There's no way on earth I'm going to be able to list every detail of my life, and I can hear you saying, "Who cares?" So it's a blessing in a way.
An Air Traffic Controller?
At Rex Auto Parts I went along with Al on whatever he wished in hours and days we'd be open, but all the while I'd been looking for other work. I learned there was to be a test at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for Air Traffic Control Specialists. I applied for the test and was accepted. That had to be late 1968 or early 1969. When the test was over, I said to myself, "What am I doing here?" I couldn't make heads or tails of what was taking place. The test administrator would be talking, and I'd thought he was leading to a question. The trick was that while he was talking, he was already giving a test question, and I was confused. Needless to say I didn't pass the test.
But that same offer came up in another six months or so, and I applied again and was accepted for the test. This time I knew exactly what to look for!
Those tests were very lengthy and dealt with unbelievable subjects, but as that test progressed (for hours), I kept up with the administrator and felt confident this time.
After the test was over, names were called off to go to this or that room number, gradually whittling away at the three to four hundred guys present. Soon there were something like thirty to thirty-five of us left, and I grieved in my spirit thinking everyone called had passed and I would soon learn I'd flunked again.
The man then said, "All of you present have passed the test. The others who were called away all failed!" I could scarcely believe how they handled that situation, making us feel as though we'd flunked again and putting all that stress on us. Yet in time I learned that's the way Air Traffic Controllers are treated in order to see what their capability is to accept stressful incidents.
We were told we'd be hearing from some department or other in the next couple weeks, and I waited patientlynever letting on to Al that I had something lined up. But time kept going by, and I began to wonder if I'd ever be called.
Man on the Moon! (Apollo 11)
Although our author had other things on his mind, we can't help but point out that on Sunday, July 20, 1969 at 9:56 PM (CDT; or UTC 02:56, July 21) Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon! I still recall watching this on a small Black & White TV while finishing a late supper in our home on Bode Road (even recalling the chicken soup Rice-A-Roni). It was an event that most watching still remember.
Quit and Left Rex Auto Same Day!
Then one day in October of 1969 Eleanor phoned me at work telling me we'd received a telegram from the Air Traffic Control School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, wanting to know why I'd not shown up for the next session which was about to begin. She phoned and explained we'd received no notice prior to that telegram, and she received instruction of what I was to dowhich was that I should leave immediately for Oklahoma City.
I approached Al to tell him I had to leave immediately for home and then for Oklahoma City that very evening and that this was the end of my career with Rex Auto Parts. I hated to do it that way, but I had no choice.
Al was almost stunned! But in time the message got through to him, and he grudgingly accepted my terminationnever with glee or joy, however. I could see why he'd feel that way, as he figured he had lots of time to learn the business from me before one day taking over on his own. But now he was going to be solely running everything himself with no prior notice.
I'd borrowed a couple hundred dollars from the company for something or other, and I figured Al would consider my annual bonus as payment for whatever the balance was. He did not think in those terms, however, and he fully intended to get every last dime the company loaned to me.
In reviewing old records I noticed that Eleanor listed my last day at Rex Auto as October 7, 1969, and October 8th as the day I left for Oklahoma City. All the while I'd been thinking I left the same day I quit the job.
My neighbor who lived across the street from us worked for the FAA as an electronics technician. He serviced the equipment which directed air traffic at terminals and enroute. He at that time was working at St. Louis, Missouri, and he asked that I stop by to see him on my way to OKC. This I did, spending some time looking around at his work area there at the airport and staying overnight.
Driving all the way toward OKC all I could think of was my wife and the responsibilities I'd left behind for her. And, of course, I missed her terribly. I kept notes of things I saw as I traveled along and wrote to her explaining what those notes contained. It was the only thing which kept me sane, though prayers to the Lord helped, too.
Air Traffic Control School
Arriving at the school located right on the property of the main airport in OKC, I signed in and got my schedules and took some tests. We also spent a lot of time listening to "Black Box" flight recordings of aircraft which had crashed. Many were the "Mayday" messages which indicated the pilot and craft were in danger of crashing. It became pitiful after a while to hear some of those messages, some in which the pilot or crew member told of "going down," while others pleaded for help.
