They had just finished the beers when a Mexican gentleman in a pink La Coste polo shirt, khaki slacks, loafers and mirrored aviator sunglasses walked up. “Ola Amigos.” He said greeting them. “I am Gilberto. There ees a small problema weeth your airplane.” Almost all the group spoke some Spanglish but Mike answered in English since Gilberto had used his native tongue. “Really?” He replied. “What’s up?” Mike had his single engine pilot’s license and was an expert auto mechanic so he was the right person to be asking questions. ” The ceelinder in your plane ees no good.” Gilberto replied. “We have been workeen on eet all morning pero…” Everyone looked over towards the big DC-3 and could now see that the men standing around it did seem to be working on the radial motor. An audible groan rose from the group. “Don worry senor.” Said Gilberto. “We haf another aircraft for you guys.” The group’s mood noticeably brightened. “Ok” Mike said. “Where are they?” “Get your theengs señor, I will show you.” Mike turned back to the group. “Change in plans.” “So effing Mexican.” Neery grumbled. “Well, let’s check it at least.” Kenny said beginning to unstrap the 4 boards on the roof of the Buick. ” Mecky-Air.” Neuman jibed collecting his bag and board. Everyone chuckled knowingly. Trips in Mexico rarely went according to plan. Improvisational skills were somewhat of a necessity.
Once all eight boards, duffle bags, backpacks and cases of beer were secured with the help of a couple of the repurposed mechanics from the DC-3 debacle, Gilberto led the way across the Tarmac towards a dozen or so other planes nearby. Jerry wondered which would be the one. None looked as big as the DC-3. Maybe there was a hangar on the other side of these? Gilberto walked up to a red and white twin-engine 6-seat King-Air. There were some more Mexicans in overalls working on it. From what Jerry could see they were either taking seats out or putting them in. “What’s this?” Mike asked incredulously. “Part of your group will fly een thees.” Replied Gilberto. “What’s going on with the seats?” Neery asked, clearly disturbed. “We cannot feet all your surfboards in with the seats.” Gilberto said matter of factly. “We can feet everything if we take them out senor – Don worry.” He said smiling showing off 2 gold frames around his front teeth. “Where’s the other plane then?” Asked Mike now clearly annoyed and dispensing with the friendly manner he had used earlier. “Eets right over there.” Gilberto replied. The group looked in the direction Gilberto pointed. A few yards away was a navy blue single-engine tail-dragger. On the side of the fuselage were the words, “El Atun” written in white script. “What the heck is that?” Mike growled now glaring at Gilberto. “Eet ees a very reliable plane Senor.” “Javier is a very good Tuna spotter for the fleet een Ensenada.” “The Tuna?” Kelly questioned out loud reading the script on the fuselage. “I guess that makes sense.” he added with some obvious sarcasm. “What? No way!” Neery blurted. ” Eight of us and our gear in these two planes?” “Do sum Blow!” Blake chuckled raising another beer. ” Let’s Go Fatso!!” Neuman laughed popping open his own. Blake and Neuman often formed a natural crazy alliance this way. The seemed like a pair of crazy brothers both being built somewhat the same except that Neuman was about 4-5″ taller. “This is messed up!” Mike said now addressing Gilberto. We were told we would be flying in a DC-3, not a couple of small planes that are nowhere near capable of transporting this much weight!” “Don worry senores.” Gilbert said holding up a hand. “We take the seats out of the plane, eet will be ok. ” “Todo va bien.” “Your pilots have transported much more than thees before.” He said moving his hand to indicate the assembled group and belongings.”I don’t know Mike.” said Neery. “This seems like a bad idea.” “He may have a valid point.” said Kenny now weighing in “Those seats look like they’re about 40lbs. each. If that loses 200 lbs., it should be pretty close.” If each of us has a 10 lb. board and 30lbs. of gear…” “What about the beer?” Blake asked now suddenly finding a reason to be concerned. “The other plane can take your cerveza senor.” Gilberto consoled. “Weeth 2 passengers. – Don worry.” Gilberto pointed to 6 cases of beer on the ground and three of the Mexicans in overalls picked them up and began walking towards ‘El Autun.'” “Hang on a second!” Mike said now raising his voice and poking his finger into Gilberto’s chest. “No one said we were going anywhere yet!” Gilberto turned to the Mexicans with the beer and said, ‘Momento!” The three men stopped halfway to “El Autun.” and stood looking back holding 2 cases of beer each. “You talk eet out then senor.” We will wait.”
