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?

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas

So back in November at Thanksgiving I was complaining that I burned the turkey. I said that my experty calibrated oven couldn't have been at fault - oh no! Had to be the stupid, wrong directions on the turkey itself.

Umm. Well...

Long story short, the thermostat in my oven is apparently going on the fritz. Turns out that when I put the dial on 325 degrees the oven goes to 450. Or 200. It varies. To actually *get* 325 I have to set the dial to...ahhh, something less. And then something more. The oven won't keep a constant temperature. In retrospect, I'm lucky I didn't burn the house down last time.

Anyway, today I'm watching over the turkey like a mother hen. Ouch. Even I wince at that strained metaphor. But watching it, I am: constantly adjusting the temperature selector to maintain that proper and exact 325 degrees. So far, so good. The presents are wrapped and ready to go. The tree lights are a-twinkling. I feel very good - who doesn't love Christmas Day?

We're doing Christmas at Matt's, as usual, since he's got the bigger house with the bigger kitchen and the bigger family to go with it all. He's working on the side dishes as we speak...or at least I hope he is. The gathering will include his brother Jacob, sister and her husband, who-knows-which-other family members (maybe his real dad), and a few lone stragglers who don't have anywhere else to be. We've got plenty of food and plenty of wine.

Matt's house has always been a central gathering place. It started back when Hurricane Ivan hit. He and I broke out our extensive camping/cooking gear, and managed to eat fairly normally while most other people were "feasting" on grilled hotdogs and hamburgers and cold-cut sandwiches. I made chicken and sausage jambalaya one day and a chicken pasta salad that you would not believe how good it is on another. No hamburgers for us!

This year, Alisha has requested/demanded that along with the turkey I bring a big tub of my patented crabmeat potato salad. It's not a complicated recipe (basically just potatoes, crabmeat, and mayo plus some seasonings) but the taste is out of this world. There is never any leftover - and I always make tons! So it's done, and it has taken all of my self control to keep from grabbing a big mixing spoon and shoveling it into my mouth.

I haven't been flying much lately. But the few times we've gone anywhere, the Boss has requested that I put one of the Christmas music stations on the XM radio. Now look, I like Christmas music as much as the next guy, but I'm friggin' SICK of hearing Dean Martin's "Rudy, The Red-Beaked Reindeer" or the 99-millionth version of "Winter Wonderland."

And so I'd almost forgotten about my favorite Christmas song of all time, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses. It's not a Christmas song in the traditional sense; it was one of the first "Alternative" Christmas songs.

Written in 1981 and recorded during the summer of 1982, it's a bittersweet tale of a harried, lonely, kind of depressed city girl. She met a guy last winter in a ski shop, and all year long she's been trying to hook up with (not in the modern sense but in the early-80's "get-together" sense). But things always keep sabotaging their plans: she gets a bad sunburn in the summer, his car craps out at Halloween. So she decides to spend Christmas alone, cooking dinner on Christmas Eve. But - and I can relate to this - she's forgotten the cranberry sauce.

The A&P has provided me
With the world's smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn, guess what I forgot!

So back out into the cold she goes, to the only store that's open. I won't spoil things if you're not familiar with the song, but let's just say it has a happy ending. It's up in the player at the top of the screen, and it's worth a listen.

I love the song because it reminds me of Christmas in New York City - which, although beautiful in its own way, I hope I never have to endure again as long as I live. I love the song because it's optimistic...that it gives us hope that life does sometimes work out. I love the song because it's about people who are cool with spending their Christmas alone, which a lot of us do. And I love the song because it fades out with this incredible Dixieland riff that sounds so...un-Christmas-y.

I have spent Christmas alone in the past, intentionally or not. I have spent Christmas lying on a beach on a tropical island, soaking up sun and drinking rum. I have spent Christmas at work, like my friend Hal Johnson is doing today, sadly. It's always better to spend Christmas with family and loved ones, of course. But the important thing is to recognize why we're marking and celebrating this day at all.

And I can't let it go by without expressing the hope that...wherever you are, whomever you're with (or not with), and whatever you believe...that you have a wonderful, warm, joyful, rewarding Christmas. In other words, I wish for you the same as I have for me.


Christmas Wrapping Lyrics

21 December 2008

It Is Being What It Is - Part II

Sometimes, the responses to blogposts can get longer than the post itself. I wanted to reply to the comments made about my last post, and it got so long I figured I'd just make another post.

Okay, I should explain.

I didn't mean to tarnish all pilots with a single, broad brush. I didn't mean to say that all pilots are deficient or defective or socially inept. It's just that "some" of us are. Okay, a lot of us are. I mean, I've been in aviation pretty much full-time since 1976, which makes it...what?...nearly 33 years?! Ouch. In that time, I've come to know an awful lot of pilots. And we share a number of common characteristics.

The thing is, the majority of us think we're quite normal, well-balanced and well-adjusted individuals, thank you very much. We don't recognize those little...umm, "peculiarities" that endear us so much to our loved ones. Or if we do, we minimize their importance: "Well, I'm not that bad." Yes, you are.

In my previous post (just below, in the weird way blogs are "published") I rattled off a few character traits of mine - at least, the ones I'm aware of. One is my absolute intolerance for stupidity in others while often demonstrating truckloads of it myself. Blogger Michael/Redlefty aptly noted, "Pilots don't have a monopoly on this one!"

True, Michael. But when combined with my other pilot-qualities it adds up to something bigger than the parts. Just like the Beatles! But in a bad way.

I also said that I did not consider myself funny, which is true. "Other" blogger Bob disagreed.

Well Bob, anyone can be funny in print when you can spend time refining and polishing the jokes. It is in real life where I'm often tongue-tied and slow on the uptake. Like George Costanza in "Seinfeld," I'm always thinking of great comebacks long after the moment has passed.

Fellow blogger/helicopter pilot/friend Hal Johnson has been told that he's well-liked at work, but feels instead like a "grumpy, middle-aged bastard."

I think that's because by the time we get into our 40's and 50's, we've seen enough of life that we're not awed by too much anymore, and we get fed up with the bullshit.

On the other hand, my friend Matt, who's just 27, is still on a constant voyage of discovery - both of himself and the outside world. He's still experiencing things for the first time, and life is still new and fresh. Heh. That'll change, and probably soon. In the meantime, he's fun to be around, and he keeps me feeling young when *I* start to feel like a grumpy, middle-aged bastard.

Hal also mentioned that he doesn't feel well-liked in new settings. His wife attributes it to Hal's imposing tallness and the sense that people are leery around him until they find out he's not an...let's just say "ogre."

I understand Hal's viewpoint, but I'm just the opposite; I'm usually immediately comfortable wherever I'm at. It's a knack I picked up somewhere along the way when I realized that most people have at least some levels of anxiety due to feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness - even the high-rollers and heavy-hitters I sometimes meet now with the Boss. They're just human, and we humans are often uncomfortable meeting new people. Once you understand that, you can exploit it. Okay, "exploit" is maybe not the right word. What I mean is that if you realize that everyone else in the room is feeling some level of emotional distress, then you can relax! Well it works for me.

But it's not always a good thing. One of the negative comments that was relayed to and about me recently was that I had a haughty attitude, always "..acting as if I owned the place," and as though I thought I was better than everyone. What can I say...guilty?

These blogs provide little one-dimensional glimpses into the lives of people who are sometimes very fully two-dimensional. In the PC days (that is, pre-computers) I was able to meet some well-known writers who I presumed would be fun, fascinating people to know, only to find out that they were, um, not. So I cannot vouch that you'd like me.

Apparently...and luckily...liking the writer personally is not a prerequisite for subscribing to blogs. There is one blog I read, written by a guy - an insensitive jerk - down in south Florida who often comes off as a real, complete A-#1 asshole. Yet he makes these little, short posts nearly every day and sure enough, for some reason I click on him every day to see the update and find out what's going on in his town. But I absolutely would not not want to meet this guy, no way.

I guess you just can't please everybody.

18 December 2008

It Is What It Is

I got word recently that a person I know said some bad things about me. This news was relayed with a tad more glee than I would have liked, but what the hey? The bad-mouthing was nothing particularly hateful, nor was it surprising. I've been called a "a-hole" in the past - it was not the first time - sometimes behind my back and sometimes to my face. Usually it's combined with other words...modifiers like pompous and arrogant and one that begins with the letter "f." And sometimes all three!

For the record, my "offense" in this case was one of non-contact with a person to the point of avoidance, something I do not deny. There are just people I'd rather not associate with. So sue me.

Not long ago, I worked briefly for a non-aviation consulting group. It was lucrative and kind of fun, but it wasn't aviation! and my heart just wasn't in it. My coworkers were, no surprise, non-aviators. They were pleasant enough people. Our workspace was all open and social. And I obtusely thought we all got along great.

