Flying For The Money

by Karen Workman

Sure, I’ll put together a poker run.” That is what I said to my pilot friends three years ago, at a fall meeting of the Minnesota Ninety Nines while we bounced around ideas for scholarship fundraisers. No matter that I had never organized a poker run, much less flown one or even participated in one on the ground. Shoot, I didn’t even know how to play poker. But I really liked the idea of planes flying from airport to airport, collecting a card at each to create a poker hand. How hard could it be to plan? Anyone who has ever tried to organize a fundraising event can relate to this story.

I went home and got on the computer to read all I could about other aviation poker runs around the country, searching for one that I could use as a model. I talked to friends who had played in ground-based poker runs. I did not find anything that would be exactly right for us, but I gathered enough information to bring ideas and questions to the planning committee.

It was a mild morning for early March. The air was cool, near 40 degrees, and the sun was out. Wearing a thick leather jacket and my favorite-billed cap (a “Women Fly” patch, front and center), I waited for my committee on the warped picnic table outside of the FBO at Faribault, Minnesota. Three others showed up, less than half the number who volunteered to help a few months ago. I brought out a list of questions that needed to be answered. When? What airports? What about entry fees and prizes? Advertising? The four of us picked a date two months out and hammered out most of the big questions at that first meeting, then followed with emails and phone calls.

The month of May approached much quicker than we had expected. We were nowhere near ready. Advertising had not yet begun, no volunteers had been lined up. We decided to move the whole shebang to the middle of September. That would give us a few more months and yet still be in the “flying season.”

Just before the flyers were to be blasted all over the state, I learned that the runways and ramps at our terminus airport were slated for resurfacing the day after Labor Day. The airport would be back to normal within a week if the weather cooperated. We thought it would be wise to move the poker run back a week to be well clear of the construction schedule.

Flyers were changed, airports notified, preparations continued. Then two weeks before our first annual Puddle Jump Poker Run, the construction date for runway resurfacing was moved back, to begin just five days before our big day. Again, estimated completion would be before our Saturday, but no one could promise anything.

This was the third time that our plans needed a major overhaul, and we were out of time. It seemed like fate was against us. We were not quite ready, either. A week away, we still didn’t even have enough volunteers lined up. I swallowed that familiar “Darn-It-All” pill and reluctantly cancelled the poker run.

The plans languished during the following year while half of the small planning committee (my friend Patti and me) were consumed with preparation for a summer cross-country air race.

Two and a half years after first raising my hand to say I would organize a poker run, it was resurrected.

Patti, Val and I met for lunch in a crowded restaurant on a dark, sleety day in January to plan a summer flying event. It was hard to imagine warm, sunny days, but as Minnesotans, we knew they would come. The planning folder from our earlier attempts was dusted off and reviewed for updates. We picked a Saturday in mid September. We had plenty of time to pull it together.

We called all of the airport managers: could they see any problems with having maybe 50 planes flying in on the chosen date? We sought sponsors for the food we wanted to provide. We sent flyers far and wide; we posted notices on the web. We packaged eight decks of cards into 416 sealed envelopes and distributed them to airports across the state. We begged friends and family to deal the cards at the chosen airports. We begged more family and friends to help us at the concluding airport, for what would we do if 50 or 100 planes really did show up? Every detail was covered. We even printed out a sheet of winning poker hands.

In the end, 12 planes flew our first annual Puddle Jump Poker Run despite gusty winds and low, dark clouds, some coming from much further away than I expected for our little event. By noon that Saturday, the terminus FBO was crowded with pilots and their passengers, noisily exchanging greetings, telling stories, taking pictures. We had food and drink enough for 50.

When we finally determined the winner, everyone’s attention was focused. Amidst cheering, a cash prize was awarded for the winning hand, an ace through five straight. Three other high hands scored airplane-cleaning products, to the joy of the winners. Cameras flashed with the winners proudly displaying their prizes.

According to the buzz heard that day, the poker run was a small success. Players asked about plans for the next one. They wanted to tell their friends. They suggested ways we could advertise better. Even the volunteers looked forward to helping again. After three years in the making, this poker run was not perfect, but it was fun for everyone. Hopefully, the second annual Puddle Jump Poker Run doesn’t take three more years to plan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Karen Workman is an instrument-rated private pilot living in Northfield, Minnesota with her husband, Eric, who is also a pilot. Workman is vice chair of the Minnesota Chapter of the Ninety Nines and owns a Piper Cherokee 180D.

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