Who Am I?
- Bob Barbanes:
- A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?
24 December 2007
Ah, little 16 year-old Jamie Lynn Spears - or as she's about to be known, "Mommy." Well, with such a role model as big sister Britney, I guess we shouldn't have expected anything else, right? It is sad though. Now, parents all across the country are going to have some 'splainin' to do to their little daughters who've watched the show. Thanks, Jamie Lynn! (I would say that it's ruined her career for good, but in this crazy country? Meh- I doubt it.)
I'll admit it, some of my Christmases have not been so great. I've spent too many of them away from family and friends, working at my oh-so-important job of flying roustabouts out in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't do that anymore, and it's nice being home. I'd like to be with the family, but we're scattered to the four winds and don't get together much.
My friend Hal Johnson and I have been corresponding about a number of things, mainly our wariness of Mike Huckabee and his potential as a POTUS*. Hal still works for Petroleum Helicopters Inc., transporting those roustabouts...those guys who keep the oil flowing so you and I can keep driving around like we do. The oil production never stops in the Gulf of Mexico, not for nothin'. Hal is working this week, which has got to suck since he has a wife and seven year-old son at home, and they're holding off on "real" Christmas until daddy gets back on Friday.
For me, it's been a relatively serene week. In that regard, it's nice being single; you can get things done at a reasonable pace without a lot of the stress and panic. There was no big, head-long rush into Christmas this year. Tomorrow I will spend a leisurely day cooking a turkey and some other side dishes (I make a crabmeat potato salad that is slap-yo-mama good!). Then I'll join some other friends and combine our collective foodstuffs in the afternoon. It should be a wonderful day.
I hope it will be a wonderful day for you too. I hope you are where you want to be - spiritually, physically, financially and emotionally. I hope the holidays are everything you expect them to be and more. I hope you keep in mind the reason for this holiday and why we celebrate it: the birth of God's son, Jesus Christ on earth. If you are reading this blog, I may not know you personally but I thank you and wish you the best. You deserve it.
*President Of The United States
22 December 2007
Chuck Norris' last t.v. series, "Walker, Texas Ranger" left the regular weekly schedule in 2001. But because of his never-changing, stoic countenance, he turned into something of a pop culture icon. Late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien started it, inserting clips of "Walker" into his show for comic relief. From there, a couple of internet geeks put up a website listing a number of Chuck Norris "facts." They're all hilarious exaggerations of Norris' uber- tough-guy image, such as:
Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried. Ever.
Chuck Norris can hit you so hard that he can actually alter your DNA. Decades from now your descendants will occasionally clutch their heads and yell "What The Hell was That?"
Chuck Norris has the greatest Poker-Face of all time. He won the 1983 World Series of Poker, despite holding only a Joker, a Get out of Jail Free Monopoloy card, a 2 of clubs, 7 of spades and a green #4 card from the game UNO.
You get the idea. The website and number of "facts" started off small, but like many internet phenomenons it has grown inexplicably large. The list has been continually updated and revised since it first appeared in 2005 and there are hundreds now. Some of them are lame, but many are so absurd they will make you laugh out loud.
Okay, one more...
Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience.
Chuck Norris is the only person on the planet who can kick you in the back of the face."
Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he needs.
Chuck Norris died ten years ago, but the Grim Reaper can't get up the courage to tell him.
Well-grounded and down-to-earth, Chuck takes the ribbing in stride. In fact, he responded to it with characteristic good-nature on the World Net Daily website, to which he is a regular contributor.
Chuck Norris is an unashamed Christian and also a good Republican.
Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has shown himself to be most glib and at-ease in front of crowds and t.v. cameras. He comes across as very "real" or at least less-fake and scripted than any politician I've seen in a long, long time (with the exception of the latter-day Bill Clinton). Like Chuck Norris, Huckabee apparently does not take himself too seriously either. Check out this ad, which we bring to you courtesy of the good folks at YouTube.
Okay, so this Huckabee has a sense of humor. I like that. Our current President's attempts at humor are...let's fact it, painful. It is wise of Huckabee to align himself with such a bad-ass icon as Chuck Norris. That swaggering tough-guy image worked for Ronald Reagan, and you have to admit that George W. Bush has played up his Texas roots for all it's worth. Americans love cowboys. Even modern-day cowboys who drive SUV's instead of ride horses (but it doesn't hurt to have some photo-ops of you actually on a horse once in a while).
But there's more to a President than a sense of humor and some clever one-liners. Where does Huckabee stand on other important issues? Like the question of faith. Politicians are good at side-stepping or evading sensitive questions like this. Not Huckabee!
They were trying to box Huckabee into a corner. Wolf Blizter tried to nail him down on a meaningless technicality, trying to get Huckabee to say that he believes the earth was created in seven "days" as we know them now.
Huckabee wasn't having any of it. He was obviously prepared for the question, and his response sounded well-rehearsed. Still, I liked it. I liked when he said, "I'll tell you what I'll tell this country. If they want a President who doesn't believe in God there's probably plenty of choices. But if I'm selected as President of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words, that God did create."
I hadn't really thought that the Republicans were fielding anybody worthwhile in this election. But I'm getting tired of Hillary's non-answers or rambling talking-point evasions. Now I'm going to have to take a closer look at Governor Huckabee.
Official Chuck Norris website
Chuck Norris "Facts"
Chuck Norris Official Response
Chuck Norris Wikipedia
17 December 2007
It’s only about a ten minute drive, and I stopped by Hardy’s to pick up some biscuits and gravy for us to eat while we worked. And coffee. Matt never has any damn coffee in the house. Doesn’t drink it, he says. Neither does he drink iced tea. Makes me wonder just what kind of bogus southerner he is?
Seven a.m. constitutes the start of our “rush-hour” here in puny Pensacola, and people were already out racing around, driving like maniacs, nearly interrupting their cell phone conversations to avoid hitting someone (like me) at the last second. It is quite odd, how frantically people drive on their way to work. It seems that most people do not like to get up and out in the morning, nor do they evidently give themselves even a minute or two of extra time. This should be no surprise. After all, I grew up in one of the great rush-hour capitals of the world: New York City. Maybe that’s why I’m so anti-rushing around nowadays. This morning it seemed like I was just getting in everyone’s way.
The paper did not need much editing. I don’t know a thing about the banking industry, so I can’t comment on the content. Matt submitted it on time, and later in the day learned that it had earned a B+ grade. Not bad, I suppose, for a paper that was only begun to be worked on less than 24-hours before it was due.
No flying today, so I spent it running errands and picking up some last-minute Christmas gifts. The pressure of the season must be getting to people, because the race-car driver mentality was in full-swing all day. That might explain the lunatics on the road this morning, but to be honest they always drive like that on their way to work, Christmas or not.
Finally, this evening I went to Wal-Mart on Creighton Road. I expected it to be a madhouse, and wasn’t disappointed. One guy in a big pickup truck, fed up with the wait in a line of cars that wasn’t moving fast enough for him, just drove over a curbed divider and found an alternate route. I did my usual park-as-far-from-the-entrance-as-you-can routine. Sometimes my friends grumble, but you know what? It only adds a mere 40 steps or so to the trip to the front door. FORTY STINKING STEPS! How many steps are you going to take inside Wal-Mart? And you think an extra 80 is going to kill you? Sheesh.
My rationale for parking so far away is simple: It’s easier to get out of the parking lot. No pedestrians with carts full of groceries behind you way out there. And it’s easier to see cars coming up the row because there’s usually few cars parked around me. I hate backing up.
On the way home, people were still driving like madmen, doing their best impression of a demolition derby or Formula One race. And apparently, I wasn’t driving fast enough for anybody. I just need to be in more of a rush, I guess.
I’ll be glad when Christmas is over and things get back to normal around here...whatever that is.
16 December 2007
We had a cold front come through the area yesterday, bringing with it some strong winds. Hardest hit was the town of Navarre, where people incurred damage to their property. In reporting this event, the PNJ’s intrepid, star reporter Sean Dugas went and interviewed some residents. (You can read the story by clicking here. I don't know how long the link will work.) Here’s what he wrote about one Navarre resident.
Lisolette Heilman, 76, was taking a nap in her mobile home on Avenida Del Sol near the Publix in Navarre when she heard what sounded like an explosion as the winds ripped a metal awning off the back of her home and tore a bowling ball-size hole in her roof.
“It sounded like 16 cannons going off in front of my house,” she said with a heavy German accent. “I thought it was a dream.”
Say what? Was it really necessary to report that Ms. Heilman spoke with an accent? What if her name had been Shenid Bhayroo (referenced in another story)? Would it have been any more or less racist to say that Ms. Bhayroo spoke in a heavy middle-eastern accent? Or that Shaniqua Jackson spoke in a heavy ghetto-Ebonics accent? Of course not. But the newspaper never could have gotten away with saying such a thing about Ms. Jackson, because a certain reverend with the same last name would be on a plane down here from New York before you could say “Don Imus.”
