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?

26 December 2006

On music...

I love music. But I am really just into songs. I grew up in the 1960’s listening to Top-40 radio. Plenty of one-hit-wonders and catchy singles. Give me a tune that I can hum, or a decent beat that I can dance to, or a clever turn of lyric and I go crazy. This is why I loved the “new wave” music of the 1980’s. Wonderful pop songs back then.

When I got out of high school in 1973 I went to work for a small AM/FM radio station in upstate New York. I discovered that while I have the perfect face for radio, I was not destined to be the next Casey Kasem (this was way before Howard Stern or even Imus).

Our AM side was your typical small-town daytime station. We did different things during the different parts of the day. I was the “news guy” on “The Dawn Patrol” morning show. But I also occasionally filled in on the afternoon Top-40 rock show when the regular d.j. was late getting home from school. On weekends, I’d “run the board” for the local Baptist preacher’s Sunday morning show, then do the same that afternoon for Mike Morelli’s all-Italian hour.

Our FM was “Solid Gold” during the day, then switched to “Progressive Rock” from 6 p.m. to midnight, when it signed-off. I was the night guy. My job: program rock music that would appeal to 18 to 49 year-old males. I was only 18 years old myself – what did I know about 49 year olds? Basically I played what I wanted. It was fun.

Sometimes I’d fill in and do a Solid Gold shift when someone needed the day off. They were fun because I got to play the music I grew up with in the 1960’s. Oddly, I do not ever remember playing an Elvis Presley song. Elvis was still pumping out current hits right up until 1977. So we didn’t think of him as an “oldies” artist, I guess, although he certainly was.

This Christmas, a friend gave me one of those super-cool iPods. Two hundred and forty songs in a tiny little box no bigger than the battery for my digital camera.




Naturally I signed up for iTunes and began buying songs at a dollar a pop. I started with new stuff that I like: Gomez and Death Cab For Cutie and Citizen Cope. But exploring their library a little deeper, I struck…well, gold.

I never really appreciated Elvis Presley’s work – I was not an “Elvis fan.” But I liked that recent remix of his “A Little Less Conversation” so I downloaded it. That reminded me of a couple of other of his scorchers: “Burning Love” and “Promised Land,” both of which I hadn't heard in a long time. Elvis could belt out a song like nobody’s business. In retrospect, he really was The King. “Promised Land,” written by Chuck Berry and recorded by Elvis in Memphis in 1973, may be one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded – 2:51 of pure aural heaven.





I left my home in Norfolk Virginia,
California on my mind.

I straddled that Greyhound and rode him past Raleigh,
On across Caroline.

Had motor trouble it turned into a struggle,
Half way 'cross Alabam,
Well that 'hound broke down and left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham.

Right away I bought me a through train ticket,
Ridin’ cross Mississippi clean
And I was on that midnight flyer out of Birmingham
Smoking into New Orleans.

Somebody help me get out of Louisiana

Just help me get to Houston town.
There’re people there who care a little 'bout me
And they won't let the poor boy down.

Sure as you're born, they bought me a silk suit,
And put luggage in my hands,
And I woke up high over Albuquerque
On a jet to the promised land.

Workin' on a T-bone steak a la carte
Flying over to the Golden State
When the pilot told us in thirteen minutes
He would sit us at the terminal gate.

Swing low chariot, come down easy
Taxi to the terminal zone
Cut your engines and cool your wings,
And let me make it to the telephone.

Los Angeles, give me Norfolk Virginia, Tidewater Four Ten Oh Nine
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin'
And the poor boy's on the line...

It’s a great song because it moves. The lyrics move the protagonist from one side of the country to the other. They move him through different modes of travel (bus, train, plane). They move him socially (although it is only implied) from Virginia to California. You get the impression that when he calls from California it’s not to say, “Be home soon!” but just the opposite. And the arrangement of the song is smoking! Elvis just kills it. (And I mean that in a good way.)

I’ve got room for another 220 songs in my iPod. Time to start digging again. I have a feeling that I’ll be spending another $220 very shortly. Got to love technology!

