About 15 years ago, I knew a NATCAvist named Billy Bob. If you have to know his last name to remember him, you just didn’t know Billy Bob. Those were the days when NATCAvists contacted each other via pager (remember gang pages?), telephone, fax and snail mail. Cell phones weren’t widely prevalent yet; we were just coming out of the thankfully-short bag/car phone era. It wasn’t unusual for us to leave a page saying “I’m working tonight, can I call you about midnight your time?” And the other to leave a page responding, “Whatever works for you, bro.”
I needed info from Billy Bob for one thing or another and we hit it off immediately and became fast friends. I probably didn’t see him in person more than a handful of times before his death, but we sure burned up telephone minutes. We’d talk about NATCA, complain about the FAA, discuss our lives and sometimes talk about nothing much at all. Billy Bob was one of those people who could surprise a belly laugh out of me fairly frequently.
I know my husband would’ve liked him and my kids would’ve liked to have an Uncle Billy Bob and stomp around in his cowboy boots. They never got the chance to meet him; he died far too young. Part of me is ashamed to say I don’t remember a lot of specifics of most of our long-distance conversations, but whenever I think of him, I smile. Looking back, I’d say Billy Bob was a junkyard dog: fiercely protective and loyal to those he cared about and mean as the dickens to those he felt threatened them. Maybe I could’ve come up with a gentler comparison, but I imagine he’s in his version of heaven right now, drink in hand, kicked back, laughingly shaking his head, saying “yeah, that fits, sister.”
I started thinking a lot about him because of these posts (one, two, three) by Praxis Foundation. I don’t know who Praxis is, but I’ve added him or her to my RSS feeds and I’m looking forward to reading more. You see, there is one conversation with Billy Bob that I do remember quite clearly. So I started thinking about writing this. Then I saw today’s post at Praxis and knew I needed to get this out, if only for me.
I think there were some people who underestimated the sharp mind behind the name and southern drawl that was Billy Bob. During that long ago late night conversation with Billy Bob, we were discussing fiberoptics. He told me, “Mark my words, Vivian. The FAA’s setting themselves up to remote terminal radars and towers. They’re going to reduce the number of TRACONs to a number closer to what we have for centers and they’re going to want us to control all the tower traffic that they haven’t contracted out from some huge complex in Kansas or something.”
I’ve never forgotten that conversation because at the time, working traffic at Boston Tower, the thought of NOT seeing my traffic terrified me (still does). Even if every vehicle and plane were outfitted with special transmitters or transponders, if I were in Kansas, how would I see that DC-9’s compressor stall and flames shooting out an engine, or that hot brake on that B727, or that snowy owl hanging out to the left of the runway, or that flock of seagulls flying down the final, or the dog, deer or coyote crossing the runway in front of a departiing aircraft…and so on. And you know, I’ve seen nothing in the years since we had that conversation that proves Billy Bob wrong and way too much that proves he was right on with his predictions.
Billy Bob had his faults, like everyone else, but he was my friend. He worked hard and he played even harder. I sometimes wonder if he knew subconsciously he wasn’t going to live a long life and wanted to pack in his living early. Billy Bob, I really miss you, man.