Saturday, May 11, 2013

Requiem for a Crash Pad

This post belongs in the Things That Cannot Possibly Be Interesting To Others category, but for my own purposes I feel I should document this little bit of my history as it passes.


I was hired in this job on September 6, 2001, five days before the events of 9/11. This working life began with a couple days of orientation followed by six or eight weeks of classroom and simulator training. All new-hires--my class had 16 pilots--are put up in a hotel for our first couple months to give us time to settle in and to help us avoid distraction during the hectic training period. But eventually we needed to figure out our living situation vis-a-vis this new (and hopefully final) job. Airline pilots traditionally commute to work in pretty high proportion, but this is our choice; the company expects you to live in domicile, and if you choose otherwise it becomes your burden to accept. Over half of my class picked up their lives and moved to Louisville. 

This was an enticing option; I had at that point been an airline pilot for almost eight years, and I had commuted to work for all but a year of that. (My one-year exception to the commuting rule had been my first year at Air Wisconsin, when I lived in, and worked out of, Appleton. Having a 15-minute drive home at the end of a flying day was a luxury I could hardly wrap my head around. Alas, it was not to last; they closed the ATW base and moved us all to Chicago within a year of my being hired.) The idea of spending the rest of my flying career operating in and out of my home city was really attractive. But a pilot commute is pretty standard, and Susan was well underway with her own career--which was not, like mine, portable. (It's also a great thing that her family and lifelong friends are all right in ATW. If I'm going to be gone half my life, this is a great setup for her--and, by extension, for me.) 

So as I had done at my other airline jobs, I set up a crash pad apartment for use when in Louisville. Talk to any pilot for a commuter or regional airline and you'll get hours of lurid crash pad stories: grown adults--men, mostly--living in squalor and giving vent to their basest urges (like, say, not decorating or cleaning or washing their sheets, to say nothing of social activities). I'm lucky in that my crash pad experiences have been mostly tame and peaceful (though I did share a one bedroom apartment off the Blue Line Cumberland stop in Chicago for a while with 18 other pilots and flight attendants). When I got based in Escanaba, MI for my first airline job, I found a cute old little house that I shared with a couple other guys, while much of the rest of the domicile stayed at "the mansion" a couple miles out of town on Lake Michigan. I could write a book about the Animal House hijinx of that place. Alas, that's another post.

The rigors of training naturally cause classmates to pair up, and a group of four of us quickly became friends and began driving together between the hotel and the classroom, four late-thirties guys in my hulking 1981 Cadillac Seville. As new-hires, we were all slated to have reserve schedules, which meant we would all need a place to stay in town long-term. When it came to looking for a crash pad, the four of us naturally threw in together.

I still remember the process. Of the four of us, another guy and I came from the regional airlines. The other two guys were corporate and military, respectively. These two guys were not familiar with crash pads, and since we commuter dudes had been down this road many times we were given license to secure something for all. In what now seems a most unlikely bit of serendipity, this other commuter guy and I had almost identical visions of what to look for, and we quickly agreed on a location: the Bardstown Road area of Louisville was the city's nexus of creativity and diversity, a couple-mile stretch of restaurants and coffee shops and movie houses and bookstores and tattoo parlors and art galleries. And the area is adjacent to a huge Frederick Law Olmstead-designed park, Cherokee Park, which was good for daily walking / jogging. My kind of place.

I remember us setting aside a day for the search, and, local paper in hand, we headed out to the Twig and Leaf (still extant) and made phone calls over breakfast. It took two calls. Our second call inquired about a converted "carriage house" in the historic Cherokee Triangle section of town. Two bedrooms, $600 a month plus utilities. We called, she sounded friendly, and we arranged to meet in half an hour. When we met, she expressed skepticism that we fancy airline pilots would be happy with such… modest accommodations. The place was kind of a dump. The previous tenants, last in a long line of itinerant visitors--had been a couple college-age girls. My buddy and I took a quick look and said "It's perfect!" She was doubtful, but we insisted.

That was 12 years ago, late October of 2001. 

Junior pilots at most airlines bid reserve schedules, meaning that for our assigned days (generally week on / week off) we were not assigned specific trips in advance, but had to sit around waiting for the phone to ring with an assignment. On any given day we may fly and we may not. On these days (and for a specified number of hours) we had to be contactable by phone and be no more than 90 minutes from the airport ready to fly. Over the first three or four years we probably few something less than 50% of our assigned days, so we got lots of quality time together sitting around in the crash pad. We assembled a ratty collection of Goodwill furniture, an old TV, and various odds and ends that we collected from our houses to flesh out kitchenware and towels and so on. We bought an X-Box. We spent our free time walking in the park or along Bardstown Road, going to baseball games or tossing a baseball in the backyard, test driving cars, lurking in the nearby bookstores, using the local library's computers, going to movies, grilling out, fixing our old airport cars. And swapping flying stores from past and present days. Those were great times, and even seemed like it at the time. We cemented friendships and got to know Louisville, which is an interesting and multifaceted city. 

The inmate roster changed a bit over the years. We began with the four of us, and then one guy left to fly an airplane in the Iraq War; he was replaced by a woman who had helped my commuter buddy and me get hired here. She left when the military guy came back (no loss for her; she never took too kindly to the place, as one can imagine). But as we got more seniority we bid schedules that let us fly more and sit less. And the crash pad got less and less use. We brought in a couple more people, since nobody was using the place much and more bodies meant cheaper rent. But the place was crowded with four; having six would never work except by there never being more than two or three folks there at a time. Time passed, and our usage continued to dwindle. Finally, a couple guys pulled out and a couple others expressed interest in doing the same. (You can't really get here except by car, and as our old junkers would break down and get sent to the crusher we had to decide whether to shell out another couple grand for a different car or just spend that money on an occasional hotel room instead.)

