So I’m out on the deck Sunday afternoon reading the paper while the dogs and kids frolic in the yard, and I notice that this week’s Parade magazine is the “What People Earn” issue. You know the one — the one with about 100 mugshots of regular folks and their jobs and salaries, with the occasional celebrity and her 8-figure salary tossed in every now and then, just to keep us awake. (Gisele the supermodel made $33 million this year. I wonder if she and Tom Brady split the electric bill right down the middle, or if she pays a heftier share because she makes more.)

This is the only time of year I read Parade, because I don’t really care what Hilary Swank’s favorite cheat-food is. I don’t want to know why Aretha Franklin chose “maple scone” for her bedroom paint color, and I already know that Marilyn vos Savant is so smart that she could stick an 8-ball under her armpit and squeeze out a unicorn’s paw (You know what? Screw you, Marilyn.).

But the “How Schlubs Like You Are Scraping Together Your Meager Existence” issue is one of my guilty pleasures, and if you’re reading this, it’s probably one of yours, too. You comb through the thing like crazy, looking to validate yourself against other chumps out there doing a similar job and making less than you. Or, even better, doing a really crappy job that pays squat. “Hey,” you say to your reassured self. “At least I’m not that guy,” with “that guy” being:

Herman Beckwith
Dog shit picker-upper

I’ll be honest: I was cruising right along, shaking my head at sucker after sucker and cursing their bad luck, until I was stopped dead in my tracks by Bridget Matarrese. Bridget is a regional airline pilot, and she makes $31,000 per year.

I don’t know Bridget or which airline she works for, but I’m going to make some assumptions here:

* Bridget flies airplanes.

* The airplanes Bridget flies are full of passengers like you and me: moms, dads, kids, sons, daughters, grandmas, etc., shuttling between small cities and the hub airports of larger cities.

* If Bridget screws up, everybody dies. Everybody.

* Terrorists are licking their chops at the site of Bridget and her pilot brethren, since you can kill a lot of people with one airplane. A few guys actually did this in New York back in ’01. You may have read about it.

And for her trouble, Bridget makes $31,000.

I’m not quite ready to sing the praises of pilot unions just yet, but is this really what the market bears for even a first-year airline pilot? I live in Rapid City, South Dakota, and I can’t fly anywhere without hopping on a regional jet just like the ones that Bridget presumably flies. And I have to be honest, I felt a hell of a lot safer before I read that the pilots make significantly less than a Starbucks manager. Or a bartender. Or a magician.

I’m not trying to get all Che Guevara on you here, but it seems that a man or woman who knows how to fly a big-ole airplane full of people safely from one point to the next deserves a little more than barista money. Even a drunk pilot deserves a good $50k, I think, huh? I think that inflatable autopilot from “Airplane” even got paid $25k, and that’s still more than what Bridget’s making when you adjust for inflation from 1982 (although you could make an argument that he was worth the additional money for keeping the flight going smoothly while everyone got sick from eating the fish and Leave it to Beaver’s mom got into a scrap with those jive-talking guys.).

Seriously, though: we’re already on the subject of bartenders and baristas, and you can’t talk about either of those guys without thinking of tips. Tipping a bartender is second nature, and you can’t find a barista in a Starbucks or otherwise who doesn’t have a full tip jar sitting on the counter (even if they spike it full of singles from the register at 5:30 a.m., just to mindfuck you into shelling out a little bit more of your own cash than you were planning on spending).

So I ask you, good people of the United States: Why the hell aren’t we tipping our airline pilots? If anybody deserves an extra few bucks for a job well-done, it’s the guy who gets me back to my family in one piece. I’m not saying you’ve got to shell out 20% of your ticket price or anything, but as for me, I’m fine with slapping a five-spot to the pilot in any circumstance that doesn’t end with me pinned underneath the fuselage in a forest clearing, chewing on the seared leg-flesh of my seatmate to stay alive for another 10 hours. Seriously, man — take this $5 spot, and thank you very, very much for a job well-done.

Even if a mere 20 passengers did this per flight, that’s $100 per flight. I read that regional jets fly somewhere between 3 and 5 flights per day, so let’s settle on four, and that makes $400 per day of flying. And if the pilots are flying, say, 15 days per month, that’s $6,000 extra per month. Even if you split the take 50-50 with the copilot, that’s an extra $3,000 per month, $36,000 per year. That doubles Bridget’s salary, and, quite frankly, ought to make you feel a lot better about Bridget staying focused on doing her job well and not fretting about the rent and the electric bill and her kid’s college tuition and getting her car fixed and funding her 401(k), etc. (For the record, I don’t know Bridget — she could be the wealthy great niece of Leona Helmsley for all I know, but it’s all about the principle).

Would you be willing to tip your pilot? Sound off if you see fit. And if anyone out there knows Bridget, send her my appreciation for unwittingly serving as my guinea pig in this post.