One thing which scared me was while question and answer sessions were taking place, and a fellow asked about eye glasses. The man leading the session stated that they were OK providing they didn't go into bifocals or trifocals. Here I wore bifocals! Further questioning about my case led to "Well, I guess you're in and nothing can be done about that." Want to bet?
We went through eight hour classes for five days each week. We had two instructors who traded off during the day teaching this or that subject. And this lasted for six weeks, after which a 5½ hour test was administered. I was pretty uncertain about passing that test.
There were twenty of us in the class, most of whom had some affiliation with flying or aircraft. Several were newly retired Air Force and Navy pilots, while some worked for airlines in various occupations. For the retired pilots the course had to be fairly easy to absorb and understand. I had a private pilot's license and had worked for an airline as a station agent, so I had some experience in the subjects being taught.
The entire Civil Service system was built on testing and re-testing and grade scores which divided "passing" or "failing." The grade of seventy was passing, and anything below was failing (69 and you're out). When the scores of that test were being handed to the class, my heart sunk as one of the instructors advised the class that of the 20 in it, one had failed. Blood rushed to my head as I assured myself that failure had to be me!
The scores were listed on a white piece of paper, and they were handed out with the scores face down. As I looked at what appeared to be a 57, I shuddered to think I'd failed so badly. I was not ready to accept the humility which would come with that failure. I'd told so many what I was going into, and now I'd have to show how dumb I'd been in failing!
As I turned the paper over to "have it over with," I found that what had appeared to be a 57 was really a 75. I was jubilant!
A little while later the instructor told who the unfortunate person was. It turned out to be a young black fellow who I'd figured to be pretty sharp as we went through the course. I felt empathy and pity at the same time for him.
One fellow with whom I'd become friendly and had spent some time studying, got a 94. The instructor at that time stated as far as he knew that was the highest score ever attained in the school. This guy had worked for an airline as a hydraulics mechanic. He had one big advantage over most guys in the class. His wife came to OKC to help him while in school!
One thing which held me back was the fact I was renting an apartment and had to do my own cooking, clothes and dishwashing, shopping, etc. I'd never before in my life had to do so much on my own. And I really missed my wife who'd done all those things for me all those years.
We were next to have a week of laboratory work where we were to put those things studied into practical application. The Lab was a mock control center where radios and ear phones and "strip boards" were to be used. The strips were (and that may not be the correct title for them) pieces or strips of paper on which the controller listed flight data as it was given him. This or that craft is requesting a change in altitude or speed or course. Another craft which is flying at that altitude may have a different speed, so it was necessary to calculate when one would overtake the other to see if you could allow the changes requested. The position of the strips would be changed accordingly.
In the skies are imaginary highways at upper and lower levels. They are called airways (just like highways but in the sky). Every plane flying under an instrument flight plan must adhere to the controller's directions in order to avoid chaos and the danger of mid-flight collisions. Therefore, when in those airways everything you do or any changes you wish to make must be approved by an air traffic controller. The upper levels begin at 18,000 feet.
There are enroute centers and terminal centers. Enroute centers control the craft until they come within specified distances from the terminal, at which point the enroute controller turns the craft over to the terminal center for his control.
Sometimes aircraft are bunched up and are asked to take "holding patterns." That's a specified pattern of about ten miles in length and three miles across. The airplane in such a holding pattern is allowing the terminal to clear other craft to make room for him to enter into his approach to the airport.
If any of you pilots or ATC people are reading this, forgive me for errors I may be listing. It was November of 1969 I was at OKC, and I have no notes at all to which I can refer. What you are reading is coming from an aged memory bank.
Remember the bifocals? Another thing which was brought up in that first couple of days of questions and answers was ages at which controllers no longer are qualified to remain in the profession. I was already well into my 46th year, and many controllers are out of it by then. It seemed I could feel something going on which was working against me.
When the first class in the laboratory assembled, we changed instructors. This guy was a dog-faced individual who reminded me of my boot camp chief in the navy. He called us, all around the mock control center setup, and was about to choose someone to be the first guinea pig. Knowing I wanted to learn as much as I could of how this was to work, I got behind the entire group of guys to hide.