It turned out that some of them disliked me intensely. I found this out at a Christmas party when people's tongues were well-lubricated with beer and scotch and rum. And honestly, it was troubling at the time. I mean, we all want to be liked, right? Isn't that part of our human nature? And so the fact that my charming personality couldn't win these people over was rough. Okay, maybe I didn't lose any sleep over it, but I confess that I did wonder why?

Then again, I am a pilot. And we pilots can be...well...we're different. Sometimes our social skills leave a little to be desired. I know that "I am a pilot" is a weak excuse for anything. But understand, my whole life has revolved around being in absolute, complete control while involved in a certain endeavor. This manifests itself in my non-flying life in many ways. To wit: I am often overbearing and insistent and intense - a classic control freak. I think very linearly and logically. I view most things as problems needing to be solved. I am intolerant of "stupidity" while demonstrating vast quantities of it myself. I can be quite neurotic. I have a morbid sense of humor, and a nonchalant view of death (hey, it happens to all of us sooner or later - some pilots just go sooner).

I realize these things, and I usually try to ameliorate or at least modulate them, with varying degrees of success. My family and close friends seem to understand - at least, they put up with me. (Although frankly I don't know how Matt has for so long. I sometimes think he looks up to me as an example of how-not-to-be-when-I-get-to-be-his-age.)

I know some people who openly state that they don't give a rat's ass if anybody on the planet likes them, and they act as though that is their actual goal. People like that usually get what they're seeking. On the other hand, it's not good to be a "pleaser," somebody who goes out of his/her way to be liked. I try to find some middle ground.

We all have this self-image that we think we project to the outside world. Me, I like to think that when people see me they see a combination of Rodney Dangerfield, James Bond, Alan Alda, Charlie Rose, and Chuck Yeager. ...In other words, someone who's funny and likes to have a good time, who's self-assured, glib, smart, and the best damn pilot on the face of the planet. However, I suspect that some people are not getting that. Hmm.

And don't get me wrong! I'm not looking for gratification or validation. I do the best I can - we all do. But I know that you cannot be loved by everyone. So, I guess what it comes down to is that our self-image and our real image can be quite different. Some people will see me as Good-Time Bobby, and others will see me as Bob the Pompous A-hole.

In the end, there's not much you can do about it. It just is what it is.

16 December 2008

On Humor - Jeff Dunham

I'm not a funny guy. I love to laugh, but I'm not really good at making others laugh - except unintentionally, like when I make one of my many and various goof-ups (and I do). But I do believe that one of the more important secrets to life is having a good humor about you - to see the lighter side of things and not take stuff too seriously. I want people to meet me and go, "Man, that guy loves life!" And afterward, I want them to remember me as a guy who was always in a good mood.

This may sound strange, but every morning, before my day gets started - like when I'm driving to work - I think about funny stuff. And not just mildly amusing stuff, but really hilarious things that make me laugh out loud. I think that if you're crabby when you wake up, then there's a certain psychological momentum that'll keep you crabby throughout the day. And there are certainly enough crabby people in the world, thank you very much. I just don't want to be one of them. If you try to make yourself laugh, it'll lighten your mood - which can only be good, right? And to be honest, it doesn't take much to crack me up.

Speaking of which, the other night Matt, Alisha and I went to see this comedian named Jeff Dunham. Maybe you've seen Dunham on TV or YouTube. He's a ventriloquist - something I thought was a lost art. Throughout the history of comedy there used to be plenty of ventriloquists around. But that type of humor fell out of favor, and they pretty much all disappeared along with the Ed Sullivan Show. So Dunham (who happens to be a helicopter pilot, which earns him high marks in my book) has the field to himself. He's been doing comedy since the late 1980's and has appeared on the old Johnny Carson Tonight Show.

Humor is very personal, and certainly Dunham may not be everybody's cup of tea. His act covers many subjects, some of which are quite offensive and adult in their content. Yet I saw plenty of families with their young teenage kids attending. The couple next to me brought their thirteen year-old daughter along. I questioned the wisdom of that. "Oh, most of the jokes will go right over her head," the wife said. Man, I hoped so. I hope the language and the racist stereotypes did too.

I think Dunham's funny. His act is edgy and...well, kind of bizarre. He's got seven dummies, and he'll use most of them in every show. Each, of course, has its own personality.

The amazing - and somewhat weird - thing about Dunham is his, err- relationship with the dummies. I mean, you know that it's just him giving them a voice, but still...there comes a time in his act when you go, "There's something going on here..." Check this short clip out. It's Dunham and "Achmed, the Dead Terrorist." Achmed's signature catch-phrases are, "SILENCE!" and a terse, bleating, "I KEEL YOU!" You'll see...

I'd seen many of Dunham's video clips on YouTube (and you can too!). I wondered if his show here in Pensacola was just going to be a rehash of old material. Not to worry, there were only a couple of things - very little, actually - that were familiar (like Achmed's soon-to-be-classic Christmas song, "Jingle Bombs"). And even they were still funny.

One major plus was that some of Dunham's material was pretty fresh. Even he was cracking up at some of the jokes. I like that...I like a comedian who's not so jaded by the job, the industry and the grind of touring that the material isn't even funny anymore. I like a comedian who keeps coming up with new material. Dunham honestly looked like he was having a good time up on that stage. And at some of his own bits, he'd crack up sufficiently that he'd lose his place. It's what makes a ventriloquist act different from regular old stand-up. And it is exactly that spontaneity and improvisational quality that makes watching such live comedy (and live music for that matter) so enjoyable.

In fact, during the finale, when Dunham pulled out his rednecky, "Bubba J" doll (part of the act with which I was not familiar), the admittedly rednecky people in audience in the packed-to-the-rafters Pensacola Civic Center (who evidently were familiar with it) began "singing along" with the jokes and calling out punchlines a split second before Bubba J did. Dunham initially seemed startled and taken aback. Then, he got into it and, with genuine glee continued the rest of that part of the act at a slightly slower pace to allow the audience to paricipate. It was a very "Rocky Horror Picture Show" moment. You could almost see Dunham thinking, "I gotta come back here!" And I hope he does.

What would this world be without humor and music? A pretty dreary place, that's what. But it's not, thanks to guys like Jeff Dunham. (And he's a helicopter pilot, too!)

Jeff Dunham's Website

Jeff Dunham Wikipedia Page

YouTube Videos

13 December 2008

Blissful Delirium and Dementia

Four a.m. - I like waking up early, but not this early. It was a splitting headache that woke me up. I hardly ever wake up with a headache anymore (especially when I haven't been drinking), but this one was a doozy.

I was not looking forward to the day. Later this afternoon, I've got to fly the Boss and three others up to some Christmas party in some town about an hour-and-a-half away. The return is scheduled for "around" nine o'clock, and you know what that means. I'll be lucky if we get back to the homedrome by eleven. Hanging around with a bunch of people I don't know at a party where I can't drink? Oh joy. And since the airport fixed-base operator (FBO) where we'll be landing closes at five p.m., I won't be able to hang out there. Which means I'll have to tag along with the boss to the party...which means I'll have to dress "nicely" instead of wearing my usual jeans-and-leather-jacket uniform.

Life sucks!

It was not just an ordinary headache, as I said. Not quite a migraine, but extremely annoying. Sometimes I can put up with a headache, depending on where the pain is focused. This one was getting in the way of conscious thought. And sleep. (Although truthfully I'd gone to bed early and had gotten my usual five-plus hours.) I realized that I was also in a fairly bad mood, separate from the headache, which is unusual for me.

A couple of extra-strength Excedrins didn't even begin to make a dent in the pain, so I turned to my one sure-fire cure: Music. I don't know why, and cannot explain it, and it sounds illogical as hell, but listening to loud music - mostly rock music that would give other people a headache - can cure my mine. Like I said, don't ask me why; it just works, ever since I was a teenager.

The same way I've never had a headache while flying - at least, not that I can remember. Even if I have a headache right before going up, it disappears once I'm in the cockpit and strapped into the seat. Maybe it's the brainpower that's required to concentrate on aviating...or maybe flying causes the release of certain chemicals in my little pea brain...I don't know. All I do know is that I cannot ever remember flying with a headache. Just doesn't happen.

But the helicopter was safely tucked in its hangar, an hour away. Flying was not an option (plus I was still in my pj's). So I went out to the livingroom and lay down on the couch with the Christmas tree lights on and the iPod turned up loud.

Coincidentally, "Wrong Number" by The Cure was already playing. Stroke of luck; The Cure! Just what I needed. I love The Cure. And "Wrong Number"...so multi-layered and textured, almost to the point of being cacaphonous - jeez, what a terrific song.

It was followed by Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man." One thing I'd never noticed - even after listening to that song as often as I have - is the incredible, McCartney-esque bass line. So expressive! I'd love to meet that bass player. Played that one a couple of times.

Widespread Panic's "Little Lilly" came next. Oh man... Swirling and ethereal, WP's music always takes me off into another dimension. Who needs drugs with music like Widespread Panic's?

