Thursday, January 14, 2010

Navy Airdale – Ground Pounder Story: Mutiny on the Indy – Well Sort Of

It was the summer of 1977 and we were steaming and flying in the Med. That is VS-31 on board the USS Independence. The Indy. The days had become long and monotonous, a grind if you will even on the overnight shift. We were out on a 30 plus day line period which is a long period on a conventionally powered ship. You run out of milk, fresh eggs, and fresh veggies. After only a couple of week's powered eggs well, lose their charm. No amount of grated cheese or Tabasco will help. All the meat is either frozen or it comes out of cans and it tastes mainly of tin unless it's burnt.

The work was always the same, RADAR bad on every bird, SLU problems, no Data Link, a bad FLIR or two, always the Acoustic problem and always in the DIFAR section which takes like 19 minutes burning your ass in an ejection of testing to get down to. Every now and then an interesting wire gripe, something that takes some thought and digging around with a meter and leads.

The only reprieve was the nightly movie in the Ready Room. Now this was back when movies were on film and distributed around the fleet, shared if you will between ships. Traded for Ice Cream or fresh Eggs. Most every day there would be a different movie shown on a screen in our Ready Room. We had two showings, once for the day shift shortly after flight operations has ceased and then a late viewing for the night shift. We did 12 on 12 off starting at 0700 and 1900.

Now I was not a big fan of going to these, the movies being mostly "B" movies or worse if there were such a category. Each case of reels that the movies came in had numbers on them that indicated the "T & A" content in the number of exposures of each body part. The higher number the better for most and almost all the movies shown had some kind of both. I liked working better than being teased and eschew attendance. I was not alone.

The Night Shift Supervisor for my Work Center (WC 210) was by now a mild mannered Pennsylvanian by the Name of Bobby M. He was a First Class and trained as an AT (Aviation Electronics Technician) which was why he was supervising all of us AT's and AX's. Now Bob was smaller in size although he had these huge hands and he walked fast with a slight hop. You could always tell it was him in the dark because of that walk. But Bob M was a really good organizer of all the work activity that you needed done in a Squadron of aircraft packed full of Electronics. He thought of most everything, reminding each work crew about any routine inspections that could be done while working on an aircraft, he prepared paper work ahead of time such that only serial numbers had to inserted into forms and signatures affixed, this allowed a work crew to move immediately to another aircraft. He handled the interfacing between the shop and Maintenance Control, clearing the way administratively for anything we had in the way of unusual requirements like pulling a jet out of TOW (tail over water) or getting one into the Hanger Bay or arranging for an Elevator run if we had say a RADAR Transmitter or FLIR Ball that had to be moved to/from supply.

Bob M was good at the work but not so much with the People. He worked us like dogs. That was no problem for me as I loved staying busy and so did several of the other technicians. There was a kind of elite cadre of us that fought over the hard or interesting gripes. Bobby D, Mike L (or Lipp's as we called him), George S and myself were the core of the work center the ones who could fix anything and we were always paired with others, we were never paired together. The Slackers and Whiners and Go-Alongs were divided up between the four of us and we would go out and get the work done. Bob M knew who got along with who and on what gripes were best handled by whom. He made assignments and off we went. We would spend several hours on an aircraft clearing all the Grips from our shop, returning to the shop only for more tools or to arrange spare parts. After you cleared one jet you went back to the shop and you were assigned another aircraft. If you were not into the mental guessing game, the overall clearance rate or the fight against the clock this work became a grind. It was not for everyone.

Bob M also had a policy of NO MOVIES. Work came first and most of the time we had a full plate, took all 12 hours to clear our MAF Board. That was fine with me, keeping busy and trying to work more gripes than the other members of that little cadre. We would brag on how hard finding one box out of 11 in the acoustics system trying to outperform the others. The competition and bragging took on all aspects of the job from how quickly you could pull a FLIR Turret or an ESM POD off a wing tip to filling out MAF forms. We got a long great despite the many differences, such is Navy life.

