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Monday, March 12, 2012

Truly Crazy Gene

Once again Monday has reared its head and stared us in the face. To quote my granddaughter "Eeewwww!"

As I have said before, Monday is about attitude. Are you willing to give up 1/7 th of your life to make Monday go away? I am not. If we did, then Tuesday would become the next hated day, and so on. I prefer to see Monday as the next opportunity to get things right. Charge out of the starting gate and make it so!

The forecast for beautiful downtown Fallon is a warm 62 fahrenheits bouncing around under partly sunny skies, making no rain cents today and the wind out of the SSW backing off to only 30 mph, so if you are going to fly a kite, make it an old one and stay away from the power lines.

I was about to say that the dogs are TOO quiet, and get up and look to see what they are up to, but Sgt Mikki just told off the garbage truck for daring to drive down the street outside of HER gate. One must remind all trespassers of the perimeter and ownership. And she is now stretched out asleep. It's good to be the dog! You get to "tell off" everyone you don't like and sleep anytime you want to.

Today's story is also in response to a request to "write about that", and is an example of how people sometimes wander back and forth over that "thin line between genius and insanity" until they snap.

Truly Crazy Gene

I have decided to tell just a few of the stories of a man who was truly gifted and undeniably crazy. Gene is his real name and I will not divulge his last name for reasons that will become obvious as you read on.

It was 1979 and I was back in Columbus, Georgia after completing the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.

Working at the civilian airport there was a dream job for me, having done two tours at the military airport at few miles away. I already knew the airspace for 200 miles around and the traffic was so light after what I was used to, that I was enjoying looking like a "super controller" without really working at it. My abilities as a controller had been noticed by supervisors with connections, as well as by my chief. I also had a family legacy "problem" that I was trying to avoid drawing any attention over, but it was known, my father was the head of the FAA for the region.

What this translates to, is that I was invited to the Atlanta Tower for several informal interviews and "rap sessions" where the controllers and supervisors checked out up and coming talent who they felt might fit in with their crazy mix and volume of traffic. It was only two hours by road, but most of the time I would be allowed to go "on the clock" and just caught a free ride on a commercial jet up and back. We had Delta flights all day up to 10:00 pm so it was very easy to do, and they always let me ride in the cockpit.

This was a big deal for me as I worked at a level three facility and I was being considered, "unofficially" (which is the way things really work) for a "jump" to Atlanta, which is a level one facility and the "big show" of Air Traffic Control. But this story isn't about me.

One of the characters working in this zoo of high pressure, ulcers, and "ego pogo-sticks riding adrenalin roller coasters" was one of the most gifted controllers that I have ever laid eyes upon. I was considered one of the best young tower controllers in the business at the time, and I felt totally awed by the speed of his decision making and the confidence in his voice as he handled crisis after crisis in rapid sequence. The more often that I observed in the Atlanta tower, the more I understood the systems and methods in place, that allowed Gene to do what he did so well. He was incredibly gifted and it showed, even among so many excellent controllers who were at the top of their game.

I was totally stoked about the idea of joining this funny farm and had a little bit of hero worship setting in. I had a lot of varied experiences and schools behind me and I had complete confidence in my own abilities, but this guy was so smooth! I wanted to be like Gene when I grew up, or thought that I did.

Seeing my "infatuation" with "TCG" as the others called him, but only behind his back (it will make sense soon), a couple of the old timers who knew my father from the old days in other towers, took me aside for a lunch break at a local restaurant they favored. As the three of us waited for our food, they began to regale me with TCG stories. Here are a few of them.
Gene had a "suped up" 1970 Dodge Charger that he loved more than any woman and he drove it like he was either in the Daytona 500, or one of the "Dukes of Hazard", either are completely acceptable behavior in Georgia. While transiting the always crazy I-285 ring around Atlanta, in high speed bumper-to-bumper traffic, some unknowing individual cut Gene off, causing him to have to hit his brakes. Gene of course saluted the man with his up-raised middle finger and a salvo of horn blasts, as he charged up next to him.

