Who Am I?
- Bob Barbanes:
- 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?
31 January 2007
Back in the day, I used to make so-called mix-tapes. You'd take your favorite songs from records or other cassettes you already owned, and then dub them onto blank cassettes. Then you'd plug the new cassette into your Walkman, put your headphones on, pump up the volume and the outside world would faaaaaaaade awaaaaaaaayyyyy. Very annoying if you were trapped on a bus or a train seated next to someone who was listening to their Walkman loud. Which means that people were often annoyed when seated next to me.
The trouble with mix-tapes was that: A) the number of songs each cassette could hold was limited; and B) the order of the songs was set - you always knew which one was coming up next. So the songs ended up interrelating. This is not always a good thing. Sometimes songs need to stand on their own.
The iPod is a vast, oh-God-why-didn't-they-invent-this-before?- improvement. First of all, it holds tons more songs than the longest cassette ever could. Secondly, it plays the songs randomly, so every successive song is a surprise. And if you've chosen the music carefully, a pleasant surprise. With a capacity of 250 songs (which I intend to take full advantage of), I doubt I'll ever go, "Dang, this song again!" And even if I do, deleting a song off the iPod is easy. Not so easy to do on the mix-tape.
I have to admit that I primarily like loud, hard-drivin', foot-stompin' (but not head-bangin') rock. But I'm no music snob! Nope, I love all types of music, and can listen to almost anything - for three minutes at a time or less! My iPod has an incredible variety of music...music of all genres. New music and old music, alternative to rock to country to disco to folk to R&B and back to rock. I've got music I thought was lost forever. For instance!
Back in the early 1980's when the category of Alternative music was invented there was a radio station on Long Island, N.Y. called WLIR. As luck would have it, that's where I was living at the time. Oh man, the strange and wonderful music WLIR played! Most radio stations of the time were fairly conservative. Even "free-form" rock stations stuck with traditional artists and genres. With WLIR you never knew what they were going to come up with next. It was simply exhilarating, especially for someone like me who was brought up on rigidly-formatted Top-40 radio.
One record WLIR played was by a soca artist(!) called Mighty Sparrow. "Soca" is calypso music with the tempo cranked up to eleven. This particular song was called "Wanted Dead Or Alive," a super-uptempo, clever rundown of all of the various worldwide dictators of the day, of which we had many back then. I only heard the song a couple of times. But it was catchy. And you know how I am about clever, catchy, super-uptempo tunes. But try as I might, I could never find much information on Mighty Sparrow, and I never heard the song again. Figured I never would.
But along comes the internet, my iPod, and iTunes! With a little bit of keyboard noodling, I not only found all I ever wanted to know about Mighty Sparrow (who's been recording since the 1950's, by the way), but I found the song! Ninety-nine cents later, it's mine. Downloaded and in the mix. Gotta love iTunes!
Kids these days, they're so lucky. They have all this cool shit to play with that my generation couldn't even dream about. I can't wait to see what's going to be invented next. Like the new Nintendo Wii? I want one! And I don't even play video games. And how 'bout those automatically tinting contact lenses! Until I have that laser eye surgery, I wear contacts. An eye doctor told me that they now have contact lenses that tint when you go out in the sun. No more sunglasses to break and lose? How cool is that...I'm in! I may be getting old, but I love new technology.
And I love my iPod - have I mentioned that?
28 January 2007
I have the best friends. I always have. I don't know why, and I do not deserve them. Every night before I go to sleep I thank God for those people who have made my life so interesting and rewarding and fun. I wish I could let them all know, past friends and current, how much I appreciate them. This pathetic substitute will have to suffice for now. If you are now or ever have been a friend of mine, please know that I love you. (You know who you are.)
My only hope is that I can be as good a friend to others as they have been to me.
25 January 2007
That day came this past Tuesday. Our big group of guests sure enough wanted go snorkeling, of course to Michael's Rock. I went only because they needed someone to drive the boat. My friend Matt wanted to go, so we brought along masks and fins.
All I can say is, "Ay, Carumba!" Holy cow, it was amazing! The coral, the fish, the shapes, the colors...! It was unbelievable. I saw fish of more different varieties and color patterns than I ever knew existed. The coral was...simply indescribable. Any words that I could come up with to describe it would be lame and inadequate. If you've snorkeled in a really beautiful place then you already know what I'm talking about. If you've never done it, then don't be stupid like me. Don't turn down opportunities - go do it!