So here we are working away this one night. I have Murphy with me, a competent technician but one of the Whiners, no problem for me I get him involved but he complains about starry night. But he mentions about wanting to see tonight's Movie. I only have heartily listen to him, I know Bobby M's policy and if we don't clear all the Gripes there is no chance of catching the Movie which will be shown around 0300 hours and there is little time to fix the problems on not just our jet but all of the gripes in the other 9 aircraft in our squadron's inventory, except the Hanger Queen. I pressed on with Murphy getting this first aircraft cleared before MidRats. After chow Bobby M found me work on another aircraft with someone else, Murphy being held back and assigned to someone else. He was pushing more and more for the Movie, finding anyone who would listen and getting some support.

We made quick work on the second aircraft which had only a few gripes on it, clearing them but not the flight deck. We stopped on our way at one of the other aircraft in work with a different working party. I did that frequently, stopping in to see what was going on, lend a hand or pick up some insight from one of the other in the elite cadre. We cleared that jet also after maybe another half hour and headed back to the shop to turn in gear and sign off Forms. And for me at least I wanted to pick up another aircraft with more problems to clear.

Most everyone was in the shop when we got down there, most were engaged in discussing the nights Movie. Murphy had been hard at work selling the idea of the shop packing it in for a change and going down for the 3:00 am showing. Now this is where the divisions occur, the Slackers, Whiners and the Go-Along's were game, but the 4 of us in the core were not so much. We were all eyeing the only other aircraft we had to work which were the two in the Hanger but they were not on the Flight Schedule for the next day so they were really optional for us to clear. In my mind they represented activity that would have to be done eventually and I would be more than happy to hit them and I think the other members of the core were in my camp.

Bobby M made the statement that we still had gripes and people willing to go out and work so there would be No Movie unless there was Mutiny. There was laughter over that but the Whiners started bitching about never getting to see the nightly movie. Some of the core guys were leaning their way. Then one of the Slackers complained about how unfair it was for the Night Shift to always "Clear the Board" while the day shift sat around fooling around. All the truly hard work was done at night and of course our shop was always busy, being dumped on by the Maintenance Control staff. Typical of the Slackers who all would love working day's because it was all true. But that was why we had so much manpower at night, 80 percent of the shop worked at night.

The debate raged on while I finalized paper work and then stood up to review the Gripes on the MAF board. The remaining core members were ambivalent about going to the Movie and it all hinged on Me, what I wanted to do. And I was reviewing MAF's and Bobby M was helping to sell me on hitting another aircraft. He was showing me Gripes that were interesting on the two jets in the Hanger.

If I took another Jet the reminder of the shop would have to go out and do Corrosion work some other menial work that we always had waiting for us. Everyone knew it; oh one or two members of the Core would go out with me leaving the rest to mope about cleaning or painting. I focused on the Gripe sheets trying to decide which aircraft to work next; I was ignoring all the comments about the movie. There was discussion about the high T&A rating. Then someone mentioned the name of the movie and who one of the big stars that was in it.

"Bobby Jo and the Outlaw"

I stopped my review of gripes, my arm frozen on the MAF Board holding up a series of slides that hold the actual Gripes. I asked for the name again. Murphy responded: "It's Bobby Jo and the Outlaw, it has Linda Carter in it and she is topless!" Every awed over that bit of triva. "Wonder Woman Boob's!" the banter started back up about the merits of "T's" and "A's". I stood there mesmerized if you will, lost in my own thoughts, my memories of a Sunday night some three years in the past.

FLASHBACK: It's April of 1974 and I was working the late Sunday night shift at the McDonalds on North 4th Street in Albuquerque. I was still in High School and would graduate in a couple of months and then head off to the Navy. But I was spending this Sunday waiting for the store to close. I had already suffered through the late Indian Big Mac Rush that was normal for Sunday nights. Many of the Pueblo Indian's that live around the City come into town on Sunday nights to watch Championship Wrestling, the pre-cursor to WWE or whatever Pro Wrestling turned into. There was great thrill among the Native Americans watching white people punch and throw each other around a ring, a kind of perverse revenge if you will. But when they were done for the night hundreds of them would stop in our little McDonalds and buy Big Mac's. We would do gang buster business for about an hour selling hundreds of Big Mac's, then it would go back to being a slow and boring.