What the hell is wrong with people? The fact that Ms. Heilman spoke with a heavy German accent has absolutely no place in a news story…especially that news story. Perhaps Mr. Dugas was only trying to add “color” to his story. If so, he forgot to mention the "heavy Polish accent" of Will Poloski, age 14, whom he quoted earlier in the story. Mr. Dugas obviously felt it necessary to inform us of something that was completely irrelevant and inappropriate.
Such is the racist state of affairs that still exists in small southern towns, even ones that pretend to be as cosmopolitan and sophisticated as Pensacola, Florida does. Heh, this is such a backwoods burg. Probably always will be.
14 December 2007
So…the Boss asked me to pick him up this past Wednesday morning at the company headquarters at 9:30. He had a doctor’s appointment in Pensacola, so we flew there first. It would have taken him about 1:10 or so to drive. We made it down from Brewton, Alabama to Pensacola in less than thirty minutes. Then the good folks at Heliworks loaned him a vehicle to get to his doctor, which was right near the airport.
By 11:30 we were airborne again, headed west to Gulfport, Mississippi where we have a big project underway. An hour later we were on the ground. The boss did…whatever it is that bosses do. I took a long lunch.
At 3:30 we were lifting off and headed for home. About another hour flight.
“This is just great!” he said as we neared home base. “The helicopter has really let me do a lot more in my day. I got a lot of work done, and I still have time to make some phone calls from the office when I get back. I never could’ve done all of this today by car.”
My boss uses the helicopter for both business and pleasure. And I have to admit, we are utilizing this JetRanger exactly in the way Bell Helicopters envisioned when they designed it. We go from point to point, landing right where we need to be most of the time. The helicopter has increased my boss’s efficiency and productivity immensely. It is the right size and speed for the job. It is, for a helicopter, economical and dependable.
There are times when I’d like a bigger helicopter…a faster one…maybe a more-sophisticated one…or a ship with two engines. But I’ve resisted pushing for such a helicopter because this one fits our needs so perfectly. I’ve known pilots who’ve sold their bosses on “bigger, better” helicopters and eventually sold themselves right out of a job. (The expenses of owning and operating a helicopter can truly be staggering.)
We've got this JetRanger equipped with a terrific Garmin moving-map GPS that has terrain-avoidance and obstruction warnings, plus it displays weather information in nearly real-time sent down to us from XM Radio. The GPS is also hooked to a collision-avoidance device. It is a level of capability that would have been either completely unavailable and/or astronomical in price just a few years ago. Because we fly at night, we've upgraded the instrument lighting on the panel and augmented the standard landing lights with an HID auxiliary light that is almost as bright as those you see on police helicopters.
The Bell 206B JetRanger has always been one of my all-time favorite aircraft. It may not be the most glamorous aircraft in the sky, but it is one of the safest, and it suits us well. And I’m damn proud to be flying it for this company. Plus, I just like the look of the thing. Pretty, isn't it?
09 December 2007
Why is nobody suggesting this? We are so afraid of any hint of "blame the victim" that we neglect to factor in our own personal responsibility for our actions. But let's get real. When do these drunk-driving accidents happen? On weekends, usually after midnight. Ergo, stay off the road at those times! Why is this not obvious?
Our local fishwrapper...sorry, "newspaper," the incredibly mediocre Pensacola News Journal has been on a rant lately about drinking and driving. Every week the paper is full of sad stories of people who've lost loved ones in drunk-driving accidents.
Today, they chronicle one family - a young couple and their seven-month old baby from north Alabama who were on their way to a beachfront condo in Perdido Key. They left their hometown late on Saturday evening "to let the baby sleep on the way" (what??). They were sitting at an intersection in the area of Pensacola we call "car city" when they were rear-ended by a drunk in a truck - a drunk who already had gotten two DUI's. The man and his wife were seriously injured; the baby subsequently died. The truck driver only suffered minor injuries.
A month or so ago, the PNJ did a big story on two young girls who were killed when the car they were riding in was rear-ended by another drunk - a boy in a Honda who was having "girlfriend problems" and who was waaaaaaaaay drunk and doing 90 or so on a four-lane divided highway east of Pensacola. In this case, the car he hit (the girls' car) was being driven by a guy friend of theirs who was going the speed limit, "more or less." The driver of this car was, the police say, stoned on weed although they declined to claim it was a factor in the accident (I disagree). One or both of the girls were ejected from their SUV which subsequently, as they do, rolled over them.
Tragic stories, to be sure. Unless you've been through it (and I dearly hope you have not), one can only imagine how their families and survivors would deal with such pain.
It's easy to point to the drunk drivers as being completely at fault in these two accidents. But there's more to it than that. Let us not overlook some of the details. In aviation, an accident is rarely the result of a single "causal factor." Usually it is a series of events that lead up to the accident. So too with these "drunk-driving" automobile accidents.
In the first accident, the driver from north Alabama was stopped at a red light. "Car city" has very little traffic at two a.m. Didn't the driver notice the headlights of the truck bearing down on them from the rear? When I'm at a red light, I'm watching for the green, sure, but I'm also watching to make sure that cars coming up to the light from behind me are going to stop. It was two in the morning. Was the driver of the car at the red light fatigued and sleepy? It would not be unreasonable to assume so, especially after he'd made a nearly five-hour drive.
In the second accident (the one with the girls), neither of them was wearing a seatbelt. Would they have died if they'd been properly secured and stayed inside the vehicle? We'll never know the answer to that. But it is an important question. What was the driver of the girls' SUV doing? Traffic was obviously not heavy on that highway at that time of night, or the boy in the Honda would not have been able to be going so fast for so long. And it's a flat, straight stretch of road with good sight-distances. Didn't the driver of the SUV see the headlights of the fast-approaching Honda in his rearview mirror? I don't know how you drive, but I'm always keeping track of what's ahead of and what's behind me. Especially at night. Especially on a weekend night.
There was a recent drunk-driving impact panel meeting at the University of West Florida. DUI offenders were required to attend. There were the usual speeches by family members of those killed in DUI accidents, as well as some gory movies of others.
A woman got up and gave a very heartfelt talk about her 20 year-old son who'd been killed by a drunk driver. Of course it happened late on a weekend night. The woman said her son had "just gotten off work" although we don't know where or when. Turns out that the boy was ejected from his vehicle and was killed when the drunk's car landed on top of him. Ahh, no seatbelt for the kid, evidently. Again.
Despite Florida's mandatory-seatbelt laws, we constantly see people being ejected from their own vehicles in "rollover" type of accidents. I'm constantly amazed at how many people I know who will drive along, unbelted and seemingly oblivious to the annoying bong-bong! of the warning chime. I'm, like, "OH, JUST PUT YOUR DAMN SEATBELT ON!"
(By the way, this kid, this 20 year-old, apparently unmarried kid already had one child, and another one that was born three months after his own death - meaning that he had his first child when he was only 18 or so. This has absolutely nothing to do with his accident, of course. But it says a lot to me about how we're "progressing" as a culture and society. It seems like having traditional families doesn't matter much anymore. In any newspaper article about a parent and child, more often than not they have different last names. I'm not convinced that this is a good direction we're going. To me, it points to the incessant and perhaps inevitable crumbling of our societal mores, just as we so cavalierly disregard "meaningless" laws like the ones requiring us to wear seatbelts, and our propensity to hold SOMEBODY responsible for everything...somebody else, that is.)
I know, you think I'm being unsympathetic and horribly cruel for even suggesting that people have some responsibility for their own lives...or deaths. But come on, we're adults. We've known for as long as there have been automobiles on the road that people are going to drink and drive them. This is not a new phenomenon. To plead ignorance and innocence is, I think, trying to weasel out of your duty as a citizen.
Let me put it this way. If you go out driving on a Friday or Saturday night, you damn well better be on the lookout for drunk drivers. You damn well better be super-vigilant and careful. You better check and double- and triple-check everything...in front, to the sides and behind you. And you better damn well wear your seatbelt. Every safety guru you talk to will tell you that your chances of surviving a wreck are immeasureably better if you stay inside the vehicle. You cannot do that if you don't wear your seatbelt.
Personally, I think that anyone who ventures out on the road on the weekend after midnight is just being careless - especially so if they bring their family along. Do I drive at those times? Only if I absolutely have to, and not if I can avoid it.
Admittedly, not everybody can. There are those whose jobs or personal situations require them to be on the road during the "death hours." These drivers must acknowledge the very real risk, assume that every other car out there is driven by a drunk, and take the necessary steps to avoid an accident. It's Defensive Driving taken to the highest possible level. It's what we pilots do all the time.
So now we get to the larger issue of the actual drinking and driving. Obviously it is wrong. And just as obviously, all the laws, t.v. ads, traffic checkpoints and legal penalties will not prevent it.
America is a car culture. I don't know about your town, but I live in the city of Pensacola and nothing is within walking distance of my house. That's just how our cities have evolved. So no matter how much we demonize drinking, society still condones drinking and driving. Don't believe me? Then why do we allow bars to have parking lots?
