Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

11 December 2017

Who We Are and What We Do

What defines me as a person? A simple question, no? I've always thought so.  But recently my answer has been challenged.

For a long time I have defined myself as a pilot. It is not only what I do but who I am. They are inextricably linked, and I don't know why. They just are. I am a pilot. I fly.  I'm incredibly proud of being a pilot and doing it successfully for so long (i.e. without killing myself).  It makes me who I am.  ...I think.

I bring it up because my friend and fellow cabdriver, Terry and I were talking about this recently over lunch on the upstairs outdoor deck of a new restaurant called NOLA on Pensacola Beach.  "NOLA" is southern shorthand for New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOLA, the restaurant serves a pretty good approximation of the food you'd get in the Crescent City.

It was a good day...no, a great day! A Chamber of Commerce day. The sky was absolutely clear, the wind was calm and the water gorgeous. The view from the deck could not have been more beautiful. It was the perfect day to sit and eat shrimp po'boys and drink rum and Cokes and pretend we had N'Awlins accents as we pondered the meaning of life. It reinforced in Terry and me the reason why we live here and not where you live, nothing personal. Oh, and as much as we all love New Orleans, we're glad we don't live there either.

Terry and I were talking about some of the other cabdrivers we know. Admittedly it does not take a lot of...well, “smarts” to be a cabdriver. All you have to do is know how to drive and operate a Pulsar taximeter. Sadly, some of our cohorts have gone as far as they're going to go in life. They've risen to their personal top. For some of them, a cabdriver is all they're ever going to be.  And some of them aren't even good at that.

Terry does not want to be restricted by such limitations. He's a good writer, and a published author. He's a poet, a painter, a pretty good photographer and a damn good philosopher.  You can check out his work HERE.  He is a much better writer than I am.  He can convey in very few words what takes me pages.

But of all the things at which Terry excels, he is first and foremost a good Christian who lets his spirituality guide everything he does. And he bristled at currently being identified as “cabdriver” for that is not who he is.

"It's like with you,” he said. “You're more than just a pilot, aren't you? Being a pilot doesn't define you as a person, right? It's what you do, not who you are, right?”

Umm. Well...wow. He kind of hit a sore spot there. I had to respectfully disagree. A spirited discussion (let's not say “argument”) ensued.

I look at it this way: I am a pilot. There is no way I could ever not be a pilot. I was a pilot even before I was born....I believe. You see, my father had been a pilot for nearly fifteen years when I was conceived. So it's in my DNA. (It turns out that my grandfather had been a motorcycle cop, which might explain my unusual obsession with two-wheeled machines of the Harley Davidson persuasion.)

My friend Brandon Arago's father is a surgeon. Although he didn't follow his father into the medical field, Brandon flies with a precision that can only be called surgical. He is quite amazing to watch, and I love flying with him so I can do just that. Scoff if you will, but I believe that Brandon would've made an incredible surgeon. And by knowing the son, I believe I know something about how good a surgeon his father must be.

So do I mind being called “cabdriver?” I don't know. I kind of like the job, and it turns out that I'm particularly and not unsurprisingly well-suited to it. It might not have as glamorous a title as “pilot,” but the two jobs are not all that dissimilar. In fact, for years and years the FAA called the type of flying I've done all my life, “air-taxi” since we move people and things from here to there for money. Then my last full-time flying job was ferrying some rich guy around at his whim and command.  I was basically his airborne taxi driver..okay, “chauffeur” if you prefer because it sounds better.

But does “cabdriver” define me? I agree with Terry: I think not.  And so if I'm not a cabdriver, maybe I'm not a pilot either.

Maybe I've been wrong all these years?  

03 December 2017

RV Living


In my last post I talked about these people who live in campers or RV's full-time, with no permanent house or apartment. As I mentioned, I couldn't do it. I mean, I like driving...I like the outdoors...I even like traveling. But full-time RV living is just not for me.

And yet... For the last seven years I've been going up to Washington State for my “summer job” which often lasts six months. You guys may or may not know that when I go up there I usually stay in a company-provided motorhome - a relatively old, 27-foot Sonoma Class A. (The chart above shows the differences among the various types of campers/RV's/motorhomes.  My boss owns a selection of travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers and Class A RV's.  

