In the opening scenes of Hauling Checks, the pilot is gazing languidly out his cockpit window at an engine that’s fully engulfed in fire. The air traffic controller, who can clearly see the conflagration, asks if the airplane needs to make an emergency landing.
“Nope, we’re good,” the pilot says nonchalantly. “Just gotta go back to the ramp.”
He says this because requesting an emergency landing will require paperwork. Lots of it.
And Freight Dogs hate paperwork. Even worse than crash landings.
Thus begins one episode of the droll and dark comedy that takes place every night in the airspace above our heads.
“Freight Dogs” is what the down-and-dirty-and-proud-of-it pilots of these airplanes call themselves. For decades, they have carried the paper checks from thousands of banks to other banks across the country, every night without fail, long before the notion of electronic banking ever thought of taking hold.
But take hold it has, and it is spelling the end of this dubious industry that apparently was always a bit on the skeezy side anyway. This book is, in a way, one man’s tribute to those halcyon days of flying in flip flops and spending your time off drinking or womanizing — or both — when you should be storing up the energy to coax yet another poorly patched plane into the air.
First-time author Alex Stone has done an excellent job of taking a troubled footnote from aviation’s storied history and giving it creditable life as a tribute — sort of — to the motly cast of characters who populate this hilarious novel. They’re all just weird enough to be real.
In doing so, he has created a worthy read that will delight anyone who has ever actually personally flown an aircraft of any kind — and probably horrify anyone who has ever flown inside an aircraft. Because it reminds us that, for better or worse, airplanes are flown — and maintained by — people just like you and me. Flawed, imperfect and occasionally incompetent.
Oh, sure, real airline pilots don’t live the kind of debauched life played out in these pages. But we’ve all heard enough about airlines who double up their flights to save a buck, forcing flight crews to manage on far less sleep than is optimal for flight safety. Probably explains the many two-hop landings we’ve experienced personally over the years.
Still, it’s all in fun. and you’ll giggle over the dementia-induced prattlings of Barbara, the aged dispatcher for Checkflight. And you’ll roll your eyes at Karen, the other dispatcher, whose tall tales about a husband who may or may not exist exceed the boundaries of believeability. And then there’s Tony, the mechanic whose boss forces him to continue wearing orange jumpsuits to work, lest anyone forget he’s fresh out of prison.
But some of the best scenes are reserved for the perpetually apoplectic and equally unreasonable Chief (owner of this dismal company) and The Co (copilot) who is well beyond worthless as both a copilot and as a human being.
As has been mentioned in other reviews, the entire book could easily fuel the script needs for a fusion remake of Seinfeld, Taxi and Wings all rolled into one and stamped with an “R” rating.
Five uproarious stars to Hauling Checks — one of the best Christmas gifts arriving on runway two-niner in your Amazon shopping cart for any private pilot friends you might have.