November 20, 2012
Autumn has worked its way down the slopes of the
Appalachians and colored the leaves in the foothills of West
Virginia, the place where I was born and where I now spend the
six warm months each year. Looking down the bank outside my
window into the slow drifting waters of the Buckhannon River I
can see flotillas of gaily colored leaves making their way
downstream to the place they will come to rest and slowly turn
It's said that autumn is a time to reflect
and I think that must be so, because I find I do most of my deep
(deep being a relative word here) thinking about life in general
and my life in particular during this time of year.
few days ago in such a state, I started pondering how the
business of selling airplanes has changed in the last dozen
years or so and about how completely my life has changed during
the same period.
The dot com crash was the beginning
of what would turn out to be one of the biggest downturns in the
aviation business since the post war bubble burst in 1947. The
fallen dot coms were then followed by 9-11, the Wall Street
debacle and then the recession, and our business was changed
forever. Aircraft prices plummeted after twenty years of steady
appreciation and the premise that if a dealer paid too much for
an airplane, not to worry it would be worth it the next time the
Blue Book came out, seemed almost laughable now. Dealers,
including me, maybe especially me, rethought owning inventory
and it was hard to know what to pay for an airplane. A 'no
brainer' wholesale buy could turn out to be more than the
aircraft would bring on the retail market.
stocking dealer, I normally had (had being a euphemism for
titled to me, owned by the bank) ten to fifteen airplanes in
stock at any one time, and the noise of their munching on
interest and insurance costs at three in the morning often
interrupted my sleep during the downturn.
As I slowly
found new owners for these airplanes, I began to concentrate
more on brokerage and I became a whole lot more particular about
any aircraft that I bought. I substituted 'some brains required'
for the 'no brainer' buys and as time went by, the aircraft that
I marketed became more brokered than owned. Eventually it dawned
on me that it was possible to sell brokered aircraft from
anywhere, and that I was no longer tied to a desk at an airport.
When you own aircraft inventory, there is forever something to
be done and issues to be seen to and there is always an aircraft
that has be taken somewhere for some reason. So just like the
old time cowboy, you can't be far from where the herd is
About the time I was exploring this new found
freedom, other changes were also at work in my life. Whether it
was an age or a stage I don't know, but I began to feel as if my
possessions owned me instead of the way it should be, and as my
enjoyment of them waned, then finally disappeared, I began to
wish for a simpler life.
the wish became a yearning. I had so much 'stuff' it was
controlling my life. No, more than that, it had become my life.
For example one day I tried to count all the internal combustion
engines that lived with me in the form of lawn equipment,
generators, water pumps and chainsaws, and of course boats and
vehicles. I quit counting at 23. I needed a full time mechanic.
Also I still had Bodacious, the Cessna Skymaster that
I'd used for airshow flying. Even though I no longer did the
shows the airplane still sat in the hangar, often not flown from
annual to annual, for what can you do with an airplane painted
like a calliope? I owned a huge house in which I pretty much
used three rooms and often wasn't in the others for months at a
time. I felt smothered and hamstrung and I decided to do
something about it.
And so I started selling my stuff.
I sold the motorcycles, the boats and the wave runner; I sold my
sport car, countless small combustion engine devices and I sold
Bodacious to a buyer in Spain. The stuff I couldn't sell I gave
away and what I couldn't give away I took to the dump.
in 2006 I sold my house and bought a beautiful 37 foot fifth
wheel RV and a Ford one ton diesel to pull it. I found a perfect
parking spot in the idyllic little West Virginia town where I
started my first flying business over forty years ago and I
happily began spending summers here, parked so close to the
river that I could literally fish out my front door. I felt
light and happy and as if I'd come home and a huge circle had
been completed. I felt free.
That fall I began what
has become my annual regimen of six month in West Virginia and
six months on the road that I continue to the present. Summer
and fall is spent here in the cool and comfortable climate, and
then when the trees give up their leaves in late October, I hook
the Ford to the front of the RV and with my Yellow Lab Austin
smiling over my shoulder, I hit the road for warmer climes.
back, I realize the stars had to be in perfect alignment for a
life change of this magnitude. Not only did I become free to
travel and was finally done with owning things, but at about the
same time technology had developed to the point that I could
work from anywhere. A cell phone and a wireless connection for
the laptop and even a wireless fax made the office in the fifth
wheel just as efficient as any brick and mortar edifice.
I write this, the geese on the river have been making their
practice flights each day, their honking vees sweeping overhead
as they prepare for migration. I feel a kinship with their
instincts and I sometimes whisper to them that I'll be along
shortly as well.
This year as last, I plan to make my
way as far west as I can go, to the stunning Morro Bay area of
California, where the temperatures are as near perfect as
anywhere I've found. Last year I went the northern route, by way
of the Black Hills and Yellowstone and sort of dawdled along,
seeing the sights and taking a whole month for the journey. When
I'm traveling, I usually spend a half day in the office and a
half day driving, putting around 200 miles or so behind us, more
just drifting along than making serious travel. This year I plan
to go by way of Texas, arriving in Austin in time for a family
Thanksgiving gathering there, and where Lab Austin will be
reunited with his litter mate Daisy, and then taking the
southern route west to the coast.
I find casting off
on these trips to be a bit like the airshow flying that I did. I
approach it with some trepidation, but once things start moving
I become immersed in the moment and I get a huge enjoyment from
it. I love the sight of the road unrolling beneath us and the
adventure of finding what lies beyond our front bumper. I feel a
connection with the eon old cycle of seasonal migration and
privileged to have learned what the geese have known for
millennia. I find it almost magical to have the comfort of
always being at home while having the view out my living room
window always changing.
the wall of my office is a sign that my daughter got for me when
I first expressed my unhappiness with the clutter in my life. It
reads "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify". The whole quote
by Thoreau is; "Our life is frittered away by detail.
Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two
or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million
count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail."
I consider it some of the best advice I ever took.