But that instructor came around the back of the bunch and pulled me out to be first! I think I'd already been pointed out as one they wanted to get rid of because of the glasses and my age factor. I insisted I wanted to wait to see how things worked before going first, but he was defiant and insistent.
Knowing I was sure to be made a fool of, I told him to forget it and that I'd check out of the class. My fellow classmates all told me to stick it out and that they'd get me through the week, but that instructor's facial expression told me he knew he had me where he wanted me. And I walked out of the classroom and checked out.
I saw the two instructors I'd had while in the six week class, and they told me not to worry about it, as I should go back to my enroute center (which was at Aurora, Illinois, a city about 25 miles from Hoffman Estates where I lived) and tell them I want to apply for flight service station duty. They said it'd be less nerve wracking and an easier job. Flight service stations deal more with weather and craft flying "visual" as I recall (could be wrong).
When I got back to Aurora and told my story, the man in charge advised me the instructors were incorrect about the flight service station possibility and that many controllers had their eyes on such openings. Further, he stated that "Once you leave any government school without completion, you're out of it forever!"
It was as though the bottom of the world had dropped from underneath me when I heard those words. "All that for nothing," I thought. "And now I have to face untold numbers of people to try explaining what happened, most of whom will come to the conclusion I just didn't have what it took."
Had I been a dog I'd no doubt have had my tail between my legs as I approached home on November 18, 1969, feeling nothing but failure. Eleanor and the kids greeted me as though nothing had happened, and that made it a little easier.
Eleanor told of the troubles she'd had with Jack refusing to go to school while I was gone, taking him there and staying at times. The teachers and principal tried to make educated guesses at what the cause might be, but that helped Eleanor very little.
Well, there I was with no job, no income, no pride. What to do now?
As I looked around for work I realized that at age 46 there weren't that many people dying to get me on their payroll. Some were nicer than others in turning me down by saying I was over-qualified for the job. Some offered pretty good money, but the ads stated the main things were brawn and agenot a lot of brains. Yet those jobs paid the kind of money I needed.
Even Tried Rex Auto
In time Eleanor got on my case and said I should go back to Rex Auto to see if Al would take me back. I didn't like that idea at all, but eventually when nothing else turned up, I went to see Al. I'd already paid back what I borrowed from him before I left his employee, so that shouldn't have been a factor.
Al and I went to the corner restaurant much the same as we did while I worked there. We talked of what happened at the Air Traffic Control School and about what was taking place at Rex. Al, though not overly knowledgeable in the wholesale auto parts business, was shrewd from his auto sales days. And his next maneuver showed that.
Some time before I left Rex, we hired an older man named Mike. He'd been in the auto parts business a long time, but he was "slow on the draw." If he'd make mistakes in parts he pulled or if in mixing automotive paints, he always made it seem it wasn't his fault. But he did have one quality Al loved. He worked cheap!
So what did Al say to me? "John, I could put you back on, but then I'd have to let Mike go. What do you think? The business isn't making out enough to have both of you." That showed me Al's thinking, and I bowed out of any further discussion about working at Rex. After all, Mike had been loyal in staying with Al, he was slow at thinking, and it'd be difficult for him to get a jobhe was perhaps ten years older than I was, too. Al knew he'd have to pay me more than he paid Mike also.
For six weeks I looked everywhere, even hanging around the local bar to see if I could contact anyone there. I'd sip on a glass of beer (which I didn't like, but it had the right price) for long periods of time, getting light headed from just that little bit. I didn't like what I heard and saw at that place. But I learned that Ken Loos worked there. He's the one I used to alternate driving with when I worked at Grebel Auto back about seven years earlier.
Jet Air Freight
In time I learned of an opening in the air freight forwarding business near O'Hare Field, and I applied. Ken's neighbors worked there and may have gotten the job for me indirectly now that I think of it. The company name was Jet Air Freight.
Since I'd been a private pilot and had worked for an airline as a station agent, I wasn't considered totally unqualified, so they hired me. The hours were to be just about everything except the graveyard shift, and even that changed in 1970-71.
