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?

26 August 2007

Karma and Car-ma (Or maybe it's truck-ma)

Can't say I believe in karma. It's a nice theory, but I'm not sure it's valid. Except sometimes...

Comedian George Carlin once observed about driving that anyone going slower than you was an idiot, and anyone going faster than you was a maniac. It's funny to think about because it's true. In my experience as a passenger, most guys think that they are driving at the perfect speed and everyone else is wrong.

At night, no matter which speed you select, it's tough to hold it steady without cruise-control. The Interstate highways in the U.S. are typically not lighted. So you only have that little area lit up by your headlights, and nothing in your peripheral vision to provide any speed cues as there are in the daytime. Unless you're constantly staring at your speedometer, your speed will wander up and down. And because it's easier to modulate your speed when there's something to look at, drivers tend to "latch-on" to other cars at night - the groundbound equivalent of formation flying. It's very annoying. And it happens a lot.

Another thing is that It's easy to speed when there is a car up ahead. Pass that car however, and you enter a black hole.

When I worked in the Gulf of Mexico, I used to commute to and from Louisiana every week, always at night. Other drivers would often do this "latching-on" thing. And it would royally piss me off like you wouldn't believe. I could speed up to ninety (this, back when the national speed limit was 65 mph) and they'd stay stuck right on my rear bumper. Conversely, if I slowed down to 45 they would slow down too, probably assuming incorrectly that my (nonexistent) radar detector went off. Eventually they'd get fed up and go around in a huffing downshift. I'd let them get way far ahead before resuming my "limit+9." But within minutes I would catch up to them and the game would begin anew.

It's an interesting phenomenon: Sometimes people don't want to go slower than you, but they don't want to go faster either. I wonder what George Carlin would say about that?

Coming home from my trip to South Florida this week, I was buzzing along on I-10 at my usual 79 mph, minding my own business. The sun had long since set, and it was nice; there was little traffic. West of Tallahassee, a vehicle approached kind of slowly from the rear. Turned out to be a white Ford F-150 pickup truck with a lawnmower in the bed. He passed me, pulled back into the right lane in front of me and then, sure enough, as expected, slowed down. So I passed him, knowing what was going to happen next. You guessed it, he sped up and passed me again. And again he slowed down. There were two people in the truck. They obviously did not have cruise-control and were obviously talking, not paying close attention to the task of driving. It doesn't make me so angry anymore. Maybe I'm getting old. Now I just laugh at the number of idiots/manics there are in the world.

The F-150 and I played that way for a bit. The road was flat and straight and there was no other traffic, and at least it helped me stay awake. But then another pickup truck came roaring up from behind, clipping along at a good 85 or 90, in a bodacious hurry to get somewhere. Mr. White F-150 punched it and left me in the dust; he'd found someone else to dog and together they were going to be making time, baby! I was happy to see him leave.

And along I go, lost again in thought and music, hoping to get home before midnight, deeply pondering whether it's possible that I could become more introspective, and wondering if I should stop and get something to eat or if I'd really had all the junk food I can stand. (I had.)

But what's this? Way up ahead I see the twinkling of blue lights - the cops have someone pulled over. As usual, I don't even bother to kick off the cruise although I quickly catch up with other drivers who've backed off the gas and inexplicably slowed to 5 mph under the speed limit. I come up on the cop car with the offender stopped on the shoulder and I see it is the white F-150 with the lawnmower in the back. Evidently his "front door" did not get pulled over, yet he did.

Believe me, I do not revel in other people's misery or misfortune, nor do I ever wish anyone ill will. Nevertheless, I cannot help being amused. I resist the strong urge to toot my horn a couple of times as I go by.

But I admit that I did chuckle.

22 August 2007

There Is Something About A Road Trip...

This is what I did for eight hours today

So my new boss is looking for a helicopter. The market for such helicopters is "tight," and there are not many good ones around. The other problem is that the market is national; there just aren't any in our backyard. But we found one "sort of" in our backyard - down in south Florida. Last night I told the boss that this one was worth a look, and he said, "Would you like to fly or drive?" Well deciding that took all of about a nanosecond. Fly? As in "on the airlines?" Not me, babe. I told him I'd be driving. "Then take-off! Call me when you get down there."

