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Five Weeks and Counting

I am in my fifth week of Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) school. It’s a drastic change from my previous life, but from the first day, I have had exactly zero moments of doubt. Even when my week includes a 45-page treatise on various types of metal forming, alloying and heat treating, plus an equal number of pages on the seemingly infinite world of threaded fasteners, I know it’s all in service of the dream, so I get myself through with visions of future days knee-deep in Boeings or Airbuses.

And, it’s a testament to how much I want this that I have refashioned myself into a morning person. Class starts at 7 sharp. This is a huge culture shift from my days at Microsoft where many of us started our workdays midmorning, and few had a specific start time. Because the AMT program is FAA-certified, there are strict requirements for class hours attended. We clock in and clock out, and receive a weekly accounting of our hours for the quarter.

So, every weekday I wake up at about 6:00 a.m., do rudimentary ablutions, don my best classroom-suitable togs, blend up a smoothie and hit the road. If I’m starting my car by 6:30 I can have a relaxed drive, but if running a few minutes late, I’m taking the turns on two wheels and cursing every driver in front of me (note to self — 5 fewer minutes of sleep on the front end saves a lot of stress on the back end).

The first two quarters are mostly confined to the classroom, but there is some relief from the grind of lecture, quiet study and weekly exams. There’s safety wiring, which we can practice during study time (and which I didn’t even know was a thing until a few weeks ago). There are occasional small projects in the hangar, like this week when we got to put helicoils in blocks of aluminum. This might not sound exciting, but don’t knock it until you have done it.

And there are field trips. Last week we went to the school’s hangar at Boeing Field. It was just like a visit to the petting zoo except instead of goats and duckies, we petted Cessnas and Pipers.

The early mornings are not the only culture shift I have had to get used to. I left behind the ability to say that I am part of a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation. No more free sodas, spiffy office spaces or fat paychecks. At airplane school I wash my hands with powdered soap that must be surplus from a Soviet army barracks. We have one tiny ladies’ room that would make a gulag inmate weep for humanity. I spend my days inside on a stacking chair pulled up to a laminated fake wood banquet table, inhaling the smell of grease and steel and aluminum, old-school fluorescent tubes buzzing overhead. The coffee is bad, the mugs are greasy and the soda is decidedly not free.

But for all that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would not trade this life for all the privilege my old life had to offer. The grease and the powdered soap and the smell of airplanes in the morning all feel just right.

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