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?

16 January 2019

Morning Person

Here in Pensacola, Florida, conventional taxis hang out at the airport and down on the Navy Base. There isn't any “street business.” We don't have a thriving downtown...or much of a central business district at all for that matter. So if you're not near the airport or on the base, getting a taxi is an “iffy” situation.

But so-called “ride-sharing” is changing our culture in a profound way. With the advent of Uber and Lyft, “taxis” are available in parts of our city/county where they never were before, or where it would take a very long time for a cab to get to you, if you could even get a driver to accept the trip request. With Uber/Lyft, semi-retired guys like myself who live in outlying areas can log-on and get trips. People who need transportation in those areas can also log-on and see that cars are available nearby.

So now, a couple with only one car isn't inconvenienced if one spouse takes that car to work. The other spouse can now get out and run errands or do whatever.  Alternatively, the working spouse can Uber to work, leaving the car home for personal use.  Or, families that used to own two cars don't need to do that now. This is huge. And it's happening.

In my town, there is a lot of Uber/Lyft business between 4:30 and 9:00 am. People go to work, to school, to the airport...to all the places you'd imagine. After nine it really drops off until the evening. The bulk of the ride-share drivers – and there are plenty of them! - come out after nine. Competition is keen and the few trips are split between dozens of drivers. However, this leaves the very early morning hours fairly open...to guys like myself.

As I've written before, I'm a "morning person."  I'm not proud of it, and it's not because I want to be. It's been thrust on me out of necessity. For most of my adult life, which includes 30+ years as a professional pilot I've had to be at work and ready to go thirty minutes before sunrise. So I'm used to getting up super-early. All of us helicopter pilots are. Habits are hard to break, and even though I'm pretty much semi-retired from flying, I still get up early.

People who own helicopters like to get the most out of them. The aircraft enables people to be efficient in moving around their world, getting much more work done than if they had to drive. Thus, helicopters start their workday early. Unfortunately, so do their pilots.

You'd think that as you get some seniority and longevity in a career that you'd qualify for the “cushier” jobs that don't start so early. Aaaaand you'd be wrong. My last job, the one up in Washington State required that we fly at sunrise if it rained overnight. And since we never really knew if it rained or not while we were sleeping, every morning we pilots would get up and check the weather early enough to fly as soon as it was light enough to see. In Washington, sunrise happened at around 4:30am at that time of year. If it hadn't rained, it was permissible to go back to bed. But you know, once you're up...

At 63 I am not (yet) cursed with the malady that afflicts a lot of men in my age group – that being the need to get up periodically in the middle of the night to...you know...pee. As long as I don't drink too much in the evening, I can go to bed around eleven pm and get up at four am without any interruptions. But nowadays I do reliably wake up at four.

So I get up early and get my day going. Sometimes I'll just turn the Uber and Lyft apps on around 5:00 am and stay home until I get a trip, which invariably comes before I've even finished making breakfast. Or I'll get in the car and drive up to a “honey-hole” that I know of – a hotspot for trips. There, I'll stop at the Circle-K, get the newspaper and a cup of coffee, and then retire to the Target parking lot to wait for a trip. Usually one or the other app will ping while I'm on line in the convenience store. I “work” until about noon and then go home. It turns out that this is being a morning person is something of an advantage when it comes to being a ride-share driver.

09 January 2019

Obeying The SIgns

Well it was sunny and it got up to 73 degrees yesterday here in Pensacola.  A beautiful January day! In fact, a great day to take the motorcycle out for a ride. Or so I thought.  The plan was to mosey out to the beach for lunch.  It's been a cloudy/rainy winter here in NW Florida, and good riding days have been as scarce as an Obama lover at a Trump rally...or a vegan at a Ted Nugent concert...or a good driver in New Jersey.  We're talking scarce.