You want to stop drinking and driving? Mandate that bars cannot have parking lots. Oops, but what about restaurants that serve alcohol? Hmm. Oh, and what about stores that sell cold beer? What is the purpose of selling cold beer? Are people in that much of a hurry to get home and drink it? Or do they perhaps want to drink it on the way? No matter, you can always go to a liquor store and buy any kind of booze you want. As long as people are going to drink, they are going to drink and drive. And as long as people are going to drive, they're going to drink and drive.
In any event, our national committment to stopping drinking and driving is weak at best. If we were serious about it, we'd enact the kind of Draconian laws that some European countries have. Heh- and that will never happen as long as politicians and other powerful people get busted for DUI on their way home from parties and such.
So I say, just be smart - stay off the road when the drunks are out.
And wear your goddam seatbelt.
30 November 2007
It was a small accident and no, thankfully not in the aircraft but in my car. The other morning I was on my way up to the airport, which is one hour north of my house by car, to get the ship and fly it to a maintenance base which, ironically enough is right back here in Pensacola, about twenty minutes by air. I had left plenty early, and there was no real rush.
Avalon Boulevard runs north from I-10 and dead-ends into Highway 90 just west of the town of Milton, Florida. Avalon is a highly-trafficked road, and there are two right turn lanes at that intersection. From both you can make a right-on-red. I was in the right-most lane, number two at the light, stopped behind a Ford Explorer SUV in front of me. I saw his brake lights go off and the truck began to move out. Assuming he was taking off, I turned my attention to the oncoming traffic from the left, and released my brake to move up into the Explorer’s spot. …Only the driver of the Explorer had decided that there really wasn’t room and stopped. As did my Jeep when I ran into the back of him.
We pulled over onto the grass by the side of the road to assess the damage: None at all to my car and a small bruise to the Explorer’s plastic rear bumper cover. I apologized right away, admitted that it was my fault and offered to pay for any repairs if he wanted to do it that way. He said he’d rather file a police report and report it to his insurance company. I said that was fine; that’s why we have insurance.
We chatted while we waited for the police. The other driver, let’s call him “Howard,” seemed like a nice, understanding kind of guy – older than me, maybe early sixties. And he looked like he was still in the military or recently retired from it by his brown shirt/brown pants/black shoes (a fashion faux pas in some civilian circles), however I couldn’t see any emblems under his windbreaker.
I admitted that should have been more attentive, but he admitted that he started to go but decided that there really wasn’t room when he tried to go. Hey, accidents happen. We talked a bit about our jobs. That was when he mentioned what a rush he was in to get to a meeting at a college nearby where he was to give a presentation.
A state trooper arrived after about thirty long minutes. She walked up and stood at the very rear of the Explorer (which was much closer to the pavement than my car), giving it a quick glance. She could clearly see that there was no immediately-apparent major damage to either vehicle. I know that she had to be thinking, “Now, what...?” No-nonsense almost to the point of being brusque, she fired off some quick questions.
Trooper: “Good morning, guys. What happened?”
Me (Pointing to my car): I hit..." (pointing to his car) "...him”
Trooper: “Anybody hurt?”
Trooper (to me): “You got insurance?”
Trooper (to Howard): “You got insurance?”
Howard (indignantly): “Of course!”
Trooper: “Okay. Any damage?”
At that point, Howard kind of…well, exploded.
Howard: “Of course there’s damage! Look at that!”
The trooper glanced down and saw the bruise. I thought I could actually hear her sigh. Her cell phone rang. She looked down at the Caller-ID and did not answer but suddenly seemed very eager to dispose of us. “Okay,” she says. “Look, in cases like this you guys will file a driver-to-driver report and we can get you on your way quickly.” She then retreated to her car and came back with said form. Taking our licenses and insurance cards, she filled it out.
She handed us each a copy of the form and advised us to fill out the rest and send it to Tallahassee, along with notifying our respective insurance companies.
“Does this form say who is at fault?” Howard asked pointedly.
“No sir,” the trooper replied. “In cases like this where the damage is under $500, we do not determine fault.”
At that point, the situation turned bizarre. I won’t recount the entire “he said/she said,” but it consisted of Howard arguing at length with the trooper that the damage to his truck was waaaay more than $500, probably more like $1,500…maybe more! He contended that she should designate yours truly as being at fault. She repeatedly told him that she could not do that. Back and forth, they went at it long past the point that I would have put a stop to it if I was her. Howard’s voice was shaky, which indicated to me that he was highly upset about the whole deal, something he’d sort of masked up to the time the trooper got there.
To her credit, the trooper maintained her composure and a professional demeanor. I have had my troubles with policemen over the years, but this trooper was as good as they get. She didn’t talk down to him, and she was unfailingly polite. She was undoubtedly good with a billyclub too, and I thought Howard was about to find out.
Howard’s stated concern was that if we both just reported it to our insurance companies, his rates might go up since Florida is a no-fault state. (He should have taken me up on my offer to pay for the damages without going through our insurance companies, but that was off the table as soon as he called the cops.)
And I think…I’m not entirely sure, but I got the impression that ol’ Howard wanted me to have some personal consequences for hitting him. I mean, I was contrite, but maybe I wasn’t contrite enough. Admittedly, his truck was pristine. I thought it was brand-new, but it turned out to be a 2001 model with 130,000 miles. He’d obviously taken very good care of it. I know how people are about their vehicles, and I felt badly for him. Howard evidently didn’t want to just turn the event over to our insurance companies and let that be that. I think he wanted the trooper to give me a ticket for…something. As luck (mine) would have it, the trooper wasn’t buying it.
I should have realized sooner that Howard was more upset than he was letting on. He made several cell phone calls to family, business associates and his attorney while we waited for the police. In each one, he opened the conversation by saying, “I’ve been in an automobile accident.” Not, “…a little automobile accident,” and not even, “I had a small fender-bender while driving to work.” Each time, he had to explain that no, it was not serious and no, nobody was hurt. And each time, I wondered why he let the party on the other end assume the worst right off the bat?
“Well you’re not being very helpful!” Howard finally snorted in a very derisive tone. The trooper glanced over at me and rolled her eyes – the first little crack in her veneer. I stifled a chuckle. “Sir,” she addressing him, “I am being as helpful as I possibly can be. I’ve told you what I can and cannot do. I’ve filled out this form for you. I’ve told you what you need to do next. I cannot do any more than that. Good day!”
And with that, she turned on a heel and strode to her car. Remember the opening credits of the old t.v. show, “Magnum P.I.” where Tom Selleck is in the Ferrari on the side of the road, and he punches it and roars out onto the pavement and away from the camera with two giant rooster tails of grass and dirt spewing from the rear wheels? That is how the trooper left the scene of our “accident.”
I apologized again to Howard and gently suggested he not let this ruin his day (too late for that!). He shook my hand, got in his formerly-pristine Ford Explorer with the newly bruised bumper and disappeared down the road.
I did go up to the airport, get the ship and did fly it back here to Pensacola. After taking care of some business with the mechanics, I called a friend to give me a ride back to my house (as my car was still up at the other airport). We pulled into my driveway around 9:30. I was going to go inside and call my insurance company to report the accident. Before I could even get out of the car, a white SUV with “PROGRESSIVE” emblazoned in big letters on the side pulled up behind me. They have these roaming claims specialists.
“I was just about to call you,” I said.
“Oh, the other driver’s insurance company already called it in to us,” the guy said, handing me his card and introducing himself. “And since I was in the neighborhood, I figured I’d drop by. Was anybody hurt?”
“Umm, no. In fact, there was absolutely no damage to my car. It was pretty minor.”
“Great! Glad to hear that. Well is there anything I can do? Do you need anything?”
“Ahh, not really. Should I still call this in?”
“Nah, we’ll take it from here. We’ll get him fixed up right away,” he said. “If you need anything, my number's on the card, just give me a call and let me know.”
I was, like, whaaaaat?
Frankly, I was blown-away by this level of customer service. The proof of the pudding will be if they actually do take care of the Howard’s truck, and if my rates don’t either go up ridiculously or if I don’t get summarily cancelled. My rates are very low to begin with, so I’m not really worried about an increase – unless they quadruple or something. But so far, I’m very happy that I chose Progressive Insurance. And to think that I just did an online search to see who was the cheapest and picked them.
So...big, long story about a tiny, little accident. And before you say it, yes, I'm happy my little accident occurred before picking up the ship and not after. That would have ruined my day for sure.
22 November 2007
If you have to work for a living, then you should always be able to work for people such as these, people you like and respect. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll always be someone who’ll work for someone else – that I’ll never be really wealthy. Whatever it is that these guys have – the drive, determination or just raw talent to be extremely successful, I don’t have.
Or maybe I don’t want it. And that’s cool. I’m good at what I do, which is flying these crazy contraptions. The last three guys I’ve worked for are self-made men, for sure. But they never take a day off. They’re always either working or thinking about work. They’re typical “Type A” personalities who never stop. Me, I like to stop. I like to be able to turn it off sometimes and not think about work. For me, my wealth is measured not in dollars, but other, less-tangible things.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Unspoiled by crass commercialism, its purity remains. It’s simply a day on which we can sit back and reflect on all of the blessings in our lives. And blessings, I have many! In the words of baseball great Lou Gehrig, today-ay-ay, I consider myself-elf-elf, the luckiest man-an-an on the face of this earth-earth-earth. And that’s no joke.
