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?
30 April 2007
Now, it is not fair to characterize Jose-Luís as a semi-coherent, strung-out crack addict who can’t go more than a few minutes without a “fix” any more than I am falling-down-drunk alcoholic. In fact, he functions perfectly normally during the day without any kind of intoxicant. He is usually a pleasure to be and have around.
It’s just that he likes to party at night. And he becomes a different person. Once he gets started he has absolutely no self-control. Rent money? Food money? Power bill money? He’d spend them all in a single night. If we pay him on Friday, his money is gone by Monday. This happens every week. (Maybe we should start paying our guys on Monday instead of Friday! Hmmm.) Addicted is addicted. I like to drink, but I don’t steal to support my Rum and Coke habit.
Lalo acted as a go-between/interpreter since Jose-Luís speaks virtually no English.
I wanted Lalo to make sure that Jose-Luís understood that this bail-out came with strings; he had to do his part. We had expectations. There would be no second-chance – this was it. We would help him this time, but he had to help himself. And by that we meant staying away from those destructive “friends” with whom he was inclined to engage in bad behavior. Lalo said that he’d be keeping his eye on him. (And believe me, nothing happens in Bonacca Town without Lalo knowing about it. If someone drops a dish, Lalo knows before it hits the floor.) We did stress that if Jose-Luís did not change his ways, he would lose his wife and kids, his place to live. Not “could” or “might”…but would lose those things.
Those were the stakes. Now, the big question: Is that stuff important to him? I honestly believe that to some people it is not. They are so self-absorbed and self-involved that they actually, deep-down cannot and do not care about anyone else, even their own offspring. Unfortunately, sometimes these people marry and have children.
As we talked, I looked in Jose-Luís’ tear-filled eyes, trying to determine if he was genuinely sincere in his nervous apologies and anxious promises, or just telling us what we wanted to hear. I’ve been down this road before and I’ve been lied to by the best. It has made me jaded, suspicious and somewhat callous. People lie, it’s that simple. People will do whatever they have to do to extricate themselves from this particular situation here, this jam-up right now. They’ll worry about tomorrow when it gets here. Things have always worked out for them in the past. There’ll be another Lalo and Robert and Mr. Bob who’ll bail them out.
So I really don’t know. All I do know is that I’m no accurate judge of people. I cannot predict what Jose-Luís will do this weekend when faced with the same friends and temptations as he was last weekend and the weekend before that and all the weekends before that. Will he sit at home with his wife and toddler children, just enjoying their company and reveling in the fact that he has a wonderful family? Will he go to bed early Saturday night and get up early Sunday morning to take the family to church? Or will the “fun” of running the streets with his friends be so attractive and compelling that he’ll go out “just for one beer” and end up staying out all night? I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it too.
I hate being a pessimist with stuff like this. Normally I like to think positively, and I do believe in the power of prayer. So who can tell? I do know how addictive cocaine (especially crack) can be. I know how hard it is for some people to quit. There are no formal treatment or “rehab” programs of any kind here. But even if there were, it would be incredibly difficult for him. This guy is teetering on the edge, one foot out in the air and the other on a banana peel. A feather’s touch could push him into the abyss. It’ll be interesting to see if we can pull him back to safety.
Back at the dock at the end of the day, Jose-Luís got out of the boat to leave. “¡Es importante que recuerde que sobre hablamos!” I said, which was my pigeon-Spanish way of saying “Remember what we talked about.” “Sí, sí,” he said.
I certainly hope he does. We’ll know soon enough.
29 April 2007
Hmm. I’ve been here…what…eight months now, and in that time Lalo has never asked to take me out to dinner. I knew something was up – just didn’t know what. I suggested Graham’s, which is a bar/restaurant/resort just “up the road” from us in the cay chain that rings Guanaja. Close enough to walk or swim home if I had to. And I mean that literally – at low tide you could actually walk down the reef.