I keep my bike's registration and insurance cards in a little plastic pouch. I do not keep the documents in my wallet, because anything that's made of paper fades to nothingness in no time flat. Not only that, but the motor vehicle registration form here Florida is inexplicably bigger than my motorcycle license plate - hardly walled-size.  Plus I don't ride all of the time so there's no need to tote them around.

Without fail, I keep that pouch in one place and one place only: On my computer desk. This way, when I go for a ride I know where the cards are and can snatch them quickly. I'm a little OCD about certain things, and this is one of them. I don't like to have to search all over the house for things when I need them. Admittedly I'm not the most organized person in the world, and always putting my document pouch on my desk is my small way of keeping things under control.

You've probably already jumped ahead: When I got ready to ride yesterday I could not find the damn document pouch. It was gone...as in GONE. I looked high...I looked low...I searched and searched in every conceivable place in this house...all the nooks, most of the crannies (the ones I could reach)...without success. I scoured the pockets of my three riding jackets...and even the pockets of my non-riding jackets.  Of course I searched the garage. Yes, I even searched wherever it is that I know you're going to suggest.  But the pouch had simply vanished into thin air. Which was impossible, but there ya go.

Well, no big deal, right? I mean, in this day and age the cops don't really need for you to physically carry your registration form; they can tell via their computer who the vehicle is registered to before they ever get out of their car. And yes, they do check before they come up to greet you with that loaded question: Do you know how fast you were going? And although they cannot access our specific insurance information, they know we have insurance because if we don't, Florida cancels your registration and suspends your driver's license.  Nevertheless we still have to carry proof-of-insurance. I'm just anal enough that I refuse to ride or drive unless my required documents are with me. The one time you go out without them is when you'll get stopped, for sure.

The insurance card is available online, so I went on Geico's website and downloaded a new one. But guess what? My printer wouldn't.  Wouldn't print, that is.  Of all days to choose to glitch and not work, it had to pick this one. There was no error message like I usually get when something fixable is wrong. I'd click “PRINT” and...nothing...would happen other than it would send me back to the document page.  Very strange.

Okay, still no big deal: Florida accepts proof-of-insurance on your cellphone. So I saved the insurance card to my computer as both a picture and a PDF. Guess what? I couldn't even send the picture electronically to my phone. Now it was giving me a "corrupt file" message.  (I could have just had Geico email me a card and keep it on my phone but in my aggravation I did not think of it.)

So I was, like, "What the...?"

At this point I had to stop. The universe was sending me a pretty clear message that it did not want me riding my motorcycle yesterday. Not only was I not listening but I was in fact doing everything in my power to circumvent it. I thought about just saying, “Screw it,” and going riding anyway. But I can't do that.

So I did not ride my motorcycle yesterday. It was probably best that I did not. Sometimes we just have to obey the signs.

Postscript:  It is now the next day.  No, the pouch has not turned up although I'm confident that it will.  But my printer is working fine today although I did exactly nothing differently.

02 January 2019

Gay Actors

When we meet people, and sometimes even after we get to know them, there is an assumption of straightness. It's what we think of as the norm because let's face it, the majority of people on the planet are heterosexual.  Most people don't broadcast their sexuality. Generally, straight men don't go around announcing to the world that they're straight. Most guys I know just keep their sexuality to themselves. 

The assumption of straightness is fostered by the appearance of wives and girlfriends. If a guy is in a heterosexual relationship, why would anyone even question his sexuality? They wouldn't. There's a spillover effect that applies to single guys as well. Even without a girlfriend, unless you communicate to people that you're gay, people assume you're straight.

It's stereotyping, yes, and even I admit that I'm guilty of it. Over the years I've been surprised to find out differently about people whom I assumed to be straight.  (I have terrible gaydar.)  But then, it's really none of my business what people do in their bedrooms. Similarly, it's no business of anyone else what I do in mine.

Of course, we all know straight guys who pridefully boast of their sexual conquests and proficiency...guys who just have to make a sexual comment about every woman they see.  It's almost as if they're trying to convince the world that they're straight. But they're outliers. And frankly, when a guy has to constantly brag about his sexual prowess, it makes others wonder if there is something else going on?

