December 1, 2019
As we grow older, it is real easy to forget how much fun it can be to just be silly! I mean fun-spirited silly that doesn’t hurt anyone’ s feelings — if that is possible in today’s society! Over the years I have probably been called just about anything that one can be called and it’s okay. The one description that I think is pretty accurate is to describe me as “CRUSTY.” With that said, I would like to share with you three recent events that made me and others smile and even laugh, just like I used to do a whole lot more of when I was younger and really goofy.
MIDDLE AGE CRAZY EXPERIENCE
A friend who is an executive for an aircraft manufacturer wanted to take me for a ride in his pride and joy, his racing sports car. The street legal car is crazy with horse power, wide tires and even a cage roll bar! He took me on some really curved roads in a rural area around his home at speeds twice the posted speed limit. I was really impressed but was glad to crawl out of his four wheel rocket ship! I am told that members of his office team asked him the next day at work “Did you scare Mr. King?” I am told that my friend shared with those in his office words to the effect of “You need to understand that Jerry is not your normal rider. He has ridden and flown all sorts of aircraft and even rode in a jet powered car at an air show that went from zero to over 300 miles per hour.”
When I got back to Dallas, I thought I would mess with my son, Jarid, and my sports car friend. I told them that I was so inspired after the exhilarating sports car ride that I had decided to get my own convertible sports car. Both of my prey were excited and anxious to help me spend my money on my very own land-based rocket ship. They could just see “the half Puerto Rican” driving the streets of Dallas in some sort of super car. To set the hook even deeper, I sheepishly told them that “I’m having my car worked on, or what they call ‘tuned.’” I knew damn well that they now just knew for sure my super car was going to be super awesome.
At age 67, I began to get some feelings of middle age crazy as I searched for my new vehicle. And sure enough, I found it, a 1925 Model T convertible! My super car cost less than my zero turn riding lawn mower! It reminded me of some of the ranch vehicles I have seen over the years that were converted into hunting vehicles. The King Ranch (no relation) had and has custom hunting vehicles, as did the Y.O. Ranch. Even President Lyndon Baines Johnson had one. I bought my car and came to the real realization that I had never driven a Model T, which is a different animal. The throttle is on the steering column, like an old farm tractor.
There are three pedals on the floor. One is to go forward, the center is to go backwards and the one on the right is the brake. There are only two gears on a Model T: low gear and high gear. There is a lever beside the driver’s left leg to shift from one to the other.
I had the delivery people drop off the car at my ranch where I couldn’t hit anything going forward or backward while I mastered my new 1925 technology. To my amazement, I did pretty good driving around in wide open spaces. I decided to park the vehicle in a garage-like enclosure called the skinning shed that is made out of stone and very thick concrete. As I entered the garage area, I needed to go over a concrete speed bump hump and that’s when things went awry. I got confused and thought by instinct I needed to push on the clutch (forgetting that there is no clutch on a Model T) and pushed on the left floor lever, which fully engaged the car to go forward faster. The vehicle lunged forward and hit a concrete wall. I thought I had knocked myself out. I sat in the vehicle dazed and thought I had just totaled my brand new 1925 Model T on my first day of ownership. I got out fully expecting to see the radiator folded back into the engine compartment and the fenders curled back like the tusks on a wild feral hog. To my amazement, nothing was damaged other than my pride. I thought to myself, I have flown and operated all sorts of helicopters, planes and heavy equipment and this Model T has kicked my butt! My pride was hurt and I had a headache so I called it a night and for medicinal purposes had my two nightly rum and diet cokes. That night I told myself to “Suck it up” or in Texas terms, “Cowboy up” and I could deal with that four wheeled bronc in the morning.
The next morning, I used all my safety and equipment operation training and operation knowledge as I climbed back on the four wheeled critter. I was convinced I would “take the bull by the horns!” To my amazement, I drove around the ranch headquarters compound without any problems. I felt so good I decided to drive out on the gravel country road and go next door to Rough Creek Lodge for a glass of ice tea. Several people on the resort’s staff were excited at the sight of my new ranch vehicle. After my tea, I drove back to the ranch, fully prepared to park my tame little monster in the same garage area where I had problems the previous night. I was a little apprehensive but felt confident as I approached the concrete speed bump at the entry to the garage area. As I entered the garage and hit the bump, all hell broke loose, just like a bad burrito! I apparently hit the go forward pedal one more time and hit the wall a second time. I got out of the vehicle mad and once again wondered if I had a self-inflicted concussion only to laugh at my goofy self. I was thankful that there were no witnesses. As I thought about my wrecks, I wished that there were witnesses to see how goofy I can be and still be able to laugh at myself!