Here’s where I need to digress. We had this guy working for us, Jose-Luis. A good kid. Always smiling, always willing to do whatever was asked of him. The kind you look at and go, “Gee, I wish I had twenty or thirty more just like him.” A likeable, youthful guy, I assumed he was in his early twenties. Uh-uh. Turns out he was twenty-nine when I first met him. He’s since turned 30. Naturally there is the wife and three kids at home, one a newborn.
The typically dour Jose-Luis, hauling sandbags as we built a jetty in our marina
The catch was that Jose-Luis is a “rocker,” Guanaja slang for coke-head. Realize, crack cocaine is one of the most powerfully addictive drugs out there. Right up on a par with crystal-meth, evidently. Not impossible to kick, but maybe so here in this place. The odds are just against it. Even if you went to rehab and got over the addiction, if you came back and hung around with the same guys in the same places, you’d be back doing it in no time at all. For some of these guys, their only hope at this point is prayer.
People who get addicted to crack do things that they would never do under normal circumstances. And they do it without even blinking or feeling the slightest bit of remorse. For Jose-Luis, getting that next hit was more important than anything else in the world.
His real problem was that his addiction and other certain related behavior came to be noticed by the Boss. The Boss who has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. Which meant Jose-Luis was out. Just like that, gone. (In defense of the Boss, there were many other issues that resulted in the termination, not just the fact that Jose-Luis was on crack. But it did play large.)
Hey, the guy created his own problems; sucks to be him. The usual phone calls were made from various people asking for his job back. No dice. “Fired For Cause.”
Which brings us to last night…
Lalo and I were enjoying a nice evening. (It’s always a nice evening when someone else is paying for the food and booze.) After a few lubricating Rum and Cokes, he got down to business. I knew he would eventually, but it was sooner rather than later.
“Bob, what are we going to do about that little shit?”
I knew who he was talking about. “Lalo, the guy got himself into this. It’s his own fault. Let him fix his own mess.”
“Bob, listen to me, son,” Lalo continued in his paternal, almost-stern way. (He is younger than me by a good bit, yet he often lectures me like a child.) “He landlord is going to put him out on the street! He got a wife and three kids! We can NOT let that happen," he said adamantly, adding, "I already gave his wife 2,000 lempira.”
It must be said here that next to the Boss, Lalo is the most generous guy in all of Guanaja. He would give you the shirt off his back and his sneakers too if you needed them. He is a truly great human being who absolutely does not know how to say no to people. He never has any money because he gives it all away.
I shook my head and shrugged. “It’s not our problem, man. You can’t save them all. People have to learn to be responsible. He’ll manage.”
Lalo gets this look on his face and a tone in his voice when he wants something and isn’t going to take “no” for an answer. He ordered up another round and let the subject drop. We were joined by Robert, the captain of the Lady Carminda, a cargo boat that runs regularly between Guanaja and La Ceiba. Robert is a super guy who helps us out immensely. He and Lalo have been lifelong friends. You can just tell that they’d do anything for each other.
A couple of Rum and Cokes later (okay, by that time I’d lost count and to prove it I have a god-awful headache this morning as I write this), Lalo broached the subject again.
“Bob, we got to do something for that little shit.”
I sighed, sensing that I was fighting a losing battle. He’s like a dog with a bone! “Lalo, look. The only way Jose-Luis is going to survive is if he can get out of here…get away from this place and get off the crack.”
“He needs a job on a boat,” Lalo suggested.
“Can’t we find him one?” I asked.
“I can do that,” Robert chimed in. Until that point, he hadn’t been involved in this discussion, but it was clear that he was already up to speed on the subject.
Long story-short, Lalo convinced me to go with him, Robert and Jose-Luis to a place called the West Peak Inn this morning. The plan is to have a no-compromises, come-to-Jesus talk with Jose-Luis. We’ll keep him and his family from being kicked out on the street, but this is not a free pass.