I wish for you that same good fortune I’ve enjoyed. I wish that today you would take a moment to look at your own life and see and appreciate all the good things – never mind the bad! I wish for you a (belated) happy Thanksgiving.
18 November 2007
You know that I love to fly. And getting paid to do it is awesome. I'm lucky in that regard. But that awesome-ness comes at a price. I try to be upbeat and positive about a career in aviation, but I have to be honest. Flying for a living is not for everyone. It might look cool, but it's not that easy. Not at all.
There are a number of helicopter internet forums/discussion groups. These are usually populated by enthusiasts who are already in the business. Often, the general philosophy and attitude of the participants is to only say good things about flying and downplay the bad. "Newbies" often come to the groups with questions about becoming a professional helicopter pilot. Generally they are told that: a) They'll love it; b) It's the best thing they'll ever do; c) Their family will support them fully; and d) If they do not do it they'll regret it for the rest of their lives.
Uhh, yeah. That's not exactly true. I mean, it leaves a lot out. There's more to it than that.
In the first place, nothing is guaranteed in life, especially not in aviation. Just because you plunk your money down at a flight "school," it is not assured that you'll come out the other end as a professional pilot. Learning this craft is an incredible undertaking like you cannot imagine. You'll learn about surprising things you never thought could be relevant to flying. The bookwork is daunting. Not only that, your performance will be constantly evaluated and graded. It's not like we all have to be Chuck Yeager, but the truth is that not everyone has the aptitude to become a pilot. A flight school's slogan might be, "Everyone can fly!" but it's just not true. Sorry. You might be one of those who just isn't suited to be a pilot, as hard as that might be to believe. You'll counter, "Of course I can learn!" Yeah, maybe. (Ask your prospective school about their dropout rate. I'm sure each one of those dropouts swore up and down that it would not happen to him/her either.)
A commenteer on one of the internet message boards talked recently about how immersed in aviation he's become as he pursues his licenses (we actually call them "ratings"). It's consumed him. He has a hard time talking with his friends now, because they do not understand his aviation-talk and can't relate to it anyway. Flying is like that. If you do it right, it takes over your life, influencing and coloring and dominating every aspect of it. Your family and friends will think you've gone nuts. (Hint: Non-aviators get bored REALLY QUICKLY of technical flying talk.)
Also, it is hugely expensive. Most aspiring pilots will end up spending over $70,000 before they have the ratings and experience necessary to get that first job. Flight "schools" are not like colleges. They're just businesses. There are no scholarships and few low-interest student loans. However, there are loans (e.g. "Sallie Mae") available to people who attend flight schools that meet certain qualifications. Not all "schools" do.
By the way, you don't go directly from getting your licenses to having a high-paying job. Yoko oh no! You might need only 200 hours or so to get all of your ratings, but most commercial operators want pilots to have a minimum of around 1,000 hours of command time before being hired. And so you're faced with a classic "Catch-22." You need experience to get a job; but how can you get experience without a job? Hmm.
The usual way for new pilots to build time is to become flight instructors. I know it sounds odd: the newest of the new teaching those who know nothing. But that's aviation for you - it's how it's always been. Trouble is, the pay for flight instructors is terrible. Flight schools know that instructing is not a career goal in itself. They know that their instructors will bolt out the door at the very first opportunity without so much as a two-hour notice. So why should they pay you more? They won't. But remember those big loans you took out to finance your training? The bank is going to want you to pay those back some day. Probably soon. So plan on a lot of years of eating tuna fish and Ramen noodles, even after you hit the "big time."
It is not easy for new pilots to break-in to this business. It's a long, tough road. And like I said, there are no guarantees. Not only that, there are no short-cuts. Nor are there any reliable, repeatable ways of going about it (other than the be-a-flight-instructor route). Everyone's story and route is different. What worked for one may not work for another.
The other variable is that the helicopter industry is volatile. Nobody knows that it will be like in five or ten years. The job market may remain healthy, and the demand for pilots high, as it is now. But things can change. If the military suddenly burped out 100 or 200 pilots, it would make a huge difference for the low-time, civilian-trained pilots vying for the same jobs.
For those who have flying in their blood, there is usually no question about it. They *must* pursue this field. Like me. I've known since birth...never doubted for one second that I would be a pilot. And it's not that I couldn't have done other things, I just never wanted to. I didn't worry about the money - where it would come from or how much I would make. Luckily, I didn't have to go into debt to finance my flight training. But I really didn't start making decent money until I'd been in this field for nearly eighteen years, when we got our first union contract. (And by the way, what I called "decent," my family still called "pathetic." But that's another story.)
Some of my emails are from people who try to justify it financially. They ask how long it will take, and if they'll be able to pay their loans back, and how much they're likely to make once they get that first real job? I tell them that I do not know. Nobody does. But I cannot recommend a career in aviation for those who approach it from a purely dollars and cents standpoint. For them, I seriously doubt that it would really be worth it in the long run. Flying for a living often involves so much bullshit that every now and then even us experienced old-timers will question whether it would be better do to something else with our lives.
Flying for a living is great, no doubt about it. It is a wonderful job, rewarding in many ways. But it takes an enormous amount of dedication, compromise, commitment and sacrifice. And it's not for everyone. If I were smart, I would've aimed to become an airline pilot and not messed around with these wacky helicopters. It's too late for me now, and fortunately I'm in a pretty good place at the moment. But would I do it all over again? It's a question I ask myself frequently. To be honest, I don't think I would.
Hindsight is great, isn't it?
For the undeterred, I say: DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Ask as many questions as you can, and come into this business with your eyes wide open. If you're up for a challenge, this field will take you places and show you things you never dreamed of.
10 November 2007
Up at the hunting camp there is a guy named Billy-Mac. He’s the general caretaker of the entire property…retired from a long career of mechanical work. The guy can fix anything. Literally, he’s amazing. And Billy-Mac owns two beautiful motorcycles: a silver 2004 BMW R-1150 RT and a 2000 Honda Valkyrie Interstate. Both are serious road bikes on which Billy-Mac has put many miles. He mostly rides with his brother Wayne, who has an identical BMW, only in black. They go on these long, epic, “Let’s see how many states we can hit in two weeks!” type of trips.
BMW motorcycles are renowned, always have been, and have a legendary ability as “sport-touring” bikes. Compared to the lumbering locomotives like the Harley Electra Glide and the Honda Gold Wing, the BMW is lithe and agile while carrying nearly as much “stuff” in its saddlebags. They’re for the guy who enjoys riding as well as traveling. BMW’s are bikes you can hop on in New York and easily ride to, oh, California while only stopping for gas. I’d never ridden a BMW but had always wanted to.
Honda Valkyrie Interstate
(The above pictures are only representative of, but exactly like the bikes we rode. I wanted to get pictures of "our" bikes but...well, I'll explain that below.)
When I first met him, Billy-Mac was proudly showing me his bikes when I casually let it slip that I used to own a Harley Sportster once upon a time. At that, he brightened noticeably. “We’ll have to go riding sometime!” he said enthusiastically. I agreed, thinking it was one of those far-off things that never come to pass.
And last weekend was “some time.” I’d flown the Boss up to the camp, and the he was off on a dove hunt. It was one of those picture-perfect, cool days I love so much, and I had nothing to do. Billy tossed me a helmet as he pulled the bikes out of the garage. “Let’s go!”
I was a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous. Getting from the camp up to the main highway requires a seven-mile trek up a winding dirt road. I hadn’t ridden in a long time - ten years or so, save for one short jaunt on Jacob’s little 250cc putt-putt bike (don’t tell him I called it that). I wasn’t looking forward to taking that big bastard BMW up any dirt road as my initial, getting-to-know-you ride.
As predicted, the trip up the dirt road was harrowing. First of all, it was like riding on a two-inch layer of talcum powder. The tires kept slippin’ and a-slidin’. The BMW is tall and top-heavy. The brakes are so touchy that a one-finger squeeze on the lever or a little tap of the toe could (and would!) lock the wheels. I kept thinking, Dear God, please do not let me drop this bike. After a while, like about mile 3.5 I began to loosen up a little and relax and let my riding instincts take over. Nice bikey…nice bikey…
Fortunately…miraculously, I did make it up to the pavement without falling down. At which point, before I could even catch my breath, Billy-Mac speeds off southbound, leaving me in the considerable dust. I punched the throttle and took off, trying to catch him. We spent the next hour tearing around a bunch of back-country roads in central Alabama. They were just a blur to me. Every time I dared to look down at the speedometer it never indicated less than 70. And me, on an unfamiliar bike, on unfamiliar roads, behind a guy I’ve never ridden with. I was working very hard trying to make friends with the big BMW while staying up with Billy-Mac while not doing anything really stupid in the process.