My aviation executive friend and son were shocked when I showed them a photo of my new sports car. I guess my middle age crazy solution came from a whole different generation.
ONE WOOLLY BUGGER
My daughter, Jacqueline, who keeps up with most of the latest cowboy trends, informed me that I need to have a “Woolly Hat” that some call a “Grizzly.” She even told me where to have one made. So being a good father, I went to the hat maker and ordered the “Woolly” that I was told that I must have. I had no idea what a “Woolly” was but found out it is kind of like the difference between a short haired and a long haired cat. “Woolly” hats are from years ago but have come back into style. I walked into the hat shop and was greeted by a very, very quiet and introverted hat maker. I placed my order and paid my deposit and left. Different styles of shaping cowboy hats reflect the personality of the one under the hat. There are books about cowboy hats that can provide you with real insight into this. My style over the past 40 years is goofy and different.
I have combined several hat styles from Texas friends who are no longer around. I have some unique curves that reflect the former mayor of Luckenback, Texas, Hondo Crouch. I have a brim size that reflects some of my friends at the once famous Y.O. Ranch. My attention to detail is what I call “the blessing and the curse.” To make the hat styler’s job easier, I had my daughter drop off one of my old but expensive Stetsons so he could copy my styling for my new “Woolly.” Jacqueline told me that when she dropped off my old hat, the hat maker took one look at my seriously curved Stetson and said to her “I now see where you get it from.”
After several weeks I went to the hat maker to pick up my new hat that I didn’t really want or need. I didn’t realize that I got to the shop right before closing time. I looked at my old hat and compared it to the shape of the new “Woolly” and once again “the blessing and the curse” for attention to detail kicked in on autopilot. I began to politely tell the hat maker what needed to be changed to get the new hat to match the old one. I thought to myself, ‘I’m an airplane guy, what do I know about hat shaping?” Maybe more that I think! About four different times he handed me the new hat and said, “How’s that?” Each time I pointed out what needed to be corrected. When he thought he was finished, he handed me my new hat to try on my head. I looked at him and said “I don’t wear ‘em, I just like looking at ‘em” as I placed my old hat beside my new hat on the counter. He looked at me strangely. The hat maker who is really, really quiet looked a little stressed as I studied the two hats. I told him that they were shaped pretty close and he looked visibly relieved. I then looked at him and asked with my most serious face, “Can you now shear the woolly one to match my old hat?” His mouth dropped and after a few seconds, he regained his composure and quietly managed to get out the words “Pardon me?” I said again, “Can you shear the new hat to match the old one?” He looked like he was about to pass out and before he did, I quickly told him I was joking. With a very small smile on his face, he said “not tonight.” We both had a laugh and I got a new “Woolly!”
BEING GOOFY ENDED UP TUGGING ON MY HEART
In November, my wife Barbara and I went to MD Anderson Cancer Center to establish a small endowment to recognize those at MD Anderson who work behind the scenes to serve children who are cancer pediatric patients.
When we arrived at the hospital we were taken into a playroom in the pediatric area of the massive hospital facility. To my amazement, there were about 10-15 medical professionals waiting to greet us. There were senior level doctors, physician assistants, administrators and office staff present. I felt I was wasting all of these people’s valuable time and told the group that I could have just mailed the check and they could still be working. I wanted to say something astute to the room of world class medical professionals who have dedicated their time and talent to fighting cancer for children. I was confident that they had heard all sorts of elegant, articulate and gracious words from donors much more successful than me. So I put my half Puerto Rican brain in gear and here is what I said:
“I’ve been coming to MD Anderson for 10 years as a bladder and kidney cancer patient. Today is special for me because this is the first time that I have come to MD Anderson that I don’t have to worry about pulling out my wiener to show someone as part of my routine checkup.” (In aviation the term is borescope inspection or “NDT” which stands for nondestructive testing). My sweet wife said her normal “Oh my gosh” with her New Orleans accent. For a second, there was a look of shock and surprise on the faces of the medical professionals and then there was an uproar of laughter. The laughter and candidness set a positive tone for the rest of the day.