Ken's neighbors were Jean and Bill Taylor, and in time Jean and I began riding to and from work together. Bill was a truck driver who had unusual hours, thus Jean's driving with me. Later Bill changed companies, and it became impractical for him to drive with Jean at all.
The trucking industry had gone on strike nationwide, and the air freight business increased three to four hundred percent in volume. We had to work day and night to try getting that freight shipped out. There were times we couldn't get it all on our dock, and some of it stayed on rented trailers. This was also delicate because of the truckers' strike, not wanting to cause any waves or to get in trouble with that group. It was supposed to be OK to drive trucks if one was a non-union person, but on occasion these drivers were injured or killed by strikers who felt their domain was being invaded.
I worked in the operations department routing freight, teletyping, taking phone calls, working the dock at times as neededeverything. Some days we worked nearly around the clock and went home so tired we could hardly drive.
Speaking of driving, I even worked on Saturdays when I'd help by driving the bobtails to our repair shop and back to the station. I'd never before driven anything that large, but I learned that, too.
This job was airport/airline, aircraft associated, and it brought back memories of the airline training school, my job as a station agent in Utah, my private pilot flying, and the time I spent with the Civil Air Patrol. So I felt more at home working for Jet Air Freight than I'd felt for some time. Little did I know then that much change was ahead for me in those years with Jet Air Freight.
Big Nose Revisited
One thing happened that even my "note-keeping" wife didn't list anywhere (that I can locate) is an operation I had in what I'm sure was '71, possibly on May 6th, my kid sister Dorothy's birthday. I'd had blocked nasal passages during most of my younger life together with asthma and bronchitis. Whenever I'd attend a baseball game (usually the Chicago White Sox) at night time, I'd come home with completely blocked nasal passages. It took away the fun of going out to be at the game or out on any damp evening. So I researched ways to try taking care of the problem.
Eleanor and I located a plastic surgeon who said my problem was caused by a deviated septum (curved nasal passage) and that he could have me back to work within a two week vacation period after performing the operation. So we arranged to go ahead with it.
In the interview leading to the planned operation, we also discussed the possibility of having my "Roman-type nose" (slight hump in the center and a flat tip) taken care of simultaneously. I emphasized that I wanted a smaller nose, too, not just the hump and flat end removed. Eleanor and the surgeon didn't seem to agree with me, though I felt my wish should be considered more than their points of view, since it was my nose. So the operation was scheduled at a time which coincided with my vacation schedule.
The anesthetic was local. I could hear the surgeon and his assistant conversing about each step as I felt the constant chiseling and hammering which sent my head downward with each blowthough I felt no pain. I did wonder about all the solution they kept shooting into the passages which then drained down into my stomach. And in time I'd find I had good reason to wonder about that!
Once in my room at the hospital, I almost immediately became nauseated. My stomach began pumping as though it were a machine. That red disinfectant which was being shot up into my nostrils during the surgery and which then emptied into my stomach was ready for dispatch! I think I filled two or three of those trays with the awful stuff, having on one occasion missed the container, spraying everything within reach. And the taste in my mouth and throat was horrible!
In the days which followed, swelling around my eyes and nose was obvious. They kept my nose bandaged, so I couldn't see what they'd done, though the black and blue extended beyond the bandages, and that was visible. Dried blood, a smelly draining fluid, and constant blowing and picking to clear the passages followed for quite a while afterward.
Upon returning to work I still had a small bandage on my nose, so no one could really notice anything about my nose. And I wasn't going to tell anyone of what I'd hoped would be a "new appearance."
When I finally removed the bandage for the last time, I began studying the job that had been done. I really wasn't concerned about the deviated septum. I just wanted a normal-size nose like most people had. But when people didn't say anything about seeing a change, I realized what had taken place.
In straightening out the flat end, the surgeon extended my nose to a length it didn't have before. So now I no longer had the flat end, but I did have a longer nose. He did remove most of the hump, but the width was still there, and even more pronounced because of the length. I was disgusted with both the surgeon and with my wife who had agreed I didn't need a smaller nose because of the width of my face. They said a small nose would have been un-proportionate to the size of my face. I guess I'll have it the way it is the rest of my days, though I've never gotten used to the idea.