It was one of those awesome, magical, picture-perfect days. I mean, it's one thing to land a helicopter on a deserted beach in the middle of nowhere. But going there and snorkeling in one of the prettiest areas on earth is even better! Matt and I swam around, marveling at what we were seeing, and how different the two sides of the island were. (Well, to be correct, Michael's Rock is not technically an island; it's sort of a peninsula...an almost-an-island.) Oddly, the fish were bigger - much bigger on the side of the rock that was grassier and had less coral. We got spooked right out of the water by a barracuda that must have been, no lie, four feet long. (It was only later when we looked it up that we learned barracudas usually don't attack humans. Usually.)
I was going to try to end this post with something profound about how "We grow, we learn, we change, sometimes incrementally, and sometimes very slowly." Yeah, yeah. Okay, I'm into snorkeling now; maybe I'll even learn to scuba dive. What's next: Kite-surfing? Who knows. Whatever, I'm ready, willing and able. And eager. And one lucky sonovabitch.
16 January 2007
I left my phone on charge in the main dining room and went down to the boathouse to check on some work being done. All of a sudden, here comes our cook Daniel, running excitedly down the path, my cell phone in his extended hand. And I thought to myself, Did somebody die? Is George Bush finally returning my call? The Pope? Did I finally win the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes?
“It’s Danette!” Daniel said breathlessly. (Oh, they are brother and sister, by the way.)
“Sorry Bob,” she said, laughing. “I was in the bathroom when I heard the phone ring, but I wasn’t going to answer it.”
“Good for you!” I said. “I wouldn’t have answered it either.”
Then I launched into a long tirade (wasting her minutes) about how our two foremen will stop their boats dead in the water if their cell phones ring – even though the trip they’re on may only take five minutes. By God, they HAVE to answer that phone! Miss a call? Heaven forbid! Let no call go to voice mail!
(Unlike driving a car, when you’re driving your boat you cannot hear on your cell phone very well, and the wind noise rushing past the mic will render conversation from your side useless. But we will have cars here eventually. I can only imagine how bad things will be then.)
She agreed wholeheartedly. More often than not, when I call her the phone either just rings off the hook or the call goes straight to voice-mail. Do I care? Not a bit. She always calls me back.
Remember the television series, “Star Trek?” If it had been a documentary, we would have seen an exchange like this:
SPOCK: “Bridge to Captain Kirk.”
KIRK (to himself, sighing): “Goddamit! Every time I come into the bathroom that stupid communicator goes off. What is there, a switch in here or something? Well I am not answering it. Screw ‘em, let Spock handle whatever it is.”
SPOCK (arching one eyebrow at the captain’s unresponsiveness and logically assuming that Kirk is “indisposed”: “Uhh, nevermind, Captain. It’s not important. Please get back to us when you’re finished dealing with the Klingons.”
KIRK (chuckling to himself at Spock’s lame half-human attempt at making a pun): “Boy we have good writing on this show. I hardly have to act at all! But then if that's true, why do I look like I'm working so hard at it?”
But no, “Star Trek” wasn’t real, sadly. And on t.v., actors never have to go to the bathroom. They do allow us to go to the bathroom, which is why commercial breaks were invented, of course. With all the crap on t.v., you’d think a bathroom scene would be perfectly appropriate.
And if series creator Gene Roddenberry had been from Guanaja, that scene would have gone something like this:
SPOCK: “Bridge to Captain Kirk.”
KIRK (immediately tapping the “Activate” button on his communicator): “Spock, I’m in the bathroom right now. But what is it? What can I do? How can I help? Are we being attacked?”
SPOCK: “No, Captain, please remain seated. But we do have another serious situation, something that demands your immediate attention. It appears that Lt. Uhura has a slight ear ache.”
KIRK: “Well, send her to sick-bay.”
SPOCK: “That would be logical.”
KIRK: “Yes, logical. Aren’t you supposed to be in charge when I’m not on the bridge? And anyway, didn't I tell you that I would only be gone for ten minutes?”
SPOCK: “Yes, Captain.”
SPOCK: “I just wanted to get your permission, Captain.”
KIRK: “Well, okay. Yes, you're right. Good-good. Thank you. Please keep me updated on any other events. Also, be sure to call me just as soon as the crew is done waxing the floor on the bridge.”
SPOCK: “Captain, that may be well after midnight. Even the stage hands will have gone home by then.”
KIRK: “Dammit man, I want to know!”
SPOCK: “Wilco, Captain. Spock out.”
Each “Star Trek” episode would have been three-hours long as the characters made such similar urgent communiques with each other.
