Wednesday, June 24, 2009

High Above the Mud and Bugs

For some reason I decide that today I will have lunch at the A&W. It's a fast food chain famous for its root beer. Or famous for advertising its root beer, one or the other. I cross the service road, the Alaska Highway and the other service road without getting run over, and go into the place. It's full of firefighters. Not the kind with the shiny red trucks, forest fire fighters. They're on their way up to Fort Liard. Yes, to look at (and smell) them, definitely on the way up. There are two talking near the counter. "Are you in line?" I ask, because it really isn't clear.

"Yes," says one while the other says, "No," so I'm behind one of them in line. He turns out to be ordering for a large crew, so I have a while to wait. He is super fit and has that stereotypical high-testosterone square face and jutting jaw. What is it that makes this a "strong" face? It's not just terminology; other members of his crew are just as physically strong and fit, but there's a dominance, something probably programmed in my genes to perceive the lantern-jawed man as the strongest. Maybe the chin is a spot where nature cuts corners if there's some deficiency during gestation. Perhaps there is some genetic condition that is accompanied by a receding chin and females of my species have evolved to disfavour all chinless ones in order to avoid the few that herald a problem. Someone should do a study. My chin doesn't stick out past my nose and I can carry my share of mastadon meat, but standards for beauty and value to the tribe are different for females. There are no women on this crew. Forest fire fighting is such hard physical labour that maybe three percent of the population have the strength and endurance to do it. That eliminates maybe 97% of men and at least 99% of women. And the few women who could do it chose to be professional athletes, or didn't want to wreck their nails.

I'm not familiar with the menu here. There's no mastadon burger, but there's a "Swiss Veggie Deluxe." I wonder if that's a meatless burger. I ask, when I get to the front of the line, but the server doesn't understand "meatless". I try a couple of different wordings, but get blanker and blanker looks. A manager overhears and intercedes, "We don't have that right now." My second choice is the chicken burger. Turns out there are two kinds. I have to ask the difference. So now I'm being one of those problem people you don't want to behind at the fast food place. Just order already, lady. The server doesn't seem to understand my "what's the difference?" question. The guy behind me knows, however and I order the grilled one. And a root beer float, because the picture looks good, and it's what A&W is famous for.

The firefighters are piling back into a convoy of SUVs as I recross the highway with my takeout. Chicken was edible, kind of salty. Float was basically a root beer with one puck of ice cream dumped in the top, floating there. It may have been "frozen dessert product." Not so good. I eat enough to sustain me and go to the airport.

I take another look at the pilot information kiosk to see if my thumb and forefinger theory for operating it will pan out. I take off my sunglasses, this time, inside the darkened room. What do you know, there's a stripe down the right edge of the touchpad, with arrows, labelled scroll. I check it out. The scroll function still doesn't work and I go back to the up and down arrows on the keyboard.

I take off with a ten knot direct crosswind from the shorter runway, because I don't feel like back taxiing the longest runway. It's one of those things like airline pilots taking less fuel than the airplane can hold in order to take more baggage. Yes, one would be safer, but the other is more operationally efficient. If you went with the safest option at every turn, you'd never fly at all. This runway is longer, better surfaced and lower altitude as the ones I learned to fly this type of airplane on, where it was often ten degrees warmer and there wasn't a choice of runways in a crosswind. If it gets any hotter I'll make the backtrack, though.

Call clear of the zone; position report on 126.7; turn on the tunes. Darn. Not working. I guess I forgot to recharge the iPod thingy. I find that if I have the music playing, it entertains me just enough that my mind doesn't wander, but I don't get so immersed ni the music that I am not sharp for what the airplane is doing. If I don't have the tunes, I start actually thinking, and no one wants that. Job interviewers quickly detect a pilot who thinks, and cross her off the list, I'm sure.

So I conentrate on the airplane. Two things about a fast food burger. One is that it's really salty. I'm drinking lots of water and hoping I don't end up having to ration it. And the other is that it must pack a hell of a lot of calories. I've been flying for four hours now and I'm not hungry. I'm pulling snacks out of my flight bag because I'm bored and hey, jelly beans are entertainment. I don't want a big hit of insulin right now either, so I ration myself on the sugar-based entertainment. Must be a lot of fat in that chicken burger, too, because I can't raise my interest in almonds sufficiently to eat more than a couple.