Sexuality is not about being macho either. I'm sure that by now we've all heard about extremely macho guys who've turned out to be gay. It always seems to be such a shock. ”Him?!” we say incredulously. ”I never would have known!”  

Exactly. Why would you? And why should you?

By the same token, I know some guys who are so very...let's say "unmacho" that you might question their sexual orientation, but who are in fact as straight as an arrow.

My friend Terry says to me, "You don't act gay."
And I reply, "How are gay people supposed to act?"

Or sometimes people say, "You're the least gay, gay guy I know."
And I say, "How would you know that?"

I get their point. Our image of gay people is often formed by the more flamboyant and effeminate examples we see. We get to thinking that if you're gay then you must be like them. And if you're not obvious about it then you're putting on an act - covering up your true nature.

I'm not gay helicopter pilot. I'm not a gay motorcyclist. The fact that I'm gay does not influence those activities. I don't “act” straight.  And by that I mean when I'm not riding or flying, I don't go home and dress like Cher and prance around like some disco queen.  I don't try to be macho, and believe me, I'm not.  I'm just a guy.  And I've had some great male role models throughout my life who've shown me what it's like and what it takes to be a man. I can only hope that I'm making them proud.

I don't let societal pressures tell me how to behave or how I should act. Just because some gay guys are...well...more in touch with their feminine side, does that mean I have to be?  As far as I know, I have no feminine side. Or maybe I've repressed it so much that it has ceased to exist - I don't know - do I look like a psychologist? Either way, I try to not let my sexuality become a part of everything I do that's not sexual. That seems kind of obvious to me.  But not everyone can do it, gay or straight.

So when Terry says tells me that I don't act gay, I reply that I'm not an actor. And anyway, most actors I know of actually are gay.

26 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Whether you celebrate it or not, I hope you all had a wonderful, joyous Christmas.  I wish for peace and prosperity for everyone now and in the coming year.

I have this...well, extended family down here in Florida.  They are not blood-relatives but about twenty years ago either I adopted them or they adopted me, I forget.  It's a long story.  In any case, I am inextricably intertwined with their lives. 

For whatever reasons, my siblings and I (two brothers and three sisters) are not close.  It's kind of sad, in a way.  But on the other hand, people sometimes just grow apart.  We all have our separate lives, and we don't socialize often.  However, after the convivial get-together we had in New York back in September on the occasion of my mother's funeral, some thought was given to regrouping again "sometime soon."  Well we missed Thanksgiving, but Christmas might work, no?  Now that I have a car that gets upwards of 40 mpg, I could get up to New York easily and cheaply.  I know that some people prefer to fly but I don't.

Well, before I could firm up my plans for New York, my Florida family announced that they'd be doing Christmas at my house.  I could have put my foot down and refused, but that would've made me the Bad Guy.  There really wasn't a good alternative for them.  I said okay and asked for a head count.  The number swelled to sixteen people.  Then two dropped out leaving us with fourteen.  Their family is scattered just like mine.  They came from different parts of Pensacola here, but also from Panama City and Atlanta, Georgia. 

In planning a turkey dinner, all of the websites suggest figuring around two pounds per person when buying a bird.  Although people usually don't that much, you have to account for the carcass, legs and other bits that people usually don't or can't eat.  That meant I needed twenty-eight pounds of turkey.  I ended up with two thirteen-pounders.  (We did have three small children attending.)