So I picked up a shit-brown Nissan Pathfinder from Enterprise Rent-a-car and off I went. Well, to be fair it's not shit-brown. It's really more of a turd-brown. Either way, I don't like it much. Gas mileage sucks, and it's like driving a bus. The Enterprise guys know me and said they were doing me a favor by giving me an upgrade, or so they thought. "Would you like a minivan or an SUV?" he asked. Well I really just wanted a car. "These are our last two vehicles," he said. "We're all sold out." Great. Okay, it's got cruise-control, but the radio sucks: really muddy, boomy base. Although, maybe my ears are just shot from a career spent flying noisy helicopters. However, I do have my iPod along and as luck would have it, nearly all of the songs I've downloaded make great "road tunes."

What is it about a road trip? Florida is the most gawd-awfully boring place to drive. I mean, look at the above picture (click on it to blow it up). Miles and miles of flat nothingness. The scenery never changes. You just drone along for hours and hours and hours, stopping only to refuel and de-fuel, which I did once each. It might as well be Texas! Still, I don't hesitate to jump in the car and head across the state. And that's what I did. I pinned the cruise-control on 79 mph, kicked the seat back and just tried to enjoy the ride. Staying awake was the hard part.

By the way, I will now share with you Bob Barbanes' Proven Method of Speeding: "Speed limit + 9." Just do not exceed the posted speed limit by more than nine miles per hour. If you do that, the police simply will not bug you. It's just not worth it for them (unless the cop is in a really bitchy mood, I guess, but I've never met one). All around me, I see people going faster than me, slamming on their brakes whenever they see something that even looks like a cop car. Not me. I don't even slow down; they never bother me. Just keep on truckin', as Eddie Kendricks and the Grateful Dead used to sing in their respective songs.

How fast do we have to go? In Florida, the speed limit on the Interstate is 70 mph. "Speed limit + 9" gives me 79 mph. That gets me anywhere as fast as I need to be there. Yes, I could buy a radar detector and maybe go faster, but there would always be the worry and expense of a speeding ticket. Who needs that? Not me. I like driving to be relaxing. I don't like to be worn-slap-out or really wired when I get where I'm going. Must be part of getting old.

Anyway, I'm here in a motel with a wireless internet connection and a free continental breakfast, not far from where I'm going to see this helicopter tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I'll check it out, take a few pictures, take it up for a little flight, then be back on my way home before lunch.
We guys do love our road trips.

19 August 2007

Inadvertent Destinations

Ferrying a helicopter out west back in 2001, we stopped for fuel at the airport in Wink, Texas. The town of Wink could have been named Middle-Of-Nowhere, Texas or Hotter-Than-Freakin’-Hell, Texas because that’s what it was. It was literally take-your-breath-away hot. Ah, but it was a dry heat, right? Screw that! I wasn’t sweating but I was roasting like one of Kenny Rogers’ chickens. The new owner of the ship and I let the lineboys do their work. We ran inside and were sucking up every drop of water and every cube of ice in the place. Neither of us was enthusiastic of getting back in that convection oven of a helicopter for a while.

Now, Wink is not exactly a jumping place during the day. Or maybe at any time, ever (although it was once). Attached to the airport office was a little cafĂ© which didn’t appear to be in business anymore. But the doors were open so we, bored and in no big hurry to leave, wandered in. We found the walls of the dark room decorated with all sorts of Roy Orbison memorabilia. Roy Orbison just happens to be one of my favorite singers of all time. “Yep, this was his home town!” one of the airport rats proudly proclaimed.

Well, not exactly. Roy was born way up north in Vernon, Texas in 1936. Later, his family moved down to Fort Worth and his dad worked in one of the big munitions plants there during WWII. After the war they moved again, this time to Wink. It had been a booming oil town of 6,000 people once – by the 1940’s it was in decline. Now with less than 1,000 residents it’s just another sad, dying desert town. According to the National Weather Service, Wink is one of the hottest places in Texas. Wish I’d known that before we planned to stop there for fuel!