It’s touching, the way these two generous-to-a-fault guys go to such lengths to help people out. I mean, they themselves have so little, yet they give so much. I don’t know if our little talk with the guy is going to do any good, but I suppose it’s worth a shot. I just see that it's going to cost me money. More money. And I suppose there’ll be a Part II to this story sooner or later. I just hope it’s good news rather than bad. We'll see.
Coincidentally…why does this happen…as I’m writing this post I’ve got the satellite radio (XM Café) on low in the background. Sure enough, they play “All Of My Friends,” a wonderful song about friendship (duh) by a rather obscure artist named Goat. The CD came out last year. It’s the weirdest blend of genres and styles you could ever imagine. Why Goat isn't a more popular artist I'll never know. But I’ve loved that song ('cuz you know I have the best friends in the world) – even have it on the iPod. Odd that XM picked that exact time to play it. You’ve just got to love life’s continuing element of chance.
22 April 2007
Guanaja, taken from the CIA satellite stationed directly overhead
When MSNBC published this picture, we were all tickled down here. We knew that the U.S. government had a "bird" hovering above us - we just didn't think they'd ever admit it. But they recently released this low-resolution image, probably because it's such a neat shot. We know that they're capable of seeing things as small as a license plate on a car - they've admitted that. Heck, GoogleEarth now has public-domain pictures that are of such fine resolution that you can see individual houses and cars!
In a way, it's kind of spooky, realizing that the government is watching over us so closely. There are days when I'm laying out naked on our beach (when there are no guests and the caretaker and his kids are gone, of course) and I look up and think, "Getting a good shot of my ass, guys?" (I am a prude - I only lay out face-down, thank you very much.)
What I like about the above picture is that it provides an overview of our island that I have not yet been able. You can clearly see the coral reef that rings the entire island.
It seems to me that Guanaja was once three separate islands. Over time, they filled in to the one more or less contiguous mass we have today.
Notes: #4 Bayman Bay and #10 Posada del Sol are closed - for now.
About half of Guanaja's 12,000 people live in Bonacca Town (#1 "the Cay") and in the small adjacent town of Pelican (not shown).
There were two airports in the low lands. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch parked itself over Guanaja for three days and just about obliterated the place. Virtually every structure in the town of Mangrove Bight (#7) was literally blown away. Those permanently displaced camped wherever they could. A big, flat dirt runway in the are between Savannah Bight (#9) and Mangrove Bight was a pretty good place, and many homesteaded there. The town of Mitch (#17) sprang up there and was named in honor of its origin. A semi-paved road connects the three towns.
There are a number of, ahhh, establishments on the island's north side. I've written about Bo's Island House (#5) before. Just down the beach is End Of The World (#8) which is right by Michael's Rock (#18). Rumors abound about Bayman Bay - maybe it will, maybe it won't. Keep heading west past the airport (#2) and canal (#14) and you'll get to the West Peak Inn (#3). But that end of the island is not hooked into the power grid, so staying there would probably be "rustic" (unless they run their generator 24/7).
Back on the south side, there's Manati (#11) and Graham's Place (#15).
And now, to answer the age-old question: WHERE THE HELL IS GUANAJA?
I've put in a little pointer, just in case a gnat or a flea has landed on your computer screen thereby covering up our island.
Guanaja is a strange place...a small, undiscovered, undeveloped, unspoiled gem in the western Caribbean. It's amazing how close we are to the United States...and at the same time how very far away.
18 April 2007
And it’s not light reading, either. Oh, no. Not something you can read while the t.v. or radio is on in the background. At least not for me. The people who write for the magazine are the real heavy-hitters of theology. They write for people with their same level of education - or at least intelligence. (I read it slowly, with a dictionary at my side.)