Oh the lady like Beatle songs
The words are off but they don't seem that wrong
"She came in through the bedroom window
Like a blue bird, like a blue biiiiiiirrrrddddd"...

Then it was the haunting "Back To Black" by the train wreck that is Amy Winehouse, which I almost skipped over even though I love the tubular bells clanging through the song. But then I remembered getting on an airliner in Washington D.C. last year and hearing "Back To Black" over the p.a. system as we boarded. At the time, I chuckled because I was certain that Air Tran would probably not have let the song play if they knew the first stanza went:

He left no time to regret, kept his dick wet
With his same old, safe bet

Nice, Amy, nice. Thanks for the imagery. You gotta love Amy Winehouse. Now that's some world class self-destructive behavior. Will anybody be surprised to read of her death-by-overdose? Not me. (Sweetie, you better get yourself right with God, 'cuz you're probably gonna be meeting him real soon.)

There followed a strange combination of old and new songs by Three Dog Night, Coldplay, Oingo Boingo, Blue October, and the Electric Light Orchestra.

Ahh, ELO. I love Jeff Lynne, the wannabe-Beatle who ended up being the keeper of the flame. Perhaps ELO's most ambitious, can't-top-this album was 1977's "Out Of The Blue." Great stuff. But as good a songwriter/arranger as Jeff is, he could sometimes stumble, as in "Night In The City," the cut on my iPod.

Standing at the airport, looking down the strip
She was drying her eye, she was biting her lip
Seven-four-seven just left from gate eleven
And there's no turning 'round, cuz it's just leaving the ground
And getting higher...higher...

Standing at the dockside, looking out to sea
When I saw her but she did not see me
As she stood with no hope, because she missed the boat
And as her dreams sailed away, she headed back for the day
Back to the city...

Not quite enough syllables in that seventh line. I always laugh when I hear that awkward phrasing, turning the word "missed" into two syllables. "...As she stood with no hope, because she miss-ed the boat." I know Jeff must've wrestled with it. It sounded forced back then, still does now. But I like the 747 reference. Great song.

And finally it was, "Me and You and a Dog Name Boo," by Lobo, yet another song from the '70s. Damn! I need more modern music. But "Boo" is a great feel-good song with a great sing-along chorus...

Me and you and a dog named Boo
Traveling and a'livin' off the land
Me and you and a dog named Boo
How I love being a free man

...One of the few I'd consider doing in a karaoke bar. Just as well it's not in any of the karaoke libraries I've seen (yeah, I've looked).

Old songs don't go over well in karaoke bars patronized by young peoples, as I found out one unfortunate night after a very drunken, bordering-on-criminal rendition of Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show." Everyone was going, "What the hell song is THAT? Don't you know any Nickelback? Get that guy off the stage before he sings again!" Thankfully, I was among friends who understood the need for guys to do outrageously dumb things when they've had a few too many Rum and Cokes. At least I kept my pants on. That time.

I've really got too many old songs on my iPod. And I don't want to turn into one of these guys who only listens to music from the past. My friend Mike generously made me up a CD with a bunch of new stuff he thought I'd like. And he was right, it's all great! Where does he find this stuff? As you get older it gets harder and harder to to keep up with the new. I confess that I don't listen to the radio as much as I used to - not that the radio is even a good source of new music anymore. But at least radio was passive. Now you actually have to go find new music for yourself, and I don't have time for that. I want the old days back!

Anyway, after listening to all these songs (some more than once...some more than twice), my headache had long since melted away and I was feeling like myself again. I know it sounds corny and maybe a little fake, but my waking hours are filled with this...this...joy. I love life...love being alive. Some friends of mine call it a state of blissful delirium (with undertones of dementia). I don't know...I'm just always happy. And I don't like waking up in a bad mood.

I whipped off the headphones and got up. The sun was coming up. Clear as a bell out, going to be an awesome day - cold but awesome (only 38 degrees at six o'clock). Plus, I get to go flying! Attitude thusly improved, I made some coffee and sat down at the computer...

10 December 2008

A Bonanza of a Day

I've flown a lot of helicopters and airplanes, but one airplane I always wanted to fly but never got to is the Beechcraft Bonanza. On Monday I finally got my chance.

As you know, we're in the market for an airplane to augment our helicopter. We really do have a need for a plane. But in this economy, the Boss is understandably reluctant to pull the trigger. He fears that we'll buy something and it'll go down in value. "That may be," I tell him, "but just as real estate and the stock market will rebound, so will aviation. The plane we buy may very well lose value in the coming year, but it will most assuredly recover whatever it lost." The trouble is, we need it now. We cannot wait for the market to bottom out.

So we've been looking for something suitable. There are scads of models out there. Really, the selection is incredible. All have their various strong- and weak points. Some have one engine, some have two. Some are powered by piston engines, some are turbine-powered. Some are very fast, and some are more roomy than they are fast. (Roominess and speed don't usually go hand in hand.)

Enter the Bonanza.

The Beechcraft Bonanza is a legendary airplane. Amazingly, it has been in continuous production since 1947. Over the years it has garnered a reputation as a tough, dependable, safe, versatile airplane with superb flying qualities. In fact, it is the gold standard by which others in its class are judged.

Early Bonanzas (like the model 35, above) were identifiable by their unique "V-tail" configuration. Beech must have thought this was better/lighter/simpler/whatever. In reality it had no clear advantage over more conventional types of tails.

When Beech stretched the Bonanza (model A36, above) and made it a true six-seater, they built it with a conventional tail configuration.

A friend of our owns a very nice 1985 A36 Bonanza that he's been using to commute between his home in North Carolina and South Alabama. It's been very well taken care of, we know this. Recently, Tom (the owner) mentioned that he might be interested in selling it. Of course we had to take a look. We all met out at the airport.

It was a nice plane...needed a paint job, but the interior was clean and the engine had very low time on it. We talked for a while, and then Tom asked if I wanted to "go up and see how she flew?" This is pilot code for, "Let's go for a joyride!" He offered me the left (command) seat and I eagerly accepted.

Bonanzas have a very tall-but-narrow cabin, with big windows. You sit up high, in proper chairs (instead of reclining like a sportscar driver as in other planes). This gives the illusion of roominess, but the fact is that the cabin is not all that big. It is comfortable though. The back cabin can hold four people in what we call a "club seating" arrangement. Check out this publicity shot:

Looks roomy, doesn't it?

Tom coached me through the pre-start checklist. Once the engine was running, he set up the navigation equipment, and we were off. With just him and me onboard, we were light despite having full fuel tanks. We zoomed off the runway quickly and easily and were climbing like a rocket.

Away from the airport, we leveled off at 4,500 feet. The Bonanza's forte is that it's a classy ride and you travel in style. People think they're speedy, but the honest truth is that they are not all that fast. With the power setting that Tom routinely uses (he doesn't flog it), we were only indicating 162 knots (about 186 mph). Not bad, but not great. There are faster planes out there.

Had we been headed to our jobsite in Beaumont, Texas (about 350 miles to the west), we could anticipate being there in a little over two hours. It's too long a flight to even consider in the helicopter: easily 3.5 hours (or more) and a fuel stop to boot.

On the other hand, if Birmingham, Alabama was the destination (150 miles to the north), we'd be there in under one hour in the Bonanza. As a point of reference, it takes me 1:30 to get to Birmingham in the helicopter. The Bonanza would use about 20 gallons of gas to get there; the helicopter burns about 38.

After checking out the plane...making sure everything worked the way it was supposed to and finding only one minor "squawk," we headed back to the airport. Tom let the autopilot fly the approach, then took over at the end and manually made a (perfect) landing.

I don't know if we'll buy Tom's Bonanza. It has good and bad points. It would make some private owner a hell of an airplane; I'm not convinced that it's a good "corporate" plane as it sits. It needs some work, which means downtime, which means that it's not available to the Boss. And when the Boss buys something, he'll want to use it NOW. So honestly, we'll probably keep looking for something that is more "turn-key."

But it was fun flying the legendary Beechcraft Bonanza. It was everything it's cracked up to be, and I now understand why so many people lust after them and own them proudly. It is a high-quality airplane.

05 December 2008

Atheists Trying To Spoil Christmas

So the capitol city of Olympia, Washington decided to install a Nativity scene in their Legislative Building this Christmas. Those who believe that "freedom of religion" means freedom from religion screeched as expected. Coincidentally, a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation forced the state government to allow a plaque to be put up supposedly celebrating the (cough-cough) winter solstice. The plaque reads:

At this season of the winter solstice let reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the 50-pound sign was stolen and tossed into a nearby ditch. It was later recovered and returned. Point made.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was founded and is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. The FFRF believes that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a "wall of separation" between government and religion.