With that many people, everything has to be up-sized.  You have to make twice the usual amount of side dishes - twice the green bean casseroles, etc.  Extra drinks...extra desserts...  Not only that, but my dining room table only seats ten.  I set up a second table for six more (just in case - you never know who might pop in).  This meant that I also had to have double the number of salt/pepper shakers, gravy boats, cranberry sauces, rolls...  I realized that I do not have nearly enough serving spoons for a group that big.  I'll rectify that.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining.  I love feeding people - I think it's one of the best things you can do.  I consider it an honor.  I love the act of "breaking bread" (as we used to say) with others.  But it is an effort.  Thankfully, the meal was a true collaborative effort.  People pitched in and either brought stuff (like wine and desserts) or helped me cook.  The kitchen was a chaotic madhouse at times, but we all managed to stay out of each other's way, nothing got dropped or broken and amazingly, no blood was spilled.  Both turkeys came out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  And there wasn't all that much left over!

But being on my feet all day was kind of tough work.  Once I plunked myself down to eat, I didn't want to get back up.  My buddy Matt always kept a good bottle of wine open and my glass full.  Now there's a true friend!  He was not always a fan, but I've turned him into something of a wino.

One of my blogger friends, Bob and his family do a non-traditional, internationally-themed Christmas.  His family will pick a country (this year was India) and then use that as the basis for their Christmas dinner.  I so wanted to emulate him this year - do something different than the standard turkey-and-mashed-potatoes drill.  My buddy Terry and his girlfriend Lisa grilled steaks.  Steaks!  On Christmas!  Well...why not?  Do we have to always do turkey?  I think not.  A Chinese-takeout Christmas might have been fun.  And easier.  And possibly cheaper.  Maybe next year...

In any event, as "boring" and traditional as it was, our Christmas Dinner 2018 was a roaring success!  I hope yours was too.

Merry Christmas!

18 December 2018

Anger Issues

People. I just don't understand them. For instance...

I'll be standing in line at the grocery store. The person in front of me will have a shopping cart that's jammed full of stuff. And they'll just be standing there like an idiot as the cashier scans all their items. Then, at the VERY END...when every last damn piece of crap is scanned, and bagged, and handed to them, the person will suddenly wake up out of their coma and realize that, oh yeah, they have to pay!  Wow, what a shock!  Only then will they pull their wallet (or invariably if it's an older person, a goddamn checkbook) and begin the payment process.  Half of them seem completely befuddled by the point-of-sale payment device.  And I'm, like, “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING AS THE CASHIER WAS RINGING YOU UP???”

It's not that I'm impatient, but I swipe my card through the credit card reader thingee as soon as the cashier has run up two or three of my items. I hit “No” when it asks if I want cash-back, and then hit “Enter” for credit. When all of my stuff is scanned, as the cashier is handing me the last bag, the register dings and prints out the receipt. Then I'm on my way. Easy-peasy.

(It must be noted that not all stores allow you to swipe your card during the scanning-of-items process. At those stores I at least have my card ready once the total pops up.)

Or how do people not know the basics of “keep right?” If two grocery carts meet head-on in an aisle, each person goes to the right. I cannot tell you the number of times I've come across people who don't seem to grasp this fairly simple concept. They should be glad I do not carry my gun into Walmart.

How's about people who go into McDonalds, and once they get up to be #1 they stare at the menu like they've never seen it before in their life. ”I'll have a....ahhhhhh....hmmm....ahhhhhh... Say, what comes with the....”


And what's up with people who get gas at a busy station, and then once they're done they leave their car at the pumps and go inside to buy their cigarettes and beer? ”Oh, thank you very much for blocking the diesel pump while you go in to get your lottery tickets, you sonovabitch.”

Yes, I have anger issues. I'm working on them.  Progress is...inconsistent.

12 December 2018

Our Former Ferry Service

Well as predicted, our much publicized and anticipated ferry is no more. The company that was contracted to operate the service bailed, claiming that it wouldn't...and couldn't make money. It didn't last six months. Can't say I'm surprised.

To the dismay of many tourists who come here to visit, Pensacola, Florida is a coastal city but it is not actually on the beach as you might expect.  To get to the beach you have to travel over eight miles from downtown to Santa Rosa Island, a thin strip of tenuous, fragile "land" that is mostly national seashore.

