The Parts Chick

We called her The Parts Chick. She was pretty good looking, nice figure, and colder than ice to the various manfolk that worked at the Chevy dealership. Her name was Cheryl (actually, I’m making that up in case she’s reading this) and she manned the parts counter. All of us mechanics dealt with her multiple times a day as we collected up the parts and pieces we needed to maintain and repair customer cars. I can understand her desire not to be consistently hit on in a workplace where the male to female ratio was 38 to her, but one could earn an ear burning for just saying good morning or some other typical pass-the-time comment people would say to one another. She was certain that everything was a come-on, even “Uh, Cheryl, I need the 206B plugs, the ones you gave me are 107As.” As a result, the guys tended to call her a lot more than The Parts Chick or Cheryl, the words nazi, fascist and some terms that fit into the B and C category, often preceded by an F. Like FB or FC. You get the idea I’m sure.

This in mind, I was very surprised when I was picking up a rebuild kit for a carburetor that she batted her eyelashes at me and said “I understand you’re a pilot.” I looked around nervously, sure this was some kind of trap. When I didn’t reply, she asked “well? Are you?” I nodded a bit reluctantly. “Wow. That’s is so great. I’ve always wanted to go for a ride in a small plane. I mean, I’ve been on airline jets but never in, you know, a real plane.” She looked at me expectantly.

“Yeah, it’s fun. So, do you have that kit in stock?” I asked. She looked at me and seemed a little frustrated, but she told me she’d send the kit up for me. I hustled off back to my service bay to do some other work while I waited. The service area was large. Ten of us had wide bays, or areas, where we did our work. There were five of us on each side of the huge room. There is always a background clutter of noise; the sound of air wrenches, the clang of hammers, the murmur of discussions between workers all mixed with the sound of running engines. You aren’t really aware of the background until it stops, and it did quite suddenly. The place went dead silent as the guys noticed Cheryl the FB Parts Chick swaying across the concrete. She came over to my bay and placed a box on my workbench.

“Here’s that kit you needed.” she said, smiling demurely. As I stood there, my knees started to shake a little, reflecting the fear I was experiencing. This was unreal to the point it was disturbing. She walked over to where I was standing and touched my chest with her index finger, tracing a gentle circle. “So, can you take me for a ride sometime?” she said. “In a plane?”

“I guess.” I said, waiting for the punchline of which I would be the brunt.

“How about this Saturday?” she asked. Not knowing what else to say, I said okay and asked if I should pick her up. She said that she would meet me at the airport and I gave her directions to Evergreen Field. She smiled at me widely and swayed her hips back across the bays and disappeared into the parts room. All of us in the bays stood there in silence, looking at each other dumbfounded. Then there was a mad dash as nine mechanics charged over to my area demanding to know how I managed to get the ice queen to speak to me without a single derogatory adjective. I told them I didn’t know, and explained to them pretty much what I’ve just explained to you. The crowd thinned back to their areas with discussions about what else Cheryl might like. Boats? Motorcycles? Horses?

The ubiquitous Champ

The ubiquitous  standard Aeronca Champion

Saturday dawned a sparkling spring day. It was about 70 degrees and there were some high altitude clouds, but for the Portland/Vancouver area, it was clear and not too windy. I’d made arrangements to fly the Champ, a 1949 Aeronca Champion. It was an inline two seater, one in front and one in the back. The pilot sat in front, unlike Piper Cubs in which the pilot always sat in the back. It’s a weight and balance thing. I saw Cheryl pull up in her Chevy Malibu. It was all tricked out with mag wheels and competition suspension. Pretty much the car someone who worked in automotive parts might drive. She looked around, saw me and waved enthusiastically and broke into a trot in my direction.

I stood with her outside the plane and explained a few things about how to get in, where to put her feet and generally what we’d be doing and where we’d be going. All in all, the flight would be a half hour, but it could be a full hour if she was having fun or had someplace she wanted to see from the air. She listened, nodding and grinning, and I was pretty sure that she understood everything. She verified it by climbing into the back just the way I’d said to, and avoided the painful head or knee bump that came from doing it wrong. I did a preflight check of the airplane and then climbed in. Cheryl was chattering away as we taxied down to the end of the runway about how she’d been looking forward to this all week. The work days between our making the date and the weekend were more pleasant for me at the parts counter, but not hugely so. She did smile at me when I came by for something though.

A later version of the Aeronca

Inverted low pass: A later version of the Aeronca

I made sure there was no traffic inbound and that the runway was clear and lined the little plane up the grass strip. I slowly opened the throttle and the plane jounced its way up the strip, accelerating. Reaching flight speed, I pulled the stick back and the Champ lifted off smoothly. And Cheryl started to scream. It was the most piercing thing I’d ever heard and she was relentless about it, only taking a break long enough to inhale. I was trying to fly and say reassuring things at the same tome, but Cheryl wasn’t listening. She just kept screaming and screaming. In truth, I have to say it really pissed me off. We had made our way up to about 4500 feet and there was still no stopping Cheryl’s screeching. I finally decided that it would be best if I just took her back down. Of course, thinking of all the times she’d blasted me for just trying to be cheerful and the way she’d acted as she maneuvered for a ride, I decided that I might as well have some fun during the flight on the way down. With Cheryl in the back screeching like a rusty hinge, I did two loops, put the plane into a spin and did eight rotations and recovered into a barrel roll that left me at about 800 feet and a half mile from the end of the runway. Cheryl never once stopped her screaming, even with the plane stopped and the door opened, she screamed as she clambered out, bumping her head and knee because she did it wrong. She screamed as she ran across the field to the parking lot, and for all I know she screamed all the way home.

Wally, the owner of the airport and a friend sidled up. “Why’s she screaming like that?”

“Doesn’t like airplanes.” I replied.

“Ah.” he nodded, and walked off to refuel the Champ for the next to use it.

I was with some trepidation I approached the parts counter Monday morning, work order in hand. Cheryl was at the counter and gave me her usual look of general disdain. She held out her hand and I gave her the work order. “I’ll have you paged when I get these pulled from stock.” she said, turning and walking back into the parts racks. I went back to my service bay. She never said anything about the plane ride; things went along as though it had never happened. They other guys all approached me and asked how it went, giving me the old elbow and a wink. I said it was just a short ride and that was that. They were all very sympathetic that it hadn’t turned out to be a romantic excursion and a few asked if she mentioned any other interests she had, no doubt trying to figure out whether they stood a chance with the ice queen.

Every now and again when I think about taking Cheryl for that ride, I feel bad that I decided that as long as she was screaming that I’d give her a reason. It was mean. But I also wonder if she noticed. The few times I took my eyes off of what I was doing and craned around to look at her, she had her eyes clamped shut. She may have missed my gesture of annoyance. The different maneuvers I did were actually pretty gentle, and would have only pressed her into her seat a bit harder with G forces. I’ve flown hardcore aerobatics, but the little Champ wasn’t up to that sort of abuse and unlike airshow aerobatics where a pilot can pull 6 Gs or more, I doubt I went much past a single G. With eyes closed, she wouldn’t have seen the earth spinning about and ending up at the wrong angle outside the windows. Maybe when she remembers the flight, it was just ten minutes of abject fear.

She never asked to go flying with me again, and that’s okay by me. It kind of surprised me how badly I reacted to her screaming. Where I should have felt some kind of empathy, malice appeared. Perhaps it was the tone and it had some effect on me like nails on a blackboard. The whole event remains in my recollections under the category marked by a question mark rather than a title. But I confess that I still grin thinking about the day I took the FB Parts Chick for a plane ride.