Who Am I?

My photo
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?

18 October 2012

Di Blasio

Have I ever mentioned that my parents made me take piano lessons when I was a kid? My mom could play the piano pretty well, and I guess my folks thought I had some musical talent as well. Boy, were they wrong! Nevertheless I’ve always been fascinated by the piano and the people who play it.

The piano is a wonderful instrument. It has such a – pardon the pun – grand range and sound, even unamplified. There is something about the musical frequencies it produces that is…I don’t know…resonant with the human ear and brain in a way that few other instruments are. The sound is pleasant (not the way I played it though). We hear piano music and it affects us positively whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. And I suspect that often we are not.

There’s always been piano-based pop music, since even before there was “pop music.” But even into the age of rock ‘n roll and beyond the piano never lost its appeal. From Jerry Lee Lewis in the ‘50s to The Beatles in the ‘60s to Elton John in the ‘70s to more current bands and artists like Keane and Ben Folds, the piano remains almost as constant a presence as the electric guitar. Personally, I like it when the piano is employed in certain types of rock music. Ironically, I’m not too fond of the electric piano or “electronic keyboards” in general. I like the natural sound of a regular ol’ piano.

In the 1990’s there were a couple of pianists who came to prominence…think John Tesh and of course Yanni. There was also Raul Di Blasio! From Argentina, Di Blasio has been interested in the piano since he was six. In the 1990’s he moved to the U.S. and achieved some popularity. But music fans are fickle, and no pianist will ever capture our hearts like an Eric Clapton or a Jimi Hendrix. Sad, that, because Di Blasio probably is the pianist equivalent of Clapton.

Check out this awesome instrumental tune from Di Blasio: “Hasta Que Te Conoci.” (I think it means “Until I Met You.”) It was played a lot on VH-1 in the 1990’s. It rocks! Well…I mean…not in the traditional sense, but this song, with its intricate arrangement...the layering of instruments... the pounding drums, soaring strings and horns, and of course Di Blasio's magnificent playing of the piano - this song does rock. I can listen to it over and over. And do!

It’s a shame Di Blasio never became more popular. Clearly he has the chops (and eccentric looks) to have been a major star. Trouble was, we already had a Yanni, who was younger, better-looking and had more hair. But that does not diminish Di Blasio’s talent or importance in my eyes.

17 October 2012

Done Gone

It’s odd to think of myself as “not a helicopter pilot anymore.” I’ve been trying to divorce myself from this lousy industry for a long time. Meanwhile, my friend Larry Curtis had “retirement” agonizingly and prematurely forced on him when a heart problem put him on the sidelines for good. He wasn’t ready to go just yet. I’ve been ready for a long time. And that time has finally come.

The last job I had was so shitty that I ended up hating both the job and the guy I was working for. And I don’t “hate” anything! Not a good situation.

Within aviation, many pilots aspire to “corporate” jobs…that is, flying for some company instead of doing charters or whatever. Corporate flying is generally held to be “better” in that you usually fly nicer equipment, have a better schedule and better pay. But this is not always the case.

In my case, the Boss issued me one of those walkie-talkie Nextel phones. All he needed to do was hit the push-to-talk button and he expected me to reply immediately. If I did not, I’d catch hell. From seven o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night, he would expect me to be available for his calls. Yes, seven days a week. It gets old.

Truthfully, we did not fly a lot. On the other hand, I never knew when we would be flying, and had to be ready all the time in case the Boss needed to go somewhere. In fairness, he rarely called me to fly without at least one-day notice – but it did happen. I worked most holidays and a lot of weekends, and spent a lot of nights away from home. That sounds like whining and it is, I’ll admit. Such a schedule is simply the nature of this corporate/personal flying job. You sit around on “stand-by” waiting for the boss to call. It gets old.

In his mind, my Boss thought I “worked” very little, and he resented this greatly for he works his people hard. Over the course of our time together he mentioned a couple of times that I was the least-productive employee on his payroll. (To which I’d reply, “Oh yeah? Well then get your secretary to fly the helicopter.”) Thus, he’d dream up little non-aviation tasks for me to do…run errands for him and such. Nothing terribly unreasonable, just things to keep me busy. There were so many of these little tasks that one day one of the other employees was moved to remark, “Bob, you ain’t nothing but (the Boss’s) nigger!” And yes, sadly, people still do use that term freely down here in the south. As offensive and insulting as the comment was, it had a ring of truth. And it gets old.

There were other things of course; there always are. Bottom line is that I’m done with full-time helicopter flying. Gone. Done gone, as they also say down here. I hope to get back into fixed-wing airplanes. I think I’d be a good flight instructor (but maybe not!). Who knows what the future will bring?

I may…or may not even…return to Washington State next spring and do the cherry-drying thing. It’s fun and all, and I enjoy everything about that part-time summer gig, but hovering over the cherry trees in a 60 year-old helicopter is not without an arguable…let’s say “discussable” level of risk. And at this stage of my life I’m more circumspect about the risks I’m willing to take.

05 October 2012

Flying and Riding - And Why I Love My Sportster!

When I fly I think to myself, “This is my most favorite thing in the whole wide world!” And when I ride my motorcycle I think, “This is my most favorite thing in the whole wide world!” Honestly, it’s hard to choose between them when it comes to which I prefer more. Do I even have to choose?