It's been a long-time dream of some to have a ferry boat service that linked downtown Pensacola with Pensacola Beach. Trouble is, those two points are not exactly close. There are two bridges that must be crossed, and one of them charges $1.00 toll.  Plus, if you look at the above map, there's a big ol' peninsula of Gulf Breeze jutting out into Pensacola Bay which provides something of a roadblock to people going from the city to the beach by both land and sea.  (The main part of the beach is where the smaller of the two bridges comes across.) 

Nevertheless, a group consisting of the Pensacola City Council, the Escambia County Commission, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, the National Park Service and the Navy conspired to initiate a ferry service. One can only imagine the LSD-infused, circle-jerk meetings in which they all convinced each other that such a thing would be a Really Good Idea. (I'm envisioning the cemetery scene from the movie, "Easy Rider.")

But a ferry service costs money. Ticket booths and waiting areas/shelters/restrooms would have to be built; docks would have to be modified with fencing and gates; boats would have to be procured and outfitted; employees would need to be hired... There would have to advertising, and government approvals. These are up-front costs that cannot be deferred until the revenue starts rolling in.

The City opined that the ferries could carry as many as 900 passengers per day. At $20 per ticket that could be $18,000 per day which, if you like to blow smoke up peoples' butts, you might (informally, not-for-publication!) extrapolate that and project a monthly gross revenue of $540,000. Not bad!

It wouldn't be that high, of course, because some of those passengers would have tickets that were discounted (e.g “frequent-flyer,” military, group, senior citizen...) And of course it would not be 900 passengers per day every day. Weekends would be busier, weekdays would be slack. The City did not say whether they thought that “900” was a weekly average or just what a busy Saturday and Sunday might generate. But it was a nice round number. Except...I'm not sure who came up with it. It's almost as if they pulled it out of their...umm, hat. Many of us were skeptical because we know that getting Americans to give up their pickup trucks is a tough sell.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010 proved to be a blessing-in-disguise for the Gulf Coast. The Pensacola area received millions in punitive damage compensation for the harm to our tourism industry. On TV, our beaches were made to look like the shoreline of Alaska after that hungover, sleeping skipper of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker let the galley hand drive the boat and run it aground.  It wasn't as bad a the media made it out to be, but the touristas did stay away for the better part of two years.

The National Park Service got $5.2 million from BP. City and County leaders prevailed on the NPS to use some of that money (maybe all of it!) to purchase two ferry boats. Once that was done they contracted with a supposedly-experienced company that ran similar ferry services in other parts of the country. The protracted process of getting this thing going! was actually making some progress.  Construction of docks and infrastructure was finally begun in 2017. After many delays, ferry service began on June 22, 2018.

Here's a route map of our ferry service.  You can see that it originates from downtown and stops both at Fort Pickens National Seashore and Pensacola Beach

By early October, things were looking grim.  Gulf Coast Maritime Services (GCMS), the company that ran the ferry reported that in the first three months of operation, 5600 passengers had been carried. Due to these less-than-expected numbers, George Aswad, owner and operator of GCMS announced that they were cutting out weekday service, adding that if ridership didn't improve he was not optimistic that the service could survive. Spoiler alert: It did not. By the end of October GCMS had called it quits. Obviously they had some sort of “early-out” termination clause in their contract.

Let's do some math! 5600 people at $20 per ticket is only $112,000...or about $37,000 per month, give or take. I'd bet that the amount of money they spent on diesel fuel was pretty close to that! Nevermind lease fees, payroll, insurance, debt service and God-knows-what-else. Hoo-boy!

Oddly, nobody was tracking where the passengers were from (e.g. Locals? Tourists?). The spokesman for the National Park Service said that “anecdotally” it appeared they were mostly locals, which would make sense. So his thinking was that if they were able to get the word out to visitors before arriving here, then the ferry ridership might improve. Thus, VisitPensacola and the local hotels were solicited to push the ferry service when people either asked about coming here or made actually made reservations. (I didn't take Marketing in college, and I'm no genius, but I'd imagine that would be one of the first  things you'd do, not the last.)  But it was a classic case of "too little/too late."

