Issue Forty-Four - Summer 2024

The Beautiful Pilot

By Stephanie Barbé Hammer

Came to sit with us at the Thursday afternoon wine tasting on the patio in the small town where we live in the PNW. Little buildings with white shutters and red doors, and right in back of that… the sea. It’s a Melville novel kind of place that might make you feel special at first glance or on your first couple of visits. Shops with sea glass and beachy type art made of driftwood and seashells and the kinds of things you think you’ll want in Waltham, Massachusetts, but you’ll schlepp it all home on the plane and realize you don’t want it and it was just the ambiance that wowed you. The promise of living by the sea in a faraway place on an island accessible only by ferry, and where – you think to yourself – things will be kinder and easier. You think that, but you’ll turn out to be wrong. It’s a very white people place with practical REI sandals and no makeup and cargo shorts and windbreakers, where you say hello to people on the street and they look away and zip up their parkas.

But back to the pilot!

She had dark glasses and long luxuriant black hair. Young. I thought she might be an artist or an entrepreneur, but no, she was a pilot, ex-military and her job, she told us, as we watched her breathlessly, is to fly jet planes with packages in them. “Just packages?” said our friend, who is a local government official and who gets yelled at a lot because, although she’s politically conservative, she still wants public utilities to work and she cares about the homeless. This attitude infuriates everyone because they want her to be one thing and not the other, and she’s neither thing and/or sometimes even both, and that just confuses people, and here in this country when you get confused you don’t ask questions. You just get mad.

“Just packages,” answered the beautiful pilot. “I don’t want to deal with the drunk passengers and the crying girl whose boyfriend just dumped her and the angry kids who want to vape and that crap. So they load me up with your Amazon boxes and I get in the cockpit and go.”

“What do you wear?” we asked. Meaning, me and the government official (my husband didn’t ask that question because he sensed – probably correctly – that it wouldn’t go over well).

“Pants and a white shirt and a tie, and a bomber jacket,” she said.

(We all thought but didn’t say “Aha! So, no little cap?”)

We were drinking vermouth at this wine tasting, so we paused as the vermouth expert came around and refilled our glasses and told us about alcohol things that I’m sure were important. But all I wanted to do – all any of us wanted to do — was listen to the beautiful pilot, who – sensing our interest perhaps — kept on talking to us about her experiences.

“It’s a good life except now that I’m out of the military I realize I don’t know how things works here as a citizen. I want to understand the machinery and the mechanisms of society; I mean you can’t get mad unless you know how things work.”

We said back to her with one choral voice, “but people do that all the time! They get mad even though they don’t know how anything works,” and she said back to us, “but you can’t do that — that’s no way to live — you have to ask the basic questions and not worry about sounding stupid, like, for example, why is Airbus a worse plane than Boeing?”

We all said “WHY?” and she said “because it’s designed like Fisher Price, like the pilot is a toddler and can’t make any decisions. So the programming is over-complicated; it doesn’t allow for the possibility that you the pilot would know anything, and that’s dangerous. See – for Boeing you have to have skills and time and hours and as a result you can adjust the system if something goes wrong.”

Then she explained about the Ethiopian Air crash and how all the pilot needed to do was switch off a lever, not make continual adjustments, but the pilot didn’t know that and that’s why they crashed. Which was a really sad thing to think about but also important, because, listening to the pilot, we felt like we were learning something and thinking about things we’d never thought about before.

We were drinking pink vermouth now and the pilot and I looked at each other and nodded and winked. We decided we both like the pink one, because it was like “boozy lemonade” (her expression). Then we both walked into the wine shop to buy a bottle of the pink. We stood in line together. She took off her sunglasses and her eyes were brown and humorous, and I looked into them and knew that from now on I will imagine my Amazon boxes sitting in the hold while the beautiful pilot flies them here. She will jump out of the plane, her blue pants perfectly creased, her lustrous black hair in a ponytail maybe, or in a careless bun the way the kids wear them these days, and the boxes will go into a truck and they will come to me.

The wine-tasting wound down. The pilot went to the bathroom, came back and said goodbye. The wineshop door closed and the elected official talked to my husband, as the pilot walked ahead of us, disappearing around a corner. The three of us lingered, my husband and the elected official still complaining about the electorate. I looked at the cars in the parking lot. A blue SUV pulled out of its space and I saw it was the pilot and I waved to just say goodbye one last time; I was trying to express how grateful I – an old woman – was to have met someone so young and interesting.

And you know what? She waved back. I think about that arm waving out the window of the SUV all the time, when I walk into our seafaring town that looks like it’s out of Melville, but where no one says hello, except for the wine shop owner, who is, admittedly, very nice. But knowing there’s someone out there in a town further north near the sea who has that bottle of pink vermouth on their countertop too, and who took the time to tell you about the difference between airplanes. Well, that makes you feel kind of good. Even kind of special.

Copyright 2024 Hammer