BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
I was in the deep throes of slumber, when I was rudely awakened by my very persistent alarm clock. It can’t be 4:00 a.m. already, I thought sleepily, as I pulled the comforter tightly around me, reaching over to hit the snooze button, without opening my eyes. I must have set it wrong. It definitely had to be wrong. Hadn’t I just barely gone to bed?
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
The alarm screeched again, more persistent than ever.
Okay you bugger, stop barking, I swore getting out of bed and leaning over the damn clock to put an end to its misery and just for added credence checked my phone to verify it indeed was past 4:00 a.m.
Yawning, I sleepily pulled on a sweatshirt and made it to the bathroom. I had 30 minutes to be ready before my ride arrived to whisk me to my job. This was going to be a long day. The first leg of my trip was a short hop to LAX, we would pick up our next batch of passengers for the longer haul to JFK.
I turned on the coffee machine, while brushing my teeth and wondered if I should spend an extra day in New York. I was at the end of my current rotation and not scheduled to fly the next couple of days. Flights on reserve were few and far in between, considering the long list of pilots on reserve. On the other hand, I could work on my motorcycle, change the oil and rev it up for my upcoming trip with Alan. It wasn’t long after I joined Galt Airlines as First Officer that I had run into Alan Sheppard. He too was a First Officer at Galt and a motorcycle aficionado. Every opportunity we got, we stole away in our bikes hitting the Pacific Coast Freeway or one of the Highways east: 41 or 46 or 58.
RING. RING. RING. RING.
The phone rang, waking me from my reverie.
“Just checking you’re up dude,” Tim, my ride, spoke lazily. “I will be there in 15 minutes. Don’t keep me waiting, I still have to swing by Eliza’s.” he spoke.
“How come? I thought we agreed that I would be the last one you would pick up,” I said annoyed to lose my extra 10 minutes.
“Well, things changed.” he laughed.
“Yeah, I bet Eliza likely sweet talked you into it. What did she offer?” I asked.
“Dude, nothing. It just worked out best for the route. I’ll see you soon.” he said as he hung up.
I ran through my morning ablutions almost in automation still wondering about New York. Should I pack an additional pair of clothes or not, I pondered when I got the buzzer from the front desk “Your ride is here.”
Quickly grabbing my backpack, cap and blazer I headed for the elevators. New York can wait. Maybe another time.
We pulled into the terminal building by 5:00 am. I checked in the pilot lounge and signed in. Perusing my schedule, I saw I was flying with Captain Bill Atwater. Bill was always fun. He could tell a story well and he knew many a story. After a brief stint in the army, doing a rotation in Nam, Bill had returned home and pursued a career in the Airline industry. He had a solid 30 years of service, well respected and admired by many budding pilots, including myself. The day although long, was at least not going to be boring!
I headed over to the airplane to begin the pre-flight checks. As first officer, it was my duty to do the outside walk around and inspect the flight. Entering the cockpit, I saw Bill already there going over the details of the flight.
“Morning, John. Looks like it is going to be an easy, breezy flight. I see you are also on the schedule for the next flight leg to the east coast.” Bill greeted me.
“Captain,” I responded. “Good to see.”
“Everything look good on the outside?” he queried.
“Everything looks fine. Charlie mentioned that we have an old friend jump seating.” I said.
“Did he? Did he say who?” Captain appeared pre-occupied pouring over the flight schedule.
“No, he’s keeping it a surprise. Anything bothering you,” I asked.
“We might have a problem with extra baggage.” Bill responded absentmindedly.
“Okay, shall I talk to Charlie?” I asked.
“Not just yet. We’ll…”
“William Turner Atwater!” bellowed a voice.
“Teddy! Is it really you?” laughed Bill, getting up and hauling Teddy into a warm embrace. Theodore Edward Graham was another legend at the airline. “So you are the surprise. Well. Well. John, do you know Teddy?”
“I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but of course I have heard about him. Who hasn’t?” I responded.
“He and I were together at Nam and fought side by side. We quit the army around the same time and chose a career in aviation. Thirty years. And it comes to an end soon. I heard you are retiring soon, Teddy.” Bill said looking at Teddy.
“Yep. In fact today is my last day. I jump seat with you to LAX, pick up the flight to DCA. My last flight.” He answered.
“Are you planning to retire in the Capital?” questioned Bill.
“No, just have to take care of some business out east, and then I will move permanently to Lancaster, CA. I still own a home there. Millie and I will settle down there. How much longer do you have?” Teddy asked.
“I retire at the end of the year. Good to hear that you are still going to be in California. Jill and I plan to retire in San Luis Obispo, so we will be practically neighbors.” Bill responded enthusiastically.
“Captain, ready to load the passengers?” asked Nina, our chief stewardess, peeking into the cockpit.
“Yes, better get them in, before they start a strike,” joked the Captain.
Thirty minutes later with the herds loaded, weight and balance resolved, we finally closed the airplane doors and taxied in line to depart from Runway 28L.
I like these early morning departures. Daylight was barely breaking through. There was some early morning fog hugging the coastline. The lights of San Francisco were like beacons suspended in space. Off to the right was the Bay Bridge glistening in silver. Even this early in the morning, I could see traffic beginning to increase. And to the right, glinting golden with the streaks of dawn was the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, connecting Marin County to Downtown San Francisco. Wisps of white fog floated. We climbed steadily and headed towards Point Reyes, before turning to intercept the 281 radial to Woodside.
I always enjoyed flying the Golden Gate Arrival during evening twilight or dusk as well. It is breathtaking, or sometimes, as is often possible, when the fog rolls in and the Golden Gate remains suspended in space, resplendent in the evening glow. Seeing the Golden Gate any time of the day or night means coming home. The setting sun over the Pacific, the crisp sunny skies with fog looming over the valley, are a comforting sight. I love flying from my home town of San Francisco, CA.
The trip to LAX was a mere one hour and 2 minutes. Within minutes we were headed direct to Avenal VORTAC and cruising in level flight. Arriving at Avenal we will execute the arrival procedure into LAX.
After a brief stint as a charter pilot, I had jumped at a chance to fly First Officer at Galt Airlines. The housing boom had propelled the Silicon Valley to great heights. I was what was known as a reserve pilot: always on call. The past two years, I had grabbed any and all flights that I could get. Over the last two years, I had flown this route many times. I could literally fly that route blind folded.
I could hear the bantering between Bill and Teddy as they joked about bygone days. I wished the flight were longer. One did not get the opportunity to fly with not one but two legends in the same cockpit. Bill flew the plane with expert precision and finesse.
We had arrived at Avenal and were already working through our before landing checklist, when a call from our dispatch office buzzed in. Seconds later, we had communication with the Air Traffic Control.
Neither of us knew that moment, how irrevocably, all our lives were going to be changed.