"My" Sonoma is powered by a little four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine made by Isuzu. It gets comparatively good gas mileage, but it can barely get out of its own way. With a maximum speed of about 65 mph on a straight and level road, it's absolutely not suited for American interstate highways, except maybe the ones here in flat ol' Florida, “The Under-Construction State” in which every road is a traffic jam with old people in cars from somewhere else.

I can't believe Sonoma decided to sell this thing in the U.S. ...Or that my boss bought one – and drove it all over the place (probably slowly) when his kids were young. Truly, it's a turd on wheels. Driving the Sonoma, there is always a conga-line of cars with frustrated drivers behind you. It causes a traffic jam going up a freeway on-ramp. An added bonus is that it drives like a piece of shit, too! Strong crosswinds make you feel like you're going to tip right over. The way it heaves and rolls, steering it down the road is akin to commanding the Queen Mary through seas churned up by a hurricane. Let's just say it's not fun. It would have me heaving and rolling too.

Fortunately, I only have to drive it a short distance from our little airport on the Okanogan River up to the orchard owned by the customer for whom I work. This customer has put in a heliport for the two helicopters they rent from us for the cherry season. They generously installed three RV sites with full hookups that we can use for free. Once parked (in late May), the USS Sonoma stays docked right where it is until the cherries are picked and it's time to go home. I have added an external propane tank hookup, so we don't even have to leave to fill that up. I just throw the external tank in the back of the pickup truck and go to town.  Breaking camp, I untie the bow lines and half-expect a couple of smart fortwo cars to come and gently guide me out onto the main road/shipping channel.

Class A recreational vehicles generally have all the usual amenities you'd expect at home – like microwave and real ovens. Mine had a three-burner gas stove. And they're pretty comfortable, all things considered. The Sonoma had a decent queen-size mattress in the back. I'm not sure if it was standard or if the boss replaced the original along the way. RV manufacturers used to cheap-out on the beds. This one is pretty good.

Living in the thing is okay for one person. But it's cramped. I wouldn't want to have to share it with anyone; there's no one I really like enough to do that. The bathroom is tiny, and like on a lot of RV's, the rear wheel-well intrudes on the shower tub. It's only got one air-conditioner unit on the roof. The poor, overworked thing just cannot even keep up on 100-degree days, which is the end of June through all of July for us. Okay, remember earlier when I said it was a turd on wheels? Well it is, but it's also an oven on wheels too. In moderate climates it's fine, but when the temperatures hit the extremes outside it gets uncomfortable inside.

As I said, the customer rents two helicopters from us.  During the day, I'd leave the other, less-senior pilot to hang out on the property in his RV, which is a Winnebago Super Chief, which is bigger and had a better air conditioner than mine. (And yes, I could have pulled rank and taken the bigger RV. But I leave a lot of stuff in the Sonoma over the winter so I don't have to haul it back and forth every year. So I figured I might as well stay in it.)

When I was a kid, my family did a lot of camping...tent camping. And we were good at it! Oh, we sometimes fantasized about getting a little pop-up trailer. But keeping such a thing within the confines of New York City would be a problem. Plus, it would have to be towed by our faithful VW bus. With even less power than a diesel Sonoma, VW buses don't make great tow-vehicles. So my parents said ix-nay to any sort of camper.

Just as well. I still like camping – but in a tent carried on my back or in my canoe, not this glamping thing which is the act of going into the woods with every conceivable luxury and thinking that you're roughing it.

 I put up with the Sonoma RV every summer because it's private. Believe it or not I'm not exactly a sociable person. I like my alone-time. But at the end of the season, when the cherries are all picked and the rest of the crew have packed up and gone home, I move into one of the empty crew houses. How people stay in those RV's full-time is beyond me.

26 November 2017

Down In the Boondocks

Lately I've been following some people on YouTube. They are those who've given up their regular apartments or houses and live in a camper full-time. They call themselves boondockers. They live “off the grid” as it were. They drive around the country and publish little documentaries of their lives for us anchored YouTube viewers.  Some of them are good at these travelogues!  Their use of drone footage is professional and creative.  However, not everybody is good at "vlogging."  Some (most?) of them are boring with a capital “B.”

