Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

16 June 2007

Growing Old Without Growing Up

So, I guess you could say I’m a fun-loving guy. Another word might be “immature.” To that I plead guilty. I’m still waiting for that adulthood thing to kick in. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will.

…In what seems like a lifetime ago, Greg, Chuck, Jim and I used to ride motorcycles together. We were a mild bunch, not the The Wild Bunch. We never raised too much hell. We never stabbed anyone or shot anyone or (to my knowledge ) killed anyone. We did, however, torture more than a few waitresses at Hooters, but then, not everyone "got" our humor. (You had to be there.) It was fun riding around as a group, exploring that part of northwest Florida, which is beautiful by the way.

There is a prank you can pull on another rider. All you do is slide up next to him, reach over, and hit the handlebar kill-switch to “off.” This disables his ignition system. The other rider is concentrating on the road, not his handlebars. Suddenly his bike is slowing, and he’s pumping the throttle to go faster. When he finally realizes what’s wrong, he says (I have this on good authority), "D'OH!" then flips the kill-switch back on. A bunch of raw fuel has been sucked into the engine and expelled into the exhaust system by this time. When the switch is turned back on and the engine sparks back to life, it ignites this raw fuel and you get a big backfire. It’s hilarious. And to me, it never got old.

Okay, it’s silly and immature, and a little dangerous. You sure don’t do that when there’s traffic behind you, like a semi or something. Jim and Greg soon learned to “guard” their kill switches when I was riding in the “right-echelon” formation position. They’d laugh. They knew that if I started to ease-in close, it was probably because I was up to no good. However, Chuck used to get highly pissed. For him, riding was Serious Business, and such tomfoolery (not to mention hijinks!) had no place on a federal or state highway. I was, like, hey man, lighten up!

…I used to fly helicopters in New York City. One of my jobs was flying a Bell 206 JetRanger for a DHL, the small package competitor to FedEx. The JetRanger is a five-seat, turbine-powered, 120 m.p.h. helicopter. A friend of mine…my first real mentor in the business was a radio traffic-reporter back when they used to send a pilot up in a helicopter to personally observe and report on traffic conditions. (Now they use remote control cameras and real Radio Guys in booths in an office building somewhere.)

Anyway, my mentor…let’s call him “Lou” because that was and is his real name…used to fly an old, bubble-type Bell 47 that clunked and sputtered along at 80 m.p.h. on a good day. Sometimes I’d be flying on my route and I’d see Lou down there, coming the other way, low over a highway, eyes on the road below, mentally composing his next thirty-second traffic report. I’d pass him without comment, just another of the dozens of helicopters that used to ply the sky around there. If he noticed me at all it would be just to briefly register me as “traffic, twelve o’clock high, opposite direction, no conflict,” nothing else.

But then, once clear I’d turn around and dive on him like a P-51 stalking a lone Jap recon plane in WWII. I’d buzz by real close on my gun-run, doing about 150 m.p.h. (the JetRanger’s top speed) or maybe a smidgen more. After the buzz-job I’d bank steeply and circle back, and then we’d go ‘round and ‘round in a mock dogfight.

I used to wonder what those motorists stuck in traffic on the old West Side Highway thought as they glanced skyward and saw these two helicopters in a life-or-death struggle for aerial supremacy of the hostile skies over midtown Manhattan. I’ll tell you something though: That Lou could fly a helicopter! Until he taught me the secret of dogfighting, he’d always “get on my six,” even in that old antique! Which means I lost.

Yeah, it was silly and immature, and a little dangerous. We don’t like to admit it, but pilots sometimes do silly, immature and slightly dangerous things. Well, I mean some of us do…uhh, “did”…uhh, would never do again (honest, yer honor!). Oh, and by the way, it was Lou who first started “jumping” me, which where I learned it. And he was plenty older than me at the time, so there.

But have I matured? Have I grown up? Am I a sensible, responsible adult now that I’ve somehow reached the age of 51? Does a chicken have lips? Of course not!

…Why, just this past Friday, Jasmani and I were in my boat, coming back up to our cay from Bonacca Town. Jasmani is the just-turned-twelve year-old son of Devant, our Foreman/Caretaker, and he was driving. I know it seems odd, but the boy has literally grown up on boats and he has a natural talent for driving them. Devant lets him drive every boat we have, and handling my little chick-boat is a piece of cake for him.

It was a beautiful day. The water was smooth, winds were light. I was soaking up the sun, my mind a million miles away on other things. Jasmani tapped me on the shoulder.

“Lalo boat,” he said, pointing off to the left a bit.

Sure enough, way up ahead was a tiny speck on the water. It was Lalo, towing our engineless panga back from the dump. They were just chugging slowly along. We could overtake them with ease. Immediately I sensed a vulnerable enemy, a lumbering transport, an easy target. Although we were on diverging courses, I told Jasmani to steer their way. Feeling mischevious and all...

“Let’s buzz ‘em!” I yelled, ever the kid. “Get right behind them and come up alongside on their right. Let’s see if we can splash ‘em!”

Jasmani smiled; an evil twinkle lit his young eyes. He altered the course of our little speedboat and set up an intersecting path. It was about three in the afternoon and we had the sun behind us. Well, sort of behind us. More behind us than in front, let's say that. There were three workers in the panga. They saw us coming and waved. Lalo, on the other hand, was talking on his phone (naturally!) and had his head turned to the left, not really paying attention.

Now, even I have to admit that Jasmani cut it close…closer maybe than I would have. Then again, maybe not. As we sped by, I saw Lalo jump right out of his seat. If I know him (and I do), I know the expletive he uttered, and it wasn’t “Jimminy Christmas!” He turned around in shock and looked at us with a blinking, puzzled expression on his face. Priceless. I just saluted. He started to raise his hand…just as our bow wave came crashing over the rail and into his boat like a tsunami, soaking him and the other worker who I had not noticed was also in the boat. (Sorry, Ricardo. But you both did look kinda hot.

It. Was. Hilarious.

Jasmani cut the wheel and we beat feet for home. The last I saw of Lalo, he was shaking his fist at us, yelling something I couldn’t hear over the wheezy “roar” of our 60 h.p. engine. Later on, at the jobsite he came up to me laughing, shaking his head and wagging a stern finger. “You gonna have to pay for a new phone!” he said, mock-angrily. I said hey, you should have been concentrating on driving, not talking on your phone. The nerve of some people! But even if I have to buy him a new phone, it was worth it.

Yes, it was silly and immature, and a little dangerous. Yes, I should be ashamed of myself. Looking back over my life, it was just par for the course.

So basically, I have the maturity level of a twelve year-old. Or, conversely, you could say that a local twelve year-old has the maturity level of this 51 year-old. I like that “spin” better.


David said...

"Hey! Mav, you got the number of that truck drivin' school?"

As Mr Petty, Tom not Richard, says,
"... never grow up. Never grow old..." Or something like that!

Ever notice how in "The Best Of" memories catagory there is always an element of danger.
"I knew I really shouldn't have but..."

Hal Johnson said...

I enjoyed this a lot, even though I can't identify with it at all. Honest. Really. Don't believe what my wife says.

Stan Grossman said...


I'm always looking forward to your next installment. This one was great.