As luck would have it, Billy-Mac is an excellent rider: Steady and predictable and smooth; very easy to ride behind. Just fast. Very fast. I trusted that he wouldn’t get us in over our heads. I mean, more than I already was. And, thank the Lord, the roads were empty on this particular Sunday afternoon.
In the town of Greenville we met up with brother Wayne. Fed and refueled, we struck out again, this time with Wayne leading, me in the “slot” and Billy-Mac bringing up the rear. More back roads, we settle in at a nice, comfortable 65 mph. I happily think to myself, “Ahh, so the younger brother is the slower of the two.”
And no sooner are those words formed in my brain, Wayne nails his throttle and takes off like a rocket. In my rearview mirror I can see Billy-Mac coming up from behind in a hurry. He’s on the gas hard. I shake my head and sigh. Oh, maaaaaan. Here we go… I stomp the shifter down two gears, grit my teeth and open my throttle fully. I catch up to Wayne, who is hauling ass. I steal a glance down at the speedo: 100 mph. Lord, are these guys crazy?! They’re old men – old enough to be my, well, older brothers. But they ride like friggin’ teenagers!
Mercifully, Wayne finally slows. I start breathing again. My heart comes down out of my throat and slows in rate from parakeet to astronaut-at-shuttle-launch. It feels like we’re just crawling. I look down: 65! And I laugh to myself. After 100 mph, 65 feels like 40.
We pass through a little town…more like a settlement, really. At least he knows the roads… Once clear, he nails it again. Oh, jeez… When I look down this time, I see 110 on the speedometer. Steady 110. Not good. I have not ridden a motorcycle like this in…well, ever. Okay, maybe in my crazy youth, decades ago. Hell, my last bike was a damn Harley fercryinoutloud! I can clearly see the newspaper headline: “Three motorcyclists killed in bizarre accident near Montgomery, body parts everywhere, no brain matter found.” How do I get myself into these situations? I’m a helicopter pilot but I’m gonna get killed in a motorcycle wreck!
I would like to tell you about the BMW – how it handles and rides and shifts and feels and sounds…but I cannot. I would like to tell you about the scenery in this part of Alabama, but I cannot. Most of the time on the bike I had my eyes tightly closed and was just holding on for dear life, waiting for the inevitable death and destruction. I wanted to take pictures…you know, the requisite snaps of me and the guys smiling and leaning on the bikes at some picturesque place. No dice. The only time these guys stopped was to let me pee (at least that’s what I told them), and only because I begged. And Wayne never even got off his bike. These boys are serious riders.
(Now, it must be said here that we weren’t doing anything, um, really crazy or stupid. The speeds at which we were traveling were probably well within Billy-Mac and Wayne’s capabilities. I was just overwhelmed because I hadn’t ridden in so long and had never been on that particular bike before and didn’t know the roads. Still…I did think that 110 was a little too fast.)
We were pushing darkness and low on fuel again. It was the first day back off daylight savings time and we’d gotten a late start. Wayne slowed and pulled over at a proverbial fork in the road. We’d be splitting up and he’d be heading back down to Greenville; Billy-Mac and I would shoot back to the camp, arriving right at sunset if we hurried.
“You guys are nuts!” I said as I took off my helmet.
“We may be old, but we haven’t lost our grip,” Wayne chuckled, making little throttle-motions with his hand.
“Yes you have, on your sanity!” I said. They both laughed, although I wasn’t really joking.
“We don’t normally ride that fast with strangers,” Billy-Mac said sheepishly. “But I knew you could ride when you made up the dirt road without falling.”
I’m not one of these “need for speed” guys. Really. I’m no daredevil or risk-taker. I’ve made it to age 52 without killing myself or breaking too many bones. I’d like to see how many more years are left. Yet I keep finding myself, quite unintentionally (I think) in these strange, kinda crazy, “This is stupid/I know I shouldn’t be doing this…” situations. And you don’t know the half of it. Because like I said, there are stories we guys don’t tell. The above should be one of them, but I felt the need to confess. However, there are some that I won’t even share here. But I’ll say this: Chances of me making 53? Not good.
07 November 2007
The Boss wanted me to fly him from Home Base down to a jobsite in Gulfport, Mississippi. It’s about an hour-and-ten minute flight. Pickup time was set for just after lunch, so I strolled out of the house around ten-thirty a.m. to go to the airport. It was a cool, dry, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky, see-forever day where you get up in the air and go, “DAMN, I’m lucky to be a pilot!” We stayed low, sightseeing and chatting as we made our way to the southwest.
He needs to come back home tomorrow (Thursday) evening. The plan was for the helicopter to stay at the jobsite, and I would stay in a motel. They’d already rented me a car. “Say, if you want to go over and stay the night in New Orleans, you can do that,” the Boss offered. New Orleans is about an hour-and-a-half to the west. On the other hand, home is just two hours to the east. “I think I’m just going to go home,” I said. And that’s what I did. I’d rather sleep in my own bed than a motel bed any day.
So I take off in the rental Kia, headed eastbound on I-10 at a high rate of speed. It’s a trip I used to make weekly for nearly thirteen years when I worked for Petroleum Helicopters in Louisiana. So there was an odd sense of déjà vu about the whole thing. And I realized something: I didn’t miss the old job so much as I missed commuting back and forth on the Interstate. See, I like driving. I can relax, turn the radio up as loud as I want (and I do like it loud) and just listen to music in peace and solitude. Fortunately, this little Kia had a pretty good radio. (Auto makers are savvy. They know that their car can be a total piece of crap, but we Americans won’t care as long as it has a kick-ass stereo. This particular Kia was and did.)
There is a radio station in Mobile, Alabama, 92.1 WZEW. It’s about the only station that’s worth a damn anymore. They actually play a lot of new music. But it’s aimed at adults, not teenagers. Trouble is, their transmitter range is tiny. I can’t pick them up at home in Pensacola (luckily they stream), nor were they coming in very well as I started eastbound this afternoon.
As I neared Mobile the station was coming in weak but getting stronger. Suddenly, for some reason the static faded and the signal burst into full strength. Just as it did, the d.j. came back from a commercial break and announced some of the music he’d be playing in the next set. Then he goes, “…And here’s the Traveling Wilburys.” Sure enough, “Handle With Care” starts up, clear as a bell. Man, I was in heaven.
So there I was, loving life on a beautiful day. I’d gotten to fly a little, and now I was cruising along at 80 mph, jamming to some damn fine music as I rode back home. I leaned back and thought, life is good! Like I said, it doesn’t take much to make me happy.
And at the same time, the thought is troubling. Maybe there should be more to life?
26 October 2007
I have been emailed on three separate occasions by people I’ve written about. Out of the blue! These are people, by the way, who are in no way connected with helicopters or even aviation in general. One was an ad-agency guy in NYC, one was the author of a book and one was a member of an ‘80s rock band. I wondered how on earth people like that would “stumble across” what I wrote? The emails always start off the same way: “I read your blog and…” And I think to myself, why were you reading it in the first place?
It finally dawned on me that people “google” themselves. I was amused at first – the thought of someone sitting down at their computer and typing in their own name just to see where on the internets it might be mentioned. Personally, it never occurred to me to do that. I’ve led a fairly unremarkable life. I’m no celebrity (except in my own mind) but I have been posting on various internet usenets and newsgroups as myself for over ten years. So I know there’s tons of stuff with my name on it. I’d never thought about what else might be out there. And truthfully, I don’t care. But someone (David from the Whole Lotta Nada blog) suggested I do it and so I did. No surprises.
But David’s suggestion and those three unsolicited emails point out something that I think we should all be aware of: Everything you do online is recorded somewhere. If you put your name on an internet entry, it will be google-able, possibly forever. So bloggers need to be cognizant if not careful about what they write. Things do come back to haunt.
Just recently, I wrote some uncomplimentary things about a certain music reviewer for a certain music magazine. I would not be surprised to get an email from him soon. Then again, I've also written about Sir Paul McCartney; wouldn't it be neat to get an email from him!
21 October 2007
Had to fly. Heh- yeah, that's rich. Like anyone had to twist my arm. Oh man, it was beautiful. A sparkling clear day. I mean, literally not a cloud in the sky. And the air was smooooooooth, not a lump or a bump anywhere. I climbed up to 2,000 feet and just sat back to enjoy the ride.
Well that's not quite true. Helicopters are what we call "dynamically unstable." This means that if the pilot were to remove his hands from the controls for any length of time, the helicopter would want to flip over and plummet to earth like a dead coconut. This is a little "quirk" of helicopters that most people aren't aware of, I'm sure. (Airplanes, on the other hand, must be stable by FAA regulation. They fly quite happily "hands off.") Since most helicopters do not have autopilots, they must be hand-flown 100% of the time. When the air is choppy or turbulent, flying a helicopter can be a lot of work. Today, the dang thing was just about flying itself.