The whole key to boondocking is to keep the costs low. Boondockers avoid traditional (read: pay) campsites in favor of free sites they find on the internet. They get ecstatic over free water and free dump stations for their toilets (if they even have toilets in their rigs). Sometimes they park/camp on city streets where the law allows it. All of them have stories of run-ins with the cops when homeowners call to report a suspicious camper/meth-lab parked in front of their house. Boondockers can thank the tv series “Breaking Bad” for that.

Some boondockers live in conventional campers. They run the gamut from actual conversion-van campers to full-size Class A motorhomes – and everything in between. There's a whole sub-culture of people who re-purpose old school buses into campers ("skoolies"), although...why?  God only knows.  At the bottom end of the scale are those who for whatever reason live in their cars which have been adapted for "camping."  If I were British I'd be gobsmacked at how many people live in their cars!!  Like Katie Carney here.  Unbelievable!

Some van dwellers try to be clever.  They take a regular passenger van and discretely turn it into a home that is mobile (not to be confused with a mobile home).  From the outside it still looks pretty much like a normal van; the inside is all tricked-out.  They think they're being sneaky, calling their vehicles “stealth campers.” But they're not. Once you've seen one you can immediately recognize others. I'm sure the cops can too.  (There are certain legal ramifications of living in your car.)


Boondockers are not always unemployed hippies as you might imagine.  Most have income from various sources - but most are understandably vague on specifics.  With the internet there are plenty of ways of making money and not having to maintain a permanent office.  Some make money from their monetized YouTube channel, which I guess is a thing now.  Many YouTubers sell stuff..."merch"...like t-shirts and crap with their channel logo on them.  Some little fifteen-minute videos now even have commercial breaks!  Just what we need...

Some boondockers are solo travelers, while there are couples too. There seem to be almost as many solo women as men. Almost all of them have a pet of some sort. The one thing that all of these boondockers have in common is that they're all a little...ahh...off. They're probably all good people, but they typically...ehh, shall we say, march to a different drummer. Some of their issues are more apparent than others. But they all have 'em!  Some have been living in their vehicles for a long, long time.

Funnily enough, while researching this article just now, I happened to punch up a video of a guy and girl traveling around in a converted Dodge Sprinter van. They parked on a residential street alongside McIntosh Lake in Longmont, Colorado. The pink-haired and incredibly emaciated girl was admiring the view, chortling condescendingly about all these people in their “million-dollar homes” around her while she and her husband just rolled up in their campervan, parked on a public street and were enjoying the same view for free. Huzzah!

After spending the night, the couple ate breakfast and then left the van, casually walking to a nearby Starbucks to use their wifi and do some work. When they got back, the police had left them a parking ticket as well as a notice that theirs was an abandoned vehicle and would be towed if it wasn't moved immediately. Oopsie! The take-away: Not everybody in the country is so enamored with people living in a van. (Six months later this lovey-dovey couple split up. He got the van.) 

Parking in public places always brings with it the possibility of being hassled or run-off by the police.  Thus, Walmart has become a huge haven for boondockers, as most of their stores allow RV-ers to stay overnight in their parking lot for free. They figure that every camper will come inside and buy something.  But the word is out and Walmart's generosity is being abused. Some WM's have become overcrowded with campers. I'll tell ya, if Walmart ever decides to put in public showers for their overnight "guests," you and I will not be able to find a parking spot for our cars so's we can go in and buy our Keystone Light and maple bacon – the place will be jammed with RV's.

I suppose that many of us – me included – harbor a fantasy of just chucking all of our worldly possessions and hitting the road. There's still a little bit of Then Came Bronson in me.  And so in my case it would be on a motorcycle, but on the other hand having a proper camper to be able to get in out of the rain would be nice too. I've thought about it.  I could totally do it, too.  ...Or could I?

Watching these boondocker videos has convinced me that it's not a good idea – for me. Even the ones who seem to be enjoying the lifestyle the most have the same day-to-day struggles as every other boondocker. Plus, their lives are pretty mundane.  One guy got waaaaay out into the boonies, and when he went to restart his truck it was dead dead dead. Luckily it only turned out to be a loose battery connection, but it could have been a lot worse. That would be my fear.

Another married couple traveling in one of those pickup trucks with a slide-in camper got rammed on the interstate by a guy in a U-Haul truck.  Hit and run - he kept on going! (And he got away, too.) The camper was totaled (they're pretty flimsy) and the pickup truck was damaged, causing untold trauma and strife to the boondockers.