Businesses are so focused on immediate profits these days. Companies live and die by the quarterly results. And if next quarter doesn't look more promising than last quarter, CEO's are quick to cut-and-run. Shareholders aren't going to put up with this...  I mean, look at General Motors!  Who would've ever thought in a million years that they'd be basically getting out of the car business?

I'm kind of surprised that the Pensacola ferry service was set up as an unsubsidized endeavor. In addition to buying the boats, the government consortium should have set some of that BP money aside for operations – at least for the first year. Forcing GCMS to be a profit-making venture from the get-go was a bad, bad idea. It was doomed before it began. Such a service needs time to develop its market...time to get the word out and get people accustomed to using it as an alternative to driving to the beach. That doesn't happen overnight.

So now the two ferry boats sit idle, tied up at the pier in Pensacola, not preserved or even in drydock. They are deteriorating on a daily basis. They will obviously be sold – at a loss, I'm sure. Construction on the terminals has ceased. The grand scheme to have a ferry service in Pensacola appears to have failed.

And there they are, the two Pensacola ferries sitting forlornly at our almost-completed downtown terminal.  (Oh, and I couldn't help but get the Sportster in the picture.  Sorry.)

05 December 2018

The ABCs of Naming Children

There this idiot parent from Texas who, in what must have either been a cruel joke or perhaps for misguided comedic effect named her child Abcde. The mother, Traci Redford says it is pronounced, and I kid you not, “ab-si-dee.” It turns out that the name is not entirely uncommon. According to THIS story in the Washington Post, at least 328 other idiots named their baby girls "Abcde” in 2014.  I mean, why on earth... oh never mind.

Anyway, Traci and little five-year old Abcde were on a trip, headed back home to Texas from California. They were preparing to board a Southwest Airlines flight when the mother overheard the gate agents making fun of her little darling's name.  One cannot imagine that it was her first time hearing such things.  She asked them to stop. They did, but not before taking a pic of the boarding pass and posting it on Facebook, because that is what you do, no?

The mother complained of course, and Southwest apologized, of course. But Ms. Redford said, ”...after two weeks of doing a formal complaint, Southwest hadn't done anything.”  So she brought her traumatic tale of woe to the mainstream media.  

Of course.

I'm not sure what Ms. Redford wanted SWA to do. It begs the question: What was she expecting...a refund? The article leaves us hanging.

Nowadays, people do expect something if they feel they've been wronged. If we are “injured” in the slightest way...even emotionally...then we want compensation, dammit! And it's not so much that we want it, but we think we deserve it. We're entitled!  A public apology is never enough.

It's gotten bizarre. Sometimes I think that there are people who intentionally go looking for some sort of conflict so they can “get over” on someone or some company. Parents who name their child, Abcde, for example.

Here's a curious tidbit. Apparently Ms. Redford is thirty years old. That would put her being born in 1988 or so. I was struck by the spelling of her first name, Traci. A more common spelling around that time would have been Tracey or even Tracy. Spelling it with an “i” was very rare back in the 1980's. So it must be acknowledged that Ms. Redford's parents were also somewhat, um, unconventional. The apple didn't fall far from the tree, I'd say. Moving on...

In the mid-1980's there came to prominence a porn actress by the name of Traci Lords. Don't ask me how I know this. Before Ms. Lords hit the big-time, there were few Traci's. I don't know about you, but if I were a parent of a newborn daughter, I'd be a little reluctant to name her after a well-known porn star of the day. I mean, couldn't they have called her Roberta? But no, they chose “Traci.” 

And maybe there's absolutely no connection whatsoever other than in my perverted mind.  Maybe ol' Traci's father didn't watch a lot of porn back then...I dunno.  But every time I see the name, “Traci,” I think of Traci Lords.