FIRST THINGS is edited by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a Jesuit from Fordham University who seems like a pretty smart guy. That’s funny. Me calling him that is like a high school drama student saying that Robert DeNiro seems like a pretty good actor. Neuhaus has a huge, wide-ranging monthly column called "The Public Square." If you’ve ever met a Jesuit, you know that they are hardly taciturn or inarticulate.
In the February 2007 issue, Neuhaus mentions Wyoming Catholic College, a new university opening this fall. "This is a liberal arts college that really does intend to be different," he writes. Then he goes on to point out that WCC has a "Technology Policy" that operates on the premise that the human brain is the most powerful piece of technology, and it works best without certain distractions. To that end, WCC is banning television sets. In addition, there is virtually no Internet access, and no cell phones (a college after my own heart!). Classroom notes will be taken the old-fashioned way - presumably that means pen and paper.
Raising the literary eyebrow, Neuhaus wonders, "Would I have wanted to enroll? I don't know. Were I a parent, would I want my children to enroll? I don't know. But I might well be intrigued. To learn more about Wyoming Catholic College, check it out on the Internet that you might not be needing for the next four years."
(I love to read clever lines that actually cause me to chuckle out loud and make me wish I had written them. Neuhaus’ writing quite often does just that.)
I would gladly give up my cell phone for four years (or more!) But I cannot imagine being without the Internet any more than I can imagine being without Ramen Noodles or water. And I’m not at all sure that a college student today could get a complete education without Internet access. (What, no Google?!) But I agree with Neuhaus, it is intriguing.
Maybe Paul Simon could update his ‘70s-era hit, “Kodachrome” to something more modern…
When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,
It’s a wonder I can think at all.
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none,
I can read ‘most all of my email.
Give us those nice, fast search sites,
Give us the chat room catfights,
Makes you think all the world’s a
Funny blog, oh yeah…
I got a brand-new webcam,
I love to shop E-bay all night,
So mama don’t take
My Internet away.
15 April 2007
Lately, it seems fashionable for people to make excuses by invoking the A.D.D. defense. "Oh, I can't do that, I have A.D.D.," they'll say. Sometimes they'll say that in advance, before they've even tried. Or parents will excuse a toddler's otherwise unacceptable behavior by saying, "Well, he has A.D.D." Oh, really? You have A.D.D.; he has A.D.D., we all have A.D.D.!
As far as myself, I'd never really thought about it until recently. But at some point I realized that I cannot read a newspaper - can't do it! There is something so confusing...disorienting, even, about all those columns. My eyes jump from article to article, reading little bits from one, then another, and another. Sooner or later the whole page gets read, but certainly not one-story-at-a-time. Reading comprehension? I'm not sure.
I'm even conscious of it. So I'll deliberately try to read a full story. But it's just not possible. The Sunday paper is pure torture. This is why I like magazines and blogs - especially blogs. So easy to read. Just keep scrolling down.
I'm 51. And I wonder how many from my generation have undiagnosed A.D.D.? And further, I wonder how much of an impediment it is/was to our lives? It certainly seems to be a big issue nowadays.
Or maybe I don't want to know.
08 April 2007
I started visiting St. Thomas a lot, and eventually ended up moving there. A friend and I bought a six-seat Cessna seaplane, and we ran tours around the island until we went broke. It took about a year. My standard joke about the experience is: "We lost the shirt off our backs, but we got great tans." Which was all that was important back then. Even though our business ultimately failed, it was an awesome time that I still remember with great fondness. I loved island life, love it still.
So when the opportunity arose to take a job in Guanaja, my first question was: Where in the hell is Guanaja? My second question was, When do I start? This version of "island life" is much different from the Virgin Islands. Even back then, St. Thomas was visited by 1.1 million tourists per year. (Now, it's an astounding two million-plus!) Still, if you didn't mind a little hiking (and I didn't) you could find absolutely deserted tropical beaches, far from where the mainstream tourists would venture and even where the locals didn't go.
