A Quick Story about Gratuities

Read it. It’s funny.

I forgot to mention this in my “Gratuities ARE Appreciated” post, so I’ll share it now.

In the summer of 2004, I was a pilot at the Grand Canyon, working for the big helicopter tour operator there. They’d often have 10 or 11 helicopters running at once, so when a tour bus pulled up, we could take up to 66 passengers at a time. Needless to say, just about all the tour bus operators used us. Very few of our passengers spoke English.

One day, they loaded us up with a Japanese tour group. I had a petite older Japanese woman next to me. She was probably in her 60s. She was very nervous. And she didn’t speak a word of English.

When we first took off, she grasped the bottom of her seat, like most nervous passengers do. And she continued to look nervous for the first part of the flight. But then we slipped over the South Rim and began our flight across the Canyon. Her eyes seemed to bug out of her head as she leaned forward to suck in the view.

After a while, I realized that she wasn’t nervous anymore.

When we landed and I cut the throttle to idle, she leaned across and hugged me — no small task, given I was wearing a shoulder harness, pair of headsets, a baseball cap, and sunglasses. Then she began rummaging around in her purse. She produced a plastic card and handed it to me with a great deal of excited blabbering in Japanese. She bowed repeatedly before the loader came to help her out.

I looked down at the card, completely puzzled. It had a picture of Mt. Fuji on it and was covered with colored symbols and writing in Japanese. There was a magnetic strip on one side. I put it in my shirt pocket.

During my lunch break, I hunted down Hajame, our Japanese pilot. I told him about the woman and then handed him the card. “What is this?” I asked.

He studied it for a moment, then broke out laughing. Apparently, it was some kind of bus pass for a mass transit system in Japan.

To this day, I prize that “tip.” Sure — it’s completely worthless to me. But it was the thought that counted. She, in effect, gave me a souvenir of the flight. And 4+ years later, I still remember her and the flight that won me such a prize.

What do you think?