(This article was originally featured in my audio CD, “Nuts from a Blind Squirrel”. It’s been resurrected and is featured here to be enjoyed both by young aviators and those of us who will be among the patrol’s members before very long.)
Bill Warren had nearly 9,000 hours of flying when I was still a student pilot, even though we were the same age. When I eventually put together my airshow act, Bill helped get me bookings and I performed within his troupe of airshow performers. It was a great way to get started as my mentor was there as I was starting out in the business.
One of the duties of an airshow performer is to attend the usual airshow party. These parties are usually held on the Friday night before the show and maybe Saturday as well if it’s a two day show. After I’d attended just a couple of these parties, I found that I was being bombarded with comments and flying stories from old guys, most of whom no longer flew. Maybe some of them never flew. Didn’t matter; they still had lots of stories and they loved to corner an airshow pilot (especially a Cub pilot) and make sure that he knew that they, too, were pilots. It was driving me nuts. I had other things to do, other people to meet and talk to, but I was always being buttonholed by these old geezers. I went to my mentor. I told Bill that I was being constantly bugged by these old geezers and they were driving me nuts.
“You need to change your attitude,” Bill advised. “You don’t realize what it means for these guys to be able to rub elbows with you and relive the flying life through you. You have to realize what you mean to them. They’ve got a lot to say…. You should listen to them.”
Properly chastened, I re-adjusted my attitude. And one day at an airshow in the Northwest, I was broken down. A part on my Cub had broken and I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. A geezer wandered in and asked me what the trouble was. At first I was inclined to blow this guy off and curtly dismiss him. After all, I had problems to solve and really didn’t have time to visit with the Geezer Patrol. But, I stopped myself. I explained to him what the trouble was, believing that I was giving him valuable time that I needed in order to undertake a parts search. He nodded understandingly and shuffled off. I think I was crawling around under the engine of the Cub trying to figure out how to fabricate a part. I must have been there for a half hour or so. I heard someone shuffle into the hangar.
“Maybe THIS will fit,” I heard the old guy say. He had found the part. It fit like a glove and my problems were over. He wouldn’t take a dime. In fact he was just as delighted as I was. Me for having fixed my plane, he for having been responsible for the fix. His actions had made both of our days.
I was now a firm fan of the Geezer Patrol and, regardless of how I may sometimes make jokes at their expense, I am still a big fan.
It may have been the following season when I was no longer part of Bill’s troupe. I was on my own and plying my trade of Airshow Comedy Pilot all over the country. But mid-season I was on the program with Bill at a show in Washington State. It was fun to see him. We visited briefly at the airshow party on Friday night and then we went to different parts of the room to socialize. But a while later, Bill caught my eye. He motioned to me from a corner of the room and I wandered over to see what was on his mind.
“These old guys are driving me nuts!” Bill complained. “They just want to tell me the same damn flying stories over and over. I’ve got better things to do…”
“Bill,” I gently advised, “Some of these guys have a lot to offer. And besides, it means a lot to them just to spend a little time with you.” I related the story of the geezer who had come up with the part.’
“Yeh, whatever,” Bill admitted. Then, spotting a well-endowed young woman, he was gone.
I know for a fact that deep down, Bill appreciated the Geezer Patrol. I never got a chance to tell him what I often tell young pilots: The Geezer Patrol is an amazing group of people and you know something? Someday we will all be members of their patrol. Well, Bill never joined their ranks. He died before he had to quit flying. He would have been a great geezer!
You see, we can’t fly forever. When we are kids, we might dream of flying and maybe become an airport kid, biking to the airport and hanging out. Then we’ll grow up and learn to fly. Maybe we’ll have a checkered career, flying all kinds of airplanes and living the airborne life. Eventually we’ll slow down as we age. And one day, we will fly our last flight. Too old to fly anymore, we’ll spend our last years in varying amounts of activity. Some of us will stay busy and productive; some will slow down and begin to dodder. But many of us will continue to think about flying and we will occasionally visit the airport and share stories with the other members of the geezer patrol who also share our love of the airborne life.
The Geezer Patrol is a valuable part of the fabric of any airport where they may hang out. If you have a few members of the Geezer Patrol at YOUR airport, you are lucky. Don’t take them for granted. Someday you will be one.