I got to Gulfport and the boss says, "Hey, let's fly home along the beach." My day was getting better and better! So we take off and head eastbound for Pensacola, where we'll make a left turn north to Brewton, Alabama. We stayed low - 300 to 500 feet and enjoyed a beautiful flight on a glorious day. I thought to myself that, as a pilot, it doesn't get much better than this.
And so I was in a pretty good mood on the drive home after washing the ship and putting it to bed when we got back. It's not always great to have to work on the weekend, but this type of "work" is not too hard to take when you know about it in advance and especially when you're being well-compensated for what you do.
We've had a number of truly spectacular days since buying this helicopter. The Boss has been very, very lucky in that regard. He's skittish about weather, and he'll drive instead of fly if there's even the tiniest doubt about our ability to make the flight (this is a pilot's dream). Even so we've only had to cancel once or twice. But today he was in grand spirits. "Man, I wouldn't be able to charge anyone for making me fly on a day like today!" he said, smiling broadly. "You're not paying me to fly today," I shot back. "You're paying me for making me get up at five a.m. on a Sunday." A weak argument, I know. And so does he. "I thought you told me you were an early riser," he countered. Touché! Well played, sir!
So anyway, I'm driving home, in the aforementioned good mood, and I was listening to the radio (dead iPod battery, drat the luck). One of the local stations was doing "Psychedelic Sunday" or something like that, playing a bunch of songs from the 1960's. The announcer said that the artist up next would be Melanie, and I assumed they would play the awful and unlistenable "Brand New Key." But no! They played her other big hit, "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," a paean to the crowd at Woodstock (the original).
Iconic Melanie. Melanie Safka, actually, although she never used her last name. She's been out of the limelight, but still performs now and then. Such a distinct voice. Such a great song. Backed by the wonderful Edwin Hawkins Singers. Hearing it again gave me chills. Of course, YouTube has a video, which I present below for your listening and viewing pleasure.
And what a treat it is to watch! Check out the audience - clearly not your typical rock concert crowd. I mean, it's no "Please Please Me" - although they do seem enthusiastic enough. (One wonders what other musical acts were appearing at that place that day?) And check out the hairstyles on the women! Oh. My. God. Maybe some day we'll all be bald, androgynous automatons, dressed alike in grey jumpsuits. As bad as that sounds, looking back at how we dressed in the '60s, I'd say the future can't come soon enough!
19 October 2007
We're used to inclement weather here: Bad thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes. But tornados are something of a rarity. Needless to say, it caused quite a commotion.
They say it was an EF-1 category - in other words, bad, but not too bad. And it wasn't exactly a "classic" tornado, you know, the tall, powerful kind they get in the midwest that rips up mile-long swaths of land and leaves mobile home parts strewn in its wake. This was more like a very big and very low slow-moving cloud that was rotating clockwise (as seen from below) and was spawning little "mini-tornados" here and there. There was some damage (electrical transformers exploding, at least one house destroyed, roofs blown off, signs blown out, cars overturned, etc.).
It had been raining all morning, sometimes very heavily. As usual, I was out and about, driving around, blithely unaware that anything odd was going on. There was very little traffic on the streets for it being midday, which seemed unusual but nothing more. I went to see my friend Alisha at the bank where she works. She was agitated over something. "Didn't you hear about the tornado??" she asked, looking at me as if I lived in a cave (which I might as well). Me: "Uhh, tornado?" Evidently it was still happening.
Then I went to Wal-Mart and it was empty. I got the first non-handicapped spot by the front door. The cashiers were standing out in the aisle, away from their registers, awaiting their next non-existent customer. A few guys that were in there were chatting on their cellphones. I heard a couple of nervous, one-sided conversations that went, "Uhhh, tell me when it's gone, I'm gonna stay here at Wal-Mart until then." (Yeah, like Wal-Mart was a safe place to be in a tornado.)
My friend Gene was just arriving at Pensacola Junior College (PJC) for class. As he was getting out of his car he looked up and saw this low, menacing, rotating cloud right above him. He thought to himself, "That sounds like a train. Maybe I better get inside." See, here in Podunk, we don't think in terms of sneak-attack tornados. We know when hurricanes are coming, but tornados kind of catch us unawares. Inside, college officials had the students huddle in hallways while some doors and windows were blown out. Nearby, a bank corraled their employees into the vault. Bob drove around running errands.
Ironically, a lot of the damage occurred in the PJC/Cordova Mall area. The Pensacola Regional Airport...you remember, the place that is run by idiots...was luckily spared. But there was damage in the mall, and cars flipped over in the parking lot of a Target store, both immediately adjacent to the airport. How it missed the numerous trailer parks we have here in Pensacola, I'll never know. The local newspaper shows the track of the storm. It evidently went very close to my house, not that I knew. My power went out, but my power always goes out whenever it rains...or when there's a light mist...or even just a heavy dew.
I am convinced that when the end of the world comes it will be videotaped. Needless to say, there is all kinds of video of the tornado already up on YouTube. Sadly, all of the videos make us look like foolish, foul-mouthed hicks who think we're all weather experts.
18 October 2007
West’s latest offering does just that, lifting a riff from a “house music” band called Daft Punk, who’ve been around for fifteen years but have never put out a song you’ve ever heard (until now).
Not to sound too old-fogeyish, but I don’t like hip-hop. Sure, you can dance to it, and the beats are cool. But it’s not creative, it’s not inventive, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of…you know…talent to steal a riff from another song, repeat it over and over and then write a childish rhyme to go with it.
Which is exactly what Kanye West does. He raps:
You know how long I been on ya,
Since Prince was on Apollonia,
Since O.J. had Isotoners
Don’t act like I never tol' ya (Repeat 5X)
Oh yeah, that’s some awesome poetic writing worthy of Lennon/McCartney or Leonard Cohen, eh? One can imagine Cohen slapping his forehead and grousing in that deep, gravelly voice of his, "Damn...why couldn't I write a sublime, insightful line lyric that!"Austin Scaggs is an annoying, sycophantic poseur/socialite in the guise of a “music critic” who writes for Rolling Stone Magazine. He is also the guitar-playing son of respected, been-around-forever R&B singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs, whom I love. (It’s worth mentioning that Boz Scaggs was close-personal friends with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner back in the 1960s so I guess we know how Junior got his job.)
The younger Scaggs recently did an interview with Kanye (say it “khan-ya”) West. In it, Scaggs nearly falls all over himself, doing some world-class ass-kissing. West, no stranger to suck-up interviewers by this time, lets him. Scaggs, bowing to the genius that is Kanye West, is blown-away that someone would rhyme “Apollonia” and “Isotoners.” The elder Scaggs ought to put a gentle arm around son Austin, give him a fatherly hug, then slap the shit out of him. “Idiot! Those words don’t even rhyme!”
I have a sneaking suspicion that as gi-normous as “Stronger” is right now, nobody will even remember it next year, much less ever after that. In fact, twenty years from now we’ll be saying, “Kanye what?” not even, “Kanye who?”
It makes me sick to think that “kids these days” are mistaking this crap for music. And just thinking that makes me feel old.
But what is it about certain songs that stand the test of time? The ones you never get tired of hearing…the ones you still know the lyrics to thirty or more years later? As much as I try to stay up on current/new music, I find myself rolling my eyes and saying over and over, “Heard it already. Nothing new here. Next!” For every new KT Tunstall who comes along (and I think she’s terrific) there’s already been a Jewel and a Meredith Brooks before her. Or Melissa Etheridge. Or the Indigo Girls. And going back even further, Joni Mitchell.
Yup, heard it all before. Sorry, KT. (But do check out “Suddenly I See” from her Drastic Fantastic CD. Superb!)
Which brings be back, as it always does, to the Beatles. Their music was not only well-written, but the songs meant something to us in ways that songs like “Stronger” never will.
Paul McCartney has been making music forever. Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, he’s continued to put out albums and tour in support of them. You may or may not like his current stuff, but he is a master at what he does. For various reasons, some personal and some legal, Paul hasn’t delved into the old Beatles catalog of songs for his concerts. Remember, the Beatles stopped touring in 1968 and became a studio band, so public performances of their early hits were limited, and the recordings that do exist are terrible given the technical (in)capability of the day.
But that’s changed. Now Paul freely embraces his past. And maybe he’s come to acknowledge how much we treasure those early Beatles songs. During his 2005 concert tour, Paul played some things we hadn’t heard in a long, long time, like “Please Please Me.” The video is below. You won't believe how good it sounds. It is an awesome, wonderful, booming rendition, faithful to the original in almost every respect, if a bit slower. Listening to it brings back a flood of incredible memories. But also, it reminds me of what great song-crafters the Beatles were, even then. (Having said that, by the time “Please Please Me” hit the charts (1964 in America) John, Paul and George had been playing together for nearly five years.)
As cool as it is to hear the song again, it is fascinating to watch the reactions of the concert-goers. Young and old, they go crazy! They dance, they sing along, they laugh, they cry, they stand there with their mouths agape, or just stand there hearing those oh-so-familiar notes and chords strung together and looking mesmerized, lost in their own reverie. It is obviously a deeply emotional experience for all. Beatles songs can do that. There never was before and probably never will be again a phenomenon as big as the Beatles. The fact that 65 year-old Paul McCartney can still belt out songs like this is truly amazing.