This night a few minutes before closing a couple of well dressed men came into the store and asked for the Manager. An unusual request, I was making Big Mac collars, those little paper rings that were used originally to hold the Big Mac together. We put them together ahead of time and kept them in large plastic bags. I was alone on the Grill to cook any burger request that came through. No big deal, this time of night I could toast and dress the bread or rolls and cook the meat pretty quickly in ones and twos. There were three other workers in the store, two on Window and one at the Fry station.

The manger, a younger man named Fred stopped by after talking to the two men and asked me how long it would take me to cook another 50 Big Mac's and 50 Quarter Pound hamburgers. "If I had help with the rolls, dressing them maybe 10 minutes." I replied. And that was true, the meat for a Big Mac took only took a minute and 15 seconds to cook on the grill, the Quarter Pounder took longer by almost 4 minutes but I could heat up more of the Grill to cook more of them at a time. So, 10 minutes would be all that I would need.

"Start toasting the bread, I'll get you help dressing the rolls but don't start cooking any of the meat until I tell you." Fred commanded. I started, who ever these guys were they were hungry. Even though we were now closed we were as busy as when the Big Mac rush was on a couple of hours back. I pulled bread for the two types of burgers which I had already put away expecting to go home.

Soon the command to cook the meat was passed and I filled every inch of the 11 foot grill, I had a bunch of the bread toasted and one of the Girls from the Front was dressing, 6 Big Mac's and 5 Quarter Pounders at a time. The Manager had pulled these huge plastic boxes that he called "Product Warmers" and he was loading with the cooked and wrapped food. I had never seen them before. They were used to haul the prepared food en mass to an outside location. They would keep the food hot and thereby consumable for maybe 30 minutes to an hour. While I was toiling away with all that meat the others in the store were making 100 orders of French Fries and 100 large Soda's of various types. Fred asked me if we could pack the filled Product Warmers into my car for the drive to the site where this McDonalds feast was going to happen. I drove a Rambler Station Wagon (it was a natural fit for me since I had been born in the back seat of a Rambler, a different one than my little Ambassador). I gave him my keys and he pulled the car up to the side doors and we loaded almost all the hot food into my Wagon.

As I was cleaning up the grill and preparing to depart Fred came up to me and asked me to cook two more burgers. "Regular ones, pickles on the side, no onion or cheese. Make them nice." He said. The "nice" part was a code we used that meant he wanted the meat and the condiments centered on Bun's that were picked for their perfect shape. I trolled about for the right set of rolls, toasted them and then cooked the meat. I took great care to not splash the catsup and mustard and I wrapped many pickle slices into their own package. I put the whole meal into its own bag and headed out. Fred rode with the two men and all the drinks and I followed in my Rambler.

We drove about 20 minutes away to a place called Coronado State Park. It was the site of a former Pueblo of Indians that the Spanish had pretty much eliminated 400 years in the past. The Indians died from both disease and by smite, the Spanish taking revenge on the Pueblo Indians at this Pueblo killing the ones that survived the sickness that always followed Europeans. The structures that are on this location had spent some 400 years abandon (religious beliefs about the dead prevent Indians from going back) and the whole site was excavated by the whites in the 1930's. The state preserved the site to commemorate the villain Coronado (even though he is not vilified for his mass murder) but the site is interesting to visit. There is a huge Kiva there (this is an underground pit for conducting religious ceremonies) and much of the foundations of the original buildings are still there along with several water features, a gift of the Pueblo Indians ingenuity in water engineering. They moved water from the Rio Grande River up onto this Plain to irrigate their farm fields.

It was the perfect location for making a Film about modern day Outlaws.

There were large open tents set up with flood lights illuminating the area just past the parking area. Tables were set up under the tents and we unpacked the food. We laid out the sandwiches and fries on one table and the drinks on another. There were tables set perpendicular to these for everyone to sit around. People were assembling around the table and starting to sit down and eat. I was asked about the two special burgers I had cooked right before we left and I went to retrieve them from my car.