One fellow I follow is Eric.  He calls himself the Nomadic Fanatic. He's from Olympia, Washington of all places (home to my friends Mikey and Brandon) and often comes down here to Florida. He roams around by himself in a relatively old (2001) “Class C” motorhome (which is a camper grafted onto a heavy-duty van chassis). His traveling companion is an overfed, obese cat named Jax, whom he pushes around in a stroller or, infrequently, walks on a leash like a dog.  Yes, people look at him funny.

Lor, there's a gazillion of these boondock vloggers. I would put some links below...but if you're really curious or as bored as I am they're not that hard to find.  And if you click on one such video (like the links to Katie's or Eric's channels above), YouTube will give you all kinds of suggestions as to others who do the same thing.  They are interesting to watch, if only to convince yourself...as they've convinced me...that camping is okay as an occasional, fun recreational diversion, but it's no way to live full-time. I couldn't do it.





(Oh, by the way, "Down In The Boondocks" was a big hit for a guy named Billy Joe Royal back in 1965.)


14 November 2017

The Little Things

There's happy and then there's happy! Right now I am happy! Why, you ask? Well I'll tell you.

Just before I left Florida for Washington this past spring, I stumbled across a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle at a really good price. It had been a while since I'd sold my last one and I'd been looking for another...for the "right" one ever since.  This latest one in the ad had all the things I want in a Sportster: the belt drive, the five-speed gearbox, spoke wheels (I don't like mags)... They've evolved over the years, gaining weight as features were added. I wanted one of the lighter ones of the mid-to-late 1990's.

Sometimes people buy motorcycles with the fantasy of being a “biker.” It doesn't always work out. Sometimes they buy bikes and never get to ride them. The ad I saw was for a 1996 model with only 7,000 miles. Of course I snapped it up. As luck would have it, the bike was located up in Georgia not far from where my friend Matt lives. His brother Joe and I drove up one Friday afternoon. We went to pick up the bike on Saturday morning. I brought it home on Sunday.

As with all Harley's, the previous owner (“P.O.”) had customized it to his liking. But not to mine. (People always think that their modifications makes a motorcycle more valuable. Not so. In reality it makes it less valuable. The new owner (as in: me) then has to spend money un-doing those modifications.

The previous owner of this bike must have been a short little guy, for he installed a kit that moves the lower shock-absorber mount rearward, which has the effect of lowering the bike. In addition, he took off the stock shocks and installed shorter ones. The overall lowering of the bike allowed various bits to touch the ground when cornering or going over big bumps. Not a desirable trait.

In addition, the P.O. installed a horribly loud “aftermarket” exhaust system. It made the ride from Georgia down to Florida painful. There are literally tons of aftermarket exhaust systems for the Sportster. Trouble is, they're all loud. I want a quiet exhaust, and so found a completely stock system online – one that had obviously been removed and replaced with a louder one. It wasn't a lot of money but still, every dollar I spend on the bike increases the “actual” total price.




Here's the bike in Matt's driveway in Atlanta.  I forgot to mention that gawd-awful seat which was the very first thing I changed.


Since this is my third Sportster, I have a good supply of parts in-stock. I have a small “sport” windshield that I think looks attractive and unobtrusive. I have a different air cleaner, because I prefer a round one to the oval ones Harley installs. And I have a taller side-stand because the stock one allows the bike to lean over too far when parked. I have some other bits too. Or thought I did.

It's been a couple of years since I sold my last Sportster. So before I left for Washington I went hunting for motorcycle parts. I looked high and low, all over the house but could not find the parts described above. Oh, I found the windshield, because that's too hard to hide. The rest of the parts? Gone. And I mean gone! I was pretty sure the parts hadn't gotten thrown out, but you never know. There's been a lot of people in my house and garage, especially while I've been away.  And, I can be an idiot and accidentally throw valuable stuff out.

And so I left, fairly dispirited, figuring that I was going to have to buy those parts again. I talked to the Harley dealer and they want nearly as much for just the windshield mounting kit as they do for the whole windshield and mounting kit combined! Ouch. The other parts aren't all that expensive, but the dollars add up.

And so yesterday I was cleaning out the garage. I need the room.  The Sportster needs some work (obviously), but I'm also in the process of refurbishing a couple of old and rare Japanese motorcycles which I own and intend to sell so I can buy this house – two things I said I'd never do but hey, you can't always predict the future accurately.

