetly. I continued:
“But, unfortunately, we are about to go on a helicopter flight. It’s unlikely, but we may encounter an emergency. In that event, I really need you to be in a calm frame of mind, so you can calmly…. “
He interrupted me again, shouting, swearing. My sweet, slightly regretful smile never wavered. I let him rant for a while, until, for lack of response from me (he wanted a shouting match), he started sputtering down again.
Now it was my turn again. Smiling, I continued, unruffled, where I had left off. I was thinking of my good old sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office, a smiling Master of the Art of driving the citizenry plumb crazy.
“So, as I was saying (pause) (very patient)…. I really need you to be in a calm frame of mind, so you can calmly obey (slight emphasis) my safety instructions, and/or evacuation instructions. I simply cannot afford the risk (slight emphasis) of carrying a passenger who is emotionally distracted (his eyes blazed), and who may not be able to calmly follow emergency procedures… ” (he was beyond livid now)
He wanted to yell. But he was out of his depth. He was at home in an argument, in a slanging match, where he could scream and yell and dance and not have to listen. He wasn’t comfortable being faced with a smiling, polite, pleasant, patient, su-su-sickeningly SWEET person…
(Sergeant McEwan! You would be SO proud of me…)
I was in my element now. I continued:
“… so this is what we are going to do. I am going to go back down to the galley, and have a cup of coffee. That will give you a little time to think things over…. In about fifteen minutes, I’m going to come back up. Then…(I let a more serious edge creep back into my voice)… then we will see if we can have a reasonable, calm, rational conversation… “
And I shut the door.

I walked into the galley, humming softly to myself.
Faces turned around. Surprised faces. The Platform HLO came over.
“Something wrong, Captain?’
I poured myself a coffee. It gave me time to phrase my words carefully.
“Well “, I said, quietly. “One of the passengers is in a bit of a heated state of mind. He kind of swore at me, when I asked him to change seats. I can’t take him in that frame of mind. In the event of an emergency, I need him to be able to calmly obey safety and emergency egress instructions… “
I smiled apologetically, with a slight shrug of the shoulders.
He knew immediately who I meant.
“You mean the fat fucker? “
The galley was full. Everybody was listening. His buddies might be there. His brother. His cousin. Hell, maybe his mother, even. I had to be diplomatic.
“Well “, I said, thoughtfully, “I suppose he could do with losing a few pounds… “
I tried not to smile. Or even laugh my socks off.
Within two minutes, the rig OIM was there, informed no doubt by the HLO. A very important man in the life of a helicopter pilot. He is the man who has a direct line to your boss. Please him, and eventually your boss might even get the word that you are not such a bad stick. Tick him off… and you will be on the magic carpet lickety-spit-spit….
He was another regular passenger, he usually sat in the front, and we would chat happily all the way back. His manner was brisk.
“Skip, if he’s giving you any trouble, he can go by boat. In fact, let’s just get him off now. Just drop him. “
I thought about it. All eyes were on me now. I spoke carefully.
“Well, how about we just do as I started out. I told him I’d come down and have a cuppa coffee, and give him some time to chill out, and think about it. I’ll head back up now, and check him out. If he still cops an attitude, I’ll be back down to see you. If he’s reasonable, he’s going to get the drawn out, fifteen minute safety briefing, and then we’ll take him. How’s that? “
He nodded. Agreed. He seemed pleased. The HLO was grinning as well.
I got the impression he didn’t like the Son of Dumbo too much…

Back up on deck, I opened the back door again. Big, sickly smile.
“So, how are we doing?’
He sat there, not looking at me, his head bowed.
“All right, Cap, no problem… “
I wondered what the other passengers had been saying to him. I could guess…
“We know that pilot, dude. He won’t take you. You cop an attitude, you’re going by boat. And listen, motherfucker, WE want to go home. We’re tired of this frickin’ rig. And YOU are holding us up. So get your act together, man! “
He was meek. Probably fizzing on the inside, but meek on the outside. I gave him the fifteen minute, drawn out, safety lecture. More basic than the ‘first flyer’ level. You could call it the “Dufus level “.
He sat through it, steam coming out of his ears. Good boy….
Then we went flying. The intercom was silent. We were half way home, when my front seat passenger nudged me.
“Good on you, Skip…! “

* * * * * *

Another pilot ran into a similar but different problem.
In his case, the solution had a poetic element about it. Creative. It solved the problem as well, but with an artistic flair.
In his case, he was flying one of those high intensity, ‘short hoppers’. One of those jobs that collect seven hours of flying a day, with anywhere from sixty to a hundred landings.
All day long. It gets hot in the cockpit.You get sticky. You get stiff. At least if you get a decent, long leg, you can cool down. Open the fresh air vents. Get some air going through the cockpit. But if you are a ‘short hopper’…
No such luck. Just sweat, brother, sweat it all out.
Small wonder then, that a guy looks forward to lunch time.A break. Air conditioning. A Hot meal. Hot. With a capital ‘H’. Happy….
Occasionally though, you start getting this game.
“Hang on Cap, just ONE more load… “
You comply. You can almost taste that lunch. Thoughts swirl around coffee, air conditioning, a leisurely crap.
“Hang on, Cap, we need a man urgently from 272Alpha to 274Baker… “
You comply. This is the last one. Then lunch.
“Cap, stop off at 321Charlie on the way back, and pick up a grease gun for 312Delta… “
You comply. Through gritted teeth.
Finally, you land. You find the galley CLOSED. And nothing left behind for you.
And in a casual, matter of fact, unconcerned voice, you are told:
“Oh, sorry Cap, we’ve already eaten… “
Once, maybe, you can forgive. But when it starts becoming a regular occurrence…
“Oh, the galley’s closed, we’ve already eaten… “
“Oh, the galley’s closed, we’ve already eaten… “
And when, obviously, nobody gives a damn…
Then, it’s small wonder, after a few days, that a hard working chopper pilot’s thoughts turn to…
turn to…

There came the day the helicopter departed, back to the beach, having just delivered the Sunday Newspapers.
Eagerly awaited by the offshore bears.
The helicopter was almost over the horizon, when an anxious platform called the departing pilot.

“Hey, Cap! All these newspapers you just delivered… they’re all missing the SPORTS SECTION! “

(forget the news, world politics, current events…. how’s the FOOTBALL doing???)

Back down from the eternal sky drifted a casual voice, matter of fact, quite unconcerned.
Nonetheless, in its own way, the voice rang down from the heavens…

“Oh, sorry…

I’ve already read it… “

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 20, 2013, 7:17 am

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