There is something very soul-satisfying about riding a motorcycle that I cannot quite put into words. I mean, driving a car is – or can be – fun. But riding a motorcycle is fun in a much different way. You are so totally involved with the machine; each hand and foot has its own control (just like a helicopter!). And while riding, you’re hyper-aware of your surroundings as well. You’re…well…connected. The risk factor may play a part in the attraction but honestly I don’t think about it – or try not to.

Many riders report a feeling of “freedom,” which begs the question: Freedom from what? Yes, you do experience a feeling of being totally unfettered and unencumbered. There is always a strong temptation to just head for the city limits and keep on going. Only our responsibilities (read: debts) keep us from doing that. There is the freedom from the “cage,” which is what some motorcyclists call cars; the freedom that lets you smell the cut grass or the pine trees…or when the kids ahead of you are sharing a joint.  (Yes kids, if the state trooper behind you has his windows down, he'll be able to smell your weed.) 

I’ve owned a lot of bikes, and in fact own three now. But none have been more satisfying than my Sportsters. I know, I rhapsodize about the Sportster endlessly here in this blog, but I do love the “little” Harley. It’s such a basic, honest motorcycle. It’s not flashy or overly-complicated or even technologically advanced. It’s just an engine and two wheels…a simple, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine at that. Two exhaust pipes; one carburetor. No fuel injection (although later models have it). It is “powerful enough” for me. I can (and do) work on it, but I haven’t really had to - it has been dead reliable, giving me zero trouble since I bought it back in May of 2008. Has it really been that long?

This past August I was heading south on Route 287, coming down through Montana on my way home from Washington State. It was a gorgeous morning, and the road was a winding two-lane through breathtakingly beautiful country – I had not yet experienced the disaster of Yellowstone Park and thus was still in a pretty good mood.

I was listening to my iPod. As I’ve said, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Mostly I just prefer to listen to the sound of the engine and be alone with my thought. But this time I had the music cranked up as I came around a curve and saw a sign that I was entering the town of “Harrison.” And just as I spied that sign…I shit you not…the Traveling Wilburys song, “Handle With Care” started up. Now…full disclosure…among the 200 songs in this particular playlist on my iPod I have a lot of Beatles’ music as well as a smattering of solo stuff from Paul McCartney and George Harrison. So the odds of this happening are admittedly not astronomical.

Coincidences like this might not mean much to a normal person, but they entertain me greatly. They remind me that this life here is to be enjoyed. And I like to enjoy it from the seat of a motorcycle. Sometimes it's the simplest pleasures that are the best.

04 October 2012

Getting Sick

Okay, this could get a little gross. I’ll try to keep it as family-friendly as I can, but the subject is not pleasant and I apologize in advance.

I almost never get sick. Very rarely. I don’t know why - I don’t routinely get colds or the flu like some of my friends. I don’t even get headaches anymore. Thus, I don’t keep a bunch of seldom-needed, "just-in-case" medications in the house. That may change.

Last night I ate some leftover Chinese food as I watched the Presidential debate on PBS. Afterward I watched some commentary, played on Facebook and ended up going to bed around midnight. At approximately 3:30AM I was awakened by a troubling pain in my stomach. You know the type - it makes you go, “Uh-oh, this is not going to be good.” I put up with it for a while, knowing what was coming.

Sure enough, around 6AM the fun began. Plenty of warning. I thought, “Okay, let’s get it over with!” But I didn’t know what I was in for. I threw up so much I literally could not believe it. It seemed like it was everything I’d eaten for the last three days. I mean, the sheer volume of vomit was unreal. It was like that Monty Python movie. I think I saw a someone’s iPhone (a 3GS so it must’ve been in there awhile) and a license plate come out – a big, European one too, like from Germany. Usually, you feel pretty good after such an event – relieved, anyway. Not this time. I knew there was more to come. I started sipping glasses of water with a splash of orange juice, and then went back to bed to wait.

A little while later came Round Two. This time was as bad as the first! I saw a set of car keys (not mine) and I think an actual baby (the other-other white meat!). I was thinking, “What have I got, the belly of a shark?”

The third event was unexpected, and yet just as voluminous as the first! I was standing at the bathroom sink drinking some water and wondering what was going on when the overpowering urge to hurl took over. It was awful. Out of my mouth and into the sink clanked a ratchet wrench (3/8” drive) with a 9/16” socket attached! So that's where that went.  Holy cow, this was getting serious.

I went out to the kitchen and drank a small glass of some old, flat Sprite that was in the fridge. This merely caused a level of bloating and gas that rivaled a Saturn 5 rocket trying to break free of earth’s orbit. …Which precipitated the “other” malady that stomach problems usually generate. I don’t have to tell you what that is. Fortunately, the bout was a brief, one-time event. No problem on that end after that.

Now it is 3:30PM and I’m feeling better even though I’ve eaten nothing and drank only water all day. I was thinking about supper (I am always thinking about food) and it just made me sicker. If I felt up to it, I’d grab a shower and go out and get some Pepto. But that’s going to have to wait.

I don’t know what made me so sick. Rest assured I will not be patronizing the #1 Chinese Restaurant anymore. Just now I was going to say, “I don’t know what it was that caused me to get as sick as a dog.” But given that it was food from a Chinese restaurant, it might not be such a great joke.