As I was loading stuff into my van to take to the dump, I came across a box that had been buried under a bunch of others. It was fairly empty but had some unmarked, sealed plastic bags in it. Curious, I lifted a bag out and was immediately overjoyed to feel the air cleaner! Other plastic bags contained all the other parts I had been searching for. Talk about happy!

So the Harley will come together pretty quickly and easily. It'll be the way I want it, not the way the P.O. wanted it. The Kawasaki's...well, they'll take a little longer. But they're both worth a lot of money. At this point I would derive no pleasure from riding either of them; they're just too rare to be what we call a “daily driver.” I would end up only riding them on certain special occasions. And who wants that? Motorcycles are meant to be ridden. I don't want a museum piece. 

My Sportster is neat and all, but if I wrecked it I'd just buy another and build it up to my personal taste again. It's that easy (and fairly cheap) with Harley's; not so much with old Japanese bikes of which the hard-to-find parts are becoming super-expensive! And so the Kawasaki's have to go while I can still afford to fix them up.

So, a great day! I made plenty of room in the garage to work on stuff, AND found some parts I thought I'd lost or thrown away. Maybe not huge accomplishments, but life is made up of the little things. And you know, it's the little things make me 

Scott Meyer used to publish a hilarious comic called "Basic Instructions."  In it, he provided insights and ways of dealing with (mostly) everyday occurrences.  His take on these things was often...well...odd and the morals of his comics were often strange.  In the comic below, Scott talks about the pleasure of something unexpected.


See the actual comic (and Scott's others) HERE.




11 November 2017

The Power of Prayer

EDIT:  Soooo, I thought there was something vaguely familiar about this post.  There was: I'd written it before in 2008 which you can read HERE.  It's pretty much the same, word for word.  Dang, I hate when I do that.  For those of you who've been faithfully (and strangely) following this blog for a while, you've probably read this story.  I apologize for repeating it.  But rather than deleting the whole first part here, I'll leave it.  The new stuff is down below, in Part Two.  That part, as far as I know, I haven't written before.  

Part One: Dreamers

My friend Warren and I were going to be pilots! We were thirteen at the time, so what did we know? The possibilities were endless for two kids growing up in New York City.  When we were in junior high (middle school) sometimes we'd play hooky and go out to LaGuardia or Kennedy Airports to hang out on the open-air observation decks.  This was in that more innocent time before hijackings and before America became terrified.

Our other friends, the ones who did not want to be pilots, thought we were weird. They thought so because on sunny, summer days Warren and I would lay down on a patch of grass on a hill high above the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx and we'd watch airplanes fly over. Our neighborhood just happened to be under a departure corridor of LaGuardia Airport so there was a non-stop parade of airliners all day long.  We got good at identifying the various types of airplanes and airlines, even being able to differentiate between A Boeing 727-100 and -200.  (It's not that difficult.)

Warren had a battery-operated multi-band radio that could pick up the air traffic control frequencies. So we could listen to the airliners as they soared overhead, climbing out on their way to exotic destinations (i.e. not New York). We were dreamers, he and I. And we dreamt of the day when we too could command an airliner to exotic (i.e. not New York) destinations.

Of course, age thirteen was when I began drinking alcohol and smoking weed. That's when the dream almost came undone.  Almost.  For me.

Warren was a couple of months older than me. Better-looking, glib, charismatic and charming, he always got along well with the older kids in the neighborhood. I looked up to him with admiration. Hey, when you've only been on the planet for thirteen years, a couple months seems like a big deal.  He wasn't just thirteen - he was thirteen and a half!

One night Warren somehow managed to procure a couple of bottles of Boone's Farm Apple Wine. We drank with them unbridled gusto, like guzzling a Coke. I got sick right away and puked all over the insides of a pizza place on Kingsbridge Road. Warren, ever my protector, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and got me the hell out of there toot-sweet before the irate shop owner could get even around the counter. He deposited me in an alley where I proceeded to empty my stomach of everything I'd eaten for the last few days.

The next morning was spent with the World's Worst Hangover. It was also the morning my mom decided that the entire house needed to be vacuumed and cleaned (including my room), which necessitated the inexplicable and loud clanging of every pot and pan we owned. The apartment sounded like a continuous car crash.  I vowed solemnly that I would never drink again. Over the years I've made that very same vow more often than I care to admit.

