Thursday, March 29, 2007

About a Strike

It was the first strike by helicopter pilots in the United States.

The strike started September 20th, so I've been home for over six months now. No driving to the airport to catch a flight to New Orleans from my northern California home. No drive from New Orleans Airport to Morgan City, Houma, or Fourchon to start the work hitch. No Friday morning "be careful out there" meetings. No checking the weather, flight precautions, NOTAMS, warning areas, offshore fuel status, or IFR alternates. No weight and balance calculations. No passenger briefings. No wolfing down lunch between flights. No long days in the cockpit.

No sunrises over the swamp wilderness south of Morgan City. No viewing of wildlife--swamp and sea--from above. No joking around with fellow employees, heliport crews, and dispatchers. No Community coffee (an acquired taste). No gatherings with fellow pilots for dinner now and then.

Oh yeah, and no paycheck.

To tell the truth, I really didn't enjoy that first couple of months off so much. It was great to be with my wife and little boy, yeah, but after twenty-seven years with the same employer, the uncertainty of what the future would bring was a damper. But eventually, I woke up and realized that the extra time with my family was something to treasure, and that I may never again have the chance to cook breakfast for my son every day.

That part being on strike has been wonderful. Being with my wife and little boy everyday, without the break in togetherness that came with the two-week-on, two-week-off schedule, well, it's been a gift. The uncertainly and financial hardship notwithstanding, it's been a gift I'm thankful for. Oh yeah.

My stint as a full-time house husband/Mr. Mom will soon end. In a few days, I fly off to Louisiana for my "return to work" interview.

I've given a lot of thought to whether I wanted to continue flying for a living, since flying for a living usually means being away. When I'm away, I miss my family far more than I've missed flying these last few months. Yet, flying still has me by the ass. It's still in my blood, as much as I want to deny its hold. It's part of what I am, despite how, over the years, I've resisted being defined by what I do.

Assuming my employer hasn't put me on their list of "undesirables," I'll soon begin life in the Away-Dad Nation again. I want to focus on what a gift this stretch as a full-time husband and dad has been. I really do. But right now, I just feel sad. It's more than just a change in routine, y'see. It's like the end of a little life.

Damn, I'm gonna miss that life.


Redlefty said...

"It's still in my blood, as much as I want to deny its hold. It's part of what I am, despite how, over the years, I've resisted being defined by what I do."

Good stuff. I hope your adjustment back to a different rhythm of life is fruitful, even if it isn't easy.

Bob Barbanes said...

Wow! I hadn't realized that you were still on strike, Hal. I fully understand why you'd want to stick around with your family. We just don't get paid enough to stay away for so long. But do you have to go back? Aren't there any flying opportunities where you live now?

As one of the founders of the PHI union, I am profoundly sad to see what it's become. We really had the best intentions and the highest hopes. To see it fail is almost unbearable. I was going to write about it on my own blog, but it always turns into "War and Peace." It's hard to distill the issues down to a blog-sized post.

Yes, flying gets in our blood. But unlike airline pilots, *most* of us helicopter pilots are too uneducated and selfish (present company excepted) to see past that "Gee, isn't this fun! This sure beats working for a living!" bullshit and support their fellow helo pilots. I will never again suggest that helicopter pilots form or join a union. While their companies might deserve to be unionized, helicopter pilots don't deserve unions. Sad, that.

Good luck with the "return to work" interview, I hope it goes well. I'm sure you'll keep us all posted here.

Bob Devlin said...

I'm sure your wife and son has cherished this time as much as you have. What wonderful memories you will have from this. And I see this defining you more than your job does.

Hal Johnson said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Bob B., I suppose I'm not actually still "on strike," although the distinction doesn't mean much in reality. I was one of sixty pilots who didn't call in, once given the okay by the union, to ask to return to work. Since my annual training expired in November, I'm near the back of the pack in terms of the priority list worked out between management and the union. It's been one hell of a party.