For the record, the Declaration of Independence makes it abundantly clear that there is a God. The very first sentence (a humongous, confusing run-on, explanatory sentence) refers to people's equal station on the planet, entitled to them through the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." The next section (The Preamble) asserts that all men are created equal, and that "...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

Hmm again. "Nature's God?" "Creator?" Whaaaaat?

Even the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution curiously only states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That is all. No mention of "separation of church and state." In fact, nowhere else in our Constitution or Bill of Rights (Amendments) is that phrase uttered.

So. Clearly, the Founding Fathers believed in a Creator/God. They were not uneducated dolts. Nor were they atheists. They were smart men, and they simply wanted their new government to be free from any religous influences or interference, and to be free to worship in any way they wanted without persecution by the government. We may not be a "Christian nation" but we are one that believes in God.

But wait. Isn't the very belief in a Creator/God a form of religion in and of itself? That is an argument that can be, and often is made. My own personal opinion (and the opinion of the majority of sentient, intelligent, reasonable, rational citizens of the U.S.) is that the evidence of a Creator is strong. No, that evidence may not be scientific, but that does not disqualify it as such. You don't need to be a member of an organized religion to believe in a Creator/God.

Okay, okay. So anyway, there is this guy named Dan Barker. He's the co-president of the FFRF and husband of the group's founder. He is also a former Pentacostal Christian minister. When people objected to putting that plaque up next to the Nativity scene, this is how he replied:

"If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we're all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Does he really believe...really believe that the mere display of a Nativity scene says that? Is this Dan Barker an idiot? Or does he just play one in sound-bites? It must be the former. Listen to what he says next!

"When people ask us, 'Why are you hateful? Why are you putting up something critical of people's holidays?' -- we respond that we kind of feel that the Christian message is the hate message. On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don't submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways."

Wow. This, from someone who was once a Christian minister? I guess if you're a hateful person, then hate is what you find when you look. That's pretty sad. More than that, one must really question the sanity of a person who would make such a remark. By spouting such bullshit, guys like Dan Barker and his FFRF do more harm than good to the cause of the unbelievers/atheists. If I were an atheist, I would go see about shutting him up and getting him some psychological help.

Bottom line: The construction of our government does not prohibit the display of a Nativity scene in a public building. It does not preclude the celebration of general holidays like Christmas. You want to display some atheist crap alongside the nativity scene? Fine. I might think you're trying to shove your views down my throat, but I won't try to stop you. Just don't be surprised if it gets stolen/vandalized by people who feel differently.

Does this mean I'm condoning what was done? Nah. What the thieves did was wrong. It's just that in the state of Washington, only about 7% of the residents identify themselves as "atheist." So in a city of 42,000 or so like Olympia, only about 3,000 would be atheists (plus some troublemaking visitors from Madison, Wisconsin). And if the other 39,000 would rather have a Nativity scene in the Legislative Building than some insulting poster saying that religion is nothing but a "myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," then I have no problem with that.

03 December 2008

Job Security

A lot of people - pilots included - only want to do the job for which they were hired. When I was at Petroleum Helicopters (for 13 years) I routinely heard other pilots say, "Hey, they hired me to fly, not answer the phone or make coffee." Or more annoyingly, "That's not in my job description." And this was long before the pilots were represented by a union.

The FAA dictated that our Operations Manual describe the duties and responsibilities of the various people in the organization, from the Director of Operations down to the Line Pilots. In the description of what we pilots do there was the line, "...or any other duty requested by the Chief Pilot," or words to that effect. Trouble is, some pilots ignore that admittedly vague last part.

Some of us would probably rather not be asked to do anything new or different. Maybe that was possible once. Now, the reality is that few of us have the luxury of a narrowly focused job description. The reality is that your employer can reasonably ask you do anything. You have a choice; you can do that of which you are asked, or you can quit. It's that simple. (Let's exclude those covered by union contracts that narrowly define and limit their duties.)

When I worked at the helicopter plant, money was continually tight. I knew it. Although we initially had a crew that came in weekly to clean, even that service was eventually cut. All of us emptied our own trash and refilled the copy machine and stuff. If you drank coffee you were expected to make coffee. If you took your trash to the big can and the big can was full, then you put a new bag in the bi can and took the full bag to the compactor.

When visitors would come to the plant, everybody pitched in to spruce the place up. I became the highest paid General Manager/Bathroom Cleaner in the Pensacola area. It reminded me that no matter what your qualifications are...no matter what your title is...no matter what you were hired to do, sometimes you've got to clean a bathroom once in a while. That's just life. You don't have to like it. Life doesn't care.

My current job title is "Corporate Pilot." However, I am and have already been a "go-fer," a truck driver/boat transporter, a cook, farm hand, mechanic, and probably a couple of things I've forgotten. Do I complain? Certainly not! I like my boss (who pays me very well) and I love my job which, at the end of the day is not very demanding.

And so this week finds me up at the boss's hunting camp, not as a pilot, but as a cook. Or more accurately, a cook's helper.

On nearly every weekend during hunting season, the boss invites friends, business associates, and guests to come up and hunt. We have a full-time staff. This year he had a party of six hunters scheduled for the first week in December, meaning there would be ten to twelve people to feed. But since the cook was unable to start just yet, the boss was in a bit of a bind. He asked if I would come up and help him cook. And so, just before sunrise on Monday I was on my way up to the airport to be up at the camp "as early as possible."

As soon as I got here I secured the helicopter - wouldn't need it again until Thursday or Friday. Then Johnny (one of the other employees) and I ran up to Selma on a grocery run. It's a good thing we took a pickup truck; we needed every bit of the room.

All through my career I've never objected to doing...whatever...was asked of me, above or below my pay grade. Sometimes you do our own job, and sometimes you help with the cooking even if you're not one. Monday night, the boss handled the steaks on the grill. Johnny and I did the side dishes. He did the salad; I did the potatoes, biscuits and rolls.

Fortunately, the real cook did show up yesterday around noon. I'm happy for that. I don't mind helping out (and still will), but it's always better to have those people who are really qualified do the job. I'm lucky in that I'm the only one in the company that can do mine. Talk about job security!

29 November 2008

Giving Thanks

Well I burned the turkey. Me! I can't believe it. I was cooking it at my house while we made the rest of the fixin's at Matt's house. I know that if Matt ever does get around to getting his pilot's license we'll get along great as copilots, because one thing he and I like to do together is cook. See, we both love to eat, ergo... And we work well together in the kitchen. So we decided to give Alisha the day off from cooking and do a meal for others who have nowhere else to go on Thanksgiving. We'd take care of everything. Heh.

The plan was to do the turkey at my place, and while it was cooking I would head over to Matt's to help prepare the rest of the mean. He had a recipe for dressing that he said was out-of-this-world that he wanted to try. Mostly, we just usually do the Stove-Top thing, because: a) It's so easy that any idiots (including us) can do it; and b) It's delicious! But Matt wanted to try this complicated dressing/stuffing recipe that he'd gotten from his aunt. The ingredients with respect to certain brand names were very specific. Not stuff you'd find on the shelves at Wal-Mart.

The directions for the turkey said 5:30 to 6:00 hours at 325 degrees for its weight (20 pounds). But I just had a feeling it wasn't going to take that long. Nevertheless, I put it in the oven at 8:00 am and left, worrying that when I returned I'd find the firemen hosing down the smoldering pile of ashes that had once been my house. Bad idea.

I got back to the house around 12:30. The house hadn't burned down, but the oven was smoking pretty good. My parakeets had flown over to the phone and were trying unsuccessfully to peck "911" with their little beaks, poor things. The built-in pop-up thingee on the turkey had already popped. I stuck a thermometer in the breast, looking for 185 degrees. I was dismayed to see the needle go right up to 200. Oops! Four-and-a-half hours, not six! Damn you, directions! And don't blame my oven, either. I've calibrated the temperature setting on the knob with the actual temperature in the oven. I am a pilot - I am anal like that. Well, not anal enough to actually watch over something as it cooks, just anal about some things.

Matt's out-of-this-world dressing recipe called for boiling then shredding a chicken and then adding that to the mix. Needless to say, we weren't about to boil any chicken when Wal-Mart sells broiled chickens for four bucks. Boiled...broiled, what's the difference? So with the huge (over)cooked turkey in the passenger seat (the car smelled wonderful!), juices overflowing from the pan (should've drained it), I gingerly drove to Matt's, stopping on the way at Wal-Mart (of course they were open) to see if they had any of those pre-cooked chickens (of course they did - a ton of them.) At the checkout line, people were eyeing me with pity. "Oh, the poor, old, pathetic single guy, buying a Wal-Mart chicken to eat by himself on Thanksgiving." When I saw that look on the face of the lady behind me in line, I said, "IT'S FOR THE DRESSING!" loud enough for everyone to hear.

Finally, the meal started coming together. Aside from not boiling a chicken, we had to make a few other substitutions as well. Like, we used packaged chicken stock and we didn't put in the onions and celery as the recipe called for (personal choice there - dressing shouldn't be crunchy).

