Crappy Sunglasses

Sunglasses are to a pilot as tanning beds are to the cast of Jersey Shore. Many — perhaps most — aviators buy expensive shades, and I understand why. It’s not just about the look (although that’s certainly important), it’s about comfort. Comfort with a headset, comfort on a 10-hour flight. It’s about preventing headaches and protecting one’s eyes when you’re above much of atmosphere and therefore exposed to more of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation.

Me, I do it differently: I buy the cheapest pair I can find. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the optical clarity, build quality, and style of expensive shades. I do. But over the years I’ve developed a theorem called Ron’s Law of Sunglasses Longevity. It simply declares that the length of time a pair of glasses will last is inversely proportional to how much you paid for them. I bought a $10 pair of sunglasses at a gas station and they lasted for 6 or 7 years. On the other hand, I’ve paid $200 for a set of non-polarized Maui Jim sunglasses (polarization doesn’t mix with computerized cockpit displays) and had them disappear or break within weeks.

Not only do I lose sunglasses, but I often manage to do it in the most creative way possible. It’s almost an art form. One time I put my sunglasses and a book on the ground for a moment while I checked something on an airplane. Naturally, they were forgotten about until the main landing gear ran ’em over, shattering the polycarbonate lenses into a million pieces. Thankfully the tire was not harmed — that would have really been expensive!

Another time a famous celebrity stole my shades. I don’t want to mention any names, of course. They were one of the cheap pair from that same gas station. I had duplicates in storage for just such a scenario (at $10 a pop, even the most poorly compensated among us can afford backups), but these were record-holding in terms of how long I’d had them. It must have been eight or ten years by this point. I almost couldn’t get rid of them even if I tried. Like a bad penny, they’d somehow find their way home.

Anyway, the aircraft had a galley in the aft section and I had set my sunglasses down on the counter there while offloading some baggage from the cargo area. When I returned, they were gone. I think the flight attendant figured they belonged to one of the passengers and they had walked off with the celebrity. She tried to get them back on a subsequent leg, but in the melee of a multi-day trip it just never happened. I sometimes wonder if that celebrity isn’t wearing those sunglasses today, unaware that they were an ancient $10 Chevron special with Twilight Zone-ish longevity.

The last example — the one which prompted this post — was a wholly new and innovative way to dispose of a decent pair of specs. I’m fond of saying that every situation in life can be directly related to a Seinfeld episode, and this is no exception. If you’re a fan of the show you’ll know exactly which one I’m referring to.

We were returning from New York without any passengers, so everything was casual on board the jet. No uniforms, just a pair of jeans and a V-neck t-shirt. A couple of hours into the flight, I excused myself from the cockpit to visit the aft lavatory. As is my custom when I’m not wearing them, the sunglasses were clipped to my shirt when I entered the restroom. (You can probably guess where this is going, right?) So there I was, standing over the toilet “taking care of business” when I reached up to close a vent which was blasting cold air and somehow managed to knock the them off my shirt. The next couple of seconds passed in slow motion. The sunglasses twirled through the air, bounced off the granite counter, and completed the swan dive with a perfect hole-in-one into the bowels of the toilet.

The lav is pretty simple on a Gulfstream; it’s basically just a tank full of “blue juice”, so there wasn’t much risk of the glasses jamming up any drain lines or whatnot. The only thing down there is a valve which is manually actuated from a panel outside the aircraft. It allows the old gunk to be drained and fresh liquid pumped in by the ground service personnel.

Nevertheless, I was going to have to fess up to what I’d done. The look on my face must have said it all, because when I exited the restroom, the flight attendant asked what was wrong. I gave her the “short” version, and she proceeded to shock the hell out of me by asking in a very matter-of-fact way if I wanted her to retrieve them. I thought she was kidding, but it turns out there were long rubber gloves on hand for just such an occasion. I offered to do the dirty deed myself, but she said “no problem, it’s not the first time something’s fallen down there” and before I could even think of a clever retort she had fished them out!

I’ve given a fair number of gifts, tips, and thank-yous over the years, but I’m wondering: how much does one owe another person when they stick their hand into a dirty airplane lavatory in order to retrieve your pair of $10 sunglasses?

In case you’re wondering, the glasses were double-bagged and sealed until I got home. The next day, I thoroughly cleaned them with multiple rounds of hot water, soap, sanitizer, and anything else I could get my hands on. I half expected the metal frame to be partially dissolved or corroded by whatever was in that toilet tank, but they came out as good as new. Ron’s Law of Sunglasses Longevity at work again!

There was a definite moment of pause before putting them back on my face for the first time, but today those Chevron Special’s are back at work. I wish I knew who manufactured them, because they build a hell of a product. While they might not repel bullets the way some sunglasses do, there’s no doubting they’ve been through the proverbial wringer.

  27 comments for “Crappy Sunglasses

  1. Graeme
    February 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    So while we are on the subject of sunglasses may as well add my own “pair” or stories.

    I’m like you that I actually still own, and use on a regular basis my Oakley frog skins I got when I was a freshman in high school.

