Gear Up: Unexpected Pleasures
All pilots must eat. Learjet pilots on an overnight have to eat. Due to unusual circumstances, I’ve participated in a variety of eating experiences while flying trips as a backup first officer in a Lear 31A for Elite Air of St. Petersburg, Florida. I say unusual because I am not your usual first officer. My captain, Jason Hepner, is 33 years old. I am more than twice his age (slightly!). Because I have enjoyed a long, happy, well-paying career as a cancer surgeon before I got the chance to fly for Elite Air, I can afford to spring for dinner (and sometimes a rental car) when Jason and I are on the road. This is just what dough is for.
It seems to me that paying for dinner is the least I can do as small compensation for having a patient, full-time, real-time, Lear flight instructor for free. Not only that, but I also obviously like the guy.
The third party in these culinary capers is my wife, Cathy. An avid restaurant sampler and an adept TripAdvisor, Yelp and Zagat navigator, she has manned the computer back home and set us up in some fine establishments. On our own, we’ve found some questionable joints.
An early February spate of flying found us in Addison, Texas (KADS). After a long day that started in St. Pete and left us sitting in Oklahoma City for eight hours, we finally ended up at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. We staggered across the parking lot to Duke’s Original Roadhouse in blue jeans. When I ordered a martini, Jason acknowledged he’d never had one. There are many forgettable firsts in a pilot’s life, but your first martini is bound to be remembered. The event was so remarkable that Duke’s has since closed. No way they could top that night.
The next weekend had us back in Texas, this time at David Wayne Hooks (KDWH) near Houston. I rented a car so Jason could race me over to Houston International Airport to catch a United flight to San Antonio. From there, I drove to Kerrville to stay with friends and experienced for the first time the wonders of Dale’s Seasoning, a steak marinade. Try it. Left to his own recognizance, Jason reported he had tried “that martini thing” in my absence. No ill effects were reported.
A few days later, we blasted off for Philadelphia (KPHL) from our home base before the sun was up. Once at Atlantic Aviation before 8 a.m., we got in a crew car in search of a barbershop and a Philly cheese steak. At the former, I got a haircut at the hands of a woman who held a lighted cigarette in the same hand as the comb while she scissored away. This was even more ridiculous given that I have very little hair. The charge was $8 — fair enough, since there wasn’t much to cut; the secondhand smoke was free. We next found a local dive, the name of which I thankfully can’t remember, for that cheese steak. Seated next to a massive refrigerated case that chugged away continuously in an effort to keep the contents cold, we could hardly hear each other. The cheese steak was good — even at 9 a.m. We were to remember it throughout the day.
Still in February, we flew a client to St. Louis and back for the evening. Since I once lived in St. Louis, I called a friend who met us at a restaurant called Paul Manno’s Cafe. While our famous client did his work at a dinner downtown, we had the most exquisite pasta and iced tea. At 9 p.m. local, we met back up at KSTL for the flight home. We had our leftovers in a plastic box and so did the client, giving the Lear a nice home-cooked aroma all the way home.
Ironically, I was to dine at this same establishment three months later in the capacity of visiting surgeon. In this case, I was the guest of honor and everybody treated me like a king. Not everybody was fooled. The proprietor did pull me aside to say, “I saw you in here a few months ago wearing three bars and drinking iced tea; now they’re pouring the best wines!”