The plump lady at the bank smiled sweetly and motioned for me to come forward. It was finally my turn to step out from the hold short line. I guess, for a grown up, it is a similar experience to being next to sit on Santa’s knee. She was a nice lady who invested heavily in perfumes. The depth of floral fragrances emanating from her station caused me to think she must have jumped on an air freshener grenade. Perhaps Martha Stewart should develop a medal for such valorous actions.
“Depositing your paycheck today?” she asked in an odd sort of apologetic tone. I shrugged and nodded in the affirmative. When she turned to her computer, I busied myself with making faces at the security camera while watching myself in the monitor on the back wall. “What do you do for living?” she asked, interrupting one of my better expressions. “I’m an aerial applicator,” I told her. She looked quizzically at me. “What’s an aeri… aeria… What’s that?” I paused for a moment, “Aerial applicator,” I repeated. “An aerial applicator is a crop duster wearing a clean shirt.”
She cocked her head back as if I’d burped. Then, eyeing my shirt, possibly gauging the cleanliness of the garment, she said, “Okayyyy…”, as she cooly turned back to her computer. When we were done she yanked a little strip of paper from a little paper strip machine and handed it to me smiling, “Have a wonderful day!” I nodded and smiled back. “Thanks!” I think she might have beat me to the eye roll, but not by much.
Back before they took fiddles and steel guitars out of the music. Back when pilots had tougher skin than the airplanes they flew and holding a door open for a lady was as natural as the leaves turning in the fall, we were all crop dusters. Indeed, in many places we still are. It’s the only term the majority of people understand.
As an industry, we’ve worked diligently to overcome our less than stellar reputation from days gone by. Hollyweird, the lib media and eco-fascist nut jobs have colored us in many disparaging ways. One thing we have definitely confirmed; you can’t reason with unreasonable people.
The term ‘crop duster’ has been dissected, filleted, examined and turned in every direction. Some guys say you can’t be a crop duster unless you fly on real dust, which is actually a fairly rare event in this day and age. Others say you can’t be a crop duster unless you flew Stearmans or other modified, old airplanes that carved our history. A few even say you can’t be a crop duster until you’ve busted your butt. I can’t quite figure that one out.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the newly coined terminology or phrases. Not at all. They more accurately describe our profession and sound much more technical. Sometimes however, I think it’s only the difference between holding your pinky out or not. You can paint an old word with a prettier color to try and disguise the rust and grime. Or, you can clean it up, put a shine on it and let it be what it was intended to be. Nobody calls a cow a bovine, or a horse an equine. It’s just a horse, of course.
Every time I tell people I’m an aerial applicator, or ag pilot, I always have to amend the statement with ‘crop duster’. Often times I even have to explain the word ‘ag’. Honestly, I like the title crop duster and prefer it. It beats having to tread water while you explain the modern, more socially acceptable translation of the term. Usually, what follows is sometimes a string of questions most of us have heard many times. That’s the part I look forward to. I truly enjoy describing what we do along with all the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’. I usually explain the terms aerial applicator and ag pilot, as well. It’s difficult to not delve into bragging when describing the difference in how we fly compared to other aviation industries. I’d rather have a direct conversation than to first have to translate word combinations. Most people, however, hear crop duster and understand from that point on. No further explanation is necessary.
A month later, I walked into the bank with the same mission as before; deposit my paycheck and try to improve upon my security camera expressions. Fortunately (or not) the same lady invited me to her station. Her perfume wafted fresh and fruity. I couldn’t tell if she’d come from the beach or had just done her laundry. “Depositing your paycheck?” she asked in the same odd apologetic manner. Perhaps she thought I was overly fortunate to have a steady job. “Yes ma’am,” I replied eyeing the T.V. monitor prepared to accept its challenge. As she turned to her computer she asked, “What is it you do for a living?” in a manner as though she was testing my previous story. I glanced left and right, then leaned close and whispered, “I work in the adult film industry.” She froze as though the devil himself had grabbed her by the neck! If Crayola crayons could match the different shades of red that swelled up in her face they’d have to give them their own box. I felt guilty for a moment, but only for a moment. Trying to regain her composure she glanced at my paycheck (we had a good month). “Well… uh… you must be good at it,” she nervously replied. Then looked over at my shirt. “I see you have on a clean shirt.”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied. “It’s just for my flying job. You see, I’m really an aerial applicator.”
I know I beat her to the eye roll by a wide margin that time.
Fly well and stay safe!