24 December 2006

Side Effects

When you drive around Guanaja in your boat (which is the only way to "drive" around Guanaja), you are struck by how there all these beautiful hills, and nobody lives up there. Pretty much everyone lives at water level, save for a few hardy souls who managed to lug construction equipment and material up a ways. But literally, there are no roads going up into the interior of the island, and no one lives there. It's odd - almost disconcerting. Such a pretty place yet so undeveloped. Not really all that far from the U.S. mainland as the crow (or in our case, the King Air) flies. But Guanaja might as well be a million miles and a hundred years away from Houston, not 800 and in the same time zone.

The lack of tourism here has some amusing effects. For one thing, stores and businesses do not feel the need to put up a lot of signage. With only about 12,000 people, this is not a big place. Everyone knows which business is which, so why bother? Bars, in particular may have no sign outside at all. Local custom is that you cannot see into bars from the outside. So if you didn't know where the place was, you might not find it. Again, not a problem for the locals.

I was told to go to, "Angie's place," an internet cafe on the Cay. "Is that the name of the store?" I asked. The guy looked puzzled. The name? He didn't know. "It's just...Angie's place," he repeated, looking exasperated. There are only four telephone/internet stores on the Cay. And everybody knows which store is Angie's store. Everybody but the new gringo, that is. Needless to say I went into two of the wrong ones before I found Angie's.

Another amusing aspect of living here are the restaurants. There may be menus, but they're typically superfluous. What usually happens is this: They've got either fish or chicken. (Not a lot of red meat here.) Once you've decided on that, then the only other option is whether you want a baked/boiled potato or papas fritas (what we Americans used to call french fries). There will probably be a small green salad that may or may not contain pieces of tomato. There may or may not be a choice of salad dressing; usually it's Thousand Island. It's best not to quibble or expect too much. You want food? This is what they've got. It's usually more than you can eat, and it never costs a lot of money.

The simplicity of life itself in Guanaja is refreshing. The simplicity of the eating experience here is especially nice compared to those aggravating American restaurants where every item must be special-ordered. You know, the ones with the laminated eight-page, multi-fold menus (and extra "drink" and "dessert" menus on the table buttressed by the salt/pepper shakers). I get through the ninety-nine different types of beer (but ohhhh sorry, no Killian's Red draft - bastards!), the eighteen ways they can cook my steak, and the twelve different ways they serve potatoes. I just want to eat, not play twenty-friggin'-questions with "Todd," my server tonight. But wait! We're not done.

Waiter/Todd: "And for your vegetable?"
Me: Mmmph...Broccoli, I guess.
Waiter/Todd: "The broccoli, very good. Now, would you like that steamed or boi-"
Me: LOOK, 'TODD,' JUST BRING ME SOME GODDAM BROCCOLI AND I DON'T CARE HOW YOU COOK IT!

I know, "Chill, dude!" But man, I get frustrated! Look, I like fine food as much as anyone. But I'm not a "foodie." I don't like to think too much. And I'm not picky. I just love to eat, and will eat everything on the plate (including the plate on the right night). I don't care so much about the overall quality of the food or having umpteen-thousand options as long as it's cooked well and tastes good and/or if it happens to be accompanied by a good red wine from Chile or Argentina.

I know some people for whom dining out is never a pleasant experience. They whine incessantly about the food - that it's not right or it's this or that... And I'm, like, "Who cares? We didn't have to cook it and they even bring it to our table for us!" For me, it's as much about the whole dining experience as the food itself.

On the other hand..! Couple of nights ago I went to Graham's Place, a bar/restaurant one cay up from ours. "Casual" doesn't even begin to describe this joint. I said to the bartender, "I'd like some fish." Usually Graham's has two or three different kinds, depending on if they've gone fishing today and what they've caught. But before Renee could even ask, I said, "Surprise me." They did. I was not disappointed. It was a broiled-something with a white sauce, boiled potatoes and a side-salad. Delicious! Their cook, Reggie is very good.