As I returned from my car I walked to one of the men that had come to the store, he was waving me over to one of them folding cloth stools you see on Movie Sets. This one had a Star on the back and embossed in cursive writing was "Linda Carter" and under it "Bobbie Jo". Just as I got to the table the Star of that particular chair appeared out of the darkness, she kind of materialized from out of the pool of light that illuminated the immediate area outside of the tents.

She was lovely. She was chatting with another woma n who took a seat off to the one side of the table. The woman who would become Wonder Woman (this film was being shot before even the Wonder Woman Pilot had been shown on TV) came to her stool turned towards me to take her seat. I was speechless but I managed to hold out the bag of sandwiches. She smiled at me and said "Are these for Me?" Her blue eyes seemed huge, almost unnatural by their size. But her cleavage was in direct competition and on full display. She was wearing a small Indian head band around her forehead and a leather vest that was open to reveal the most cleavage I had ever been near.

I was only 17 at the time and had no clue who she was. She was not yet famous but they were obviously treating her like a star. I could not talk, tongue tied as it were and could not respond when she asked me if I had cooked her sandwiches. Fred from across the table said that I had cooked all the sandwiches. Everyone applauded and hailed me as some kind of chef. Wonder Woman smiled sweetly at me and thanked me. I simply nodded.

Fred and I stayed only a few more minutes. We gathered up the Product Warmers and headed back to the store. I don't remember the drive just those beautiful eyes or was it the cleavage?

FLASHBACK to present. I had never seen that movie. I had in fact forgotten about it until Murphy had said 'Bobbie Jo' and Linda Carter in the same breath. I dropped my arm and stepped away from the desk. I must have had a strange look on my face because everyone had stopped talking. Everyone but Bobby M, he was still pitching gripes to me. I looked around and everyone was looking at me.

"No Bob, I think it's time we went to the movies." I said. Bob was stunned, but the rest of the shop was ecstatic. They started filling out into the passageway heading to the Ready Room not waiting for anyone to tell them otherwise. We left Bob M there standing by the desk wondering where his shop, his empire, his fiefdom had gone.

For the first time on that long cruise the VS-31 AT Shop attended the nightly movie in Ready7. We watched what should have been a horrible movie except for the many T's and A's that were on display. Especially those of Linda Carter. The projector operator ran that segment backwards and forwards several times so we all got a good look. And Yes, Bob M joined us for once relaxing and taking time for nothing but frivolity. I watched it all but saw only the scenes with Linda in them, knowing that among all of us I alone had seen here there in that place. The memories were still just as vivid more than three years later.

After the movie I remember sitting back in the shop, all of us, drinking bug juice and coffee. No one was worried about working on aircraft for the rest of the night, even Bob M was sitting back in his chair at the desk chatting away. It was one of those incidents that galvanize a small cadre of men, making us all closer than we had been before the night had started.

I have never seen that movie since that night and the only other Star I have met was Catherine Bell of JAG fame. Another powerfully attractive woman, if you know what I mean!

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

Heh. You were the man o' the hour that night...

JimmyT said...

You bet, and you know how much traction you get when you show someone boobage, it's incredible!!

BT: Jimmy T sends.

virgil xenophon said...

Great story, Jimmy T., as usual. Funny how one bumps into famous (or infamous) people in the strangest places at the strangest times. I once bumped into Telly Savalas one afternoon at the London Hilton in 71 (or was it late 70?) We had a few drinks together. Was wearing a brown turtleneck sweater, brown & yellow paisley bell-bottoms and brown leather boots--typical late 60s-70s garb. Had just finished shooting a series of movies in Europe and was telling me about the fact he had gotten so type-cast as the crazy in every film that he was convinced he had to get out of movies--that TV offered him a better chance to play other, even leading roles. Said his agent had him lined up for lead role in new cop show and that it looked promising. LOL! As we all know, the rest is history, and when I came back to CONUS here was Telley in gigantic hit show "Kojak."

Promising show indeed...

virgil xenophon said...