All in all, there was a ton of food. Too much food. Much more than necessary for the small number of people we ended up feeding. The no-shows had obviously found better places to be - a good thing, let's hope. And yeah, the turkey was kind of dry, but that's why God invented gravy. (Mmmmm, gravy!) The dryness of the turkey was more than made up for by Matt's aunt's dressing which was, I have to admit, out-of-this-world and worth cooking again on non-Thanksgiving days.

But even with all that wonderful food, we were good. We didn't gorge ourselves that badly (had to leave room for the two pies...and ice cream of course). In anticipation, Matt had worn his loosest baggy pants. I would have, but none of my pants are really all that loose since I'm still pretending that I have a 34" waist.

By the end of the meal, I had pretty much drained a bottle of red, and was feeling very good indeed. Matt and Alisha both drink white wine. When I visit, as a good guest I don't like to arrive empty-handed so I usually bring over a nice bottle of...well, red. And I usually have it all to myself. (How can people even drink white wine? Sheesh. Cold wine? Over ice?? Heathens!)

Good friend that I am, I took Matt's brother Jacob back to his house (he's between motorcycles at the moment). I left Matt and Alisha with the dishes and cleanup. And the turkey, by the way.

Although I wasn't with my own family this year, I was with the people who are equally close to me. I don't know whether I've adopted Matt, Alisha, Jacob and Gene or they've adopted me. Either way, they are my family now. And it was the best Thanksgiving ever. Of course, I say that every year. And every year I mean it, for every year it's true. They keep getting better and better as every year I have more and more to be thankful for ;-)

I hope your Thanksgiving was as enjoyable - wherever, and with whomever you spent it.

I wonder if Matt still has any of that dressing left over?

21 November 2008

Am I Happy?

To quote an spunky politician who recently garnered 14:59 of fame, "You betcha!"

In my previous post, I noted how low gas prices have gone. I suggested that one way of spurring the economy would be to find a way to keep those prices low. It has certainly cut my commuting costs, which puts real money in my pocket...money I can spend on other things besides gasoline.

As I predicted, gas prices have continued to fall. This is what I saw today. Even premium is under $2.00 per gallon!

So Matthew commented:
"...Striving for cheap gas prices is horribly short-sighted -- ignoring issues and challenges like environmental damage, community health, urban planning, technological innovation and alternative energy, and the long-term prospects of our reliance on what really is a horrible source of energy."

For starters, I do not agree that petroleum is a horrible source of energy. Of all the things that cars, buses and aeroplanes could have been powered by (e.g. coal, wood, hydrogen, etc.) petroleum is a wonderfully efficient source of energy. In over 100 years, we have not found anything as good. Now, if Matthew wants to take the Al Gore view that the internal-combustion engine and everything it powers (including our personal vehicles and how we use them) is "evil" or something, well, he is entitled to his opinion. It is one I do not share.

Cars of today are amazingly "clean" in terms of the amount of pollution they produce. But yes, of course we need to find an alternative - if you believe we are "running out" of oil, that is.

I flew an "oil guy" recently. Admittedly, he is no more of an expert on oil than anyone else on the planet, but he is in the business (president of a small oil company), which is more than I can say. I asked him about this peak oil theory. He waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, there may very well be more peaks in the future."

This was news to me. Like a lot of people, I thought that oil was the byproduct of dead dinosaurs or something, and that all the oil that's ever been made is all the oil that's ever going to be made. Finite resource, in other words.


Turns out that oil has been discovered in places that were thought to be nearly depleted, like certain Gulf of Mexico oil fields (see this article). The theory is that the planet is continuing to make oil.

Also, as seismic technology improves, we'll be able to find more oil that was heretofore undetected. Finally, as drilling and production technology improves, we'll be able to extract oil from areas that were previously thought to be uneconomically feasible.

So. Do I think that oil is going to "run out?" No.

But more than that, technology will advance; it does not stand still. I do not believe that everything that's going to be invented already has been invented. In time, some other power source for personal transportation devices will be found and developed. Or maybe we'll find a way of burning salt water like inventor John Kanzius is trying to do.

In the meantime, we're stuck with cars and airplanes (and helicopters) powered by fossil fueled, internal-combustion engines. There in no mass-transit in Smalltown, America. My job is such that I cannot car-pool to work. This is not our fault - meaning you and me, the general public. I don't think it's fair that we should be penalized for it. This is what we've been given to work with. Having said that, I'd like gasoline to be as cheap as possible for as long as possible. I don't care about other nations where consumers pay exhorbitant gasoline prices. Apples to apples, please.

Short-term, getting the U.S. economy to recover will depend a lot on those of us who still have jobs spending and investing the money we earn. My boss asked the other day if I felt confident enough to buy a new car right now? I said, "Sure! It just wouldn't be a Chrysler, Ford or GM vehicle...and even if it were I sure wouldn't spring for the factory extended warranty."

But I'm not in the market for a new car; the old Grand Cherokee soldiers on acceptably well, carrying everything I need either inside or on the roof or behind in a trailer. (Try that in your Prius or Yarus or Honda Fit!) And the VW Camper will soon get its new engine. And next summer, if gasoline is still under $2.00 per gallon, I may take off and do some of those trips I've been planning since I was a kid.

Am I happy? Oh hell yeah!

15 November 2008

$1.90 Per Gallon??

Are you kidding me: $1.90 per gallon? But yeah, that's what I saw it for today. And it'll probably go lower than that.

Back when gasoline went to nearly $4.00/gallon, we didn't think it would ever come back down. "Peak oil!" they screeched. "We're using it up faster than we can produce it! We're gonna run out!" All sorts of dire warnings were issued. India was going to take all of the oil...China too! Oh dear, what were we going to do?! Sales of big trucks went in the tank. People started riding motorcycles. Suddenly, my 20-mpg (highway) Jeep Grand Cherokee didn't seem like it got such great mileage after all. If I didn't have to fly, I didn't even think about going to the airport. Hell, the 120-mile round-trip burned six gallons, or put another way, cost me nearly twenty-five bucks!

But now gas is down to $1.90 and it's only costing me $38.00 to fill it up, not $77.00. That's money in my pocket, baby!

Hey Dubya and Obama, you guys wanna jump-start the economy? While you're throwing around those billions in of dollars in bailout money, how's about giving some to gasoline distributors and gas stations (not the big oil companies). Keep gas down around $2.00/gallon. I'll be going out to eat more often, buying more crap...hell, I might even take a trip or two in the car! How 'bout dem apples?

Subsidies for gas station owners! Now there's an idea we can all live and prosper with.

08 November 2008


...Or, New Orleans, Louisiana. Nobody pronounces it that way verbally, but it is often referred as such in print. And it's where I am tonight. We came over on Friday for the weekend. Landed right at the Superdome, which has a nice little heliport that's open 24/7 (and even has fuel!). It's never busy. The couple of times we've been here, I've never seen another helicopter. And it is so convenient.

Around midday today I flew Boss up to Baton Rouge so he could attend the Alabama/LSU oh-my-God, nail-biting-to-the-end, cliff-hanging college football game. The Crimson Tide did prevail, but only barely. We left Baton Rouge at around 8:20 for the 35 minute flight back. Fortunately, we had the wind on our tail. Good thing - Boss had a 9:00 dinner reservation. Night flying, especially around big cities, is enchanting. It's really something to see, and photographs simply do not do it justice.

So the Boss is off...wherever. I'm about to go wander around the French Quarter. My King Air pilot buddy Cass suggested a place called the Acme Oyster House, and the Boss heartily concurred. Luckily, my hotel is within walking-distance of the Quarter, the Oyster House is a mere couple of blocks away.

A lot of people love New Orleans. I'm kind of ambivalent about it. I mean, yeah it's cool and all...I don't know...I'm just not all that enthralled. The French Quarter - which is about all that's left of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city in 2005 - is so touristy and fake that walking down Bourbon Street gives one the impression of being at Disney World...a sick, demented, perverted Disney World. It just seems like a movie set to me.

We're not leaving until late tomorrow (Sunday). So I'll go grab some oysters and a beer or two...err, twelve, and then wander around seeing what kind of trouble I can get into. Surely there has to be a sleazy, smokey club where there are some authentic, old-timey New Orleans jazz musicians playing, huh? I mean, in a town like this, why settle for a run-of-the-mill "cover band?"

06 November 2008

Even More Basic Instructions

God, I love the humor of Scott Meyer. Especially this strip above. (Right-click on it and open it up bigger if you're like me and cannot read the print as it appears in this blog.)

It's unusual for a cartoonist to use a term like, "Ragnarok upon us?" Who would even know what that is? By using that term (from Norse mythology and defined as "the end of the cosmos, death of the gods, flooded earth and various other natural disasters"), I had to wonder if Meyer wrote the strip after the election? And no, Ragnarok is not upon us. Yet.