But I've had similar, simple, satisfying meals at just about every restaurant in Guanaja. Like I said, when it comes to food, I'm easy.

23 December 2006

Email?

It was brought to my attention that there was no way in this blog to reach me by email. I checked, and sure enough, no email link! An odd oversight, now corrected. It's right there by my picture in the profile box, and if you click on the profile the link has been activated.

19 December 2006

I Am An Idiot, Conclusion

I know I should have posted this last week, but our internet is SOOOOOO unreliable here in the Bay Islands...but that's another (long) story.

If you look closely at the above picture, you can see a plume of light blue smoke coming from the exhaust stack of our front-end loader. That's a Catepillar mechanic in the driver's seat, and the machine is running. Success at last! But it was not easy.

I have changed engine control computers ("ECM's") in cars numerous times. I've even gone to junkyards (excuse me, "auto salvage facilities"), yanked the computer out of a crashed car, then plugged it into another car and driven away. No. Big. Deal.

Not so with Catepillar equipment.

First, we had to have the mechanic come up to Guanaja from San Pedro Sula on the mainland. That alone was $750. He spent the day and in the end confirmed what I suspected: The computer was bad.

So we ordered a computer from Cat in the States. It was $2,500. Brought it down on Friday, December 1st. The Catepillar guy here in Honduras said he'd have to come back to "adjust" it to our machine. "Bullshit!" I said. "I can put the computer in and get the thing running." (Silly boy...why do I say such things?) On Saturday, December 2nd I get the computer installed and the loader will not run no matter how much we crank and crank and crank. Not even a puff of smoke. I admit defeat. I don't like it, but I admit it.

So on Monday we call Catepillar, and they said to send BOTH computers to them in San Pedro Sula. They would download the information from our old one, and upload it to the new one! I was dumbfounded. We spent $2,500 on a BRAND NEW COMPUTER that cannot be used until we pay another $750.

But that's just what happened. Fortunately, our company airplane just happened to be going to San Pedro on Tuesday, December 5th (an amazing coincidence, really). So down the computers went. Only...and you knew this was coming...the Cat place in SPS didn't have the correct updated software to download/upload the data. God in heaven..

Our airplane left on Friday. We went through the weekend. Monday, the weather was very bad - no airline flights in or out. Tuesday, same thing. The rest of the week was like that. Just miserable.

Monday, December 11th. FINALLY, the Cat mechanic arrives on the last flight in. He makes it up to our job site on Tuesday morning. I was elsewhere on the property just before lunch when I heard a familiar diesel rumble. Halleluja! I ran over with my camera in hand, just in case it was a fluke. Thankfully, it wasn't.

So we're back in the earth-moving business. You have no idea how good it feels to have that machine back in action. And to think it only took one full month and $4000 bucks!

It's tough getting things done here in Guanaja, Honduras, CA. Everything is a hassle.

18 December 2006

Tis The Season!

Remember the song, “Both Sides Now?” It was a hugely popular hit back in the late 1960’s. Although Judy Collins’ version was the one played on the radio, the song was actually written by Joni Mitchell. It’s all about ambivalent perspective. She’s looked at life, and love, and even clouds from both the bad and the good.

So I had yet another medical flight down to the mainland over the weekend. Deckhand on a boat had a nasty fall and broke some ribs. The boat skipper called my cell phone Saturday night and briefed me. Since there was no doctor at all in Guanaja, and no x-ray machine anyway, the prudent decision was obviously going to be to get the guy to the hospital. Since there are no airline flights to or from Guanaja on Sunday, that’s where I came in, as I do. I told the skipper I’d be ready to go in the morning.

I was kind of looking forward to going to Ceiba. On her blog, La Gringa wrote of a new supermarket that has opened there called Paiz. This is exciting news for people who like to eat. Our grocery stores in Guanaja, shall we say, leave something to be desired. Like groceries.