And here in good old Guanaja, I still haven’t completely figured it out. I’m not sure what this obsession with making/taking calls is. Maybe it is a feeling of self-importance: “I need to be able to be gotten ahold of at any time of the day or night. And I need to be able to get ahold of anyone at any time of the day or night.”
Me on the other hand, I am so important that I do not need to make myself available to just anyone at anytime. You may not get ahold of me anytime you like. I know this sounds insufferably haughty or pompous, but enough of my time gets wasted every day just by trying to get things done here. I know how to use my voice-mail. Others can use it too. If I call you and I get your voice-mail, I assume that you’re in the bathroom. (Or maybe driving your boat and you don't want to stop...BWAAAAHAHAHAHAH...oh, I kill me.)
There are only a small handful of people whose calls I will take without fail: The Bossman (of course); my two foremen Devant and Lalo; Danette; and Roger, the head of the local power company (who’s our medevac coordinator). When I see those numbers on my Caller-ID I know it’s important. Anyone else – I’ll call them back. The trouble is, if someone calls you here, they will not stop at simply calling once and leaving it at that. They will call and call and call, every minute or two. By God, you WILL take my call! Oh, you think so, eh?
So why rehash all of this? Just more blog filler on an otherwise creatively slow day? Nope. Well, okay, maybe. But it is an endless source of amusement for me, seeing these guys and girls falling all over themselves just to answer a friggin’ phone. And I do like ranting about such stupid stuff.
Then today a friend sent me a story from CNN about a man who was severely burned in a California hotel room. The origin of the fire was traced to his
But a story like this…this one singular example…PROVES to me that cell phones are evil and must be removed from the planet at once.
Okay, I’m kidding obviously. I’ll be the first one to attest that cell phones are terrific tools, a wonderful invention. But they have their place and we must be judicious in their use.
Just don't try telling that to the people of Guanaja.
14 January 2007
There is a new place in Guanaja called Manatee – that is to say “a new place to drink.” Hansito, the guy who owns it, like most bar owners down here has a reputation for drinking that is legendary. People have been suggesting I go there since it opened at Christmas. And so Friday night we did. Just four of us, but some others had promised to show up also. Got there around 7:30.
Nice bar. Big, open-air, sparsely decorated, not-quite-finished look about it. Little clear area where the pool table is going to go, and another clear area with a drum kit set up and a bass guitar hanging on the wall. Pool? Live music? The prospect of those two things is pretty enticing. (Alas, no live music that night.)
Right off the bat, with our first round still sitting on the bar, our cook Daniel calls out, “Let’s do shots!” and I thought to myself, This is not gonna be good. I mean, I’m getting a little old for this. Ah, well, I vowed to cut things off early so we didn’t get too crazy.
It was one of those We all had a good time…I think…kind of nights. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say that we all drank way too much and leave it at that – except that we didn’t cut it off early as planned, unless you consider sunrise early, in which case…
I like getting drunk. I shouldn’t, because it usually lets the real me out for a stroll. And that’s not always a good thing. Issues? I got ‘em, baby! I say and do things that I probably(?) shouldn’t. Things I regret deeply the next day. Luckily, most of the time I stop short of an all-out bar-fight. God does protect drunks, is all I can figure.
The older I get, the worse the hangovers have become. I know this, but I am a slow learner, evidently. And Saturday was particularly bad. I literally wanted to kill myself. I’m glad nobody needed the helicopter that day to go to the hospital, because I would have fought them for a place in the ambulance. I thought about medevacing myself down to La Ceiba. I could just see the puzzled expression on the faces of the medics. “Senor pilote? Que pasa? Donde esta el pasajero?” But the noise and vibration of the helicopter ride would have been too much torture to endure even for forty-five minutes.
Around four-thirty Saturday afternoon, one of our foremen arrived accompanied by some friends and relatives and beer. Unbeknownst to me, an impromptu barbecue had been called. People will often visit us on weekends. It’s analogous to taking a drive out into the country, I guess. Sometimes they call ahead, sometimes not. Normally, I appreciate the spontaneous nature of the people here. But it can mess with other plans though. (And at this point I was still contemplating suicide.) I had been invited over to an island owned by some friends to watch the Saints football game in the evening, which I was looking forward to. But there was no way now.
So we all sat around outside eating steak and chorizo tortillas while a cacaphony of cell phones beeped, buzzed and sang (which of course they could not not answer). Faithful readers will be aware of my hatred of cell phones. And I noticed something: cell phones don’t ring anymore. Even mine doesn’t have a “ring-ring” option. They only play various tunes. One guy of the group had a phone that played the old Nokia theme and I thought to myself, Man, now there’s a classic oldie! I had left my own cell phone inside the house. Naturally, there were a half-dozen missed-calls on it when I went back inside.