I wake up every morning in a good mood. Perhaps this is because I'm single. And I don't have a cat.

04 November 2008

Al Hirt: Java!

I feel sorry for kids these days, music-wise. As I've mentioned, when I was a kid we had "Top-40" radio stations in the 1960's and '70s that played a wide variety of music. So in addition to "pop" groups like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Supremes, I heard songs from "middle of the road" artists like Eddie Arnold, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong, as well as jazz artists like Ramsey Lewis and country artists like Roy Clark. WABC in New York played everything. It was such a strange mix of things that even my parents could (and did) listen without yelling at us to turn that damn thing down!

The music from the radio formed the soundtrack of our lives. WABC might play a Beatles song (pick one) and then Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime," followed by a Rolling Stones song, then Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," and finally "The Girl From Ipanema" by Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto. I didnt' know any better - I thought it was all just...well, music. I liked it all. Such combinations of genre would never fly with kids these days. Radio is too fragmented.

In early 1964 WABC began playing an uptempo little instrumental tune called "Java" by Al Hirt. A native of New Orleans, playing professionally since he was 16, Hirt was obviously influenced by the wealth of eclectic music emanating from that city, and he frequently played with the legendary Pete Fountain with whom he was friends. That his music would be played on the nation's biggest and most influential Top-40 pop music radio station must have been quite a shock to the 42 year-old Hirt.

I hadn't thought of "Java" in a long time...perhaps decades. But since I'd put the instrumental, "Love Is Blue" on my iPod it got me thinking about other instrumentals of the day. So as I do, I went right to iTunes and downloaded the Al Hirt song. As usual, listening to an old song under headphones in stereo is profoundly enlightening. You hear things you never heard before.

"Java" is fascinating to me in so many ways. For one thing, it's short - barely two minutes long. Hirt's trumpet and a ride cymbal dominate the sound. It's a rollicking Dixieland tune with a vaguely Spanish arrangement. iTunes notes that Hirt had "...a propensity for playing far too many notes." Which is true. He plays the hell out of that trumpet. Live versions are different; Hirt crams so many notes in that you wonder where he gets the breath and stamina. If only I could blow like that!

One odd thing about the studio version is that there are no "classic" drums to keep the beat as there would be in a typical rock tune, but rather just that rolling piano underneath and the ride cymbal above, with Al's glorious trumpet providing the melody and two saxophones on harmony. There are other bandmembers, but they are kept low in the mix.

I think I must be wierd sometimes. On the way home from the airport yesterday, I listened to "Java" over and over and over, picking out the various instrumental parts, feeling how they all fit together. With songs like this, I try to put myself in the studio as it happened, as the guys were laying down the tracks. "Java" sounds like it was incredibly fun to record. In fact, it's one of those "perfect" little songs I love so much. It's awesome - there's not a bad note to be heard. All the better is that it's an instrumental, with singers only "oohing" along in the background. Vocals would have ruined it.

Please go up and click on the song. Please listen to it with your headphones on. See if you don't agree that it's an awesome gem. (And even if you hate it, you'll only have wasted two minutes of your time.) In this day of computer-generated or electronically-enhanced instruments, it's nice to hear a virtuoso creating music with nothing but his own breath and a brass instrument. I love the electro-synth pop records of the 1980's, but music like that hasn't got anywhere near the heart and soul of simple songs like "Java."

We lost Al Hirt in 1999. He continued playing in New Orleans almost right up to the end.

01 November 2008

The C - Word: Life's Funny Like That

Rule #1: Doctors don’t know shit about cancer. You can take that to the bank. It is an absolute truth.

In the 1980’s, my dad’s voice started becoming raspy. Doctors diagnosed him with non-cancerous “nodes” on his larynx. It was the years of smoking, they said, adding that he’d better quit that. Periodically he would go in and have the nodes removed. The doctors always assured him they were benign. “Not a cancer cell in your body, Mr. Barbanes!” they told him time and again.

Right up until the day they removed his larynx. Because, you know, it was cancer after all.

After the operation, the doctors were again confident. “Not a cancer cell in your body, Mr. Barbanes,” they assured him.

And then soon he had his prostate removed. Bang, just like that. In for a checkup today…“Oops, gotta schedule you for surgery, like, um, tomorrow.” I learned about it after the fact, it was done so quickly.

Well that wasn’t the end of it, of course. The surgeons had their way with him, cutting off bits that no man should ever lose...bits *I* hope never to lose, please, dear God!

The oncologists kept him coming back and back and back for more torture. Test after test was done – always on an outpatient basis. Many of them were severely debilitating, bordering on barbaric. Dad’s cancer got worse and worse. It was hard to watch, and I’m sure it must have been harder for him to go through it. But dad never complained. He gritted his teeth and soldiered on. It’s what men of his generation did.

None of their tests or procedures did anything positive. After a while, I got the impression that the doctors really were merely experimenting on him just to see what “might” work in his case. It was then that I realized that doctors don’t know shit about cancer. They don’t know what causes it, don’t know how it spreads, and obviously don’t know how to cure it. Worse, they don’t even know how to treat it.

I’ll spare you the details. Eventually they gave him six months, max. They suggested a short-term terminal care facility. We took him home, arranged for hospice care. Their prediction was just about right.

I bring this up because of a fellow blogger named Debby. The link to her blog, Life’s Funny Like That is over on the right. She is a wonderful writer, very funny and warm. She has an upbeat way of conveying things in such an intimate way that it’s almost like reading an email from a friend. Even better, she updates often – more often than me for sure. Definitely a blog worth subscribing to. If you do nothing else, read this hilarious story about how she found the family cat dead in the street. Someone who can make a story like that funny is a very, very good writer indeed.

Well it turns out that Debby has cancer. It started when she discovered a lump in her breast. Things happened very quickly from that point on. She’s had surgery and will endure a regimen of chemo and radiation therapy. Oh what fun.

There are already certain similarities in Debby’s journey and my father’s. After her initial operation and a PET/CT scan, the doctors told Debby that she was cancer-free. She was confident enough to blog, “I had cancer!” Had, as in past-tense. Reading those words made me wince. Remember rule number one. Privately, I wondered why they were putting her through chemo and radiation therapy if indeed she had - past tense - cancer?

Well of course there’s now another lump in the other breast. The cancer is not beaten after all. The visits to the various doctors continue, as will the various treatments with more urgency now. The doctors confer and conflict and consult and advise and hedge and do all the bullshit that doctors do when they’re pretending they actually understand what’s happening inside a human body on a cellular level or deeper. What she is going through right now is awful to read about. To get the full story, you should start reading around the beginning of September and read “up.” It’s enough to make you want to scream.

Debby is a strong woman with an equally strong faith. I know that ultimately she'll be okay, whatever the prognosis. She knows the score: We're all going to die some day - we'd all just like to put that off as long as we can if possible. I wish her the best. Nobody needs this kind of stress and upset in their life and the lives of their family members. But I fear the worst. Because like I said - all together now...

Doctors don’t know shit about cancer.

29 October 2008

Too Cold For Me

Cold. Ugh. I hate the cold. And it is.

Unlike south Florida, this part of the state actually does get cold. Sometimes very, as in below freezing. November through February are not what you'd call balmy. During those months, you can expect that the daily temperature won't be much above 60. And when cold fronts come barreling through it can get down into the low-30's. Usually doesn't get too much colder than that though.

The good news here is that it never does stay cold for long. We do get "cold snaps" where people will freak out about freezing pipes and stuff. But after a couple of days it usually warms back up into the 60's, at least until another front comes through. I know, I get no sympathy from those of you who live in places that get really cold. But hey, that's why I live down here and now up there anymore.

It was a bit unusual for a cold front this severe to hit us this early in the season. But this morning it was 35 degrees as I got in the car to drive to the airport at dawn (naturally). I live fairly close to the water, which influences and moderates our local temperature. The airport, a good hour's drive north, was down below freezing. North of town, everything was covered with a layer of frost. You may appreciate the look of winter wonderland. I do not. Today the temperature didn't even get into the 60's where I was, which is not too far inland. At least the wind had died down.

Even in the coldest weather, guys are loathe to give up their shorts around here. It is quite odd. They wear them year-round, as if denying winter. On Monday, when the cold front first came through, I saw a guy wearing a ski-type jacket - and shorts, of course.

My family keeps inviting me "up" for Christmas. To New York, that is. I keep begging them to celebrate Christmas in July, because then I'd go! But they will not bend on this for some silly reason. I mean, I love my family, but I sure don't like suffering for them.

My mom lives out in Long Beach, California. None of the rest of us live on that coast. She is getting to the age where she really should be thinking about living...you know, closer to one or some of us kids. She went back for a visit just last month. My older brother had arranged an apartment for her north of New York City in a place run by some Catholic nuns. (He should have known how she was going to take to that.) My older sister has this huge old house in Albany in which mom could easily have her own private space. Failing that, there is an apartment just a block or so away that she could have.

