Wednesday, July 06, 2005

 

The "Chicken-Man"

"Chicken-Man is coming, Chicken-Man is coming!" I stood spellbound waiting for the morning sched flight to arrive. All around me, pre-school aged children, along with their mothers, fathers, and grand-parents, scurried about, as the message spread from "soul to soul". "Chicken-Man is coming, Chicken-Man is coming!" was the continuous buzz from the crowd. "What the hell?" I thought, "who the hell is 'Chicken-Man'?" I had a mental picture of some pervert in a chicken-suit, feathers flying, chasing the kids around. The buzz continued, and more vehicles arrived at the airport, and disgorged more people that stood peering from the apron. Finally, Northway Aviation's Britten-Norman Islander, C-GMOW, descended for Runway 36, landed, and taxied to the terminal. The aircraft was shut down, and veteran pilot Klaus Lawrenz emerged. He gave me a wave, and then opened the doors on his aircraft. A group of local people emerged, and then a blonde and balding, 20-something, medium-sized male emerged from the plane, wearing sunglasses, and smiling. The "throng of humanity" at the airport surged toward the aircraft, and the buzz started anew! "Chicken-Man, Chicken-Man"! I was speechless, and clueless. I guess "Chicken-Man" had arrived. I just shook my head!

It was "float season", 1986. I was employed by Little Grand Rapids Air Service, and living in "Little Grand", just off the "Reserve". One of the situations I noticed right away was the number of "non-aboriginal" transient males that seem to show up at Reserves, intent on making an easy living, or a fast "buck". They show up as "saviours", knowing how to build better, build cheaper, run a lodge, cook, wire, drywall, and most anything else, better than the local population. Most of the time they are in "cahoots" with the Band Council. A few of these people have honourable intentions, but most are "fly-by-night rip-off artists", and usually disappear as fast as they appeared. "Chicken-Man" was slightly different, as he had better longevity, and he wasn't a rip-off artist. He had just decided upon a unique way to make a living.

In 1986, Little Grand Rapids was the "Chicken-Man's" choice of business locale, and his technique to make money was unique. Native people love "fried chicken" and "pizza", and Chicken-Man keyed on this. He would come to Little Grand on the AM sched a number of times each month, and take orders for pizza and fried chicken. He would call an order in to the chicken and pizza establishment he dealt with in Winnipeg, and have the food, freshly-cooked, delivered to Northway Aviation's Winnipeg office, where the goods were put on the afternoon sched flight, and would arrive in Little Grand Rapids, still warm! What an entrepreneur!

The day I saw Chicken-Man arrive, he made a very large order. That afternoon, when the PM sched arrived, the "throng of humanity" had grown in size. As the pizzas and chicken were unloaded from the airplane, people were waving money at "the Chicken-Man". It was unbelievable. Within a matter of minutes, Chicken-Man's pizza and fried chicken stock was just about depleted. The remaining food was then taken to the Reserve, as people who couldn't come across the lake waited for their order. Chicken-Man never had to worry about ordering too much, as he would even sell pizza by the slice, and chicken by the piece, until it was all gone!

Later that night, after my first exposure to the Chicken-Man, I saw some people heading to the school by boat. I asked what was going on, and I was told "Chicken-Man" is showing a movie! What? It seems he also brought along a couple of movies on reel, and would show them in the evening at the gymnasium. He would keep half the money, and half would go to the school. This was before the Beta/VHS player explosion, and was considered a major event. Admission was $5, and the place was always packed.

I continued to see Chicken-Man numerous times during the next year or so, and it seems his "chicken empire" was growing. He was a pilot, and was now renting an airplane, and flying it himself, "full of chicken and pizzas"! He was also expanding to other Reserves, including the closest ones to Little Grand Rapids, in Ontario. Then, we heard he had an airplane mishap in Ontario, on a winter road, near a Reserve, which was never confirmed. Right around this same time, Chicken-Man had a mishap at the airport in Bloodvein River, in the winter. Chicken-Man, flying a low-wing Piper, contacted the snow-banks lining the runway. The airplane was damaged, and actually sat for a number of days at the airport, bent, and full of "frozen" fried chicken and pizzas.

This may have been the "financial blow" that "scuttled" the Chicken-Man's ship, as I really never saw or heard from the Chicken-Man again. I gotta' give him credit though, he had a unique way to make a living. By the way, Chicken-Man's real name was John Gill, and was one of a number of "characters" I met while flying at Little Grand. Every now and again I remember episodes from my past, and the people involved in them, and in this instance, going on 20 years, I have always wondered; "What the 'hell' ever happened to the 'Chicken-Man'?"

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