Orbison started his first band, The Wink Westerners in 1949 when he was thirteen. He stuck around Wink only long enough to graduate high school. By the mid-1950’s he was recording songs. In the early 1960's he had a string of Top-40 hits, like “Only The Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Running Scared,” and “It’s Over.” And who hasn’t heard his giant classic from 1964, “Oh, Pretty Woman” with that unique sexy, warbling growl. That was pretty much the high point for Orbison; his career stagnated after that.

Roy Orbison had this wonderful, magnificent, powerful operatic voice. According to Wikipedia, none other than Bob Dylan once wrote that Orbison’s unique, four-octave range “made you want to drive your car over a cliff” (he meant it in a good way). Which is understandable coming from Dylan, an outstanding songwriter who has never exactly been known for his singing voice.

In the late 1980’s Roy Orbison’s career enjoyed rejuvenation. His songs began getting airplay and exposure to a whole new generation of fans. Roy gave a concert in Los Angeles for an HBO called “Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night.” He had a truly all-star backup band consisting of some of the most renowned names in music, all of whom requested to be part of the event and volunteered their services just to be part of it. Please play this clip so you can see what I mean.

The above song showcases Orbison’s incredible voice in an absolutely beautiful song. It’s three minutes of nirvana. Even if you were never a fan of Orbison it is worth checking out. (Did you spot Bruce Springsteen in the background? The Boss! And by the way, the guitar player with the white jacket is the legendary James Burton, one of the best, most well-known and well-respected session guitarists who got his start in his mid-teens playing in Ricky Nelson’s band, and then went on to play in Elvis Presley’s “TCB” band.)

After the “Black And White” concert, Roy Orbison released the highly-acclaimed “Mystery Girl” album, which spawned a big hit song and video (“You Got It”). It seemed like he was on a well-deserved roll. Sadly, his comeback was cut short when he had a heart attack and died in late 1988 at the age of 52.

Wink, Texas. Not so great memories, but just another reason I have to get that dang Volkwagen Camper fixed up so I can go back and revisit the place before it dies completely and becomes a modern-day ghost town.

But I’ll go back in the winter next time. With Roy Orbison CD’s in the player. Loud, too - all the way up to eleven. What a trip it’ll be!

18 August 2007

I Love

I know a lot of helicopter pilots who are also motorcyclists. It’s understandable; there are a lot of similarities both machines. Both require the total involvement of the operator, including the use of all available arms and legs. Pilots are generally stoic and Gary Cooperishly taciturn regarding their love of flying. Motorcyclists by comparison can be downright effusive and gushy. (It’s an odd dichotomy, now that I think of it.)

In keeping up with my various interests, I read a lot. Despite the creeping pervasiveness of computers and the internet into our lives, there are thankfully many paper magazines still printed. And I don’t know about you, but reading a magazine is pleasant and rewarding…holding it in my hands, thumbing through the pages, smudging the ink...it makes the subject seem more alive somehow than does reading the same story on my flat computer screen here.

Each industry has its noteworthy writers; people who understand the subject and can communicate it in clear terms. In the latest issue of CYCLE WORLD Magazine, Peter Jones has an article entitled, “Love Machine (The why of riding),” in which he talks about the peculiar attraction motorcycling holds for him. Every sentence of the story begins, “I love…” and then he lists something. He does this 121 times (yes, I counted). Most of them are pretty motorcycle-specific to the extent that only other riders would understand. But some are eminently relatable.

“I love the responsibility of riding smartly,” Jones writes. “I love being alone on a motorcycle. I love riding in groups. I love how motorcycles make me feel like the hero I’m not. I love that riding a motorcycle means I might be half as cool as Steve McQueen.”

Hah! And I love that! To you young’uns, Steve McQueen was a famous motorcyclist/racecar driver/pilot. Oh, and in his spare time he was an aspiring actor. I think he may have appeared in a film or two. And he was the essence of cool – the very definition of it.

We pilots are the same as motorcyclists. We just don’t go around wearing our hearts on our sleeve. I mean, I could wax poetic for 121 lines about how much flying means to me in all the different ways. But I won’t. Suffice to say I just love flying. Yup.