But the winters in New York are just too damn hard. After mom got back to California, she told me that there was no way in hell she was moving back to New York. I said I understood. As people grow old, they don't stick around up north - they move to Florida! The solution for her may very well be to get her a place down here. Pensacola might not be as warm as Miami but at least it doesn't snow.

Thankfully it's supposed to warm up good by this weekend. I think I'll fire up the barbecue grill. I'm not gonna surrender to winter just yet. Where are my shorts?

22 October 2008

Magic Moments

I wasn’t actually in the best of moods. The Boss and I had gotten in late last night. By the time I put the ship away and got everything buttoned up, it was nearly midnight when I got home. Now this morning here I was at sunrise, on my way back to the airport for another long day of flying. In my old life as a charter pilot, the FAA rules mandated that we had at least ten hours of rest between duty periods. But “corporate” is not “charter” flying, and the rules are different.

It’s an hour from the house to the airport. I go against the traffic – it’s always seemed so, throughout all my life, me going against the grain. Everyone else is headed toward Pensacola, even at that early hour the roads are getting crowded with commuters. Comparatively I’m out for a jaunt in the country, iPod on as usual, volume up loud as usual.

There’s a shortcut across some farmland, a deserted little back road on which I can really haul ass. Cuts about ten minutes off from the other way. I take it.

Up ahead I see a pointy-nosed crop-duster plane working a field adjacent to the road. He zips across the road twice as he pulls up and dives back down. I flick the cruise-control off and slow down. And then something incredible happens.

Just at that point, the instrumental song, “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat starts on my iPod. With its lush strings, soaring violins, staccato horns and that weird harpsichord/oboe thing going on, it wasn’t exactly a rock song back in 1968. Nevertheless, it’s always been one of my favorites.

As I watched, the pilot approached me, the road and the wires alongside it, at the last second he’d start a zoom-climb. Then he heeled the thing over into a tight, steep swooping reversal turn, diving back over the wires and back to business. He squirted a little blast of chemical into one section, then hopped over a small stand of inconveniently placed trees and resumed spraying on the other side. When he reached the other end of the field, he pulled up and did it all again. And again, and again.

And I sat there transfixed, watching this delicate and graceful sunrise ballet set to the music of this intricate and pretty tune in my ears. It was one of those jawdroppingly magical moments in time. It was awesome to watch, an amazing, inspiring experience.

The pilot finished with that field and departed for somewhere else. I drove off with a lump in my throat, the same one I always get when I watch the Blue Angels fly. I try to be the best pilot I can be – that’s all any of us can do, right? But when I see other pilots who really know their stuff I get all jealous, like, “Dear God, why can’t *I* fly that well…that smoothly…that perfectly?” It’s pilot-envy, that’s what it is.

When I finally got there, the normally quiet airport had already come alive with activity. Charlie, the pilot for the Alabama Department of Forestry had already departed. As I stepped out of the car, I heard the approaching growl of the first of the usual gaggle of Navy T-34C trainers that are always buzzing around. Behind me, three powered-parachutes taxied out to take advantage of the calm morning air. I pulled the helicopter over to the fuel pumps, and waited for the call from the Boss that would signal the official start of my day.

It’s an odd life, this pilot business.


19 October 2008

Nice Day

I am, I suppose, a “morning person.” I hate it, but what can you do? Even when I try, I cannot sleep late. And this morning I was up before dawn, which at this time of year isn’t until about seven o’clock anyway. So this morning it was well before dawn. And when I wake up, I cannot just stay in bed, I have to get up.

Most mornings I’m just up and out, with no breakfast to speak of but maybe a cup of coffee on the fly. Sundays are different. On Sunday I have this ritual. I go out and get the paper. We don’t get the New York Times here, so I have to make do with its southern equivalent, the Pensacola News Journal or as we call it here, “the mullet wrapper.” Then I come home and fix myself a nice big breakfast, over which I’ll linger with the paper until blasted off my ass by whatever other pressing events of the day I cannot defer any longer. Sometimes I can drag Sunday “breakfast” out until well after noon.

It’s finally fall here in the Florida Panhandle. Mornings are crisp and cool. I’m not a fan of cold weather, but even I have to admit that it’s pleasant. And it was wonderful being out so early on what was shaping up to be a magnificently beautiful day.

I’d forgotten to get eggs on my last trip to the grocery store, so I did a quick run by McDonalds after getting the paper. I know, I know…you don’t have to tell me. But I really don’t eat fast-food that often. I can splurge on Sunday.

I’m always dismayed when I do go into fast-food “restaurants.” It seems as if we’re becoming a rude society full of impatient, intolerant, grumpy people. The cashiers at these places don’t even say “Good morning,” anymore, and the customer just starts off by blurting out his order, as if speaking to a robot, not a human. My sister Elizabeth said it best: “We don’t just want fast-food – we want instantaneous food!”

When my turn came, the girl behind the counter barely looked up from her register and said, “What would you like?”

“Well, a greeting, to start off with,” I said in mock-seriousness. I am a stickler for customer service. There was an awkward pause as the look on her face became cross between confusion and nervousness – like, “Uh-oh, who/what am I dealing with now?” Then I smiled at her and chuckled, “Good morning!” in a way that slowed the process down just a bit. Relaxing and realizing what was up, she smiled back and we exchanged pleasantries in a way that seems to be becoming a lost art. When I left, she smiled genuinely at me and gave me a cheerful, “Have a nice day!” There is no doubt about that: I said I would if she would. I left, happy with my Egg McMuffin, and she was left, perhaps only temporarily, in a slightly better mood than before. Maybe.

Now, I know this sounds like the self-serving bullshit of an artificially happy moron. But it’s not. It costs absolutely nothing...zero...zilch…nada...to brighten someone’s day. The tragedy is that so few people seem to even try anymore. Just the opposite, in fact, most people seem bent on getting you in as bad a mood as they are. Bad moods are contagious. Sometimes it's far more easy to put someone in a bad mood than to lift them up.

Life is hard – I know that. We struggle along in our little worlds, dealing with all of the various pressures and tensions and worries, just trying to get through the day ourselves without having a nervous breakdown. It’s hard enough to keep a happy thought, much less convey one to others.

But life is not hard for me now that I’ve discovered The Secret. Oh, life has been hard in the past, but never will be again. I will never let it be. See, that is The Secret. Being happy is a choice. When you wake up each day you have a choice. You can either be happy or unhappy. You can let life get you down – or not. You can be so self-absorbed in your own troubles and travails that you forget that everyone else out there is going through the same thing. Or… Or you can realize that we’re all in this together…that for society to succeed (and thrive) we must all work together for the common good, even when things are not going great for you, personally.

I'm not saying that you should be a Pollyanna, or be fake about it or just pretend things are going great when they're not. Certainly, not everyone's life is always rosy. It's more about our reaction to circumstances and how that reaction is up to us.

Perhaps the most profound thing I’ve ever read in my whole life were four simple words written by Rick Warren, Pastor of the Saddleback Church (and moderator of the first 2008 presidential “debate”). The words open the first chapter of his book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”

It’s not about you.

What? My life isn’t about me? Nope. I’ve come to realize that it’s not. Neither is yours. I know so many people for whom, upon hearing virtually anything, their first automatic thought is, “How does this affect me?” But we must get through that – put aside our ego and ask ourselves, “How does this affect you?” That’s the tough part. Does it work for me 100% of the time? Of course not, I am human after all. But I try.

This post sure went astray. I was going to write about a lot of things: Flying nervous, first-time passengers, which I did yesterday; Flying at night, which I also had to do yesterday (and which I’ve come to dislike intensely); Politics; Joe the (Fake) Plumber…but driving to McDonalds this morning changed all that.

I read the paper quickly – not a lot of news today – and set the crossword puzzles aside (I’ll do ‘em later) to sit down at the computer (still the old laptop but it may get replaced today) to write. The morning is nearly gone. Time’s a-wasting and it’s too beautiful a day to squander. So I’m going out, and hope you do/did the same. Enjoy this day…enjoy every day, make the best of it, treat it like a gift. And if, in your comings and goings today – or any day - you encounter other people, even if it’s just a convenience store clerk, try to make them smile. It won’t even cost you one dime of your hard-earned money, and it’s worth thousands of times more.

Have a nice day!

17 October 2008

What Passes For Humor In Bob's World

Matt and I have spent our entire friendship…12 long years…trying to make each other laugh. Most of the time we’re successful. We have very similar senses of humor, and like to crack each other up. I wouldn't put us up against Seinfeld and Costanza, but we try. We try.

Not everybody “gets” us however, especially his long-suffering girlfriend-now-fiancée Alisha. We think we're hilarious, of course. Most of the time she just rolls her eyes and shakes her head and doesn't find us funny at all.

