chapter 4

A Questionable Career Move

I went to Laredo to see a man by the name of Bob.Bob was an old-timer, a friend from my service days.The only war I ever knew had been his third war.

††††††††††† Bob was a man of deep convictions, deep cynicism, and kind ways.Having led the better part of his life in the air, he held himself and others to stricter standards than those normally found in less hazardous occupations.†† He had no use for excuses, sloppiness, or laziness.†††††††

††††††††††† Bob was a wirey man weighing at best 150 pounds.His narrow face accurately reflected his cynicism.†† He possessed a steel temperament, a precision mind, and a heart of gold.Although some 25 years separated us in age, we had forged a life-long friendship.

††††††††††† Bob was a crop-duster pilot.

††††††††††† "Bob", I said."I want to be a crop-duster pilot."

††††††††††† "Well, you're a damn fool," he said."Don't you have enough brains to figure out some decent way to make a living?"

††††††††††† "Yeah, I got plenty of brains," I said."And I know what I want to do."

††††††††††† "Well," he said, "there's no worse way on earth to make a living than flying a crop-duster."

††††††††††† "Then how come you're doing it," I demanded.

"Because it's all I know how to do.†† Because all I ever did in my life was fly airplanes.†† Because now that I'm too old to fight wars with airplanes, there ain't nothing left for me to do but fly crop-dusters."

††††††††††† "Well," I said."I've made up my mind, and if you won't teach me how, I'll find somebody else who will."

††††††††††† "Look," argued Bob."Can't you think of anything else to do?Can't you learn to operate a back-hoe?"

††††††††††† "I suppose I could," I said."But I'm not going to."

††††††††††† "Well then, how about driving a truck", he wanted to know?†† "Now there ain't nothing wrong with a job like that.You get a regular paycheck, you're your own boss, and you get to see the country.Ē

"Look," I said."I didn't come to you for advice.If you don't want to teach me, just say so, and I'll get on about my business."

††††††††††† "How about an automatic transmission overhaul specialist", he went on."Now, if you're looking for something to do until you figure out what you're really going to do with your life, well, that would be the perfect job."

††††††††††† "What makes you think I don't know what I want to do with my life," I demanded?

††††††††††† "Cause you donít, he said."Cause anybody can see from a mile off that you don't have no more idea than the man in the moon what you're going to be doing ten years from now.You just got this wild hair about being a crop-duster cause you're all mixed-up, mad at the world, and mad at yourself.What you really need to do is find yourself a good woman, get married, and find out what's life's all about."

††††††††††† "Well, I'll tell you one thing," I said.†† "If I had wanted career counseling I'd have gone to some damn preacher!†† What I came to you for is to learn about crop-dusting.Now, you gonna help me learn something, or you just gonna keep telling me how to run my own life, which ain't none of your business to start with!"

††††††††††† "Aw, don't get all augered-in," Bob said."I'm just trying to help you. I just hate to see you start flying these rotten old airplanes, that's all.They're all just a bunch of death-traps, anyway.Besides, even if you don't kill yourself, you'll end up starving to death anyway."

††††††††††† "Well," I said."I've made up my mind what I'm gonna do, and If I can't find anybody to teach me a little bit, I'll just figure it out all by myself."

††††††††††† "Well, you're nuts", Bob went on!"Crop-duster pilots go broke, smell bad, and get dead.What you really ought to do, you ought to quit screwing away your life, go back to college, and try to amount to something."†††

††††††††††† I already knew all that.

††††††††††† "And that ain't the worst of it," he went on.†† "There's even something worse than getting killed that can happen to you.You can get hooked!Crop-dusting is something that can get in your blood.It can happen to a guy and he won't even know it.It's just like heroin.A guy does it for a few years, and then he can't stop.He don't even know it's happening, and then it's too late.You get hooked!Then you're screwed for life.That's all you can do.That's all you want to do."

††††††††††† "Besides," he continued."You don't have any experience."

††††††††††† I had to admit he was right about that.I didn't have any experience.But then, I reasoned, how was a man ever to get any experience, without already having any experience?

††††††††††† "Experience," I later discovered, could be loosely defined as "having already crashed one crop-duster, and thereby gaining credibility when solemnly vowing never to crash another one."It seems that all ag. aircraft owners appreciated a man who had been considerate enough to crash somebody else's airplane first, and was thereby seen as being less likely to crash one of their own.

††††††††††† But I had made up my mine.Experience or not, I was going to start flying crop-dusters.††

††††††††††† "Look, Bob," I said."I've got a little money saved up.I think I've got enough to buy some kind of old airplane.I'm a good mechanic, I can fix it up.I already know how to fly.All I want you to do is show me some of the tricks of the trade, show me a little bit about mixing chemicals, how to charge farmers, that kind of thing."

††††††††††† "Well," said Bob."I think you're a damn fool.There's more to this racket than you ever dreamed of.Just because you can fly around in some sissy airplane, you think you can go into the crop-dusting business.Well, you're setting yourself up for more misery than you ever thought was.I'm telling you right now!This is a rotten business and only a damn fool would get into it on purpose!"

††††††††††† But in the end Bob agreed to teach me what he could.He agreed to put me on the brush run that coming spring.He had lots of work lined up and he would be needing another airplane. He didn't like it, but he promised to teach me what he could.††

††††††††††† There was just one proviso:"Don't come complaining to me later", he insisted!"Don't say I didn't warn you!When everything goes to Hell, don't come complaining to me about it!Just remember, I told you so, so don't come complaining to me!"

††††††††††† "Okay, Bob", I agreed. "I won't come complaining to you."

†††††††††††† I left Laredo with a light heart."Now all I have to do is find me some kind of old crop-duster and fix her up," I boasted to myself.

††††††††††† I figured that wasn't going to be any kind of a big deal.




previous chapter†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† chapter index††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† next chapter