New York City is unique in that it has vocational high schools which specialize in certain trades. I chose Aviation High School in Queens, which would have given me my Airframe and Powerplant FAA mechanics licenses if I hadn't wasted my time and not taking it seriously. I barely graduated, squandering a priceless opportunity.

Warren went to a high school that taught electronics, something in which he was keenly interested. So we saw less of each other. Until he dropped out, which didn't take long. He was hanging around more and more with those older guys in the neighborhood, who had coincidentally all dropped out as well. They hung out in the park, doing basically nothing...until their parents threw them out...in which case they'd get horrible little apartments with beanbag "furniture," and they had crappy jobs to pay the rent. I didn't like those guys very much and so didn't hang out with them.

I knew that aviation demanded drug-free people. By high school I'd pretty much cut out the pot-smoking and (most of) the drinking. But it was tough being a “goody-goody” in The Bronx, New York in 1970. Since the guys in my high school came from all over the city, we didn't see each other in our off-time. I felt pretty alienated. But hey, we make our own choices, right?

Flash forward a couple of years. My parents had moved us out of the The Bronx and into Manhattan. I was working as a charter dispatcher for a local helicopter company. It was the very beginning of my career in aviation. My uncle came down to visit from the old neighborhood where he still lived.

“Sad about your friend, Warren,”
he said offhandedly at some point in the conversation.

Say what?

Apparently Warren was with some friends in some apartment where he succumbed to a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol. I hadn't heard.

I went back up to the old neighborhood, but nobody was talking. The circumstances were sketchy, better left alone. He's gone, they said. Just let it be. And so I did. What am I, Lt. Columbo? Warren liked to drink – liked to party without limits. It's no surprise that his lifestyle did not foster longevity.

Flash forward a few more years. Now I was working as a pilot for that same helicopter company, flying sightseeing tours around New York. There were five tours of varying lengths that covered different parts of the city. One of the more expensive took passengers up over the Bronx, over Yankee Stadium, almost all the way up to Yonkers before turning south on the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty. It was not one of the more popular tours, and so I didn't fly it much.

But when I did, I always looked down to find that little patch of grass on which those two thirteen year-old dreamers used to lie. No, I never became an airline pilot – I'd discovered helicopters and my life was changed. But I was a pilot! And every time I'd fly over the old neighborhood I'd feel a twinge of sadness that Warren never got to experience it.


Part Two: The Power Of Prayer

Now we get to the point. Both Warren and I came from Irish-Catholic families. His parents went to mass every Sunday right alongside mine at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church on Fordham Road. I'm sure that his parents prayed for him just as often and fervently as my parents prayed for me.

And so we must ask: What good is the power of prayer? We Catholics hear about it a lot. We are told to pray for this or that. And I wonder, all things being equal, how come it worked for my parents and not for Warren's? Is there any value at all to prayer? Or is it illusory? Does it just make the person doing the praying feel good? Because it certainly did not help Warren.

I've struggled with this issue ever since then. I've always wondered why I “made it” and he did not. We were exactly the same, he and I: just two city kids with the same aspirations and opportunities. He even seemed to have it better than me, being more sociable and more physically fit. Not only that, he had an uncle who owned an airplane who used to take him up!  Given all that, why does one guy live and one die?

Obviously there are no answers for such questions. But they do make you wonder...does prayer even work? Because in Warren's case, it appears to have not.

09 November 2017

Going Both Ways

Up in Brewster, Washington we had one of the driest summers ever. I mean, really, we had only one day that it rained, and there wasn't much at that. So none of the ships flew more than a couple of hours apiece. The boss was not happy.

The company really makes money when we fly, of course. The standby charges pay for the helicopters and the pilots with a little leftover. On the other hand, we surely did not have to burn (or buy) very much fuel.  And when you've got ten helicopters that each burn 50 gallons per hour, the potential for using a lot of fuel is real!  Normally, each season the ships get between fifty and 100 hours each.

So there was a lot of sitting around.

Ironically, this summer I got to fly more airplanes than ever before. You all know that I'm a helicopter guy, but I love flying airplanes too. A lot of helicopter pilots turn up their nose at airplanes. ”Boring,” they say. Perhaps. Helicopters keep you busy 100% of the time; if you let go of the controls the helicopter will try to turn itself upside down. In an airplane you can sit back and relax a bit because it's not always trying to crash itself. To me, it's all good.