And leave it at that.

10 August 2007

Weather and the Offshore Helicopter Pilot

I spent thirteen years flying helicopters offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for one of the largest helicopter companies in what used to be called the "Free World." For nine of those years I actually lived for my entire seven-day "hitch" on an offshore oil production platform. My mechanic and I would grab our helicopter on Thursday morning and head out. For the next seven days, I was beholden to the Shell Oil Company, and did what they wanted, when they wanted. Often, we wouldn't see our company's shore ("beach") base again until the next Wednesday evening.

It was an endlessly fascinating job, although you might not think so. I mean, what's there so see? Water? Sky? More water? Well, yeah, the scenery didn't change much. But the weather sure did! Each season brings its own peculiarities.

Summer is blazing hot and calm; bad news for helicopters. Hot air is thin air, and skinny rotor blades need cool, dry, thick air to get a good "bite." It also helps to have some wind blowing. "Some" wind...not too much! All the heat and moisture in the gulf can produce some incredible air-mass thunderstorms. These are storms that aren't associated with any particular squall line. I've seen lone, rogue thunderstorms sitting there, unloading their leaden clouds on the earth below like God's own firehose. It's an awesome sight, and it's quite interesting to study thunderstorms when they're so out in the open, with nothing to block the view.

More than once I've seen a bad storm headed right for my platform. Frantically, I'd strap the helicopter down to the deck and lash the rotor blades tightly - only to have the storm make a big, lazy arc and pass me right by. Once, one did just that. Once I saw that it was going to miss me, I unstrapped the helicopter (in case they needed me to fly) only to have the storm circle back around and hit me again. You bastard!

Winter brings cold fronts and squall lines - nasty cold fronts that drop the temperature down into the thirties and make the wind blow at 25 knots. Remember what I said about "too much" wind? The leading edge of these cold fronts can be so strong that it can blow an unsecured helicopter right off of a platform a toy. And when it's 35 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing 25 knots with nothing to slow it down but your ears, it's damn cold. Luckily, it does not stay that cold for too long. Even so, I hate the cold weather.

The in-between seasons are tricky too. Cold fronts sag down from the north, often without enough energy to push all the way through. Sometimes a cold front will hit us and go through, but stop and then back-up as a warm front or stall and become a stationary front. It can literally mean days of being fogged-in.

Fog and thunderstorms were the bane of my existence offshore, but there was one other phenomenon that we had to watch out for. There were also waterspouts.


Waterspouts are nature's way of quickly sucking water up into the sky to make a cloud (quicker than evaporation would do it). Those who work out in the oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico see them a lot. It is not unusual to see a waterspout feeding one end of a big cloud, and rain pouring down from the other end.

Waterspouts look dramatic, but they are fairly benign, believe it or not. The funnel is liquid (water), and water is pretty heavy. So it's hard to get moving very fast. Up close, you can actually see the water rotating slowly as it gets sucked up. Also, waterspouts don't travel laterally very fast. Usually they're pretty stationary, parked right under the cloud they're feeding. And that cloud will only be coasting along with the prevailing wind, not really part of a squall line or other band of heavy weather.

Don't get me wrong! If the waterspout hits something it can do damage. The energy contained in all that moving water can be impressive! I've seen a waterspout launch a 55-gallon drum off of an oil platform like a rocket.

Sometimes I'd spot a waterspout when I was flying around. Being the curious (read: dumb) helicopter pilot that I are, I'd go over to see if I could get some pics. Now, this was before the days of digital cameras, and like an idiot I've given most of my really good waterspout pictures away. But look at the cool pattern the waterspout makes on the water!

I live in a coastal town, and like any that is subject to severe weather, our local television station keeps a sharp eye out for anything that can be dangerous or harmful to their viewers (e.g. impending hurricanes, intense thunderstorms, or visits by Rosie O'Donnell...). Sometimes a waterspout will be sighted out in the gulf or in one of the many large bays that surround us here. When that happens the t.v. station will go into panic-mode.

