Bikers We Meet Along the Way: My Friend Frank
By Barr Soltis
I like telling stories and like all storytellers who tell about their personal adventures, there are some listeners who believe that the story is real. There are others, however, who believe that the storyteller is hallucinating. Then, there are some who are convinced that the storyteller has told the same story so many times that he/she actually believes it to be true. This is my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Back in about 1997, I sat in a familiar bar in Mesilla, New Mexico. After the Civil War and until 1882, the building across the street that now houses a gift shop was the county courthouse and jail. It was there that Henry McCarty (Billy the Kid) was tried, convicted and sentenced to die by hanging on April 13, 1881 for the murder of Sheriff William J. Brady. Billy was taken back to the courthouse in Lincoln, NM where he later escaped. Eventually, he was tracked down and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
This bar was a popular hang out for bikers. You never knew if you were sitting next to an outlaw motorcycle gang member (read Banditos), a wanna-bee, or an Assistant U.S. Attorney from El Paso. However, on this particular day I engaged conversation with a crusty old guy named Frank Hines who was sitting at the bar beside me. Frank was personable and, little by little, revealed a few details of his sordid past . . ..
Frank was employed as a contract pilot for an air cargo company that was based in El Paso. However, as we spoke it became clear that Frank had more adventures and stories than I did. He told me that he had been a contract pilot for Air America (covertly owned and operated by the CIA) in Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war.
Frank said that he later delivered “stuff” to Nicaragua and had previously been a pilot-smuggler of electronics from the United States to Mexico. He also told me that he had made “runs” to South America for Operation Snowcap, which was a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) initiative.
It did not take me long to figure out why he had initially hesitated to say much about his past. It was because no one ever believed him. The more we talked and the more we listened we both knew that our respective stories of our adventures that occurred outside of the Continental United States were neither made up stories nor hallucinations, they really happened. Our experiences were similar and our friendship grew because of this bond.
Although I took his word as spoken, I think that Frank still wanted to provide validation. That is why he showed me a copy of the Air America Association's membership roster that included his name. He even showed me videos of himself at some of the DEA Operation Snowcap locations in South America. Frank was the real deal!
Riding with Frank was both an adventure and an experience. For one, Frank could never pass a bar without stopping in for a beer, he would drive 30 mph in a 45 mph zone, rode on the lane dividing line, but somehow made it home alive. I think that Frank was a born pilot and ground transportation was just a necessity for him.
After I left El Paso in late 1998, Frank told me that he had gotten a job as a contract pilot flying cargo planes in Africa. We have lost touch and I miss my old friend and his stories.
I hope that you enjoyed my story, which by the way, is true. The point to be made is that I have always been more comfortable as a semi-loner and this choice had afforded me the opportunity to befriend a number of individuals. So, the next time you are sitting in an eating establishment or a sleazy bar, do not be afraid to talk to strangers. Who knows, you just may meet my friend Frank.
Copyright 2008 by Barr Soltis. All rights reserved.