The Big Sky Theory

My Story of ATC for Decades



Young Urban Professional

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During my tenure on the A-Side I had some interesting encounters—some positive, some not.

I had first learned not to get along with supervisors on Flight Data. Aw, let’s get real. I can remember run ins with authority figures as far back as kindergarten. Not in-your-face confrontations, all—but more like civil disobedience. Recognizing erroroneous proclamations (and often, incompetence) and calling them on it. The FAA in particular was a target rich evironment of such shortcomings.

I don’t do well with those in positions of authority unless they demonstrate true leadership and common sense—an extraordinarily rare commodity in the FAA—ever. A supervisor’s idea of propriety was often different than mine—I, coming from the school of no harm, no foul and they often viewing things such as grab ass and wool gathering as somehow impeding the progress of the agency’s mission. We’re never going to reconcile that dichotomy, so if I were to go back to work today, I’d still wind up having difficulty with supervisors.

Some things, however, seemed to happen indirectly by way of reputation, rather than overt acts of inappropriate behavior. I remember working High A-Side one night on the mid shift—normal staffing, one. One of our responsibilities, of which I was fully aware, was to stuff strip holders with blank strips for the day shift. I will admit that I detested stuffing strips until the day I retired, but I never intentionally shirked my duties. Somehow, and I don’t know how to this day, I wound up forgetting (or not getting around to or whatever) to stuff the strips for the next shift.

There must have been some minor disagreements elsewhere, but they had to have been quite insignificant as I have no recollection of them now. In any event, one of the managers wrote a note to my (2nd level) supervisor regarding the unstuffed strips that read, “…this looks like more of Peterson’s work—I think a three day suspension should be the next step…” Wow! Three days. That’s pretty harsh for a first offense. And “more” of my work? What else had I done? I can’t begin to imagine how I could have elevated my status to the level of a second or third offense. It all went away eventually, but again, I don’t have any recollection of the circumstances. I suspect it was just a matter of being a pain in the ass. There’s nothing kissy ass or warm & fuzzy about me.

The most serious one, which scars me to this day (although the facts are now hazy), had nothing to do with anything I did. Some second level supervisor (they were Watch Supervisors in those days, Assistant Chiefs, later, and for all of the ’90s, Area Managers—I don’t know what they’re called now) decided to harangue a radar controller with whom I was working a mid shift. It may have involved me getting stick time, but it apparently wasn’t about me. I really was an innocent bystander, but I wound up being collateral damage. In the end, the radar controller (who had done nothing wrong, either) was exonerated, I was ignored, and the asshole wound up transferring out before I ever got a chance to make his life miserable. I still remember his name, though—Bennett Wilson—they called him “Big Bopper”. He’s not gotten a Christmas card from me all these years.

Geez, from the foregoing you’d think I was an unhappy camper, but I wasn’t. For one thing, work was generally going swimmingly, and my personal life was good, too. I’d had a serious thing going with a woman named Ruth in August through about November of ’68, although she lived and worked in South Florida. Technically she was GU (geographically undersirable) but we were a serious item for a while, anyway.

Then 1969 was one torrid, albeit brief, romance after another. A less charitable soul might say I was a player, and although that term wasn’t around in the ’60s, in fact that’s probably not far from the truth. Except for the fact that players are generally considered predatory creatures, and although I know some guys like that, I’m not sure I fit that profile. Moreover, a “player” generally is considered to be rather successful, and I’d experienced a lot of rejection of my endeavors.

However you want to slice it, though, my recollection is of a happy time. By Spring of ’69, Len and I had moved into our respective apartments in the Laurina Villa complex. I was destined to have many of my most significant life moments there and it started out auspiciously when my furnished apartment wasn’t going to be available for two weeks from when I needed to move in (we’d been invited to leave the previous premises). They did have an unfurnished one I could use, so I moved in. “Moved” is a relative term, and implies furniture, appliances, etc. In my case, it was clothes, bedding, and other personal effects. I might have had a small bench and some pillows, but the great adventure now was sleeping on the floor.

Under normal circumstances one might think that would cramp one’s style with the ladies a bit, however, when you (and your prospects) are in their early 20s and Spring is in the air, having no mattress is just a minor inconvenience. It’s still a step above the back seat of a car—for one thing, there’s a bathroom… By coincidence, the apartment I was awaiting was occupied by an interesting woman whom I met at a party. The following night I met her sister, India, with whom I started a serious thing. We had some great adventures, although this, too, wound up of relatively short duration. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about life and a lot about me which would stand me in good stead later on. And that’s what these life adventures are about, anyway.

The apartment complex was a “swinging singles” type of place in 1969. It was populated by some serious partyers and we enjoyed bands, beer, swimming, other pursuits. Often, on a Saturday morning, someone would make a run out to Mayport and bring back a couple of bushels of fresh shrimp. We’d fire up a grill (hibachis were all the rage then—every back porch sported one) under a washtub and get water to boiling while a couple of other volunteers would make up a gallon or two of cocktail sauce. After a few dips in the pool we had a generous portion of boiled shrimp and cocktail sauce and, along with the beer left in the keg from the party the night before we’d fairly feast our way into the afternoon.

debris from door frame (Click on picture for larger image)

On the downside, I experienced the personal violation of a break-in when I came home one evening and found my apartment door stove in. I didn’t have a lot, but there were some small treasures—a fairly decent collection of Craftsman wrenches, ratchets, and sockets I’d been collecting for four or five years, and my cornet from my band days in high school.


Conn Victor 80A cornet (Click on picture for larger image)

I had renter’s insurance and received a small settlement but despite the fact that my lips had probably not touched the Bach mouthpiece of that Conn since my Junior year in high school, I really missed that cornet. The wrench collection has been enhanced many times over during the years.

I don’t know how my gun collection escaped but I must not have had it up on the wall at that point. I never thought about it, innocent to the ways of the world as I was at that time. A couple of months later I did a friend a favor and took in a mutual acquaintance as a temporary roommate while he awaited a change in circumstances of his own. Again, I came home from work one night, and although the door wasn’t bashed in this time, my apratment had been picked cleaner than a tapir in the Amazon, including all of my guns.

I got extremely lucky, as within a week, the perp (my temporary roommate as it turned out, and an accomplice) were arrested, with my guns, in St. Augustine. I got them back, but I never regained my sense of invincibility insofar as trust of strangers was concerned. On a side note, the original friend had a girlfriend who wormed her way into my bedroom one time (I didn’t say I was beyond temptation). He found out about it and a night or two later confronted me on my balcony, fully prepared to rearrange parts of my anatomy. In a miracle of fast talking I don’t understand to this day, I convinced him that we were both the aggrieved parties and that he didn’t know me well enough to be confident of kicking my butt, so why risk it. Whew!

At some point in the Fall, Ruth came back into my life, albeit on a mixed schedule. She had left teaching and had become a stewardess, er, flight attendant for Florida’s airline. We managed to have some really good encounters over the next few months given both of our unforgiving schedules and the fact that she was still in South Florida. This time it wasn’t a romance of committment to the future, but rather two attracted people getting together from time to time and sharing common interests. No, that is not a euphemism for frenetic activities of the physical sort. There was prospect for the future in it, though.

No matter my relationship status, I still managed to get out amongst them regularly. A single guy in the ’60s making an above average pay in a service town was not miserable. But, enough of that—Fall rolled around and in December of 1969 I was selected for D-School. That was a hurdle every controller had to surmount and I anticipated it guardedly, not as yet having the experience to know whether I was truly up to the task. I just hadn’t been tested, yet.





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Last updated: 14 September 2012