Hell as long as we are on the subject I'll tell my Bruce Springsteen Story.

I was a TA at the Univ. of S.W. Louisiana, Lafayette, La. in spring of 73 when getting my masters just out of the service. I had a large lecture class and there was one foxy round-leg from New Orleans that sat in the back that I mentally had pegged as a "player." Nothing dispositive, mind you, just a gut feeling one acquires from experience--"worldly" or otherwise. Fast forward two yrs later. I'm now in New Orleans getting my PhD and my wife and I are at an apt. party thrown for a fraternity brother of mine who is in town visiting from San Diego. Time passes and we all decide to go catch the second set of Erma Thomas (a local R & B legend on the Etta James style--I have a story about HER too!) at the Maple St. Bar--forgotten at the time is fact that Bruce (who was just breaking on the national scene) is in town for a concert. Anyway, we arrive late, so are lined up against the wall in the back of the room. I'm already feeling no pain and doing my best to hold up the wall when I hear this voice from a gal beside me say: "Well hello, Professor, remember me?" (How could I forget!) She proceeded, "Oh, btw, let me introduce you to my date, this is Bruce Springsteen." At which point "The Boss" dressed in his trade-mark white t-shirt with cigs rolled up in sleave and blue-jeans reaches across her and shakes my hand.

LOL!! Was my antenna on tgt or what. I had had her pegged as a "player" two years previously, and now of all the female groupies in the entire city of New Orleans throwing themselves at Bruce, my gal is the one who managed to snag him post-concert. Can I call 'em or what!

Buck said...

Great stories, VX! You've led quite the life, haven't ya?

JimmyT said...

VX, that is so rich. The world is small!!

BT: Jimmy T sends.

virgil xenophon said...

OK guys & gals, if you're gluttons for punishment., I have a John Goodman story. John has made his main home in N.O for a number of years now and it's not unusual to see he and his wife around town at restaurants, local bars, etc. One afternoon just pre-Katrina I had to run some paperwork by an ins. agency whose offices were located at the cemeteries end of Canal St (Canal St begins at foot of Miss R. dividing CBD fro the Fr. Quarter and runs until it dead ends at the old St. Louis Cemetery at which point one turns left to go under the I610 overpass into "Old Metairie" or right to City park headed out eventual to Bayou St. John and hence along it to Lakefront) At any rate there is a quite popular bar in the same little strip of office bldgs as my destination, so as it was around 1500 (close enough) and I had nothing better to do stopped in for a cool one. Not too much later in comes John Goodman w. his body guard and he sits down at bar right next to me, places his sunglasses on the bar and begins animated conversation w. his bodyguard with his back to me. I waited until they were finished and he had turned around to pay attention to his beer. At the appropriate time I casually remarked: "Say, who IS that guy in those Foster Grants?" Remember that old ad campaign? Well, John didn't, as he picked up his glasses, looked at them, and said: "But these are Ray-bans." (Which I knew--used to wear same style--Wayfayer--myself in college) I laughed and said:"Well, I guess so much for the subtle approach!" Explained the Foster bit (he remembered ) and introduced myself. We had a nice conversation--mainly about todays youth going to hell in a hand basket, etc. LOL. He is a graduate of Southwestern Mo. where he was a Sigma Phi IIRC. Prior to Katrina he and his wife along w. others briefly started a new city magazine--"The Kingfish" playing "New Yorker" to "New Orleans" magazine's "New York," and tried to revitalize boxing in the city (which has a storied tradition) by promoting/staging/televising local fights with national ranked fighters vs local N.O fighters--and backing local training Gyms. All that and the mag.went into the scuppers with Katrina and has yet to get back on track--another very sad result of Katrina, as everything was gaining critical mass on the fight scene--had even arranged a city-to-city series of challenges with clubs in another great fight city--Philly--but all is on hold now even some 5 yrs later.
A crying shame...

JimmyT said...

VX: "another great fight city--Philly" and that's just their Hockey Team!!

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Buck said...

Heh on the Broad Street Bullies. Pronger must feel right at home, eh?

VX: Yet another goodie (pun intended).