I then left the group and suited up in my heart costume. For me, our gift was a heartfelt event to honor my wife (Barbara was one of, if not the first certified pediatric nurse in the Dallas/Fort Worth area when she worked at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas back in the 1980’s) and to honor the MD Anderson staff at all levels who work behind the scenes. Barbara and I both have overcome two battles with cancer. She had breast cancer twice and I had bladder and kidney cancer. Thank God and our wonderful medical care providers that we are both fine today.
After I presented the check for the endowment, photos were taken and we were given a tour of the pediatric facilities. It was suggested by the staff that I wear my heart suit on the tour, so I did. We encountered several young patients and their family members. These sick little people and their parents looked tired and somber, which is understandable. I hurt for them as I did my best to get them to smile.
As we were walking down a hall, a little boy who was bald hollered from his room “Hey heart!” and then ran toward me. I stopped and he wanted to give me a high five. He gave me a high five and then a high ten. I asked the lady who was with him if she would like a photo. The lady said that she was his grandmother as she took a photo of us with her cell phone camera. One of the hospital staff members who works in administration told me that that moment in the hall with that little boy touched her heart and was an emotional moment for her.
In another hall I saw a very somber, thin and lifeless bald little person in a hospital bed who looked to be about eight years old. The little person was sitting up in bed looking at me but had no reaction as I stood in the doorway. There was a man standing in the room, who I would guess was the father. I waved at the little person in the bed and got the lethargic little person to smile just a little. The father said “thank you” as sincerely as I can ever recall hearing. I wanted to do something to help very badly but there was nothing that I could do. By the grace of God, the words came to me to say “God bless you.” We continued on our tour and visited the balance of the pediatric areas. I joked with the care providers at the various nurses’ stations and thanked the medical care providers for their service as they appeared to be shocked to see a big red heart worn by an old man with chicken legs.
I got out of my heart costume so that we could go to lunch with the MD Anderson staff members who were with us on the tour. I changed into my standard uniform: khaki polo pants, blue King Aerospace work shirt and brown Lucchese boots. As we were headed to the elevator for a special lunch, I saw a man wearing an Oklahoma State sweatshirt jacket and a bald little boy walking in front of him. I looked down at the bald little boy with what appeared to be a large Band Aid on his head and saw that the little guy was wearing an orange Oklahoma State tee shirt. The dad and little boy were somber as I said “Go Pokes.” They stopped for a second and I didn’t get much response. I then asked the man if he was an Oklahoma State fan. The little boy turned around to look at me and told me very matter of factly, “They don’t play this weekend.” I was excited that I got the little guy to engage with me. I told him that I, too, knew they had a week off but that I would be at the game the following week. I then kneeled down to the little guy’s level as he showed some desire to talk. I asked him if he knew that my son played at Oklahoma State. I reached into my wallet and pulled out an eight year old photo of my son, Jarid, kneeling on the center of the OSU stadium field in OSU football uniform wearing number 58. As the little boy began to smile, I asked him if he would like to keep the photo. He came to life even more as he took the photo. The MD Anderson staff members on the tour with Barbara and I looked surprised and pleased with my encounters.
On our tour we learned that there is an annual awards event and we were asked to return when they honor the “unsung heroes” that make up the wonderful staff. Our endowment will fund forever the “Behind the Scenes Hero Awards” for the pediatric department. Our gift will allow eight people to be recognized for their efforts. I agreed to provide each award winner with one of my gold King Aerospace coins that reads:
IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR SUPPORT OF OUR VALUES
Make a positive difference in
the lives of those we employ,
we serve and we encounter
and earn a profit.
I have been blessed to have learned from so many that came before me that being goofy is okay. Little did I ever realize what a blessing it is to make people smile. As I often say, our mission is to touch lives and make a positive difference and we just happen to work on airplanes. I encourage you to be a little goofy and be a blessing to those you encounter. I have to put in my personal disclaimer; I can also be as tough as nails. Somewhere I learned that the hand that hugs you can be the same hand that smacks you!
Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.