So Matt and I were in Books-A-Million this afternoon. Having bought the $35 worth of car, motorcycle and airplane magazines that I really should subscribe to, we sat down for a latte at the Joe Muggs coffee place inside. There was a lone, pretty girl, maybe in her mid-20’s behind the counter handling the little spurt of crowd that came through right then (why does that always happen?).

The last person in line was an old guy, older than me, maybe 60-ish. Matt (who’s closer to the girl’s age) and I sat and listened, sympathizing with her as the guy monopolized her time, droning on and on about baseball or something of which she obviously had zero interest or less. Plus, we were sure that she had other things to do in what should have been a lull.

Now, we have both been in such situations, where you have one person that just won’t leave you alone, that wants to hang around and talk talk talk. Matt looked at her and with his head down, in a low whisper uttered what she was surely thinking to herself but was too polite to say: “Please go away.” We both laughed.

It was just about that point that I launched into one of my stories about how his brother Jacob and I were in a motorcycle dealership in Ft. Walton Beach yesterday while Jacob was looking for a new bike, and we were pretending it was I who was looking for something else and was to keep the salesman occupied so Jacob could quietly scout out the one he really wanted, and…

…and suddenly I heard a very low, whispered, “Please go away.” Matt still had his head down, but this time he was looking right at me!

Why I oughtta...

I just have the best friends. Yepper.

He should be careful though, this Matt. He has ill-advisedly asked me to be Best Man at his upcoming wedding. In that role, I get to make the wedding toast. And maybe a short, you know, speech. Depending on just how many Rum and Cokes I’ve knocked back by that point, the toast may turn into more of a roast.

Speaking of which…

There is a fund-raising dinner at New York’s famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel honoring Alfred E. Smith, one of the most famous politicians in New York State history. Both John McCain and Barack Obama attended this year's event, held just the other night. Both gave interesting, topical speeches as you might expect. For YouTube videos they're a little long at nearly ten minutes apiece, but they're really worth watching. You may have already seen them. But if not then here, for your entertainment pleasure, in no particular order, they are:

Ironically, Obama is the better orator while in this case McCain is the better speechgiver. Obama must not have written his speech entirely, and had obviously not rehearsed it much, because it was cracking him up as if he were reading it for the first time.

Who's is the better speech? Well, I guess that depends on which candidate you favor. They're both very funny. (Obama's was more self-deprecating though.) And it's nice seeing them in a situation where they don't have to take themselves quite so seriously.

16 October 2008

The Thrilla In Hofstra

Does anybody really “win” in a debate? Why is there so much focus on who “won” the third and final presidential debate last night? We Americans are so addicted to short-term results. We want it now. It’s sad. If we have to wait in line for more than a couple of minutes we get testy and annoyed. We don’t just want fast-food, we want instantaneous food.

Pundits were making comparisons to the famous 1975 boxing match between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali - dubbed, "The Thrilla In Manila". I don't go in for such hyperbole though, however valid the comparison may be.

It’s not about winning a lousy debate – it’s about convincing the American public to vote for you. And that result won’t be known for a couple of weeks. One or the other candidate may have come off better, “landed more punches,” or whatever. But at this point people aren’t going to be swayed. There’s a lot of talk about these so-called undecided voters. But I think people have probably pretty much made their mind up by now.

McCain came out of the gate swinging. He was agitated and aggressive, fidgeting like he had to take a bad poop. People were saying stuff like, “Where was this John McCain in the last two debates?” as if this John McCain was the one that more Americans wanted to see and vote for. I disagree.

This John McCain looked tense and uncomfortable in that role. I got the impression that he would really rather not be that guy. He just doesn’t seem as mean-spirited as…oh, Nixon, say. Or Cheney. Still, there were times when I thought McCain was on the verge of losing his temper. At times he seemed flustered to the point of being tongue-tied. I kept nervously watching him and thinking, “This guy is close to the edge. Will he actually lose his temper?”

It was odd, really. At the very beginning and end of the debate, McCain seemed almost downright friendly with Obama. Afterward I heard him say, “Great job,” and it sounded pretty sincere. We voters don’t need to hear that, not after all those potshots he was taking just a few minutes prior. Partisan issues aside, McCain clearly, clearly respects Obama – twice mentioned Obama’s “eloquence.” But this isn’t the high school debate club. Instead of being all lovey-dovey with Obama, I would have preferred a more diffident stance. Maybe not “See you in hell,” but “Well, it’s up to the voters now, Osama...I mean O’Senator. Heh-heh, I hope my mic isn’t still on.” I don’t expect them to be friends.

Personally, I liked McCain much better in the second debate, the “town hall” one. There, I believe he connected with the audience better – certainly connected with me better. He was much more in his element than sitting across the table from his opponent. I could vote for that John McCain. And so it worries me a little to wonder what he’d be like sitting across the table from, oh, Hugo Chavez. Which McCain would show up?

Obama was…Obama. People were using terms like “unflappable,” and “eerily serene,” and even “presidential.” That, he is. Regardless of what you think of Obama’s politics, he is a very good statesman. He was well-prepared and well-rehearsed.

Most likely, last night’s debate changed nothing. If you’re a McCain fan you undoubtedly think he “won.” Same if you’re for Obama.

I really do try to be objective, and look at things from an other-than-political point of view. But as I watched the debate, I kept looking at those guys, trying to “see” either of them as president. And you know, the one I could more clearly see in that role was…

Barack Obama.

It’s gonna be an interesting four years.

Oh, and P.S., Bob Schieffer wasn’t as great as I thought he’d be. If I had been moderator, I would have been cutting off their bullshit answers and saying things like, “JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION, DAMMIT!”

14 October 2008

Strange Bedfellows

True Story: I have this friend who I’ve known for a long time. I can attest to the fact that he is basically a “good person,” and he has been a good friend to me over the years. But we disagree strongly on certain issues. He can be quite dishonest. In fact, he sometimes does things that are morally and legally wrong. His motivation for these acts is beside the point here; they occur. Others know of these acts, and they know of our friendship. It occurs to me that people might think the same of me because of our association.

And so I ask: Does it really matter?

I’m speaking of course about our current presidential election. One of the candidates has had past dealings with some very shady people. We are being asked to consider the kind of influences these relationships might bring to his presidency.

I’m speaking of course about John McCain and Charles Keating.

You remember Keating. He was the mastermind behind the Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal. He bilked over 20,000 innocent people out of their life savings (totaling more than $250 million). In the process of trying to circumvent the law and weasel himself out of trouble, he bribed…err, “contributed to the campaigns of” five senators whose help he enlisted in trying to get less federal oversight and whose careers he nearly destroyed. One of those senators was the American icon, John Glenn. Another was Keating’s good friend, John McCain. In 1992 Keating was convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy and spent nearly five years in prison.

McCain and Keating had been friends since 1981 or so. Good friends. Buddies, even. Keating had contributed over $100,000 in direct contributions to McCain. During the mid-1980’s the McCain’s also took a bunch of trips on Keating’s personal jet. You know, “freebies.” When Congress eventually called him out on it in 1991, McCain lamely said that he’d, umm, let’s see…oh yeah, “never been billed” for those trips and why, of course! he’d pay for them.

Senators have to be careful about becoming too friendly with contributors. You know what you do when you want to go into business with someone but it might seem improper if certain people found out about it? You put the business venture in your wife’s name. And that’s what the McCain’s did in 1986 when they invested in one of Keating’s properties.

Let’s not be naïve. It’s not like John and his wife Cindy didn’t talk…didn’t work together on financial stuff. It’s not like Cindy was operating in a vacuum.

The friendship between McCain and Keating soured around 1987 when Keating called McCain a wimp for not helping more with getting the federal regulators off his back. (“Wimp” is the term that made it into the papers. Knowing Keating, the epithet was probably something much more vulgar and less newspaper-friendly.)

In retrospect, we can see that Keating was only using McCain to get what he wanted. Not a very good friend, in my humble opinion. Later, Keating probably laid on his bed in his jail cell, cursing McCain. "And to think, I let him use my G**dam Gulfstream to go to his G**dam vacation house in the BAHAMAS! But I'll get him though, oh yes! If that p***y ever runs for president, I'll secretly back a Puerto Ri-...no wait...a BLACK! Yeah, I'll run a black...maybe a black MUSLIM against him! Revenge will be mine! BWAAHAHAHAHAH!"

But seriously.

Still, we are left to wonder just what other little deals like this McCain has been involved in over the years? I mean the ones we don’t know about…yet. He is a career politician, after all. He does get contributions of money and “things” from constituents. And sure enough, in return he does want to help those constituents. (Although, after coming “this close” to getting burned by Keating, McCain has probably kept his nose pretty clean since then.)

And so I ask again, does it really matter? Aren’t people allowed to make mistakes…and learn from those mistakes…and grow? Should we make a big deal about McCain’s judgment and the people he’s associated with in the past? Well, that depends.

It depends on how big a deal you want to make about Obama’s background.