"Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint on it you can.” This is from a colorful, abstract picture on my wall, a gift from a friend who knows I passionately believe that’s the way to live. And for me — since I’m not good at anything else — that usually involves airplanes and airplane people. But periodically life sends a clear message: “Hey, slow down a little. You’re making a helluva mess flinging all these colors around, and the picture is starting to look pretty weird.”
Sometime during the late ’60s I created Miss Martha’s Flying School, and as chief and only flight instructor I was aviating my buns off. It’s arguable that having 6,000-plus hours of instructing in Citabrias and Cessna 150s is something anybody would admit, much less brag about. Anyway, driving to the airport early on a summer morning for another full day of flying, I found my lovable but unreliable green Volkswagen bug was acting “funny” (that’s a girl term), but it took some time to realize I was trying to move into the left lane of traffic by applying pressure to the steering wheel (ailerons) and depressing the clutch pedal (rudder). This and an increasing propensity to nod off on final approach with pre-solo pattern students were wake-up calls that I needed help at the flying school.
Later on, while working at the FAA, I successfully avoided the office by filling every working hour (and then some) with flight checks and safety seminars. It was a helluva job, and I loved it ... until I found myself working for “Capt. Queeg’s” doppelgänger, an entrenched civil servant with an unhealthy addiction to procedures and paperwork. You know the type — maybe you work for one; if your job is fun, you’re not doing it right. Literally quivering with rage, he’d summon me into his office, where the normally sterile desk would be littered with my “comp time” and “leave” slips. The first couple of times, as I watched his complexion turn from its normal pasty gray to quite remarkable shades of red and then ghostly white, I was truly concerned — not about my time and attendance records but because he might be having a heart attack, and even though I knew where the defibrillator was located, I wasn’t sure I’d actually use it.
The problem, as I saw it, was his insistence that I somehow fit an inherently unconventional work schedule into the framework of a traditional five-day workweek. Because Queeg refused to authorize an “alternate work schedule,” by the end of a two-week pay period my “T&A” file looked like a telephone book. I’m proud to say paperwork isn’t my forte so, of course, the piles of requests and copious amendments were out of order and full of errors. Maybe I was biting off too much, but I just couldn’t cancel a check ride or a seminar because somebody wasn’t available to sign an amended “comp time” or leave request slip. By the end of my FAA career, my personnel file was so full of disciplinary actions that it too looked like a telephone book.
Sporty’s Hal Shevers once told this guy, “She’s your best employee and she’s your worst,” but I’m sure Queeg didn’t agree with the first half of that assessment. I did a lot of work, “I did it my way,” and I was every bureaucrat’s worst nightmare employee.
Things actually haven’t changed much since I retired except I don’t get many letters of reprimand, and I haven’t been sent home in disgrace lately. Life has morphed into: “This guy needs a check ride (today, next Tuesday, etc.) because (the club airplane goes in for its annual, his written runs out, he’s being deployed to Afghanistan, he’s scheduled for a knee replacement, he’s going on vacation)”; “If you don’t bring that SNJ to the airshow next Sunday, there’ll be a bunch of really disappointed people”; “We just have to squeeze the RAM (Remote Area Medical) DC-3 checks in early next week between the Pikeville clinic and Stan’s trip to Guyana”; “Just fly the 180 to Atlanta tomorrow so we can take the DC-3 to Knoxville and throw out jumpers (a D-Day memorial), and then take it back to Atlanta and fly the 180 back home”; “Would you speak at our (flying physicians, deaf pilots, wheelchair pilots, flying farmers, aviation attorneys, EAA, Rotary, museum center, Otterbein Retirement Home) event in (Sandusky, Ohio; Decatur, Illinois; Rochester, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Portland, Maine) next month?”