The thing about waterspouts is that: a) They don't last very long; and b) They dissipate once they hit something that interrupts the source of water. So while Channel 3 screeches, "Take cover! Jump in the nearest ditch! Save yourselves!" it is really not necessary. It's not like a tornado. As soon as the waterspout gets to the beach it will fall apart and die. There is some wind associated with them, but not all that much. Now, I wouldn't want to be out in a boat with one of those bad boys bearing down on me. And I might be worried if my house was right on the water, but a block or so inland and you're fine. In all of the years that I've lived in Pensacola, I've never heard of a waterspout causing any structural damage or personal injury.

They do look pretty neat though!

09 August 2007

A Sigh of Relief

There are words that strike fear deep into the heart of any pilot. No, I’m not talking about “in-flight fire,” or “mid-air collision,” “engine-failure,” or even, “I’m with the FAA.” Although all of those certainly qualify as sweat- and tremor-producing gems. No, the words I’m thinking of might seem far more benign to the average non-pilot Joe. They are…

FLIGHT PHYSICAL! (Cue cheesy thriller-movie music, dun-dun-dun-DAAAAA, woman screams in background.)

Pilots who fly for a living have to take periodic medical exams administered by an FAA-approved “flight surgeon” or Aviation Medical Examiner ("AME"). We pilots love our jargon! If we pass, we get a little white slip of paper (“medical certificate” or just "medical") that we must carry around with us to prove it, should we ever be asked (it happens). To us, it is a more important piece of paper than our mortgages, marriage or driver's licences. For without a "medical" even our pilot’s licenses aren’t worth the plastic they’re printed on. Without a "medical", we don’t have a job. (Pilot licenses never expire; to be valid they are contingent upon having a current "medical.") I may be single, homeless and walking to work, but dammit don't make me not-a-pilot anymore. At least not yet, okay?

Most helicopter pilots endure this exam on an annual basis; airline pilots go every six months, the unlucky chumps. And we all dread the thought of it. I’ll tell you why. Elevated blood sugar? You’re history. The FAA will not issue you a medical certificate if you have diabetes. It grounds more pilots than you’d imagine. We all have seen seemingly healthy guys who were here one day, gone the next. Gone for good, too. And there’s not much you can do to prevent it. It is our Sword of Damocles.

The Flight Physical is not an in-depth probe of your health, nor is it meant to be. It’s more of a “How’s it going?” type of thing. They check the usual problem areas like blood sugar, pressure, and vision, as well as documenting our height and weight. However, none of us like to be scrutinized, and even though it’s a superficial check, many of us worry that “something” will turn up - the thread will break, the sword will fall and our careers will be over in a flash.

While the “exam” is not comprehensive, some doctors treat it more seriously than others. Pilots often joke about fortuitiously finding a so-called “Santa Claus” whom we will visit faithfully until one of us dies. I kid you not. Some friends and I had this great doctor here in Pensacola who was well-known to be, um, “easy.” (I forget his name, as it was quite a few years ago.) But he was great. He did the exams in a very comfortable “office” in his house - his living room. You bent over, the nurse shined a flashlight in your mouth and the doctor looked in the other end. If he did not see light, you passed! If you could fog a mirror, you passed! If you walked into the doctor’s office under your own power, you passed! You get the idea. We liked him! Only problem, he was about 100 years old...

Then one morning my friend Greg called me up in (mock) tears. “Bob!” he sobbed. “Did you see the News Journal today? Doc Adams passed away! His obit’s in the paper. What are we gonna do?!” I pretended to break down too in commiseration and mutual trepidation. We had a good laugh about it, great comedy. But then, seriously, we had to find another flight surgeon – preferably one with small hands.

My new AME is a great guy to whom I’ve been going annually since the death of Dr. Santa Cl…err, I mean my former flight surgeon. This new guy doesn’t actually know me, but he’s got more than ten years of data on me now, so he can see where my “vitals” are headed. The Physicians Assistant does most of the work, leaving the doctor to come in and chat with me for fifteen minutes or so while he listens to my innards and presses and pokes various areas including the naughty bits (a press there, not a poke, thank you). He asks me how I'm feeling? I always answer, "Fine," without elaborating/incriminating.