I’m still young enough to enjoy a good time, as we did Friday night. But I’m old enough to realize that I don’t have all that many days left, and I absolutely detest wasting them, as I did most of Saturday.
But we do have fun down here. Lordy, do we have fun…
10 January 2007
It is a sad fact of life here in Honduras: Anything that is not securely tied down or locked up will mysteriously "grow legs" and walk away. We've had it happen so many times now that it's just funny and reminds us that we're not being as diligent in securing our things as we should be. And here's something unbelievable: One of our (former) workers stole a little propane torch from us. We needed it, so we "borrowed" it back. After a while, he had the gall to ask us to return it. Our own torch! (The subject of Guanajarians and their rampant thievery could be the subject of a long, long post.)
Coincidentally, I was given a tour of the Galaxy Wave by the owners before scheduled service was begun. The boat is new, comfortable and impressive. The owners seem very safety-conscious. As I walked the decks, I wished that we had something like this that ran between Guanaja and La Ceiba. It could be a huge convenience, especially if they were to use the old municipal dock near downtown. But no. Guanaja just doesn't have the economy to support such a thing. We're lucky to have airline service, I suppose.
Mr. Peters may have his concerns; the government of Honduras quite obviously does not share them. In the U.S., we say that regulations are usually "written in blood" - that is, they're the result of the injury or death of innocent Americans. But no such mechanism or even long-term federal conscience exists in many of these third-world countries. There is simply no accountability.
On the other hand...
My foreman had been down on the mainland for a week just after New Year's. He was returning the other evening on the yacht. (I'm sorry, every time I say "yacht" I chuckle to myself. It's like in the movie "Back To School" - the way Rodney Dangerfield used to do that classic Rodney eye-roll whenever he addressed the head of the school, Dean Martin, played by Ned Beatty.)
To even get to the yacht from La Ceiba, passengers must take a bus east to the town of Trujillo. The yacht is slow, and in heavy seas the ride is uncomfortable to the extreme. It is not an easy journey. They tell me that it sometimes breaks down enroute.
Anyway, Devant (the foreman) called when the boat was leaving Trujillo. Should get in around 6:00 or 6:30 or so, he said. By six I was on the government dock, waiting. ...And waiting. Finally, around 7:15 a light appeared on the horizon. A boat slowly approached. But instead of coming directly into Banacca, it circled completely around the Cay. Taking the scenic route, as it were. One of my workers happened to be waiting for it also. He told me that it did not come directly to the pier because even though there is a clear and deep channel for boats approaching from the south, the yacht had already run aground not once but twice! And not in bad weather, either. Same captain both times, a guy who has been living and sailing in Guanaja for over twenty years. I thought to myself, did this captain once work for Exxon? Did he once pilot a ship called The Valdez?
There are little hand-held GPS navigators for sale now that cost less than $100. Such a device could easily be used to accurately navigate the most intricate course. Perhaps boat captains in Guanaja do not make enough money to afford such a luxury.
Devant told me that he'd bought a motorcycle and was bringing it up on the boat. Sure enough, as it docked I looked through the windows and saw that it was right there with him in the passenger cabin. Yes, yes... I know...third-world country and all. But it is still strange to me, how informal things are down here with regard to safety on both the federal and personal levels. Even after the tragic accident that resulted in the death of our young front-end loader driver Javier, you still see people driving boats at night without lights all the time. And nobody seems to care.
Living here is a big adjustment, let me tell you.
09 January 2007
I didn't set out to be an air-ambulance pilot. In fact, it's not something that ever really appealed to me. Don't get me wrong, using a helicopter to transport the sick or injured is one of the most noble uses of the machine. And there are plenty of pilots for whom that particular task is rewarding enough to make it their career. Not me. I just love to fly. My enjoyment of flying comes from the simple act of doing it, of moving the controls and making the aircraft do exactly what I want. Not the job the ship is doing.
But lately, "medical flights" are about all I seem to be doing. I hesitate to call them "medevacs" (as in medical evacuations), because that term implies a certain sense of life-and-death urgency to the mission. And that is not always the case here.
But it was the case on Monday. I got the call shortly after lunch. An elderly man had a stroke on the cay, and the good doctor determined that he needed to be in the hospital as quickly as possible. We've got this down to a science now. I ran out to the ship, quickly converted it from passenger configuration to accomodate a stretcher, hopped in and hit the Battery Master switch...no juice! Yikes! I called the doctor, said we had a slight problem, and that I would call her back shortly.
