Freight pilots really are a different breed. Perhaps it has something to do with the demands of a constantly fluctuating circadian rhythm or the stress “on time performance” places firmly upon the pilot’s shoulders despite the line of 60,000 foot level 5 thunderstorms stubbornly raging on final approach, but a sense of humor seems to be a common denominator in a vast majority of freight dogs. And in my observations, this sense of humor usually manifests itself as a fierce love of practical jokes.
These practical jokes run the gamut from casually turning off a co-worker’s unattended microwave causing him to believe that his meal is still frozen solid after 10 minutes on high to clandestinely placing tire valve stem caps on a co-worker’s vehicle which illuminate a lovely shade of hot pink when the wheels are in motion. But the most beloved and time honored freight dog practical joke tradition is covertly placing a large, heavy rock in another pilot’s flight bag.
To fully appreciate this joke, you need to understand that a freight pilot changes aircraft several times a night and must therefore transfer the flight bag containing all of the required charts and manuals to whatever aircraft currently being operated. But he may only go to five different airports in the span of a year, so digging too deeply in the flight bag for information is a rare occurrence. Additionally, a pilot schlepping around a “Travel Rock” is usually the only one who is unaware of it’s presence, so the rock is periodically removed by other pilots, aircraft loaders, shift supervisors, or late night pizza delivery drivers, updated with a date and location in permanent marker and then lovingly placed back in the bag for the clueless pilot to transfer to his next aircraft.
When the offending hitchhiker is finally discovered, the embarrassed mule will proudly display his Travel Rock as a trophy declaring not only his stature as a recipient but also his acceptance into the illustrious ranks of freight dogs. He probably wants to keep an eye on it, too, so that it doesn’t end up back in his flight bag. This logical escalation of the original practical joke has, to my knowledge, only been pulled off once when a clever photocopied Travel Rock forgery allowed a genuine Travel Rock an opportunity to collect a substantial amount of additional flight hours and autographs before once again being discovered. Quite an honor.
There are times that I look back fondly on my experiences as a freight pilot. Then I remember that I have yet to figure out who put the “I hate truckers” bumper sticker on my car. Rest assured, when I finally do uncover the culprit, revenge will be swift. I have a rock picked out just for you, Joker.