My boss's friend Gene has a beautiful old Piper J-3 Cub – the quintessential airplane from the 1930's and '40s. It's yellow, OF COURSE because all real J-3 Cubs are yellow.

Gene is a 75 year-old frenetic fellow who's dying of cancer and simply cannot sit still. He knows his time is limited and wants to make the most of it while he's still in good health. He was visiting us one morning at our hangar in Brewster. With his first cup of coffee he was fidgety.  By the second he was bored. ”Let's go flying!” he boomed with perhaps too much enthusiasm in his voice if that's possible.

The Piper Cub is a small, two-seat, tandem (i.e. front and back) airplane designed for much smaller, skinnier young people who are more limber than this never-missed-a-meal 60-something guy. After a thorough preflight inspection, Gene coached and coaxed me through the contortions necessary to just get in the damn thing.  I cursed; he laughed.  I really need to lose some weight and do some exercise.

Gene's yellow J-3 Cub next to his red sport biplane next to our Cessna 182

For some, flying a Piper Cub is akin to a religious experience, given the history of the design. In truth, it flies just like every other airplane, only slower. It's got really long, thick wings which makes it unsporty in maneuvering. Those fat wings are really “draggy” and what with the limited horsepower of the engine you don't go anywhere very fast. But it is marvelous, basic airplane that is great at teaching students how to fly. I can't say that it was a religious experience for me, but it was a hell of a lot of fun!

Since we didn't fly helicopters a lot, the boss took pity on me and decided that we needed to go out flying in his seldom-used Cessna 182. The Skylane is an extremely capable four-seat airplane that Cessna has made forever, starting in 1956 and continuing with few changes to this very day. It's got a 230 horsepower engine (big for its class) and it can carry huge load. 

Like the Cub, the 182 is a relatively simple airplane. The landing gear does not retract; the downside of that is that it's not very fast. But it is the perfect for the family of four who want to go away on vacation and don't want to leave anything behind. The boss's 182 is a pristine example of a 1977 airplane that looks very much like a brand-new one. Things don't change much in aviation.

My boss's 1972 Cessna 182

Some time after that, we were having lunch at The Club in Okanogan with our friend Darrell Diebel, who owns a beautiful Cessna 177 Cardinal. I've flown a lot of Cessna models, but never the Cardinal, and I've always wanted to. It's a beautiful design. We got talking about his airplanes (he owns three) as we ate. Knowing that I've always wanted to fly the Cardinal he said, ”Let's go flying!” with as much enthusiasm as Gene had used about the Cub. Darrell is not dying of cancer but like most pilots he'll use any excuse at all to go flying.

In the mid-1960's, Cessna's basic four-seater, the model 172 Skyhawk had been around since 1956 and actually was just an updated, tricycle-gear version of the model 170, a taildragger that had its beginning back to 1948.

So in 1968 Cessna designed the model 177 as a replacement.  But it was...different. It used a new wing design that also sat further back (for better pilot visibility) and was cantilevered so that it didn't have the struts that are so common on single-engine Cessnas (see the pic of the 182). The landing gear was changed so that the plane sat low to the ground, making it easy to get in and out.  Because there were no struts, the cabin doors could be huge, and they opened wide, like a car. This was not always a good thing if you happened to park the plane with a ripping tailwind.

The new design brought along slightly different flying qualities that alienated some pilots because  it didn't feel conventional enough, especially during the landing. A Cessna is supposed to fly like a Cessna, and the Cardinal did not. Subsequently, sales of the 172 Skyhawk remained strong and the Cardinal did not summarily replace it. They're both great airplanes.  However, ironically the 177 Cardinal disappeared while the model 172 is still in production today.  Go figure.

Darrell's Cessna 177 Cardinal

The Cardinal was great fun to fly!  Yes, it lands a little "differently" than other Cessnas, but I did not find it super-challenging.  All my landings are equally bad in every airplane.

Speaking of bad landings...

Finally, the boss also owns a Cessna model T-50 Bobcat. This is a twin-engine, taildragger that was first produced in 1939. It is often confused with the Beechcraft model H-18 “Twin-Beech.” The Cessna was designed to be a trainer for the military and “lightweight” twin for personal civilian use although it is not exactly lightweight except compared to a DC-3 maybe.