17 October 2007
I loved working for the FH1100 factory. It was a great opportunity. I had known about the liked the ship since I was a kid back in the 1970’s. The work I was doing was interesting and fun. And it was sad to have to leave, but life drags you in certain directions sometimes, and like the man said: When you gotta go, you gotta go.
Then I spent a fascinating year in Honduras working for Bill Pullum, a realtor/developer of some renown from Navarre, Florida. Bill is a pilot who owns two(!) FH1100’s. He keeps one in Navarre (a town near Pensacola here in the Panhandle) for his personal use, and he sent one down to Guanaja, Honduras to work in the development he’s doing down there. He needed a pilot for that ship, which is where I came in.
Bill Pullum is one of the few people on the planet for whom I would gladly take a bullet. He’s an extraordinary man, trying to help the people of an impoverished, forgotten little island out in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t seem to bother him that these very people are ungrateful and dishonest – they use and abuse him and take every advantage of his generosity as if he had infinitely deep pockets. What Bill has in infinitely deep patience. And he takes the long view. He knows that what he is doing is good, and that it will benefit them in the future, whether they know and/or acknowledge it or not. Right now, few of them do.
I was honored to get to know Bill, his indefatigable wife Martha and their son Bart. They are good people. I had a lot of fun flying with both father and son. Bart is an incredible pilot. While he was still technically a student pilot, he and I flew the second FH1100 down to Honduras. I am not exaggerating when I say that Bart could have easily done the trip without me.
Personally, my time in Honduras was not a happy one. Sometimes a job is just not worth it no matter how much they pay you (and Bill paid me very well). Eventually I just couldn’t take it anymore. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that after getting to know the “locals,” I don’t care to go to Honduras ever again. Living there turned me into someone I did not want to be: a sorry-ass, cynical, angry, jaundiced and prejudiced guy whose opinion of Hondurans was extremely low. Sure, there were exceptions – but they were few and far between (Bill’s accountant Danette and Roger, the head of the local power company are the only two that spring immediately to mind).
Stories? Pffft, have I got stories! And some day I’ll write about them. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep them to myself, and if you want to read about the “real” Honduras, check out La Gringa's blog.
When I got back to the U.S., I had wanted to take some time off. But it was not to be. Almost immediately, Bill Pullum told me I should get in touch with a guy who was looking to buy a helicopter. That led directly to my current job.
Right now, we’re flying a Bell 206B JetRanger, one of the most popular, safe and dependable helicopters ever built. Ours is a terrific example, very nice and well equipped, and extremely well-maintained. The Boss is very happy with it. He uses it for business and pleasure. He has locations spread out all over south Alabama, and Mississippi, most of which are a long drive from headquarters. The helicopter allows him incredible flexibility and maximizes his efficiency. If ever there was a guy/business made for a helicopter, this is it.
But the Boss also uses the ship for personal flights. So although I’ve had to give up a few weekends, I’ve also gotten to go see University of Alabama football games (Roll Tide!), and last weekend we went to the NASCAR race at Talladega. Where he goes, I go, which is nice. There’s also the hunting camp out in the woods (deep out in the woods!), and the beach house in Destin, Florida.
We don’t fly all that much. Most of our flights are known well in advance, although once in a while he does have a “pop-up” flight for which he gives me plenty of notice. He is extremely conservative when it comes to weather. I like that. And when we don’t fly, I’m not required to be in my office. Helicopter pilots dream about jobs like this.
So I’m very fortunate. Life just keeps getting better and better.
12 October 2007
Flying gives me unimaginable pleasure. It can also bring that same feeling to passengers - even airline passengers. But the number of people who can fly at any given time is fairly limited, as is the duration of their flights.
Music, on the other hand, is enjoyable to those who create it as well as those who listen to it. And anyone can listen to it, at any time. We all have radios. Or Walkmans. Or what we used to call "home stereos." Or iPods. Or MTV when they used to play music videos. Theoretically, we could listen to music 24/7, if we wanted to. And I know some people who come close to that, who always have a radio playing in the background or foreground.
Joy. That's it! Music fills us with joy. And it's the easiest, cheapest, most convenient way. Make a joyful noise! Without music, our lives would be pretty dreary. We'd have no soundtrack. Music is uplifting. It makes us feel good, moves us, makes us want to dance. It's primal. I'm no psychiatrist, but can someone explain why that is? Hearing music has an emotional and physical effect on me. Never fails.
We have XM Radio in the our helicopter. When the boss is onboard, we usually have to listen to ESPN, but when I'm by myself, it's always tuned to a music station. Prior to that I'd wear my little ear-bud Walkman (lately iPod) headphones under my green David Clark headset.
Okay, so I was babbling in a previous post about iTunes releasing George Harrison's catalog. In the comments section, someone brought up the Concert for George. It's an ironic thing in music: All these great talents get together to perform after someone famous dies. It's a shame that it takes such an event to spark a get-together like that. But I'm not complaining.
The Concert for George took place in London's Royal Albert Hall on November 29, 2002, a year after George Harrison died of cancer. It was probably the best concert in the history of concertdom. Maybe the greatest concert that ever will be. I mean, it was that good. Click on the link and click-through to "Performers" to see the luminaries in attendance. It's a veritable "Who's Who" of rock music. Many of the names may be somewhat unfamiliar to you because they are not "stars" but the background and session musicians or "other" members of famous groups who make the music that is credited to the star or lead singer. But we music fans know who they are. And in the Concert for George they are the backup band from heaven. Except that they're not...you know...dead. Yet.
I've been watching bits and pieces of the concert on YouTube for a while. Haven't gotten off my ass to actually order the DVD, which I should, but I'm happy to just watch the performance of certain songs over and over. The finale, the everybody-on-stage version of "Wah-Wah" has been viewed 33,496 times. I probably account for 33,000 of those views.
It is a magnificent song. If rock and roll is performed, minimally, by three guitars and drums, imagine that multiplied threefold. There are at least nine guitarists on stage - and not just any ol' schlubs either, guys like Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne (of ELO), Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison (George's son), Mark Mann (who flawlessly recreates some of George's solos) and Andy Fairweather Low. There are three full drum kits, manned by Ringo Starr (of course), the incredible Jim Keltner (the absolute best session drummer you've never heard of), and Henry Spinetti (another long-time unknown who's career spans back to the '60s band Procol Harum). Then there are a host of other astounding performers...various percussionists, keyboards (Paul McCartney on one piano, Billy Preston on another), strings and horns and backup singers. Talk about your joyful noise!
I cannot imagine what that must have sounded like in person. I would have given just about anything (yes, including the left one) to be there. It is certainly proof-positive that old men can still rock.
It was a somber occasion, to be sure. As the Beatles die, it means our generation is dying. It reminds us quite clearly that we're all getting old. But leave it to Ringo to lighten the mood. Introduced by Eric Clapton, he comes comes onstage and immediately starts cracking jokes. Ringo simply cannot be serious. He's an incurable goofball. Before stepping up to his rightful place at the drums, he stays at center-stage and launches into a song that he and George co-wrote. It's one of his biggest hits, "Photograph" from 1973. It is an awesome song about lost love, maybe one of the best. It is touching and profoundly sad, yet at the same time upbeat and catchy. Ringo being Ringo, he can't resist dancing around...should I say joyfully? I guess it's because music makes us feel good even when it's about a sad subject. He sings:
Every time I see your face
It reminds me of the places we used to go
Now all I've got is a photograph
And I realize you're not coming back anymore
Ouch! I don't know who he wrote that for back in the 1970's, but even Ringo admits that the song has new meaning now that George is gone. The song is especially poignant when he sings,
I can't get used to living here
While my heart is broke, the tears I cried for you
I want you here to have and hold
As the years go by, and we grow old and grey
When Ringo sings that lyric, he turns and looks at Eric Clapton who winces noticeably. You can't help but smile at the irony. Did Ringo ever think he'd still be singing that song when he was old and grey?
Got to give Ringo credit, it's a sad song, but he doesn't make it morose, which it certainly could have been. He gets smiles out of people, including the normally-dour Jeff Lynne and the usually-taciturn Clapton. The feeling on the stage is so obviously upbeat. When Ringo again sings that line about only having a photograph, Dhani looks up at a huge photo of his Dad that was mounted above and to the left of the stage. It could have turned awkward, given the context, but Dhani then looks at his goofball "Uncle Ringo" and smiles broadly at something Ringo does off-camera. I don't know how they do that. I get choked up just watching and listening to it; they were actually there.
Click on the link below and watch the magic. Watch as musicians who aren't even "on-mic" sing along with the songs. Watch the smiles, feel the joy. Watch as Ringo starts singing and Eric Clapton leans over to Dhani Harrison and says something (maybe "He's such a nut!") that cracks Dhani up. Watch as, later on, Ringo sings, "Every time I see your face," and points to Clapton. Watch the hug that Ringo and Eric give each other at the end. These guys are all obviously good, life-long friends brought together in celebration of another, departed friend's life.