Anyway, today was my Flight Physical day. And it was an anti-climax. I passed. I don’t know why I fret over these things. No diabetes. No hernia (oh yeah, like that’s a surprise, me never doing any actual physical work and all). Nothing glaringly wrong with the ticker. Blood pressure was fine. That wasn’t always the case.

Time was, when I was living in New York City and flying a helicopter based at JFK and taking my flight physicals at that airport, my sky-high blood pressure would set off alarms way down in Oklahoma City where the FAA’s main medical offices are. They would yell at me to quit smoking (even though I’ve never smoked) and start getting some exercise (which I was already doing). But there must be a sliding scale for acceptable blood pressure based on age, and evidently I’ve grown-into mine. At least, this year they didn’t yell at me. On the other hand, I’ve cut out coffee and Coke since I’ve been back in Florida. And I'm somehow nearly fifteen pounds lighter than last year.

I mentioned the need to find an AME with small hands. We have this thing called the dreaded, “Digital Rectal Exam.” Remember how I said we pilots love jargon? “Digital Rectal Exam” is our jargon for “Hideously Painful Torture.” Its purpose is to inspect the prostate gland to see if there is any sign of a very prevalent form of cancer in men. The doctor could take your word on its condition, but they always say, "Ahh, I better see for myself!” Trouble is, the prostate is on the inside of the body. And you know what that means. To inspect it, there’s only one way to get to it: The Bad Way. It is never pleasant. Neither is it mandatory, but at my age, it’s not a test that I can in good conscience neglect or weasel out of any more. (Luckily, my AME keeps an ample supply of bullets to bite on in his exam room. I went through three or four this time. I may have lost consciousness. I think I'd rather break my clavicle again.)

So I’ve got my new piece of paper that says I’m good-to-go for another year. No matter where you are in the world, if you were up and about around 9:15 CDT this morning, you probably heard a big contented sigh and wondered where it was coming from. I'll give you a clue: The corner of 9th and Underwood Avenues in Pensacola, Florida, USA.

08 August 2007

Hello...FH1100 Pilot...Helicopters?

It occurs to me that I haven't really done much talking about helicopters in this blog, even when I was flying one down in Honduras. I hate making things too technical, for fear of alienating people who might not happen to be helicopter pilots, so I've shied away from talking about flying other than in general or abstract terms.

But now I'm back in Pensacola, ostensibly going to work for a guy who is in the process of buying a helicopter. His business is such that a helicopter just makes perfect sense; he has locations spread out across the southeastern United States. Right now, driving to and from each location takes the better part of a day. (Plus, all that driving is fatiguing.) If he had a helicopter he could do two or three locations in one day. He's been considering the purchase of a helicopter for some time, and he's finally decided to take the leap.

I met with him initially to discuss his needs versus his wants. He gave me his parameters, and I started looking for appropriate aircraft. For the majority of his flights, a five-seat Bell 206B JetRanger would be fine.

(Above) Here I am, offshore in the Gulf of Mexico flying one of Petroleum Helicopters Inc.'s well-traveled 206B. Must have been 1989 or '90. Relatively light and dependable as the sunrise, I logged many pleasant hours in this ship. Oil company roustabouts can be a...well...beefy bunch, and ol' Zero-One-Pop always hauled the load. Never let us down. A fine aircraft.

(It is strange how we'll look back fondly on some aircraft we've flown and hardly remember others. But I sure do like B-models. I have an alternative email address of BH206B3@juno.com, which I've had for a long time. I use it when I sign up for things that I know I'm going to receive junk mail from.)

New Boss also wants the ability to carry two couples (four adults) and for that we're going to need the next size up: The seven seat Bell 206L-3 LongRanger.

The "L-model" as we call it has an additional two rear-facing seats just behind the pilot. You can see the extra window between the front and back doors where these seats are (above the "7" in the registration number). The LongRanger also has considerably more power than the JetRanger, and a much smoother ride due to a different method of mounting the main transmission to the airframe. It's faster, too.

In the shot above I am just starting a take-off from PHI's Venice Base heliport in a LongRanger. Probably '93 or '94. And yes, you are correct if you observe that my nose-down attitude is a little pronounced. I didn't think it looked that bad from the outside. I admit, I was showing off for the camera a little. I've grown out of such shenanagins now (yeah, riiiight).