There's a nice lake down there. Very round. GPS says it's Maxhamish Lake. We wonder if there are fish. There don't seem to be any buildings or roads. (The link says the lake is a provincial park, with fishing and camping allowed, and confirms no road access. The concept of a "park" in Canada is maybe a little different than in the rest of the world. it's not necessarily on a road with signs and toilets and a park ranger. We seem to just pick a place that's nice and say, "okay that's a park." If you can get there, good for you. If not, well some fish and beavers are happy).

Back to the airport to land. The FSS guys says "Roger" to everything, because he has to say something, and he has nothing to add to my plan to join downwind, or my calls on downwind, final and clear of the runway. I raise the wing flaps, open the cowl flaps, turn off the electric boost pumps and put my hand on the transponder for two clicks counterclockwise, from ALT through ON to SBY. I taxi by the FSS and can see the specialist in there, so I raise a hand and wave, even though he probably isn't looking, and probably couldn't see me inside the airplane anyway.

As I shut down I notice that the transponder is still on. That's odd. What did I turn off instead? It's not until I'm doing a post shutdown flow check that I notice the transponder set to 1400. Ah-ha. My hand was on the transponder, just on the wrong knob. I set it back to 1200 and everything else is fine.

As we pull into the hotel parking lot, there are three guys with baseball gloves playing catch. "Car!" I call through the open window, for the benefit of the one who has his back turned. He moves out the way and we pull into a parking space. "Game on!" I call back.

"Like Wayne's Word, eh," says my coworker. I say yes, even though I wasn't thinking of the movie. The guys don't go back to their ball game, so I chat with them. They work cleaning tanks. I tell them what I do, where I was today. It turns out that they were there too, have been up at Maxhamish. "I didn't know there was a lake," one of them says. Another one knows about the lake, "Yeah, there are fish," he says. But there's no road. he thinks people haul gear in during wintertime on snowmachines, and cache it.

They talk about the bugs and the mud. Neither of which I have to contend with. I have a good job, don't I? I don't make as much money as the firefighters or the tank cleaners, but I don't have to fight fires and I don't have to work in the mud and the bugs.


Geekzilla said...

All in a day's work. Great post!

Sarah said...

A nice stream-of-consciousness Aviatrix work day on the AK highway.

Sounds like Aviatrix got close enough for phire-fighter pheromones, square jaws or not. I've heard women are supposedly attracted to stereotypical masculine faces when selecting sex partners, but prefer more androgynous looks for long term partners. But that's about 4 stereotypes in one sentence. Personally, I'm more attracted to minds, and physically just require their ability to raise one eyebrow.

And yes, darn it, you have a nice job. Outdoors with a view but above the bugs and mud. Just be careful to not take the mosquitoes with you. Chad has a horrible/funny story about a trip that required cleaning bugs off the inside of the windshield after the flight...

word verification: "metryn"

Callsign Echo said...

Lucky Aviatrix. I've never seen a firefighter that actually fit the stereotype, though I've seen many a military man with that manly-man bone structure. My particular weakness is not the square jaw (thought that's nice too) but sharp cheekbones. You know, that just-got-out-bootcamp-sunken-cheeks-and-rippling-muscles look.


Word verification: stine. Sounds like some kind of skin infection.

Callsign Echo said...


Aviatrix said...

I had a job once where my first assigned duty was, "can you please clean the blood off the inside of the windows and cabin?" I'd always wanted to be Pussy Galore from the James Bond movies, but it turned out that while much of the blood was from the passengers, it had been extracted not via inflight assassination but from the presence of the mosquitoes taken on board at the previous point of departure. And that wasn't the first time I had cleaned bugs off the inside for the same reason.

dpierce said...

You're asking about the calories in the chicken, and you had a root beer float? :)

Thanks for the ride-along. Great as usual.