By comparison, Guanaja gets far fewer tourists. And by "far fewer" I mean, almost none. You won't find any big, glossy pictures of Guanaja plastered on the wall of your local travel agent's office - although you probably should. It's about as spectacular a place as you could imagine...if you like strikingly beautiful, uncrowded, unspoiled tropical islands. Which I do. But you really, really have to want to come here.
When we have guests come down to Guanaja, we always like to take them snorkeling at Michael's Rock and then over to Bo's for lunch. The snorkeling is always terrific. Bo's is...well...you have to see it to believe it.
After Hurricane Mitch hit the island in 1998, Bo built a little bar/restaurant out on the end of a dock. It is nothing more than a shack-on-stilts with a big u-shaped bar in the middle. There is a kitchen, and they serve up some damn good food (chicken or fish and fried plantains) and ice-cold beer (my favorite: Salva Vida).
The official name of the place is The Island House Bar and Restaurant. But I notice now that there is a sign up calling it the "Green Flash Bar." No matter what Bo will try to name it, everybody will just call it "Bo's," as they always have. Just being there is a wonderful, unique, relaxing experience.
It's a pretty good crowd for a...weekday (apologies to Billy Joel)
In the first place, it is often appears to be unstaffed. Which is okay, because most of the time there's nobody there to serve. Like most places here in Guanaja, you might find yourself being the only customer in the joint. Our friends Mike and Sharon Jones are usually there on Sunday when it's the "busiest," half tending bar/half just being a customer. If nobody is around, you make your own drink or grab your own beer and mark it down under your name in a big notebook by the bar. What the...the Honor System? How cool is that! There is a boombox stereo, usually playing American country music as is the custom down here.
But no glass of any kind seals you in. Huge, hinged wooden panels swing up and out of the way, letting the sun and fresh breeze in. They give the place an open, airy feel and reveal a view like you wouldn't believe - no matter which way you look. The spare decor is nautical, of course, but you can clearly see that these are authentic items that were not bought from some restaurant supply catalog.
If you get tired of the relentless partying upstairs (that's a joke), you can always go down and dive off the dock and into the water for a swim. Or you can ease into one of the hammocks and catch forty winks as the trade winds rock you gently to sleep.
Oops...busted! Our King Air pilot, Mike, engaged in his second-favorite activity.
The thing about Bo's is that it's authentic. It's not pre-fab or pretentious. It is what it is - a stilt-bar out in the middle of nowhere. It is what bars in America only aspire or pretend to be. You've seen them: Buildings with names like "Spinnakers" or the "Salty Dog" with their faux thatched-roofs, shark jaws and rusty anchors and driftwood tacked up on the walls, bamboo tables and chairs. and maybe even the bartender/waiters with matching tropical shirts. It's all designed to emulate a rustic seaside bar...on the outskirts of a suburban mall in a landlocked city, of course.
It's all designed to emulate a place like Bo's.
I have darkened the doorway of my share of bars throughout my life, believe me. But none as authentic as Bo's. There is something incomparable and almost indescribable about hanging out there. I grab my Rum and Coke and sit back and just...and just...just be in the "Oh, wow," moment, savoring that very rare and wonderful otherworldly feeling of being in a magical place and time and knowing that it is about as special as it gets.
07 April 2007
And this friends, is the Bonacca Town (“the Cay”) that I’ve been writing about. There are supposedly 12,000 people or so living in Guanaja (nobody really knows for sure). “Half” of them are said to live on the Cay. Looking at the above picture, it’s hard to imagine though that 6,000 people live down there. 5000, tops, give or take.
It was not always one contiguous island. Maybe one island and just a couple of high spots on the coral. The story is that the sand fleas were so bad on the main island that people escaped to the surrounding coral reef. They built stilt houses, then dropped their garbage out of their windows into the water below. Eventually the “land” filled in underneath and we have what you see now. I’d like to report that the garbage dropping has ceased. If only it were true.
