“Sleepy” just does not ring true as a nickname for Mike Loriz, Delta Air Lines pilot, commander of Shelter Island’s American Legion Post for the past five years, former Navy F-18 fighter pilot and Operation Desert Shield veteran, expert woodworker and miller, beekeeper, and all-around do-it-yourselfer.
He’s also husband of former Reporter Editor Cara Loriz, now executive director of Sylvester Manor, and father of Shelter Island High School grads Ariana and Kaela Loriz.
Back in 1990, his Top Gun brothers on the U.S.S. Independence called him “Sleepy” after he passed out loading more than 8 G’s on his F-18 over the Indian Ocean during an intercept exercise.
“I woke up some seconds later pointed at the water in afterburner, going significantly faster than the speed of sound,” Mike said. “At first I was conscious but had no control of my body, which was a tad disconcerting, given the situation. A few seconds later,” still above 30,000 feet with a leisurely few seconds before impact, “I regained muscle control and gently pulled out. I got lucky. My landing that day was not my best.”
“The guys gave me a call sign of ‘Sleepy’ after that, for a while,” Mike said. “A few weeks after that, Saddam went into Kuwait, so all was forgotten.”
For Mike, now age 50, flying is about keeping his passengers conscious, right side up and headed in the general direction of Madrid or Moscow. He went right to work for Delta after his five-year Navy stint and misses the raw power of his F18. But flying 767s overseas and MD88s domestically keeps him just as happy.
“I still love flying,” he said during a chat at home on Marc Street last week. With either three or four days on and off, he has time to spend in his basement woodshop, with its F18 posters and pictures of airliner cockpit layouts, making the elegant kayaks he donates every year to the Nature Conservancy, which auctions them to raise thousands of dollars each for the Mashomack Preserve.
Or he might be at Peder Larsen’s sand pit, where he keeps his circular swing-blade sawmill, converting felled walnut, beech and oak trees that arborist Fred Hyatt and other tree experts deliver into fine lumber — some of which he barters away and some of which he uses himself. The fine floor in his living room comes from a tree that stood in front of the Dering Harbor Inn. All the beams and columns in the addition he put on the house himself came from local trees.
“It’s fun to think about the particular trees and where they came from on the Island,” Mike said, sitting at a harvest table he made himself, just below two beautiful kayaks that rest off-season atop the exposed wooden rafters that adorn the warm, wood-heated living room.
The family has lived on the Island full time since 2003, when Mike and Cara moved into their planned retirement home from Ohio, where they had a farm outside Cincinnati; before that, they had one near Salt Lake. “We kept moving further and further east as Delta shrunk its bases,” Mike explained.
Mike’s Island memories go back to the earliest days of his childhood, when his family would spend summers every year at a camp on the wooded Nelson White property on West Neck Creek. His mother, Betty, is a Shelter Island Walther, old friends of the White family, who let the Lorizes use the camp in exchange for keeping it up.
“It was just beautiful,” Mike said, “three cabins with no electric or water until 1980. We used coal or kerosene for heat and kept a pitcher of water by the pump to prime it.” He and his younger brother and sister were “little water rats out there, swimming and crabbing and fishing and boating. We just lived on the water.”
Mike’s father, Marcel, is a self-reliant West Virginian who grew up on a working farm. He and Betty now live close to their other two kids near Portland, Oregon. A Korean War vet, he went to City College in New York on the GI Bill. He met Betty at a social group that convened at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.
Marcel went on to become an engineer for the Port Authority of New York, commuting from Floral Park to the city every day. When Mike was in sixth grade, the Port Authority moved its headquarters to the World Trade Center on the Hudson, which made for an easy commute from points west of the river. Marcel bought a 13-acre farm near Monroe, New York and moved the family to the country. For Mike, life there meshed well with his rustic summers.
“It was a hobby farm with 12 cows, chickens, ducks, sheep,” Mike said. “We ate very well — fresh eggs, our own beef … We had a tractor and rented a neighbor’s field for alfalfa and corn and another for hay. We kids had a lot of chores,” he said. Because his mother wanted bees, and his father was allergic to them, Mike learned beekeeping. Today the family has seven hives they keep at Sylvester Manor and 23 chickens in a coop in the backyard. “Now our kids take care of chickens,” Mike said.
He caught the flying bug when Sue Clark, his mother’s cousin, took the Loriz kids to Louis Beach to see an air show around 1971 that Mike thinks featured the Blue Angels flying F4 Phantoms. Soon after, his father took him to see a Phantom up close at a static display “and that finished me off.”
He went off to college at the New Mexico Technical Institute of Mining and Technology — simple “wanderlust,” he said, made him want to head far from home — where he met Cara, a geology student from Omaha. He signed up at a Navy recruiting office in Albuquerque but after he graduated in 1983 the Navy had no slots for him. So he took a job with ARCO (now BP) working in Anchorage and Prudhoe Bay. Within a year, the Navy called.
“The guys at ARCO, they were funny,” Mike recalled. “They said, ‘We can’t believe you’re quitting this job,’ because it meant a gigantic pay cut of about 70 percent. I would have been one of those top one-percenters now if I’d stayed.”
He has no regrets. “You have to follow your dream,” Mike said.
It turned out that dream included Cara, who was working as a geologist and technical writer in Las Vegas by then. Just friends in college, he stopped by to see her in 1986 after he’d earned his wings and was headed out to California to begin his F18 training. The visit proved “we had something more going on than just a friendship.”