Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birds of Paradise

I was relatively new to off shore flying when I picked up an assignment to spend the day supporting an oil company in a field of oil platforms off of Louisiana.

As I landed on my first platform, my passenger said he would be only a few minutes so I decided to delay a needed refueling until I could take him to his next stop. If I took off to get fuel on another platform right then, I would need to shut the helicopter down to refuel and wouldn't be able to return for a half hour or so. I didn't want to keep him waiting if it wasn't necessary.

It turned out that this guy had me waiting up on the deck at idle for about half an hour, so I was really needing fuel by the time he came back to the aircraft.

I dropped him off at the next stop and went looking for a refueling platform. All of those gas and oil resources out there and relatively few places to get some fuel. Ironic. Anyway, I found a fuel platform (identified by number) on my map and was looking for a platform with that number on it. Sometimes, the number was painted on the deck of the platform and sometimes, the number was painted on a sign near sea level so boats could identify them. Most of the time, they were identified both ways.

I found the platform that I thought should have been the one I was looking for, but it was COVERED SOLIDLY in bird droppings - droppings is an understatement - this thing was covered in a solid sheet of white.


For obvious reasons, I couldn't see the number on the deck of the platform so I dropped down to the ocean's surface to see if I could see a sign down there. I found the sign and flew back up to the top - this was the right place.

Let me pause here to say that this was a good job. I was flying for a well-respected company with high expectations of its pilots. Once we were hired and trained for work around the oil fields, the company designated us as "captains." We had uniforms. My shirt had embroidered wings with my name "Captain Doss" sewn in. I had shoulder boards with the four gold stripes of a commercial airline captain. My uniform was clean and my shoes were shined.

Back to the story. When I needed to refuel my aircraft, I wore gloves so I wouldn't have the smell of jet fuel on my hands while I was carrying customers.

So, I landed my helicopter on this fuel platform and shut it down. I got out and found the fuel pump in a "basket" at the very edge of the platform. The bird droppings were very very slick to walk on, so I walked gingerly so I wouldn't slip on the surface. I didn't need to fall and end up wearing a coat of bird feces; I still had a long day ahead of me.

So, I carefully walked over to the pump; it was clearly not one of the more glamorous moments on this job. I needed to take a fuel sample to make sure the fuel was not contaminated, so I knelt down on my gloves (to avoid getting bird dung on my knees) and leaned over the fuel pump basket to get the sample. I picked up the sample jar and prepared to take the sample. I was studiously careful to hold the jar under the spout so I wouldn't splash fuel on my hands, but it turns out I was holding the jar under the wrong spout. I turned the lever on and the fuel came out of another spout, pouring out all over my hands. After I got my act together, I finally got the fuel sample and checked it; it was okay.

I took the hose and nozzle and dragged them over to my helicopter. Actually, you don't drag those hoses; you pick them up and carry them section by section from one area of the platform to the other because the deck (unless there are bird droppings all over it) has an abrasive surface that can tear up the hoses when you drag them across it. So, I refueled the helicopter then hauled the hose and nozzle back over to the storage area. I knelt down again to stow everything. As I got back into the helicopter, I found that despite my precautions, I not only had jet fuel all over my hands, I had white bird manure on my knees, hands, and on the toes and bottoms of my shoes. Again, not an overly sophisticated moment.

I started the aircraft back up, picked up my passenger, and finished the day's work out there.

Being a commercial helicopter pilot working for oil companies sounds like a glamorous job, and that's the way I described it to my friends at home. It was a cool job; it was as cool as I told people it was. It was work and it was dangerous, but it was pretty neat too. I have to say though that after my trip to that droppings-covered platform, I held a little bit of the whole story in reserve when I was talking about my great job to keep from tainting others' impressions of what my days could be like.

You see, I had a great job and everyone I knew thought I had a great job. I wasn't going to be happier with my job by telling everyone how (literally) crappy it could be at times, and I wasn't going to add anything good to anyone else's perspective by failing to continue bragging up my job. What good would it do to unload those details onto someone else? Even to this day, the story about that day is something I laugh about, not something I complain about as though I was too good to spill a little bit of jet fuel on my hands and get a little bit of bird poop on me.

I guess I've become aware that everyone has their disappointments, especially in the workplace, so I gain nothing in others' eyes from whining about mine.

I've also come to believe that things are seldom as good as we describe them, and they're seldom as bad as we describe them. If I'm going to be a little off in talking about my work, I'll be off on the happier side of things.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a "pie in the sky" guy. When I find something wrong, I get busy identifying it and then I try to make things better, and I'm also not delusional about how things are. I've just found that I've had jobs that my friends could enjoy vicariously through me, and there's no point in spoiling that. I also know that self-talk is a potent thing in my own outlook on things. People who talk favorably about their work tend to work happily. Those who talk unfavorably about their work tend to be bogged down by it. If I'm going to work - and I haven't found a way around that - I'd prefer to be happy doing it. I think that's why I have good memories of every job I've had. If I try hard enough, I could be just as unhappy probably, but I choose not to go that route. I'd rather be happy. Besides, finding happiness and satisfaction in my work annoys the heck out of the cynics who work just as hard to find aggravation and gloom in theirs.