There are no cars down there, and no streets to drive them on anyway. No bicycles either. Narrow, crowded sidewalks are the only way to get around. You can walk from one end to the other in about as long as it took to read down to here.
As you can see, the Cay is pretty built out. No place to go but up. And if you saw the construction techniques in use down here, you would not recommend it. (We are attempting to change that by building a trade school that will teach the locals modern construction techniques. But first we have to teach them how to build the school.)
The Cay is pretty self-sufficient. Everything you’d have in a normal town they have here in bizarro-town…I mean Bonacca Town. There are grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and a bank, beauty salons, internet cafes, and gas stations. There are two hotels. There are schools and churches and boat repair places. In many ways, it really is a typical small town, just compacted into a shoebox. Recreation-wise, there ain’t much. There’s a basketball court, and there is a pool hall (or two) but that's about it. There are no movie theatres, video arcades, soccer fields or baseball diamonds.
There are bars though. Lord, are there bars. Hey, a man’s gotta drink! The most notorious is a place everyone refers to as the “Silver Dollar,” although the sign outside says “Pirate’s Den.” It is an…interesting place. The boss refers to it as the “cut-your-way-in, shoot-your-way-out” bar. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
There are at least two “discos” on the Cay and yes, they still call them that. I’ve been to one. I’m not exactly sure of the name of it. I’ve heard people call it “The Iquana” but it seems to also go by at least two other names: the “Night’s Inn” and (more recently, I think), “La Cueva” (the cave). Actually, come to think of it, The Iguana may be the other place. It doesn’t matter, especially when there are only two dance clubs on the whole island. The locals all know.
Okay, enough about the night life and seamy side of the Cay.
There are many fine people who live there. One of the pleasant surprises about Guanaja is the friendliness, generosity and warm gentleness of the people. They are unpretentious like you wouldn’t believe. What you see is what you get. Walk around on the Cay and there just isn’t that threatening feeling of malice and impending danger you get in some (most) American city ghettos. In fact, it feels paradoxically quite safe.
Banacca is a poor town, yes. But is no slum. Residents take pride in their homes and their appearance. Generally, after work they go home, bathe and change into clean, nice clothes.
(David Benz/Ty Sawyer/Sport Diver Magazine Photo)
I like this shot of the Cay. Slightly different angle. You can see the airport in the background. To the right of the airport (just above the Cay in the picture) is the town of Pelican, one of the only places on Guanaja where houses are built up on the side of the hill. It’s amazing when you realize that every piece of wood, every bag of cement had to be carried up there by hand.
The Cay is a controversial place. Some say that it is a hindrance to tourist development of Guanaja and should be abandoned, the residents relocated. Hah, fat chance. What will probably happen is that another center of commerce will grow or be created elsewhere on Guanaja. This new town is where the tourists will go. The Cay will become “Old Town,” much like the original part of Las Vegas. It’s quaint, yeah, but everyone wants to stay at the Bellagio or that place with the indoor amusement park.
But until that happens, living here is like taking a step back in time…a BIG step back.
And it's not entirely a bad thing.
06 April 2007
When I lived in New York City, we took things like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty for granted. Much the same way, I suppose, that people who live near Niagara Falls do the same.
I live here in Guanaja now. Day in and day out, you can become inured to the beauty. Ho-hum, just another day in paradise. But I was walking down the path from the boss's house to the main house today and the above view caught my eye. I had to stop and go, "Wow!" Luckily, I had my trusty Canon SD-600 in my pocket...
Later, I had to take one of the speedboats over to the jobsite. Boating is normally a necessary and unpleasant chore here, at least for me. The water is always rough, thanks to the brisk trade winds. Not today. See for yourself...
Why do I live here, again? Oh yeah. Scroll up. When I take people up in the helicopter, one of the statements I hear the most is, "God, how many different shades of blue ARE there?!" Yup, yup. And green, too!
