I met him on an oil platform, about one hundred miles offshore. He was a helicopter pilot. We were the same age, this was back in the mid-seventies. It was the end of a long day offshore.
“How’d you get to be a helicopter pilot?” I asked. He was working on his helicopter, checking the oil, wiping the windows and whatever else he had to do to keep the thing flying.
“I grew up next to an airport. Watching airplanes take off and land every day. I wanted to fly. It cost too much to take lessons. I was broke.”
An Army recruiter said get a year or two of college then I could be a warrant officer and fly helicopters. Only officers get to fly planes and you need a college degree to be an officer.”
“A year later, I joined up. They taught me to fly helicopters then sent me to Viet Nam. Now, I’m out here, flying over the Gulf of Mexico. Exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.”
“You know, he said, “when I got this job, I went back home in Minnesota. Proud as can be. Served my country and now with a good job. And, I’m still flying.
We talked a lot. He told me about his best friend in high school.
“Now, he didn’t graduate. Quit School our senior year. He was always running off and joining a carnival. Every summer, he was gone. Fall of our senior year, he said to heck with it all. He left to make a life on the road.”
“When I ran across him, he was driving a big Cadillac. We were both twenty-two years old. He invited me to eat dinner with him. Took me to his house, a big place, behind a gate, with a fence all around, on the outskirts of town. That scared me. I thought ‘Drugs’. Maybe getting busted with him, losing my job flying offshore.”
I’m thinking, this is an interesting story.
My helicopter buddy keeps talking.
“He takes me out back, there’s a big shop, maybe ten or twelve people working in it, busy as bees, heating up and stretching coke bottles, then filling them with colored water. Stacking crates of stretched coke bottles by the loading dock.”
“I asked him the ‘what’ question.” The pilot added.
His buddy was working the carnivals, while my friend was hauling soldiers off battlefields and out of rice patties in Southeast Asia. Back in those days, a stretched coke bottle was a big prize to win at the county fair. Right up there with the big teddy bear.
The supplier went bankrupt. The high school dropout saw a need and started his business. It had mushroomed. He was the largest supplier of stretched coke bottles in the Northeastern United States.
Just goes to show you, we all can find our niche.
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