My boss likes old airplanes and helicopters, if you can't tell. His T-50 is beautiful – lovingly maintained and always stored inside. Our task this day was to move it from the Brewster Airport up to another, smaller grass strip airport that he owns up the Okanogan River. The flight was short, so I didn't get to actually fly the T-50. But it was neat being in such a classy, vintage airplane. It gives you an idea of what flying was like back in the 1940's and '50's.

Nowadays airplanes, especially light twins are tiny and cramped, shrunk down for maximum efficiency and speed. But back in the 1940's flying was different. Airplanes had big cabins. Their wings and frames were made of wood and fabric and welded steel tubing. The interiors were plush, like expensive automobiles were at the time. Some airplanes even had roll-down windows. They weren't all that fast, but you sure traveled along in style!

The runway that the boss owns up the Okanogan is short - just 2,100 feet. He had never landed the twin Cessna there. As we came around, he had our “aim point” squarely on the very end closest to us - good. We would not be landing long; over-running would be bad.

The boss is pretty sharp, but just as we crossed the fence, I saw that he'd let the speed bleed off just a little too much – still good though. But when he raised the nose to stop the descent, the wing didn't have much extra energy (lift) and the big twin just fell through. We hit a little...let's say “ungracefully” and bounced once before plopping right back down for good. But the stout oleo shocks and big balloon tires were designed for just such airports and they absorbed the landing with no fuss. Without even using the brakes, we stopped and turned into the hangar area which is halfway up the runway. No sweat! We watched the video that the boss's son, Danny took. The landing looked much worse from the inside than the out. But it's always that way.

The boss's Cessna T-50 "Bamboo Bomber" after landing at his grass strip 

So...not much helicopter flying this past summer. But at least I still did get to have some fun. I like being able to fly airplanes and helicopters. It's good to go both ways.



05 November 2017

Where The Heart Is

It's the simple things, right? On Sunday, I like to get up early, go out and get the paper, make myself a nice breakfast (my patented Bob McMuffin!), and then just drink my coffee and relax and “waste” the morning doing the various crossword puzzles. If the day is nice, like today, I'll slide open the door to the backyard and let the good air in. Nobody bothers me, the phone doesn't ring and I can just enjoy the quiet time by myself.

Life is good.

I don't know why this little ritual is so important, but it is. I mean, I'm not the CEO of some major corporation; my life during the week isn't that busy...I could do this any day I chose. But Sundays are special. Or should be.

I could never really do this in Washington. Sundays were like any other days. The boss didn't know what the word “weekend” meant, other than our parts suppliers weren't open. I'd get up at the usual time, go to the hangar at the airport, turn the lights on, make the coffee...just like any other day of the week. The boss would arrive and we'd plan out our work day. Predictable routines.

It's supposed to snow in Brewster, Washington today, Sunday, November 5th with a high temperature of only 39 degrees and a low of 16. Looks like I left Washington in the nick of time. I don't like the cold. Here in Pensacola it is an extraordinarily pleasant day.  We're forecast to hit a high of 80, and the low tonight will be 64. Won't have to run the A/C much; won't have to run the heat at all.

My boss in Washington would like me to move up there permanently, and keeps suggesting it. He certainly could use the help, and we get along pretty well. I could work my way into a really good position there, not just money-wise but I'd also have the ability to be around and fly all kinds of aircraft, and do all kinds of wacky things. While I admit that I do like it up there, I love it here in Florida. And that's the difference: I just don't love Washington enough to move up there full-time. Sorry, boss.

My friend Terry who is from northern Alabama originally, is always going on and on about what a beautiful place Pensacola is. He gushes, ”We live where other people come on vacation!” Which is true enough. But it's also true of many places. Imagine living on, say, Catalina Island, in California? How smug those bastards must be! Or the people who live in New York City, how 'bout them! You get the idea. I will admit though, Pensacola is a pretty special, unspoiled place.

They say that home is where the heart is. Mine is here in northwest Florida. We're not tropical or culturally diverse and exciting like Miami and south Florida. No matter. Pensacola suits me just fine.  And I am so damn glad to be home, where I can enjoy my little Sunday morning ritual once again.  

I may never leave.