Directing traffic in the big city
Mari Nado works as an air traffic controller in San Francisco
A perfect evening for Mari Nado includes a walk through the city blocks with her 2-year-old Swiss Mountain Dog named Hans, a shimmering sunset over the San Francisco Bay and a quiet dinner at one of the downtown restaurants. Quiet being the key for Nado, who spends her workday as an air traffic controller in a major market directing the movements of as many as 1,400 aircraft in a single day.
When its busy we can be talking to 100 different airplanes in an hour, she says. By the time I get home, Im ready to enjoy some silence, and I dont really want to make any more decisions.
Nado was determined that aeronautics would be a part of her future when she graduated from Reynolds High and enrolled at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona, Fla., where she was a scholar athlete in volleyball and golf while also chasing the clouds.
Nados quest to become a pilot hit some turbulence in her sophomore year when the 9-11 terrorist attacks reshaped the airline industry.
It had always been a romantic job, but things changed quite drastically, Nado says. You had to wonder if a job would be waiting after you spent all that money getting trained. I had friends waiting tables waiting to get in somewhere. There werent a lot of flying jobs.
Still, Nado found herself in a good place for a slight change in course, as Embry-Riddle was one of only about a dozen colleges with an air traffic program. After a brief side trip to Houston, Tex., she found herself in the tower at San Francisco where she has spent the last eight years.
I love my job, she says. I have this great view of the bay, and I get to watch planes take off and land every day.
Nado did get her commercial pilots license and will rent a single-engine plane for the occasional trip up and down the West Coast.
Its an expensive hobby, so I dont do it as much as I would like, Nado says. Its something Ive checked off my bucket list, and having that pilots background has been helpful in air traffic.
She remembers taking her test with a five-hour solo flight from Daytona to the Florida Keys and back.
It was pretty cool to fly down to the Keys and be able to call it a school assignment, Nado laughs.
Nado has always been athletic often going on evening runs after playing a round of golf as a high schooler. But it was last summer when she began tackling half-marathon, coming to Portland to run the Rock-N-Roll race with her siblings Scott and Stephanie. Before the year was over, she had completed six more events in the 13.1-mile circuit.
She has also maintained her golfing touch, highlighted with a birdie on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach after treating her dad Greg to a round at the showcase course for Fathers Day a couple years ago.
We were golfing with another group so we didnt get too crazy, but we did put up a cheer, she says.