“This is pretty sketchy.” Neery said now looking around the group. “Don’t be such a homo.” Neuman laughed. “You’re always such a wet blanket.” “The pilots have to fly the thing!” “They wouldn’t say they could do it if they thought they would crash!” Jerry looked at his brother Kelly. Kelly wasn’t easily buffaloed into doing things and Jerry trusted his judgement. Kelly looked back with a face showing more anger than anything. He had a low tolerance for screw-ups like this. Jerry saw he wouldn’t get much of a direction from him. He looked at John Soutar. John just wore the same slightly baked look he always had. Nothing there either. Hadley and Neuman were obviously in. Neery and Mike were out. Kenny seemed in. That made 3 for, 2 against and 2 undecided. Jerry realized the balance could be shifted either way here. “I say we go for it.” He said. There was a part of him that appeared at times that loved taking risks and trying things that seemed undoable. Normally level-headed, occasionally Jerry would do really crazy things that would seem completely out of character. People were usually very surprised when this happened and this seemed to surprise his brother and Mike the most. “Yeah Fatty!” Neuman laughed handing Jerry a freshly opened beer. “I’m in.” Kelly said dryly. Blake popped a beer for him. “what the fuck.” said John grabbing a beer from the cooler himself. “Alright.” said Mike with reluctance reaching into the cooler. “Shit!” Said Neery as he looked around the group. “Okay screw it.” “Ha!! said Neuman handing him a beer. “Vamanos!” Blake yelled as they all toasted again tipping the dark bottles back. Gilberto said “Que bueno!” and waved the 3 Mexicans holding the cases towards “El Autun.”
20 minutes later Jerry and Mike watched as the King air was first loaded with duffle bags in a layer along the floor. Then the 6 other members of the group were instructed to sit with their backs against the sides of the fuselage 3 on each side. Finally and most absurdly 8 surfboards were then layered on top of their laps and legs. Jerry thought if there were a moment that made this trip seem like a bad idea, this had to be it. Neery almost backed out but but was convinced by some good natured heckling primarily by Neuman and Blake to get in the plane. After some maneuvering and discussion between the pilot and Gilberto the side door was closed and locked. “I hope none of those guys is claustrophobic.” Jerry muttered. ” No shit.” Mike responded. “Okay Guys” Gilberto said looking at the two of the party still outside on the tarmac, “now we go to your plane.”
Gilberto led the way from the King Air that was now starting up to “El Autun” a few yards away. The pilot of the small tail-dragger was standing out front wearing a Hawaiian shirt, aviator sunglasses, jeans and flip-flop sandals. “Ola amigos!” He said putting out his hand to Mike as they approached. “I am Javier!” the pilot said with a big smile shaking Mike’s hand. “Good meetin’ ya. I’m Mike.” Mike said with a clear lack of enthusiasm. Jerry stepped forward, “Mucho gusto.” He said. “I’m Jerry.” “Egual.” said Javier shaking Jerry’s hand. Jerry thought Javier looked a little bit like “Ponch” on the former popular TV show “Chips” about a couple of California Highway Patrol officers on motorcycles. He had the same dimpled grin and exuded a Latin charm that seemed to exude confidence and fun. The King Air was feathering it’s props a few yards away making loud engine noise so Javier motioned the two passengers aboard his small craft. Mike went up first and occupied the Co-Pilot seat as had been agreed while on the Tarmac earlier. This made sense since Mike would be able to fly if there were an emergency. Once Mike had sat down Jerry stepped up on the wing and looked in. “Your back here I guess.” Mike said pointing to the fuselage behind the pilot’s seats. Jerry noticed there were already 6 cases of beer lining the fuselage floor stacked in two rows of three cases. Examining the space leftover above the cases of beer it was fairly obvious Jerry would be lying down for the duration of the flight. “I guess I’m in coach.” He said chuckling. “Guess so.” Mike said joining him in laughter. Once Jerry had maneuvered his way into a prone position atop the beer Javier stepped in and began going through his pre-flight check. This was comforting Jerry thought. Jerry looked over at Mike and he could see Mike was thinking the same thing. At least he’s going to follow pre-flight procedure. Just then Mike looked out in front and pointed. “There they go!” Jerry looked out the cockpit window to see the red and white King Air barreling down the runway towards the ocean. It seemed like the plane ran forever before any sort of lift began showing under the wheels. Then, just as they were approaching the last few yards of the runway the plane was airborne. It flew in a super flat trajectory but ever so slowly gained altitude. “Wow!” Mike said, “That was fucking close!” Javier looked over and smiled. “Carlos has done that many, many times with even more load.” “Unbelievable.” Mike said looking back out the window.” Javier motioned to Mike to put on his headset and then closed the cockpit door. He turned the ignition switch and the engine coughed to life with a puff of blue smoke. Jerry watched Mike’s face since he was sure Mike would react if something didn’t seem right. Mike stared out the window without expression. Javier revved up the single engine and let it idle making a few last instrument checks and then reached over and pushed the throttle forward. The plane began to move across the tarmac. All seemed well. Javier spoke in Spanish to the control tower then taxied from the tarmac onto the runway and stopped facing the ocean, the long runway the King Air had just left on stretching out before them. Mike looked over his shoulder and gave Jerry the thumbs up sign. Jerry responded with the same as Javier revved the engine to a high RPM and then slowly let the brake out. The plane moved forward with more power now picking up speed as it bounced heavily down the rough patched asphalt runway. Jerry gripped the side of the beer cases below him with one hand and put the other on the roof of the fuselage to steady himself and to keep his head from bouncing off the ceiling. The plane began to noticeably unweight now. There was one more good bounce causing Jerry’s head to contact the ceiling and they were in the air and climbing. “Yii-hee!” Mike said laughing and looking back at Jerry. Jerry smiled back broadly rubbing his head.