We hung on in this tentative state for about 18 months, and now it's recently been decided that it's time to pull the plug. And I find I'm in mourning about this. Part of it is just simple nostalgia: a lot of water has passed under the bridge in these dozen years, and this is (to borrow Hemingway's phrase) The End Of Something. Though the place is really a dump, I've grown fond of it and comfortable with its quirks. It's hot in summer and cold in winter, but it doesn't leak. And it's in the best inner-city location imaginable, I'd say. Plus, our landlords--who live in the main house for which this carriage house was once the garage--are really first-rate people. We've become fast friends, the guy and me, not least because we're both drummers and movie buffs and we both despise what has become of political conservatism in this country. I could always count on Scotty to bring me back to sanity after a week-long trip with a bunch of Faux Noise devotees. I've lived in four different houses in Appleton in the time that I've been in this one crash pad, so in a sense it represents a continuity that even my main domestic living arrangements have not matched. I've had the same foam mattress (on the floor) with the same bedside clock radio and rickety floor lamp for a dozen years, while almost everything else in my life has changed. It's hard to just let this go. I've walked around this block or up and down these brick-paved alleys while talking to my wife on the phone hundreds of times. I've walked into Cherokee Park or Cave Hill Cemetery and around their meandering trails countless times.

Of course, I can drive my car over here (if I should have my car in Louisville) anytime and walk the streets and the park, but that's a whole different matter than living amongst these things. I feel a certain sense of ownership, of belonging, that I will lose when I drive away for the last time. And I just don't want to accept this; I have no desire to be done with it. It serves a practical function for me, allowing me to bid reserve to ensure getting specific days off. But more than this, it gives me a handhold on another place in the world. For one who loves to travel, this little rathole makes me feel invested in a place that is not my home. And my life feels richer for that--and will feel poorer and smaller for its loss.

But there it is. I will try to avoid bidding reserve--all the other guys at the crash pad manage to do it--and if I cannot I may have to look for a new crash pad. I could look into buying a small condo here (an option I actually find very attractive--maybe more so than staying here) or I could find an established crash pad that would take me in. But maybe not surprisingly I have little desire to spend MORE time with pilots than I already do. This is one of the reasons this place has been so remarkable: my roommates have been quite atypically congenial.

Life goes on. This will all sort itself out. But Monday afternoon I will pack the last of my junk in the car--that which I did not throw away or donate to neighbors or take to Goodwill--and turn in my key and leave this place.

It's a sad day.

Mostly disassembled, though it never looked much better than this. Microwave on top of the fridge, shelves groaning with junk; these pictures are about two weeks too late to catch the full glory.

There used to be three sets of cockpit posters on the walls--DC-8, MD-11, B-757.

Only the B-757 posters remain.

The upstairs layout has always been a bit of a mystery. Hallway with bathroom at the end and two bedrooms. But the doorways don't really make sense. Nobody seems to know the building's history.

One bedroom. Air mattresses, makeshift curtains, no storage (ergo, air conditioner sitting on the floor until summertime).

Other bedroom. Two dressers just departed for the neighbor's. We pulled the louvered closet door off and put it over the narrow opening coming into the room (far too narrow for any normal door). Awkward to open and close, it managed to keep the air conditioning in reasonably well.


Jon said...

quite the place! It's always sad to close another chapter, but such is life. I'm sure that your landlords always appreciated the regular check for so many years. It's always a gamble to get good renters. I cant imagine having 4 let alone 6 in the same place at the same time. But it sounded like it wasnt for along time when it did happen. I suppose that if you did find a condo, sharing it with another pilot probably wouldnt make sense, as they may want out at some point. So getting one for yourself might be a good idea. Time will tell.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

It's hard to end something that worked for you. That's a long time to be in one place. I can understand the attachment. The area sounds great. On another note, my partner is from Appleton. Her father was a genetics Prof at Lawrence.

William Stachour said...

I lived literally two blocks from Lawrence for years. Now I'm about 1/2 mile from there. My wife knows lots of the faculty there, and we even had a LU student as a renter for a few months.

Looking at condos here, and there are quite a number of workable options. That might take the sting out of things, to have a little permanent slice of this place. Time will tell.

Susan said...

Sorry you are sad. The crash pad had a great run. I loved the dump even if I did have to wear flip flops in the shower. But I REALLY REALLY love the man who loved the dump.

William Stachour said...

:-D <3

Malaise Inc said...

I know it has been a couple weeks and who knows if you will see this, but I wanted to say that I found this touching.

I am not like you. Travel isn't my thing. I would tend to vacation in the same place over and over again. I prefer a sense of place; knowing intimately where I am. I have always envied folks who didn't approach a new city with fear. It like that you have a some sense of place, too. It isn't schadenfreude, by any means. Think of it more as a knowing wink.

William Stachour said...

Funny, I'm like that with food: I'll eat the same few things over and over for years. That's a tough thing about travel for me, I don't like to try new foods, which deprives me of a key element of a foreign culture. And I admire my coworkers who will just try anything! Apart from that I love new places, and if someone forces me into a new food situation, it tends to open the doors for further exploration. But I like the known and familiar too.