Sleights of Humble Pie

David Hirt

David Hirt

PORT CLINTON — A while ago, I read in the newspaper that the famous air show performer Julie Clark was coming to town to speak at the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter’s aviation banquet. They promised a great time, and the price of admission was reasonable, so I called the number in the paper and bought a ticket. (I only needed one, since my wife doesn’t like airplanes.) I was among the first to arrive. I wanted to wander around a bit, so I decided to put my jacket on a chair at one of the tables in front to save a place while I was thinking, It won’t matter who I sit with, since I probably won’t know them anyway.

At least, I thought, I’ll be able to see and hear the presenter well. I watched from afar (actually, the bar) as the room began to fill. The other guests were arriving and deciding where they would sit and with whom they would socialize. I wasn’t concerned, since my jacket remained conspicuously in place up front.

I had a front-row seat next to a flying legend and very attractive air show performer.

Finally, we all took our seats. Since I was flying solo, there was one open chair at our table. I was getting to know the other people seated around me, and we were making small talk, but after a long while, we all started wondering, When is the guest speaker going to arrive? It was getting late. All of the tables were filling up and open seats were scarce, especially in the front. Then, someone asked me if I would mind if the guest of honor sat in the open chair next to me. “Of course!” I said. (I will thank my lovely wife later for staying home.) Wow! What an evening this was going to be. I had a front-row seat next to a flying legend and very attractive air show performer.

Julie Clark (Image courtesy Cape Girardeau Air Festival)

Julie Clark (SOURCE: Cape Girardeau Air Festival)

Wearing her signature T-34 flight suit, she finally arrived just in time for the meal. As promised, she took the only available seat, the one right next to me.

Aviation conversation is full of jargon that is meaningful and interesting to pilots, but the rest of us only pretend to understand it. With acronyms like GPS, VOR, DME, IO-360 and R-985 filling my ears, I remember thinking the appetizer should have been alphabet soup. I waited patiently for an appropriate break in the conversation before I turned to this accomplished blond aviatrix and former airline captain and asked, “So, what made you want to become a stunt pilot?”

She lowered her head a little and shot a knife-like glare right through me.

“I am not a stunt pilot,” she said. “I am an aerobatic pilot. We fly routines and not one-time daredevil stunts. We live a lot longer that way.”

It was a short lecture, but I got the point. Awkward! Note to future self: Always keep a picture of the kids readily accessible to change the subject. And know the difference between an aerobatic pilot and a stunt pilot when you are going to have dinner with them!

Later in the evening, Clark excused herself to use the restroom and asked all of us to watch her pie while she was gone. I know from experience that a gal in a restroom always takes long enough — but a gal in a one-piece flight suit — well, you might have to re-set your watch.

When we realized what had happened, we collectively thought, “Surely now, we’re all dead.”

So, the nine of us dutifully pledged to guard the pie with our lives to insure it would be there when she returned. However, while we were lost in the conversation, a waitress saw an empty plate, an empty coffee cup and a half-eaten piece of pie and did what she was supposed to do. When we realized what had happened, we collectively thought, “Surely now, we’re all dead.”

I quickly called the waitress back and requested a replacement. Good thing our presenter wore that one-piece flight suit. Yikes! She was coming back! Not the waitress, the stunt pilot! . . . daredevil — I mean aerobatic pilot . . . never mind! She was back in record time, and no pie! Not yet, anyway.

Thinking quickly, I threw my napkin over a coffee cup on the table. When Clark asked, I pointed at the cup and told her the pie was over there and still being guarded. I’d ask my neighbor to pass it over in a moment. The moment passed before the pie, and she asked again. (Man! This woman really liked pie!) Just then another fellow at the table leaned over and asked me under his breath, “Where the hell is the pie?!”

I answered him for as long as possible. Then I told him the whole thing about how I used my jacket to save a seat . . . and that I loved aviation . . . and how I didn’t know full well the difference between a stunt and aerobatic pilot . . . and . . . thank God! — I saw the waitress clear the kitchen with the pie held high.

By now Clark was ready to reach across the table to grab the covered cup, so I pushed it over and pulled off the napkin to her astonishment. “So what happened to my pie?!!” she asked, as the waitress approached from the other side and slid a fresh piece in place beside her. “Looks like it is over there,” I said. Now that, dear daredevil waitress, was a stunt! What a great evening!

David Hirt is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on an ammunition ship in the Vietnam war and also aboard a Hawaii-based nuclear submarine. He writes from Danbury Township, Ohio and is a frequent contributor to Our Reader’s Write and Tale Feathers.  He has never crashed an airplane, but is working with EAA Chapter 1247 to restore an Old Tin Goose.

Copyright © 2008 Grass roots. Blue Sky. Stories That Fly.

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