The other man, also unable to leave a bad situation alone, raised a .22 caliber pistol and fired a "self defense" round into Gene's beloved car. Which turned out to be a seriously bad move. Gene drew his own 44 Magnum Ruger Super Blackhawk (just like my older brother has) and proceeded to kill the 1972 Ford Pinto. He shot the tires, he shot the door, and he shot the engine. When the police investigated the Ford owner said that he fired first and refused to press charges against Gene. Understandably. He wanted to live.
Gene liked to take small brown paper bags with the top folded over tightly, filled with little snakes, or big bugs, or a bunch of cockroaches, and place them on the clay urn style, free standing ashtrays located all over the Atlanta Airport terminals. You know the kind, about knee-high and filled with sand. He did this for two reasons; he was an ex-smoker (at the moment), and he hated that people could not leave things alone that didn't belong to them. He would place the bag on the ash tray and walk across to the opposite side of the room to watch. He was never disappointed, someone always HAD to open the bag and then the screaming started. At least he would recapture the snakes, the bugs he just left wherever they scuttled off to.
Gene had another bad Airport terminal habit, well several, but this one was activated by Hari Krishna chants and zill playing. The sounds made him lose his mind. When a chanting Krishna would approach Gene for a donation, he would grab the bald headed young man; strip his sari off of him, tie him up with it with his arms by his sides, and flipping the lid up on one of those waist high swinging-lid trashcans, deposit the bound beggar into it head first. He was banned from the Airport proper after too many of those. It scared the other passengers. The Hari Krishnas never complained because the airport authorities always gave them money to keep them from filing charges.
Back at the Control Tower, Gene had caught a big black snake on the way to work and brought it in with him. Not in a bag, but inside his shirt. Gene was assigned to work upstairs in the Tower and was heard to wonder out loud on his way up, if the snake could make it all the way down through the pneumatic tubes that flight strip were moved through. Sitting at a radar flight data position, with his hand in the edge of the box to catch the next strip holder coming down, was a very elegant black gentleman in an expensive three piece suit that was not an off-the-rack purchase. I had observed him working a few times and he was proper and professional at all times. Never had a bad word or naughty joke passed his lips in my presence.

On the occasion being described, Gene did indeed launch the nearly four foot reptile down the air tube and it made it through with great speed, impacting the hand of said proper and staid gentleman, who immediately launched backwards pulling his headset off and upsetting his chair as he bolted for the door saying, " I am gonna KILL that honky M@#$%-F@#$%!"

Gene was suspended for three days and spent them at a local BBQ place playing his guitar and panhandling for money, which he really didn't need, but was his way of protesting.

The last story was told after our meal arrived and as we ate the other, older man took his turn.

Gene had applied for a week's leave, outside of the normal leave schedule and in conflict with others who were already planned to be off. He wanted the time off to go to Miami to go fishing, or so he said. No one had ever heard of him going fishing, and none of the few who had braved a trip to his house had ever seen any boat or fishing gear. But that wasn't the issue, timing was.

His supervisor sent forward the request with his objections regarding staffing, and the assistant chief who oversees the schedule turned it down for lack of staffing coverage. It was reviewed by the facility chief and then returned to Gene with a "sorry, can't do it" note.

Gene, not being one to take no for an answer, answered by riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle to work. When it was time to go to work he got on the bike and rode it into the building, up the stairs, (which is a tough job on a full sized Harley) making huge amounts of noise revving his engine, and finally, all the way into the chief's office. Whereupon he romped on the engine a few more times for good measure, and shutting the motor down was heard to say to the boss of the entire place, "So, about my leave..."

Gene was suspended for two weeks and ordered to psychiatric evaluation afterward, which he loved because he liked to "toy"with the minds of the shrinks and usually left them curled up in a fetal position sucking their thumbs. What he really wanted was to go to Daytona to Bike Week and hang out with a "motor cycle club" that he was no longer supposed to be "a member of, or associate with", by order of the courts. He got what he wanted and still kept his job, he always did.

I thanked my mentors for educating me and looking out for my best interests. And for keeping my visits to Atlanta secret from my father (life was already complicated enough). Associating with TCG would have marked me as a problem before I ever filled out the application for transfer to Atlanta Tower and would have likely "blackballed" me, and who could blame them.

I was transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico shortly after that, in the midst of political maneuvering and pre-strike planning by the FAA, so I was prevented from making the move to Atlanta. The PATCO strike took away my remaining possibilities of ever getting to the big show and working with TCG. He was no longer the hero that I first thought he was, but you have to admit, right or wrong, life was never dull around Truly Crazy Gene.

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