Nothing earth-shaking or profound to report today - just a Top-10 day from start to finish and I felt like writing...something. Plus, I took a bunch of pictures and was happy with how they came out. (More to come.) The plane leaves tomorrow morning just after sunrise, taking The Boss and Mrs. Boss, and the guests with it. People often ask if I'm glad to see the plane go so I can have the place to myself? The honest answer is no. This place is spooky and lonely when no one's here. It's much more fun having people around.
It's Easter weekend, which is a HUGE time of celebration for Hondurans. The partying has already started. And it's not probable but it is possible...just possible that I'll have a quiet weekend. If we can get through it without anyone stabbing, shooting or otherwise maiming themself or someone else, I just might get some good suntanning time in on that beach above with the yellow kayak on it.
Come to think of it, I better get some sleep...
04 April 2007
So now I have a blog. Mine has not (to my knowledge) been quoted by syndicated national newspaper columnists. Yet. Maybe if I ever have something interesting to say…
The list of blogs that I read grows too. As I discover them, I add them to my Favorites and check in regularly. Blogs may not be the most reliable source of genuine news, but they are informative, inspiring and often very funny.
Blogs are kind of self-perpetuating. We all list blogs that we like on our blogs. People click on the links and then add them to their own Favorites list. Like music, taste in literature is personal. But I urge you to sample the blogs I list to the right. Nothing heavy or overly-technical or religious or political - just some lighthearted things by some interesting people. I’ve already mentioned La Gringa and Feather Ridge, both fascinating glimpses into life here in Honduras. But there are others as well.
I believe that the secret to being a good writer is to read a lot. And notice that I say “a good writer” and not “of writing well.” I’m anal about grammar and punctuation and sentence structure and all that crap. But ultimately, getting the message across is what’s important.
I like to see how other writers turn phases, and how they put words into sentences and string sentences into paragraphs to convey their ideas. Sometimes I'm as much interested in how a paragraph is constructed than the actual message in it. Like watching other pilots fly (which I do), I like to see how other writers write. And the cool thing about writing is that even amateurs can do it well. And better yet, unlike flying, if you make a mistake, nobody dies. We don’t all have to be Stephen King or Tom Clancy. I particularly like writing in which it seems like the author is speaking to me informally, like an old friend. That’s an awfully hard trick to pull off. But there are those who do it well.
Speaking of which, I have struck up a correspondence with two other bloggers:
David is an aircraft mechanic living in Texas. He formerly worked here in Honduras and has some wonderful stories about his past – and about his current life too. He has one of those unique writing styles in which, like all good writers, his voice comes clearly through. I envy that so. Me, on the other hand, I often get told that my speaking voice doesn’t match my writing. One guest who came here even thought that this very blog! was written by our King Air pilot Mike because it didn’t “sound” like me. Anyway, check out David’s blog, “The Whole Lotta Nada.” Catchy title, that. And like La Gringa’s “blogicito,” it’s only a slight modification of a Spanish phrase. (Why do we enjoy mangling the Spanish language? Aren’t we content to murder our own?)
David is prolific, and he often posts faster than I can keep up. I like that, as opposed to those blogs I check in with that are seemingly never updated. I should write as much as he. Heck, I’d be happy to write as well as he!
Hal Johnson is a pilot who still works for the company at which I spent thirteen happy years, Petroleum Helicopters Inc (PHI). Naturally enough he has a blog, “Dispatches From The Away-Dad Nation,” so titled because his work schedule requires him to be away from home for two weeks at a time (but then he is home for a similar period of time too). Like mine, Hal’s isn't so much about flying but rather his/our unique "take" on life and the things that happen to us. We pilots see the world differently than most. It has to do with our perspective, I suppose.
Hal and David have wonderful blogs. Compared to their beautifully crafted and descriptive stories, mine are as dry and stilted as aircraft technical manuals (which I did actually edit for a living in my previous job, so there ya go).