    On the other hand, my wife bought me a pair of Oliver Peoples for my birthday (when I really wanted the Zulu 2s!) Since both were about the same price. I’m afraid that your law of sunglasses are actually laws. I’m scared to wear them. One drop and they go from Pradas to Nadas. They aren’t even as great a lens as the “arco” quality. Haha

    Greetings from SZP today

    • February 19, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      I’m not familiar with Oliver Peoples, but I looked ’em up on the web and was impressed by both the price and the classic styling. They’d be right at home in a Nautica catalog. As for being afraid to wear them, I have a set of Vedalo HD Azzurro sunglasses that I don’t haul out very often for much the same reason. The optics are amazing, though — they were designed specifically for pilots. If I was going to buy a pair today, though, I’d get the Rapallo model because it has folding temples. You don’t know how much you’ll miss that standard feature until you get a pair without them!

      Hope you enjoyed Santa Paula!

    • Peter
      February 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Oh so true. I keep 3 or 4 cheapos in my car and I have a pair of Dillon Smokes that I absolutely love. So I’m at the airport one day and my buddy asks me to be the jump master on his C-180 to drop a parachute we were testing. My glasses were in my pocket, but when the aircraft took off with the door off, the wind in my face made it uncomfortable so I reached for my Smokes. A few minutes later we dropped the load and I reached out the door to retrieve the bag…and whack the wind tore them off my face in a nanosecond. The next day I volunteered to drive the tractor and mow the lawn, hoping to find them again. No luck.

  2. February 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I had to laugh reading this post! I struggled with the sunglass inverse equation for much of my life, but some reason I have been able to break the chain and actually retain a pair of decent shades. Oh no! I’m sure I just jinxed myself.

    Not aviation related, but I have a favorite style that I wear on my motorcycle that fits my nose and face just right to keep the wind out of my eyes – I bought several pairs in fear they might stop making them. They are tucked away for safe keeping or a nuclear holocaust.


    • February 19, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      I did the same thing with those Chevron Food Mart ones that I wear. The weird thing is that everyone thinks they’re expensive and asks where I got them. It’s sort of embarrassing to explain.

      Your motorcycle sunglasses remind me of a special pair that I wear while road cycling. Bicyclists don’t get up to the speeds you reach on the motorcycle, but on a good downhill line you can hit 30 mph or more for an extended period. They have interchangeable lenses so I can wear them at night, dusk, or bright light. As with yours, they conform to the shape of my face to block out all the wind, which is awesome. I’ve often thought of wearing them while I fly since it would have the added effect of keeping any of that harsh UV sunlight from sneaking in around the sides of the pair I wear now.

  3. Bob
    February 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    I can totally relate to the entire post. Especially, when life emulates Seinfeld (not the other way around). As for special tips and thank-you’s owed; sometimes people will just do something nice for someone else and it’s free of charge. You just pay it forward as they say these days. Thank God kindness isn’t for sale. We’d all be in a world of trouble then. πŸ˜‰

    • February 19, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      Well said, Bob. Those little kindnesses go a long way toward making life more pleasant, don’t they?

      • Rea
        July 11, 2015 at 1:10 am


  4. February 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Makes me think of my time possessing “The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sunglasses.”

    While in high school, after parking my parents old white Ford Econoline panel van, I opened the drivers door, pivoted on the seat and slid off groundward. My feet landed perfectly on either side of a pair of Rayban Wayfarers Γ’β‚¬β€œ

    I looked around, and with nobody in sight, picked them off the ground. They were in good condition, so I cleaned them and wore the heck out of ’em. Then one day, years later, much as they came in to my possession, they exited.

    Loved those sunglasses. They fit perfectly atop my head when not in use. And like Graeme, I’ll corroborate “RonÒ€ℒs Law of Sunglasses Longevity” as truly a universal law.

    Thanks for the great read Ron. You are a bigger man than I. I don’t think I could ever place on my face that which saw the inside of a lavatory.

    • February 19, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      What a great story, Ben! I had a pair of tortoise shell classic Wayfarers all throughout high school. A timeless design, and as you noted, tough as nails. In fact, I’m pretty sure I still have them.

      Yes, if anyone needed proof of the fact that pilots are cheap, look no further than the length to which we’ll go to salvage a five year old pair of $10 sunglasses… πŸ™‚

  5. February 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    This was a hilarious story! But you know, if you had been wearing Flying Eyes with the strap around your neck, this never would have happened. πŸ˜‰ Or (gasp!) are those the sunglasses you ran over with the airplane?

    • February 19, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Too true! Although I usually wear them with the temple inserts since the G-IV doesn’t require a heavy headset, so I probably would have ended up in the same “boat”, if you catch my meaning. The pair I ran over was one of my four Chevron Specials, so the Flying Eyes pair is still safe and sound! Hope you’re doing well in Austin — I had a feeling you’d chime in on this post. πŸ™‚

  6. Doug Latch
    February 19, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    How long before you forget and stick them in your mouth ?

    • February 19, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Ewww. That’s an unpleasant thought. Thankfully I’ve never really been one to put them in my mouth.