In a minute the plane was over the fishing boats of Ensenada harbor. Dozens of tuna boats were docked in below. Ensenada had become the major tuna fishing port after the U.S. had regulated tuna fishing out of business 10 years before on the West Coast. Javier dipped El Autun’s left wing to the boats below and continued chatting into his headset in Spanish. Mike looked back at Jerry and mouthed the words “Tuna Spotter.” Jerry gave Mike the thumbs up. Soon the small plane was flying at about 4000 feet in a South by Southwest direction. Javier looked back at Jerry and smiled then signaled with his own thumbs up sign. Jerry signed back to Javier, but this time Javier shook his head. He pointed towards the beer below Jerry and then motioned with a flicking motion of his thumb like someone popping the top off a beer bottle. Jerry looked back confused. This time Javier followed the same sign with his thumb tilted back into his mouth to indicate drinking. That was clear enough Jerry thought, Javier clearly wanted a beer. Jerry looked over at Mike who had been watching the entire pantomime. Mike shrugged his shoulders and held up his hands indicating “what the hell.” He then signaled Jerry by pointing to Javier, Jerry and himself and then held up 3 fingers. Jerry reasoned this meant “beers all around.” What the hell.” Jerry thought as he began positioning himself so he could open one of the cases and extract the beers. “In about 2 minutes each of them had an open beer. “Salud!” Javier said loudly looking back at Jerry and then over to Mike and holding up the beer with his left hand, “Salud!” Mike and Jerry responded holding up their own and tapping them together for the first in-air bar service of the trip. The cold beer felt good on Jerry’s throat as he realized how dry it had become not only from the altitude but very likely from the stress of the take-off. After a few more sips, Javier handed his beer over to Mike. Mike took it and looked back at Jerry. Once again he shrugged. Javier then reached into his shirt pocket and produced a joint and a lighter. He held the joint up and winked back at Jerry showing the charming dimpled smile. Jerry looked at Mike again who now seemed to be laughing but mouthed back “Holy Fuck!” Javier lit the joint and the familiar fragrance filled the cockpit. After a couple of good hits Javier handed the joint back to Jerry over his right shoulder and then reached for his beer from Mike. Jerry took the joint and drew in a long hit tasting the familiar sinsemilla variety he knew well from the last few years it had been popular North of the border. He took one more hit and passed the joint to Mike. Mike took the joint deftly from Jerry and began taking a few hits himself. Just as he was handing the joint over to Javier however Javier held up his left hand as if to say “Hold on.” He was clearly listening to radio traffic intently. He dipped his left wing to look out the window towards the ocean and both Jerry and Mike followed his gaze downward. Below 3-4 Tuna boats plowed through the blue water leaving trails of white behind them. Javier looked over to Mike and Jerry leveling the plane and motioned with his right hand first pointing to his eyes and then downward. He then made his hand wiggle like a fish. Jerry understood this to mean he was going to look for Fish. Mike mouthed “Tuna” and pointed below. Jerry nodded. Mike put his hands over his head in a pushing motion and pointed to Jerry. Jerry was trying to figure out what he meant when the plane dipped suddenly to the left and down. Jerry immediately threw his hands up against the ceiling of the fuselage attempting to hold his position as the plane went int a steep dive towards the water. Beer spilled from his partially finished bottle coating him and the back of the fuselage in the cool Mexican beverage. Jerry tried to hold the beer with finger and thumb while using the rest of his right hand to keep himself from sliding into the front of the cockpit over the seats. The fact that the cases of beer were also sliding underneath him didn’t help. Just when Jerry thought for sure he was going over the seats, Javier leveled off about 500 feet over the surface of the water. Jerry’s stomach went from his throat back into his knees for a moment before rebounding to more or less it’s original location. “Fuck.” he said to himself. Javier looked back and gave him a dimpled smile and then pointed out the window. “Autun!” he yelled loudly enough to be heard over the engine noise. Sure enough, as Jerry looked out the window over Javier’s shoulder he could see that the surface of the ocean was broken with leaping Dolphin, swooping birds and jumping fish. It was a giant bait ball being torn apart by the ocean’s top predators. Javier flew straight over the top of the churning water and then began circling it, the whole time speaking in Spanish through his headset. After 3-4 full laps around the fish, Javier flew of back in the original direction and began to gain altitude again. He lifted up his beer again and the three once again tapped their beers together saluting the fact that the tuna fleet would be bringing home the bacon to Ensenada tonight.