Flowers for a living, wing-walker for the thrills, travel for the soul

If the subtitle didn’t grab ya and make ya say, “Whoa, Chuck, what’s this all about?” – well, go back and read it again! Heeeeere’s Christine!

Born and raised for her first 19 years in Fairfield, Conn., right against the Long Island Sound, CHRISTINE MINKKINEN was destined to be a free spirit.

Christine Minkkinen--with flower basket

Christine Minkkinen. Contributed photo

As a youth, her parents enrolled her in everything from gymnastics to swimming to dance. Little did anyone imagine that the upper body strength and leg muscles she was developing were going to play such a dominant role in her life. We’ll get to that in a bit, but let’s fill in the middle of her story first.

Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is a major employer in Connecticut, concentrating on helicopters and small aircraft. While Christine was in high school, the company issued a grant that would allow students to build an entire Kit Fox, two-person airplane, from basically an erector set. Christine was part of the team and it opened her mind about flying.

Her dad was asked to relocate to Arizona for his business but he turned that down as “that place was simply too hot.” Instead the family relocated to Ohio. Christine enrolled in Bowling Green State University (Ohio) to major in Software Design. She was then offered a year-long exchange program at Cal Poly, which she took in a heartbeat. That move sold her on the Central Coast. When her year was finished, she elected to stay at Cal Poly but one thing changed; she needed to come up with the delta for out-of-state tuition costs.

Answering an ad in the paper for selling flowers on weekend nights by walking from restaurant to restaurant, clubs and bars, she found it was a way to fill in her schedule’s time and make the money she needed. The exercise sounded good too. A few other gals were already hired, so Christine’s assigned territory was Pismo and Morro Bay. Starting in 2000, Christine stayed for 10 years while learning the business of buying and selling, optimum selling times, customer quirkinesses, prime locations, and the kinds of flowers that sell easily. In 2010, Christine had learned all aspects of the business and went out on her own, launching THE FLOWER GIRL business. Her TALENT of being her own boss and knowing she could make it on her own was all she needed.

Flowers used to come from Nipomo, but these days there is more money in growing cannabis. Flowers now come from Ecuador, where they are flown to L.A. and then immediately driven to flower-vendors throughout the county. Christine’s are delivered on Thursday. The are transferred into her cooler while she prepares them for sale during the next two days. Her route generally starts at Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ, and then she heads downtown to City Park and walks around the square until all the day’s flowers are sold. On special holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day, you’ll probably see her too.

Six years ago, a brand-new PASSION began. Christine and her BFF went to Oceano and rode in a Boeing-Stearman 450 biplane. These planes were made from the ’20s, and were most used for military pilot training. Primarily made in Wichita, they were sold all over the world. The planes performed well under all sorts of conditions, including acrobatics, crop dusting and mail delivery.

Christine and the owner / pilot, J.R. Smith, hit it off and he asked her if she wanted a job getting people ready for flights. Immediately, she said yes and did that for a few months. Soon into that job came the next big question: “You are the perfect size with muscles. How would you like to be a wing-walker at air shows?” Christine gave another immediate ‘yes,’ and the tether was fastened and the plane took off!

Reaching the right altitude, J.R. said, “We’re ready; go out there!” As Christine described it, “It was beyond phenomenal. I climbed out, got onto the wing, stood up with the wind in my face and it was magical! He flew and I walked. Unbelievable exhilaration! When we landed, we both jumped around like we’d won the Lotto!”

They now perform up to six times a year at venues around the state. Christine said she’d do this all the time if she could. There was no holding back her PASSION, joy, smile and exuberance in talking about wing walking. The years of early sports athleticism gave her the fearlessness she needed; Christine was a natural TALENT to be a wing-walker.

Christine’s PASSION has branched out into a whole new third dimension. Maybe it was her flowery-connection to Mother Earth or the freedom of the open sky where she might have been hit in the goggles by a travel-bug. Don’t know, but certainly Christine is passionate about travel. She has hiked the mountains of Switzerland, the peaks of Peru, temples in Japan, the shores of Fiji, Fjords in Iceland and a few dozen other “I wanna go there” spots around the globe. These trips clear her mind, recharge her batteries and open the eyes of her soul.

Gentle readers, I’ll admit I’d seen Christine in restaurants here in Paso many times. My wife, Heather, and I bought flowers from her but knew nothing about her. One night in Catch Seafood Bar & Grill, I asked her name and introduced Heather and myself to her. Then I got the idea about sharing her with PASO Magazine readers. I’m so glad I did; such a neat story and person. When you see Christine in town, tell her Chuck said to “say hello” and introduce yourselves. Tell her you read about her in PASO Magazine.

If you know someone who should be spotlighted for their Talent & Passion,
contact Chuck at chuck@pasomagazine.com.