During this time Seven-Oh-Two was just one of many 206L's I flew for PHI. In fact, in the 13 years I was with the company, I flew so many different individual aircraft that I lost count. Funny though - even now I'll see helicopters and when I look at their registration number I'll go, "Hey, I flew that one." Not only is aviation a tiny industry, but PHI goes through a bunch of helicopters and is constantly replacing aircraft.

Right now the market for LongRangers is, as they say, "tight." Meaning that there aren't any good ones out there. It will probably take us four months or so to find the right one. But we can be patient. We may have to "settle" for a 5-seater in the interim until a decent 7-seater comes along. There are other helicopters from other manufacturers in this market segment, of course. New Boss is just partial to Bell, and I can't say I blame him since I am too.

07 August 2007

Flips, Trips and Jumping To Conclusions

Did I tell you about the time I broke my shoulder? So stupid. It was back in 2000. I was at work, which in this case was when I was flying for PHI, based at the airport in Houma, Louisiana. We worked seven days on/seven off; the company provided housing. After a day of flying, there wasn't much to do but sit around and eat, two things I'd grown very good at.

I was out jogging one night...one very humid night. Ran from the pavement onto some grass that was wet with dew and slick as ice. My tractionless foot slipped out from under me and my legs started spinning and arms started flailing like I was in some sort of cartoon. I started falling forward and knew I was going down. Yes, it happened in slow-motion.

Now, my intent was to tuck-and-roll, do a little tumble, come up the other side and keep on jogging. Ahhh...but it didn't quite work out that way. Due to (pick one): 1) Age; 2) Weight; 3) Lack of Agility; 4) All of the Above, my left shoulder slammed directly into the ground with the full force of my 180 pounds behind it. Yowsa! My clavicle snapped like a twig. (Later, the x-ray showed it broken in two places, forming a little luminescent "Z" on the film. The orthopeodic surgeon was impressed! And my left shoulder is slightly narrower than my right; makes my shirts fit funny.)

Now buddy, you talk about pain. I just thought I'd experienced pain in my life. Hah. Never again would I complain about a mere migraine headache or...oh, kick to the groin. I do believe I could now endure the pain of a gunshot wound, although Lord please don't let me find that out. Broken heart? Pfft- piece of cake.

So who says exercise isn't dangerous! You won't find me engaging in such risky activity ever again. Exercise of any kind, I mean.

My little stunt surprisingly put me out of commission for the better part of six weeks until I was able to raise my left arm and manipulate the overhead throttles of the helicopter I was flying at the time (BO105). Luckily it was my left arm, and I'm right-handed so I wasn't totally out of commission if you know what I mean. It was a major inconvenience nonetheless. My young, athletic friends gleefully ribbed me of course, as is required of them whenever I do something completely dumb.

And I did feel pretty stupid. It made me angry. What should have been a simple tumbling maneuver, and would have been for a younger, more agile person ended up being an embarassing fiasco for me. It made me realize that I was not only not a kid anymore, but a not-in-very-good-shape adult as well. I went my whole life up to that point, 45 years without so much as a broken bone or even a bloody nose.

So I'm noodling around YouTube today and I came across this video. These guys call themselves the Kings of Gravitation. Evidently they put on shows where they display their tumbling, flipping and pseudo-breakdancing skills. And they are "mad skills," as the kids say. Below is a video taken at one of their practice sessions. There are other videos on YouTube of their shows, which are pretty cool. Keep an eye out for the little fuzzy-haired kid. He's just awesome. Check 'em out!

Okay, so it's just a bunch of tumbling and jumping. But watch those kids go! How much energy and stamina does it take to do that! More than I have, that's for sure. Especially the kid that tumbled his way down the grassy area over and over and over and over... I have a problem just walking around my yard without tripping (especially if I happen to be chewing gum at the time). So these guys are flat amazing.