Now, I had just written up this big, technical description of what the problem was and how I fixed it. By the fifth or sixth paragraph I was putting myself to sleep. It was taking longer to explain than it was to fix! Ah, but through the beauty and magic of computer editing you may now be spared having to read all that crap. With the mere tap of a key...all gone! Suffice to say that it was slightly more complicated than a dead battery but less complicated than a splenectomy. I was back in business in about an hour.
(For incurable insomniacs, email me and I'll send you "The Saga Of The Battery Relay." That should put you right out! If you're really desperate for sleep, I can send it as a wave file with me verbally describing the process - oh boy!)
Anyways...thusly juiced up (electricity-wise), I zoomed over to the airport and picked up my passenger and the doctor. I really, really, really need a ground-level heliport on the Cay, so people don't have to be brought over to the airport by boat.
We got the man down to the hospital in good time, so the doctor said. Time will tell if the stroke will have any lasting effects. Fingers are crossed.
TOUCHY SUBJECT TIME:
I get a lot of personal credit for these medical flights. Everywhere I go, people know my name. "Oh, Bob The Helicopter Pilot!" they say with a smile of recognition. They treat me special, as if I've done something...you know...special.
But I haven't. I am just a driver. The accolades make me uncomfortable. The real credit goes entirely to my boss for bringing the helicopter down to Guanaja and hiring a pilot to fly it when he's not here, which is about half the time. He is a pilot too, and a damn good one. He could have just left the ship in the hangar instead of making it available to the town. The credit goes to him for telling me, "Don't ask any questions. If the doctor says fly, then fly." This makes it very easy on me. I don't have to make any tough decisions; we let the doctors do that.
But my boss, God love him, shies away from the limelight. No matter what the situation, he always cleverly deflects the credit and generously lets others bask in the glow. I could strut around here like Mr. Big Shot, but I would feel like an imposter. Still, it is incredible to work for such good people as my boss and his wife. It literally doesn't get much better than this.
I heard that our local doctor has said that he keeps waiting to wake up from this dream...a dream in which he has a helicopter available to speed people off the Cay and down to the mainland. Man, you hear stuff like that and it puts a lump in your throat.
Most of us live our routine, unremarkable lives, working for a living and struggling just to get by each day. We don't often get a chance to do real good things for society. I have been given this awesome opportunity to be part of a team that can, when called upon make a real difference in the lives of some people in our community. And I appreciate it greatly. I just wish that people would direct their admiration and respect at the man who truly deserves it, not the taxi driver.
05 January 2007
But there is also, apparently, a scheduled ferry boat that goes between here and the mainland. Recently, it was mentioned to me that someone would be travelling down on "the yacht."
The thing they call "the yacht" goes from Guanaja to Trujillo, the closest town on the mainland, about forty miles directly south of here. From Trujillo, a bus goes to La Ceiba. It is supposedly an easy trip and the total fare is very reasonable.
So I got curious about this "yacht." Today, I happened to be in town when it was at the dock. And here it is...
Would YOU let your family ride on this?
Right-click on the picture and select "Open Link In New Window." You've got to see this thing bigger than on the blog page. Then come back.
Dear God, it's horrible! It is the most UN-seaworthy thing I've ever seen in my life. Yacht? More like deathtrap, if you axe me.
Again, right-click on the picture and view it full-size.
When it comes to airplanes, the government of Honduras is unbearably fussy. But when it comes to boats, evidently, anything goes!
(By the way, those things that look like giant clothespins are actually regular-size clothespins; I had to climb up on someone's porch to get that shot and there was a clothesline in the way that I didn't see.)
02 January 2007
Our runway is narrow, with no turn-around areas at the ends. The airplanes that are normally used here necessarily have narrow landing gear and a tight turning radius. Why Atlantic decided to send the lumbering, old Hawker-Siddley HS-748 into Guanaja is anybody's guess.
When it did, it pulled the nosewheel sideways a bit, causing the nose tires to pull off their rims and go flat. Isn't it comforting to know that airliners are so fragile?
Soon, the passengers were re-boarded and the plane left, only four hours behind schedule.
Notice the security (or lack of it). Notice how close people stand to the runway. It's a very strange world here.
Because the airport was closed for so long today, flights were backed up. Once the runway was back in service, planes came in a stream to move the hoard of very disgruntled passengers. In the background below, a Shorts 360 and a LET-410 (one of the ugliest planes ever designed) load up prior to departure with a certain helicopter in the foreground. It's so egotistical - it just *has* to get its face into every story I write.