By six a.m. I was up and out, coordinating activities on our end, getting the helicopter ready and fueled. No call. Six-thirty…seven…no call. Dang. I told our caretaker that I knew how to get them to call – I’d go make breakfast! I went inside and no sooner had picked up a frying pan for the eggs when my phone started ringing. I had to laugh; works every time. Question: Could we do a nine o’clock takeoff? Well why not?

Complicating matters were not one but TWO parties scheduled for the day. (Got to love the Christmas season.) First one began at noon, and when there are good friends and alcohol involved, I sure don’t want to be late.

I stayed low on the way down, hustling to get there as quickly as possible. The two passengers that were escorting the injured man were originally going to stay in Ceiba. At the last minute they decided to ride back to Guanaja with me.

In what is becoming an all-too familiar pose, here we are at La Ceiba, with my injured passenger being loaded into his "ambulance." Yes, he's got a couple of broken ribs. But don't worry! The roads in La Ceiba are as flat and smooth as billiard tables.


Going back at 3,500 feet put us at the top of a layer of puffy cumulus clouds. I decided to play a little. That Joni Mitchell tune began running through my head:

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air,
And feathered canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way


Joni got that part right! But there are also passageways, saddles, cloud-mountains to zoom over and then scoot down the puffy ski-slope on the other side, little alleyways, and wormholes to explore. It’s not too bright to be doing it where there might be other aircraft around, but out between La Ceiba and Guanaja I could be 99.99999% certain I wasn’t going to run into anyone else. Plus, it’s just an awesome blast like you wouldn’t believe. It's the best amusement park ride in the world.

Coming close to Guanaja, I could see that there was one humongous ice cream castle parked right over the island.

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way


I held my altitude as long as possible, then began zig-zagging my way down through the maze of feathered canyons. Coming around one corner, I aimed straight for one little cloud. Poof! We punched into it, and were enveloped in nothing but white. In two seconds we were through it and suddenly Guanaja appeared directly ahead of and below us as if by magic. I know I was impressed! (I get like a kid sometimes, I'm ashamed to say.)

But I wanted to maintain my cool, unflappable pilot image. So I very casually glanced over my should at the girl in the back seat. What’s she doing? Text-messaging on her cell phone, of course. I should have known.

We land at the airport and they get out. I’m expecting huge, ear-to-ear grins like the one I've got. Instead, I get the casual, nonchalant wave, like, “Nothing special about this flight. I’ve done this a zillion times before.”

I don’t often allow myself to “play” when I fly. When you get paid to do something, you have an obligation to do it with the seriousness the task deserves. If I were the type of writer who uses hackneyed clich├ęs, I’d say that sometimes you have to take the time to smell the roses. But I’m not. So I’ll just say that sometimes...once in a while...you have to get out and look at the things from all different angles.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all


09 December 2006

Other Voices

I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading other people’s blogs. I guess I’m not really a blog-person. But there are a few that have piqued my interest. A woman emailed me about my blog. “La Gringa” is a fellow ex-pat - she from Texas, resettled with her Honduran husband in La Ceiba, a coastal city about 70 miles to my southwest. Although her blog is ostensibly about gardening, it ends up being part diary, part travelogue and mostly, interesting stories of someone a lot like myself – a “spoiled” American trying to come to terms with life in a third-world country.

I write well, but I’m not a good writer. I don’t have that eye for capturing the essence of things and then translating it into words. Sometimes I think I’m not a very observant person. Oblivious would probably be a better description. I envy writers like P.J. O’Rourke, Rolling Stone Magazine’s Matt Taibbi, and George Will. You probably have your favorite writers too.

As a guy who’s been a fairly technical person all his life, I can describe stuff pretty well. You want to know how a helicopter rotor works in language you can understand? I’m your guy. But that can get pretty dry (close friends who don’t have to feign politeness would say “boring”). La Gringa has “it.” She is a good storyteller. Her voice comes through. It’s funny, that. I’ve never spoken with her, but I know exactly what she’ll sound like. You will too.

So if you want to read about what life in Honduras is really like, I recommend La Gringa’s “Blogicito” (a word she made up) over mine. Read it here: http://www.lagringasblogicito.blogspot.com