Despite my previous reservations as to the inherent risk in exercising, maybe it's time to start doing it again. My weight is down, I feel good, hardly drinking at all compared to my time in Honduras. I've always liked gymnastics, especially the sort in that video above. I may never be in good enough physical shape to do that kind of stuff, but at least it gives me something to shoot for. (Just no jogging, okay?)

Err, never mind. Did I tell you about the time I fell out of the tree and dislocated my ankle? No, not when I was a kid, when I was 46. Yep, less than a year after the broken-shoulder incident. You'd think I would've learned but I did not. Maybe I just better stick to the exercise I'm most familiar with and good at: Jumping to conclusions.

02 August 2007

Jacob's Motorcycle

See Jacob. See Jacob’s new motorcycle. See Jacob smile. We are behind a local Kawasaki dealership, and Jacob has just taken delivery of his brand-new 2007 Ninja 250R. Only, he can’t ride it home.

Jacob is 21. He’d never ridden a motorcycle before in his life, although when that picture was taken he was half-way through a three-day How To Ride A Motorcycle”course put on by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Pass the course: Get your license. Jacob, ever the optimist, assumed that learning to ride in three short days would be a snap, a piece of cake, nothing to it. Like I said, he’s 21. But since he could not yet ride his new bike, I assumed the task of getting it from the dealership to his house. Twist my arm! (P.S. Jacob *did* pass the course, did get his license on the following day.)

A 250cc engine is not especially powerful, and this thing is certainly no rocketship. In fact, the 250R is an entry-level motorcycle that is sometimes derisively referred to as a “Baby Ninja” because it bears a slight, passing resemblance to the bigger, more muscular bikes in the Ninja family (the ones that actually get raced). At least the 250R looks the part. At first glance, it’s hard to tell it from its nearest big brother. Kawasaki is the only manufacturer to offer such a bike, and it is incredibly popular. The beginner-bikes from Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha look like miniature toy motorcycles, making their riders look (and probably feel) silly.

Nobody really wanted to see Jacob buy a motorcycle. But his car was eating him alive in gas bills and repairs, so something more economical was called for. Enter the Kawasaki.

In the mere one month that has passed since he bought it Jacob has already put on over 500 miles. Not bad, considering his daily commute to work is, like, four blocks. He bought a good helmet, proper gloves, a rainsuit and a tankbag (a small, waterproof knapsack-like thingee that attaches to the gas tank with magnets). In other words, he did all the right things. And so far, he hasn’t so much as dropped it. So far. Fingers crossed, prayers said.

Me, I haven’t ridden a motorcycle since I sold my Harley back in 1996. Can’t believe it’s been that long!

Not that you forget how, but I had to reacquaint myself before simply blasting off from the dealership. Jacob was following in my car and I didn’t want to look like a complete idiot, or worse, crash his brand-new bike. So I was on my best behavior.

I’ve always owned large, full-size, “real” motorcycles. There are riders who consider bikes with little 250cc engines to be unworthy. They look at them with upturned noses. Such bikes are certainly not appropriate for the Interstate where their lack of power and light weight would make them easy-pickings for the first 18-wheeler with a sleepy driver rumbling down the road. I’ll bet he wouldn’t even feel the bump. A little too scary for me, thanks. And if you cannot take your motorcycle on the Interstate, what’s the bloody point? (Jacob, who’s either incredibly brave or incredibly dumb, has already had his on the Interstate. And he didn’t die.) As a matter of fact, he's turning into a very good rider already.

But on the way from the dealership to Jacob’s house, the little Kawasaki was surprisingly okay. Did I say okay? It was fine. In fact, it was more than fine, it was fun! Lithe and maneuverable in traffic, it also had “enough” power to suit any situation. Sure, I like the so-called “muscle-bikes” as much as anyone, but in town, how much horsepower do you really need?

I’ve got these two old bikes in a storage shed: Full-size 1000cc Kawasaki’s. Both are rare examples of the type, getting kind of valuable, not really suitable for driving every day anymore. Still, I’d like to break one (or both!) out and put it back on the road. Alternatively, I’d like a little bike like Jacob’s for “running around” stuff. Maybe not something as small as a 250 but heck, if the right one came along at the right price, I’d be sorely tempted.

It’s been a while since I rode regularly. That might have to change.