“What’s up Callahams.” I heard those words almost every day for four years. It’s funny, sometimes I still do.
I wasn’t sure what to think of Jet when I first started working with him. He was loud and more than a little outspoken. Sometimes his language was more unruly than his beard. His glasses rested low across his nose and sometimes he’d break out suspenders, mostly for effect, I think.
He smoked like the tailpipe of the 70’s BMW he drove. He listened to soul music and sang along. He added “s” to singular nouns. Church’s Chicken was his restaurant of choice.
He joked constantly and only stopped laughing long enough to get mad. He was bigger than life, like a cartoon character.
JETTING BACK AND FORTH
Richard Jackson became “Jet Jackson” in the 1980’s as a television photographer at KOCO in Oklahoma City. In a time before the satellite feeds and the Internet; Richard would hop on a jet on Saturdays to shoot video of college football games.
He’d travel to exotic destinations like Lincoln, Nebraska and Boulder, Colorado, wherever the Oklahoma State Cowboys were playing that particular week. Richard would fly out of Oklahoma City on Saturday mornings, shoot the game and then “jet” back to Oklahoma City with the video before the 10 o’clock news.
I had been a reporter in Oklahoma City for about a month when Jet and I flew to Los Angeles to cover an Oklahoma State and UCLA football game.
By this time, Jet had been working in television for more than 30 years. Frankly, I barely knew what I was doing. That’s when Jet took control. He scheduled interviews with players and coaches, set up satellite feeds and a great looking live shot outside the Rose Bowl.
Without Jet, that trip might have been my one and only as a reporter in Oklahoma City.
He told me, “Callahams, it’s my job to make you look good.”
He truly believed that. He took pride in his work. If I failed, he failed.
This was the start of a great friendship.
NOT AFRAID TO WORK
Jet worked at the TV station at least five days a week. He’d leave the building between six and seven every night and drive down the road to his second job at the hospital.
He’d shine floors until the early hours of the morning, then go home and sleep a few hours before doing it all over again.
He did it for his family whom he loved dearly. He also did it because that was how he was wired.
Sleeping was wasting time to Jet. You couldn’t accomplish anything or have any fun while you were sleeping.
He had a work ethic like few I’ve ever seen.
CANCER CATCHES UP
If I tried to list all of the good times and laughs Jet and I had together, it wouldn’t fit in this blog post.
I could tell you about late night Church’s Chicken on the wrong side of town or the road trip when we listened to an Al Green CD for eight straight hours. I could tell you about the countless football games and the hole-in-the-wall seafood joint in Shreveport.
I could tell you about his kind-heartedness when he brought me a week’s worth of chicken noodle soup and cold medicine when I got the flu. He knew I didn’t have any family around, so he played that role.
I could tell you the one about Jet getting off of work at the TV station, driving an hour-and-a-half and changing clothes in the parking lot, just so he could be at my wedding. And then, of course, driving back to work at the hospital later on that night.
When I sat at Jet’s funeral after he died of lung cancer, I thought about them all.
Jet wasn’t a picture of health. He chose fried over grilled, went through more cigarettes than the Marlboro Man and didn’t get enough rest. He still died too young at only 61.
There are a lot of lessons I’ve learned from Jet.
Sure, we should all take care of ourselves. We should not smoke. We should eat healthy and exercise. We should get our rest. But cancer can touch us all, otherwise healthy or not.
The best things I learned from Jet were about how to live.
Pack it in. Have fun. Work hard. Love big. Be loyal. Make others look good.
As I sat in the church, literally overflowing with mourners, it dawned on me. Jet made a lot of people look good.