There are many terrific, talented writers out there in the blogosphere. Our time available for surfing is usually well-accounted for and sometimes limited. I've listed some blogs I like, and please feel free to send me blogs you think are interesting.
01 April 2007
It was November of 1975. I was living in Manhattan and we were in the middle of one of those bitter cold winters where you go outside and it hurts just to breathe. I know New York City is not the coldest place on earth in the winter; it just feels like it in my memory. The water pump in my car went out. I went to the auto parts store and bought a new pump, hoses and clamps. How hard could it be? I had just turned 20, an age when people know everything. As did I back then. The car was parked on the street. No garage. I remember working around mounds of dirty snow and piles of dogshit in the gutter. Oh what fun...
On the Ford 2600cc V-6 engine as installed in the 1972 Mercury Capri, there are four bolts securing the cooling fan to the water pump. I pulled and pulled on the ratchet wrench, to no avail. The first bolt held tight. Determined, I pulled some more with much more force. The wrench slipped off and my (non-gloved) right hand scraped against the fan on the way out. I do not remember the exact words I used, but I gar-own-damn-tee you that they were colorful. And loud. To repeat them here would require all of those little symbols above the number keys and then some. Nearby longshoremen blushed. Women passersby gasped in horror. Truckdrivers stopped, raised their bushy eyebrows and said gruffly, "Hey Mac, you kiss your mudda wit' dat mouth?"
I still have the scar.
And so began a tradition that continues to this day. And I mean that literally. I was working on the helicopter today and found out exactly how sharp those little knives are that come in those handy Leatherman tools. You know the ones. We wear them on our belts since we can't wear pistols anymore and we have to have something there to pull out on occasion. They look like two simple little pieces of metal, but they unfold into a gazillion different devices. Needle-nose pliers? Check. Screwdriver? Check. Saw? Check. Beer bottle opener? Check! You name it, this little beauty has it. Leave the toolbox at home, with this gadget you could perform a tune-up on the Space Shuttle or, more down to earth, overhaul a Catepillar front-end loader. Or even, as I just found out, surgery.
So I was trying to get a circlip out. A circlip (sometimes called a "snap ring") is a little metal ring that is open for a bit of its circumference making it look like the letter "c". Let's say you have a hollow shaft and you want to keep something inside that shaft but you still need the end of the shaft open. All you need to do is machine a little groove on the inside of that shaft right near the end, then stick a circlip in there. Voila! Now whatever is in the shaft will stay put.
As you can see, where the two ends of the circlip almost come together are holes. They make a special pair of pliers with two little barbs on the end. These barbs fit perfectly into the holes of the circlip, allowing you to compress it (by closing the gap) and remove it from its groove. (Circlips can also be utilized around the outside of shafts, too.)
Yes, yes, I should have used snap ring pliers. But needless to say, I didn't have the right size pliers...strike that...make that "any snap ring pliers at all" here. So I was using a tiny screwdriver and the very sharp, pointy knife of my Leatherman. Hey, I am all about using the right tool for the job, and here I was voilating my own rule. I hate it when I do that.
As I dug in the groove to get the circlip out, the folding knife blade did just that. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, catching the tip of my right-hand ring finger in its path. With surgical precision it neatly sliced open a big patch of fingertip. It was one of those cuts where you look at it, puzzled for the first moment, and you go, "Damn, that looks like it's gonna hu...YOW!" Hurt, it did (uh, "does"). And bleed, it did too. Oh-boy, did it bleed! Who'd have thought that our fingertips held so much blood? But they do.
So I stopped and got it cleaned up and bandaged, then went back to work and finished the task. I was originally going to title this post: "Why jobs always take longer than planned." Because when I think back, I've spent a lot of time stopping work and tending to cuts, gashes and punctures. This one will probably leave a scar too.
P.S. I did eventually get the Capri water pump changed. It just took longer than anticipated.