The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
A LITTLE RESPECT, PLEASE!
by db Conard - The Quill
One of the best jobs I ever had was as a field pilot for Exxon in the Gulf of Mexico. I would live for two weeks out of every month on an oil production platform. To me it was like a tropical resort with a million dollar recreation vehicle that I had to fly.
A platform is like a complex ship that doesn't go anywhere. It makes the sea move around it by just breaking waves apart. A platform's control room is so complex that it would make the bridge of a ship seem simple. From that control center complex processes are managed that are much more than just pumping oil.
Generating enough power to run a small city, a production platform often must care for the needs of lots of people in a real aggressive environment.
My platform was 84 miles from shore, and as a home for a group of highly paid professional people, the company, wanting to retain the best employees, did everything they could to make the living environment as comfortable as possible.
It offered unlimited satellite TV, housekeeping, laundry, library, unrestricted long-distance phone, game room, exercise room, but best of all was the galley.
The galley was not just run by a cook but by a chef. These men and women needed to make only one or two bad meals and they would be run off and a replacement would come on the next flight in. So you might say that a platform cook in the Gulf oil fields had to be very good.
Our platform had one of the more famous grill artists who had been in the same kitchen for years. He remembered your favorite meal and served it just often enough to keep it that way. I wish I could remember his name, but I can't because I just called him "cook" and he called me "pilot." It was both friendly and respectful and neither of us could be confused with anyone else.
"Cook" would always make too many breakfast biscuits, and after the meal there would be a platter piled high with biscuits and leftover bacon. I would tease Cook about how bad his biscuits were and that they were only fit for the birds as I would grab a handful on my way to the helipad on top of the platform.
The oil platform was a home to a flock of seagulls that I had been feeding Cook's biscuits for more than a year. Before I would preflight my aircraft I would dole out the biscuits one piece at a time as the flock would circle around me. Generally, I would toss pieces to one bird or another and some would come and take it from my hand.
For some reason one morning, I decided to change the routine. As a seagull approached to take the bread from my hand, I grabbed him by the feet with my free hand, and quickly tucked him under my arm before he could hurt himself or me with his flapping wings.
When I would get him all secured under my arm and it had stopped biting at me, I would scratch his head until he would calm down, and then I would let him go. I did this to several birds and then finished taking care of my aircraft and headed below decks to check out my day's flight schedule.
It was probably a half an hour later when I returned to the helipad, and I could not believe what I found.
My entire helicopter had been snowballed from one end to the other with what only a bird could drop on it. I am not kidding when I say that only precision bombing could have accomplished what this flock of birds had done.
They had not only covered the flat surfaces of the aircraft but had done as well with the doors and sides of my own "bird." The job could not have been done without the birds having fun doing it.
I could not be angry with what they had done quite purposely to teach me a lesson. What amazed me was the thought process that had to lead the flock in such a coordinated effort. I had defiantly crossed the line by offering them food and then betraying their trust by grabbing them out of the air.
The only thing I could do was to wash my blades and the windscreen so that I could fly the aircraft to shore for a professional cleaning. The people at base operations were amazed when they saw my aircraft, and watched as maintenance had to use a high pressure washer to clean up the mess.
The more time I had to think about the mornings drama, the more I respected these fellow aviators. They had shown me under no uncertain terms, that the disrespect of snatching them from the air would not be tolerated.
Several hours later I returned to the platform with a freshly cleaned aircraft and I finished the day's flights. The next morning, everyone was curious to see what would happen with the birds. I followed my regular routine, and after gathering a larger amount than normal of Cook's biscuits, I headed up to the pad. The birds were there to greet me just as they always did.
I could only try to imagine, what the gulls were thinking and if birds could have expressions it looked as though they were all smiling at me. They had to have known what a great job they had done on my aircraft and that I wouldn't like what they had done, yet they were still getting their morning bread.
When I offered the bread from my fingers they were somewhat tentative, but still came for Cook's biscuits. I might have imagined it, but I believe those birds were being more careful and were mistaking my fingers for bread less often.
From that moment on, there was a new respect between the seagulls and me. My helicopter never was targeted again by even one of those gulls.
I had been taught a lesson through the coordinated effort of a flock of birds that weren't as unthinking as I had originally thought. Perhaps they had found the same impression seeing that a human could learn. I never grabbed a seagull again.