By Dalton Hicks
I wasn’t expecting my alarm to go off until 6:30, so the phone call at 4:45 startled me. Most phone calls at an ungodly hour revolve around someone being dead or in jail, neither case being the start to a good day, and both cases plausible given the nature of my friends. With fuzzy eyes I looked to see who was calling, only to find… my electrician? I was a home builder by trade, and calls at odd hours were expected from time to time. But 4:45 A.M.? Something better be burning to the ground.
“Good morning, and sorry for the early call. I need a right seat on a quick flight to Destin. Can you be at the hangar by seven?”
Larry was not only an electrician, but a private pilot on the side. After a solid five seconds trying to process what the hell was happening, my response was rather straightforward: “Larry, I’m not a fucking pilot.”
“Kid, I don’t need you to fly, I’m taking some clients down on business, grabbing some food, and heading back. We are leaving them in Destin and bringing the bird back up. I just need you to look smart and keep your mouth shut for a bit. Are you in or what?”
I don’t remember my reply, but I was obviously in. I sent my boss a text that I was going to be late and/or absent, smashed a Red Bull, and headed toward the FBO.
By a quarter to seven, I was pulling up the drive of a nondescript airport in east metro Atlanta. Punching in the provided gate code, I made my way past a line of hangars until reaching Hangar 18. Unsurprisingly, a Megadeth flag donned an interior wall, surely a good omen for the day to come. Shaking hands with Larry and thanking him for bringing me along, I stepped back and hung with the yellow lab that was sleeping on the sofa against the wall while Larry finished his pre-flight checks.
As we neared our 7:30 departure time, Larry filled me in on what needed to happen when the clients arrived: “Smile, shake hands, and grab whatever they need you to carry. Throw it in the cargo bay, and let’s get out of here.”
Sounds cryptic, I thought. A part of me guessed I was about to be an accomplice in the transportation of some Colombian bam-bam, which, at the very least, would make for a good story. As it turns out, the clients were two couples in their early 70s and their four dogs. So much for being a smuggler. I loaded up their suitcases, and one of the clients palmed me a $100 bill as a tip for my services rendered. Hot damn, we were off to a good start.
After a short taxi, we got in the air and Larry got busy doing pilot stuff, which was mostly programming the autopilot. I was no stranger to civilian aircrafts, but never had I flown in a private plane of this size. I asked questions about the Pilatus, took some pictures, and generally enjoyed the direction my day was going. Larry had been flying planes and helicopters since Christ was a cowboy, so this was business as usual for him. I, on the other hand, was sporting a shit- eating grin at 285 knots.
In an hour and fifteen minutes, we had covered what was normally a six-hour drive. After helping the clients offload, Larry and I hopped in a car provided by the FBO in Destin. Larry said that he wanted some “breakfast”. He dialed a number on his phone, and after a quick conversation, we were racing toward the harbor.
We arrived at a restaurant on the water that looked to specialize in crab legs and sushi. It was 9:30 in the morning. “Seriously? We’re about to do this?”
Larry just smiled. “Best breakfast in town, and we’ve got the whole place to ourselves. Plus, I know the owner.”
As it turns out, Larry knew what he was talking about. Mountains of crab legs, two sushi rolls, and several Coors Banquets met their demise that morning all before most cubicle residents got their first coffee break.
I sneakily passed the waiter the $100 bill I received for playing skycap, knowing it was the very least I could do for Larry. With breakfast out of the way, it was time to head back north.
As we lined up on the runway preparing for takeoff, Larry took his hands off the yoke and flashed a grin. “She’s all yours, kid. I’ve got the power and the radio. Get us in the air.”
As the turboprop raced down the runway, I waited for Larry’s cue and pulled back on the yoke. It felt like I was trying to lift a school bus into the air. After a long climb and a less than graceful right-hand turn, I leveled us off and passed the controls back to Larry. “Larry, this morning when you called me, you said you needed a right seat. What the hell was I doing here today?”
Larry put on his aviators and took a swig of coffee from his thermos. “Truth be told kid, I just thought you’d have a good time. Plus, I got a free breakfast out of it. Seems like it was a good deal for the both of us.”