      • Fur
        February 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm

        HAHHA…I was reading the posts…and was going to ask the same question!! I’m former military and retired commercial, so I understand about good glasses,,,but DUDE…these were cheapos…about as gross as sticking someone else’s finger in your mouth.

        • February 21, 2014 at 3:15 pm

          Normally I’d agree with you… but I really love those glasses, regardless of price. I doubt you can find them anymore. I’ll have to post a pic; most people think they’re an expensive pair.

  7. Jeff G
    February 21, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Actually I understand urine is sterile, and the blue stuff is an disinfectant, so why not just rinse them off and you’d be good to go? πŸ™‚

    • February 21, 2014 at 10:13 am

      Only one problem, Jeff: you’re forgetting one additional “element” that might routinely end up in the tank (Hint: look at the title of the post). πŸ™‚

      Of course, if they came out like that I would have tossed them immediately, but the tank had been flushed and cleaned at our last stop, plus we were ferrying the airplane so nobody had used it. Still gross, but not nearly as bad as what could have been down there on a “live” flight!

  8. G.L. Meyer
    February 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    When I had the same problem some years ago, an old codger chuckled and said, “It could have been worse, it might well have been your false teeth”. He had a point.

  9. Bill
    February 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    You should have thrown a $100 bill in after them so you had a better reason!

  10. February 21, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Back in the 80’s RayBan sunglasses were all the rage because of the movie Top Gun (like you didn’t know that). You are most correct, the cost was proportional to how frequently a pair was damaged or lost. A fellow flight instructor was with a student in the aircraft and noticed a lady sunbathing in the nude. The flight instructor cut the throttle, opened the window and screamed at the nude lady (got to give him an A for effort). In the process his Ray Ban sunglasses were sucked right off his face. That was a $125 lesson but perhaps a great pickup line if he were to go to the residence and say, “I dropped my sunglasses somewhere around here, can you help me find them?” ~TC FREEMAN,

  11. Jeff Cooper
    February 21, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    I can one-down you, Ron. After the Mirrored Nikons flew off the top of my car where they were left and the prescription polarized trifocals were driven over after being dropped onto silent grass I went old – school geezer and now exclusively use Walmart $7.50 SPF 30 polarized (all steam gauge panel) clip-ons with the convenient and oh-so-cool flip-up feature……keeps the fat chicks, actually ALL chicks out of the right seat!

    • February 23, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Ah, a classic! I’m imagining Ed Rooney’s famous flip-up shades in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”:

  12. Kevin, MSP MX
    February 22, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Ron, please thank the FA on behalf of maintenance. At least on the CRJ, which has the same recirc blue juice type lav, the “valve which is manually actuated from a panel outside the aircraft” is a plunger in the bottom of the tank. I would imagine the G-IV is the same as it would not make sense to allow to drain line to fill with non-circulated blue juice when the pre-charge is only a few gallons. The valve in the bottom of the tank, operated from the exterior service panel, is designed to pass liquids and weak solids; think spring loaded kitchen sink stopper without a strainer that only opens a couple of inches. Jammed in the dump valve we have removed cans, bottles, newspapers, diapers, even a mechanic’s flashlight (thanks JFK). The FA may have done for you what you were unable to do for yourself. The hole at the bottom of the bowl is not as big as it looks. It provides exactly enough room for one nitrile glove, one trash bag, and one mechanic’s arm which will end up with red rings around his forearm from being forced into said hole. We had elbow gloves, but they were too think to wear and get your arm in the tank.
    The vacuum systems are not immune from FOD either. From the 1st class lav on a two-lav 737-700 we figured it cost us $4000 to remove a $2.99 egg shaped EOS lip balm from the waste line. The costs include two nights of trying to locate the obstruction, cargo pit disassembly, and ship swapping (fuel, manpower from catering, ground service, and maintenance). Those are just the cost us mechanics could think of. We could have left the forward lav on MEL, but they wanted it back quick. We figure a passenger or FA dropped it from her purse into the toilet, thought “eh, it’s just $3 I’m not going to reach in for it,” *flush*.
    Apparently, this is just what happens around airplanes. At Oshkosh, I must have been the second person to use the freshly serviced biff and there in the bottom of the tank were three cans and a bottle. There was a dumpster at the end of the bank of biffs.
    Please use the trash container and please remove FOD before it becomes a bigger problem. The lav does not have super powers just because it is “aircraft grade.”

    • February 23, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Wow, thanks for the lavatory primer, Kevin! What an amazing array of goodies you’ve found in those tanks. Yes, “plunger” is the word I was looking for. Sometimes the problem isn’t even FOD per se, but rather ice that has accumulated around the valve. I don’t know if you have that problem with the CRJ, but after a long cold-soak at altitude, sometimes the line guys are unable to actuate the plunger and there’s not much you can do except wait a bit for it to thaw out. Maybe it’s a bigger problem on the Gulfstreams because of the airplane’s longer endurance?

  13. March 19, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I once forgot a pair of shades in a rental aircraft. About six weeks later, flying the same plane, I found the shades at the bottom of the map pocket. Lucky for me my shades are so out of style that nobody wanted to claim them as their own.

    • March 19, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      Either that or your FBO has the most honest personnel in the industry!

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