Two weeks in Paris. In the summer. I've been to Paris in the summer before and, frankly, I don't remember it ever being so hot.
The sky is filled with billowing, purplish clouds the day we fly in, and for the next two days. But over the following 10 days the weather is defined by a cloudless sky, intense sunlight, and 100-degrees-Fahrenheit-plus midday temperatures.
"But it's a dry heat," I observe, dryly.
"Yeah, and they cook turkeys in dry heat," Capt. Bill observes, even more dryly, in return.
"Surely it will cool off at night," I say, with desperate optimism.
"Surely will," he says, with empty conviction.
Sure enough, at 11 p.m., hours after the sun has retired, the leading edge of the relentless heat has been vanquished, but it is still hot. It does not seem to matter to the throngs of international visitors who jam the boulevard well into the early morning.
Who could blame them? What magnificent sights — dancing fountains on one side of the boulevard, and on the other the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, each made all the more spectacular by impressive showcase lighting.
Ah, Paris. Not a bad place for a couple of pilots to bivouac while our lead passenger does a couple of meetings bridged by some R&R. Trouble is, we are thousands of miles west of the city of Paris, in the hotel Paris. In Las Vegas. In August.
The life of a corporate pilot — even a part-time contract guy like me — is defined by hurry up and wait. Get to the airport early, work hard for an hour or more preparing the airplane and taking care of last-minute trip details, then wait for the passengers to show. Depending on whom we are flying, we can count on leaving on time, or we can anticipate that we will take off an hour or more late.
A Fortune 500 flight department may enjoy the luxury of knowing in advance when they will fly, where they will go, and when they will return home. We fly for entrepreneurs. They have an airplane precisely so they can determine their own travel times, not abide by schedules imposed on them.
Setting their own schedules also means changing their schedules. Being "late" for the departure is a meaningless concept. If they tell us they want to depart at 7 a.m. and then show up at 8:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. because something came up, they are not late. We were just plenty early.
We usually get to hurry up and wait at the destination, too, whether it's a day trip or an overnight. If we fly somewhere in the morning and the plan is to return that afternoon, we hang out at the FBO, eagerly anticipating the Big Event that breaks up the monotony — lunch. Kinda reminds me of when I worked summer jobs in construction, and the lunch break was central to the experience. On our overnights, it's all about dinner.
Multi-day trips come with the territory, too. Just prior to the Hotel Paris we spent five days parked in an airport hotel awaiting a call with a departure day and time. Fortunately, the hotel restaurant was very good. We got to know it well.
Hotel Paris was a personal record. My longest trip yet as a for-hire pilot. A couple of weeks to kick back in an over-the-top Las Vegas casino hotel waiting for the phone to ring may sound like the opportunity of a lifetime to someone drawn to glitter and gambling like a moth to flame. But to pilots who would much rather be flying than sitting, it gets old in a hurry.
Oddly enough, our stay on the strip was not without an omnipresent reference to flying. The Hotel Paris pays homage to aviation by virtue of a full-size re-creation of the Montgolfier brothers' balloon that sits atop a huge flashing sign at the Las Vegas Boulevard entrance to the hotel, just in front of the fake Arc de Triomphe. I suspect that few guests know that the massive orb honors man's first successful untethered ascent into the sky, an event that occurred in Paris, of course, in 1783.
Vegas — the strip, at any rate — is at most a three- or four-day experience. Hang around any longer and you begin to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she's in the Emerald City and pulls back the curtain on the Wizard. There he is, small and human, working the levers and valves that manufacture the illusion that he is the mighty and mysterious Wizard of Oz. Suddenly, for Dorothy, the shine is off. That's how it was in the Hotel Paris this summer. Two weeks was more than enough time for the shine to wear off the illusion that is Las Vegas.
We flew in on a Wednesday in the Citation. The next day we deadheaded to Scottsdale to pick up several people and bring them back to Vegas. Later that day we took two people to Van Nuys and waited while one did a television interview. The next day we took them back to Scottsdale, and deadheaded back to Vegas. We were flying. We were happy.
We expected to then sit for a few days before launching again, but got a call that we would be in town a while longer. "Call you with a departure time," we were told. That became the pattern — pushing the departure back a day, each day. "Probably go tomorrow. Call you with a time." But, really, there was no hurry. We could wait. It was Paris, in the summer.