It is impossible to watch this incredible performance and not be touched. For that's what music does: It touches our very soul.
10 October 2007
I know, you’re probably grimacing at my disrespect and flippancy, and you’re asking yourself why you even click on this stupid blog anymore. But I flip not! I diss not. George Harrison was a huge talent, underrated and overshadowed, easily as talented in many respects as those two other huge talents in the Beatles. That would be John Lennon and Paul McCartney of course. Due to their stronger personalities, their music crowded Georges’s right off their albums.
George was always my “favorite Beatle.” Kids of my generation always had a favorite Beatle. And George was mine. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because the guy rocked! His guitar playing within the Beatles became legendary. His solo work consisted of big and bombastic songs as well as little intimate and gentle ones. But they were always tuneful – he certainly had an ear for melody.
After the Beatles officially broke up in 1970, George wasted little time getting back into the studio. In November of that year, he released his first solo album, a monumental (and surprising) triple-record effort aptly titled All Things Must Pass. Many people consider it George’s finest work. Seeing it, and the rest of George’s music become available for download was breathtaking. I mean, I actually gasped in shock and joy (and awe). This music means so much to me. And not just me! Let’s read some of the (admittedly biased) reviews of the album from the iTunes website.
Dougster: “One for the ages, folks. I’ve been listening to rock and roll for over 40 years and I bet I have listened to this record more than any other. Majestic."
JWinsto: “In my mind, this is one of the greatest records ever made. The depth of emotion and conviction in the lyrics, along with the performances, illustrate that George Harrison was one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time.”
Barry Oldschool: “…This album is highly listenable. To the max! It could be worth at least 40 dollars in my opinion. It’s a freakin' steal, people. Buy this now! Do it! Go!”
Snakespeare: “…There are so many awesome songs on this album that it stands head and shoulders above every solo-Beatle effort that came before it…This is without a doubt one of the greatest albums ever released. Most of the songs are classics that will be enjoyed for your entire life.”
Macy Jo: “You won’t believe the weird choking fit I had when I saw that George was on iTunes. This is awesome. Just awesome.”
BullsonParadeNYC: “It simply doesn’t get any better than this.”
Zizerzazz: “A bonafide, five-star, must have creation.”
Rockitcat: “I have loved All Things Must Pass since my older brother bought it when it was originally released in 1971 when I was 8 years old. It’s such a musical testament - - I defy anyone not to be moved by it. Bless you, George Harrison - - I miss you every day!"
(Bob sez: I could have written that last one myself, except that I was 15 in 1971.)
Okay, so there are a lot of Beatle fans out there. But you get the idea.
"ATMP" is George's landmark album. It defined him as a great artist in his own right, separate from those "other guys." It was and is also the best-selling of any of the solo-Beatle albums: 6X Platinum, whatever that means in total numbers.
I don't often go nutsy-cuckoo for whole albums. As you know, I'm a "singles" kind of guy. But I just love All Things Must Pass. It is surprisingly well-conceived. The songs are fully-developed. Many of them could have been on Beatles albums. For example, "Apple Scruffs" could easily have appeared on "the white album." And "Isn't It A Pity" could have replaced "Let It Be" on that eponymous album.
And come to think of it, "Isn't It a Pity" has a long, fade-out chorus that reprises the same fade-out ending of "Let It Be" almost note-for-note. It seems that George is making a statement to his bandmates, lamenting that they could not resolve their differences. On the other hand, we know that George had actually quit the band in early 1969, although he did return and stay until the bitter end. (Ringo had also walked out during the recording of "the white album" in 1968; Paul subbed for him on drums in certain cuts. It must have been a terribly conflicting, stressful time for all of them.) Then again, maybe I'm hearing too much in these things, but I never listened to it quite that way before.
Aside from the musicality of it (the aforementioned rocking), George imbues the album with his gentle spirituality. Never preachy, he humbly keeps everything in the first-person (e.g. "Hear Me Lord" and of course his infamous "My Sweet Lord").
I could go on, but I won't. I've always loved George Harrison's music, from his time in the Bealtes, then his solo work and right on up through his Traveling Wilbury's period (especially that!). And even though he died in 2001, I miss him for all of the great music he still could have given us. As compensation, I'll settle for getting the old stuff from iTunes, starting with All Things Must Pass which, as the one commenter above said, is an incredible bargain at $9.99!
Thank you, iTunes! I'm in heaven, man.
05 October 2007
The plan was to take my friends Gene, Matt, Alisha and her son Dylan for a little helicopter ride over Pensacola around six p.m. last evening. The ship was parked at the Pensacola Airport (PNS), at an operator called Heliworks, the only place that the idiots who run PNS allow helicopters to park. Only Heliworks was closed, because they do that around five p.m. every day. To get access to the ramp, the procedure is to call the airport cops who'll come and let you through a locked gate.
Matt, Gene and I got there a little early. Alisha and Dylan were on the way. In the meantime, Gene, who is an avowed airplane nut, went over by a fence and was taking pictures of the various airliners taxiing in and out. ...That fence being wired with some sort of proximity sensor that alerts Airport Security to a possible breach/terrorist activity.
Almost immediately, a cop showed up. "Sooooo...you three guys hanging around here," he starts in, letting us know that he has accurately and brilliantly sized-up the situation. Then he pointed at Gene. "You wanna tell me what he's doing taking pictures of airplanes?"
I said, "Is that illegal?"
The cop then copped an attitude. "You wanna answer the question?" he sneered, giving me that condescending cop-squint.
I am not a violent man, but I could have punched him in his face. What are we, in fucking Nazi Germany? Matt tried to ease the tension, but I wasn't in the mood for any bullshit. I was being maybe just a teensy bit belligerent.
Now, I understand cops. I know that when they approach a "situation" they have to Take Command and assume that authoritative presence. But they don't have to be assholes about it. All this guy had to do was come up, friendly-like, and ask us what we were doing there? Had he done that I would have gladly volunteered information. Instead, he took the "I may be dealing with some evil-doers, some real terrorists here," approach. "Yup, that camera that boy's holding may be a bomb!"
"I'm gonna need to see some ID," the cop growled, and we dutifully produced our driver's licenses. He dutifully copied down our info "for the record" of course.
About that time, a Pensacola Police (PPD) officer arrived, and one of the two finally asked what we were doing there. I said that I was going to take my friends for a helicopter ride. Period. I've got Command Presence too. (And no, my attitude wasn't helping, if that's what you're thinking.)
"Well, we're gonna need to get in contact with someone at Heliworks and verify your employment," the first cop said. I said, "You do that. Except, I'm not an employee of Heliworks. I just parked my ship here and now I can't get out to it." I may have sounded annoyed, because I was.
Now the PPD cop came over. "I'm gonna need to see your, um, pilot's license." I showed it to him. Trouble is, the FAA in their infinite wisdom provides pilots with little paper certificates that do not have our picture on them. In fact, they look pretty fake. And the only images on the certificate are of two bald guys (Wilbur and Orville Wright), to whom I bear a slight-but-not-convincing resemblance. The PPD cop looked at it for a moment, and then asked, "Do you have a picture ID?" I said, "Oh, you mean like a driver's license? Yeah, I got one of those." And then I showed it to him, too. Sheeh.
In the end, they could not verify anything through Heliworks; nobody was answering their cellphones, no surprise there. I thought for a moment that they were going to deny us access. Ultimately, the cops let us through. But they clearly were not happy about people penetrating their security zone.
I'll tell you what, man, the terrorists have won. Since "9/11" they have turned us Americans into a bunch of paranoid scaredy-cats who see terrorists lurking behind every parked car. Did those cops actually think that we were terrorists? That three white guys, a woman and a five year-old boy were terrorists who picked podunk Pensacola to launch an attack on a half-filled 50-seat Regional Jet? Yeah, that would sure send a message to America, wouldn't it?
Give me a break.
Things have gotten so screwed-up. We used to live in a free society, not a goddam police state. Used to be, you could hang around an airport fence and take pictures of airplanes without being given the third-degree by officious cops with nothing better to do than hassle citizens. It is no longer "Innocent until proven guilty." Now, it's "Terrorist until proven innocent." I think small towns like Pensacola all over the country are paying much too much for useless police "protection" in the name of the "War On Terror!" And you know where the money comes to pay for those police, dontcha? Right, your and my tax dollars.
Ah well. A little delayed, we did get to go flying, taking off right at sunset. It was a beautiful flight out to Pensacola Beach and back. Matt, Alisha, Dylan, Gene...and even I enjoyed it in spite of the gauntlet we had to endure just getting access to the ship.
At least we didn't have to take off our shoes, like all of the regular non-terrorist airline passengers inside the big terminal do.
Here's Matt, Alisha and Dylan
Here's one of Gene's suspicious-activity photos (Hurry, call the TSA!)
And here's Pensacola Beach right at sunset