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 October 2007

Unintended Consequences of Blogging

Being a blogger is interesting. You never know who is reading. This blog used to be called, “FH1100 Pilot.” I’ve since changed that to the current name. Ostensibly, you’d think that the primary subject matter would be about, well, it should be obvious. Truth is, I write about a lot of things other than flying. Like music and stuff. Sometimes I name names.

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

A Day In The Life Of A Corporate Pilot - Part I

The Boss wanted to be picked up in Gulfport, Mississippi at nine this morning. It's an hour flight down from where we keep the helicopter, which meant I had to take off at seven-thirty, which meant I had to be at the airport at seven, which meant I had to leave the house at six, which meant I had to wake up at oh, five-fifteen. Matt had wanted to go out Saturday night for some serious binge-drinking. As much as I wanted to, I had to decline because I had to fly today.

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!

Melanie and the Edwin Hawkins Singers from 1969

19 October 2007

Severe Weather In Pensacola

Well the big news in Pensacola yesterday was...(pause for dramatic effect)...THE TORNADO!!!

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

Please, Please Me!

At the moment one of the most popular songs on the radio is called “Stronger” by Kanye West, a hip-hop star who is currently enjoying insane, inexplicable popularity. Hip-hop “artists” generally do not write their own music; they appropriate riffs from other songs and then use the actual recording for their "new" song. (They used to not pay the original artists for this privilege; now they do, at least.)

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.

For example!

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

Career Progression

Pinch me! I must be dreaming.

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

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

Concert For George - Old Men Rock!

Yeah, I write a lot about music...more about music than aviation - and I'm the world's biggest aviation nut. But I sometimes wish I had pursued a career in music instead.

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

Proof That There Is A God

iTunes just released George Harrison’s post-Beatle catalog for sale.

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

Pensacola and the WAR ON TERROR!!


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.
Airplane pilots can access their planes 24/7 through the fixed-wing fixed-base operator (FBO) but helicopter pilots are treated like second-class citizens at many airports, especially Pensacola Regional.

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.
So first cop went off, mumbling in a low voice into his walkie-talkie like he didn't want us to hear him doing what he just told us he was going to do.

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

And here's Gene

Here's one of Gene's suspicious-activity photos (Hurry, call the TSA!)

And here's Pensacola Beach right at sunset

02 October 2007

The Beau Rivage

Q: You know what the cause of obesity in America is?
A: The buffet at the Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Let me back up.

The Boss needed to go to a jobsite in Gulfport, Mississippi this morning. We took off at nine a.m., and got there at ten. Since the helicopter could stay on location but not the pilot (unless I wanted to stay in the ship - which I did not), I was assigned a pickup truck and given directions to a company-owned gulfront condo in a new high-rise that has been built post-Katrina. (Believe it or not, two years after that devastating hurricane, much of the Mississippi gulf coast is still flat and devoid of *any* structures. It's really rather bizarre, as if people are afraid to rebuild.)

The Boss says that we'll be leaving around four in the afternoon. He also mentions that the remodeled and reopened
Beau Rivage casino is just up the road from the condo, and suggests I go there for lunch - on the company, of course - since they have a "pretty good" buffet. In my head I'm thinking, "Hmm, Burger King/KFC/fast food or a sumptuous lunch at the Beau Rivage? Ah, decisions, decisions..." Even a simpleton such as I could figure that one out.

The Beau Rivage is Mississippi's version of Las Vegas at its worst. It is ostentatiously ornate and frilly. To call it tacky and gaudy would be a horrible understatement. "The Beau" takes tackiness and gaudiness to a whole 'nother level. It must be what casino designers think we Americans perceive as "high class." To me, it looks like a Hollywood set: Faux luxury. A false-front, like the fake town in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" movie. But hey- there is never a shortage of customers at such places, so who am I to criticize? It works, I guess. Sadly.

I wish I had brought my camera. Seriously. What an oversight. There are male staffers running around, dressed stylishly in maroon blazers and t-shirts. Very Miami-Vice (or Ed Norton, if you're from that generation). Only one problem: Such a look would "work" on a slim, twenty-something male. But the only guys I saw wearing that uniform were majorly overweight and about my age. They looked awful. Man, I was laughing. Hooo, I wish I'd brought the camera! Next time, I promise you.

But oh Lordy, the buffet is astounding. (Right-click on the link and select "Open In New Window" for a picture of just one little section of the buffet area.) It is unreal. Their motto is "All-you-can-eat, taken to a higher level." What?! What higher level is there than "all you can eat?" Talk about gluttony!

The price may seem steep at $12.83 but let me tell you, it is worth every penny. You pick up a huge, square plate and fill it with as much as you dare, as many times as you like. If you can imagine it, the Beau Rivage serves it.

I sampled as much as I could - tiny portions of: barbecue sausage, alligator etouffe, seafood gumbo, broiled tilapia, broiled chicken, roasted potatoes and some green bean vegetable thing. I (somehow) bypassed the steaks and turkeys and hams and pizzas and...the mind reels. I was getting dizzy looking at all that food. It was awesome. The dessert array was unbelievable. If you haven't been to one of these places, the sheer size of it is simply incredible. It's almost shameful in its excess.

As for the food itself...now, let's be honest, it was a buffet, not a gourmet restaurant. Still, the food was actually pretty good - at least as good as some "regular" restaurants at which I've eaten. But remember, I am not a food critic, I just love to eat. I have to say though, that the etouffe and gumbo were really good - spicy like I used to get offshore from the real Cajun cooks. Seriously, the gumbo would've passed muster with the roustabouts on a drilling rig. My forehead was sweating and I was sniffling like crazy. And I hadn't seasoned the food at all. Not bad! (And they serve this stuff to Mr. and Mrs. Middle America?? Wow.) The other dishes were done well too.

It was all washed down with copious quantities of sweet tea. Here in the south, we drink ice tea year-round. They give it to you in a huge tumbler, then keep coming around and refilling it.

Okay, so I overdid it. I got my money's worth. I gorged myself. And yes, I feel terrible and guilty. To make up for it, I had no supper tonight. I may not eat at all tomorrow, either.

Buffets are all about the best and the worst of America. They are a symbol of our affluence and prosperity as a nation. We have so much food in this country that we can afford to waste it. You don't want this crap? We'll throw it out! Mind you, the all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant is a uniquely American invention, dating back to...you guessed it...Las Vegas in the mid-1940's. We love them. Many Americans look at that all-you-can-eat thing as a challenge. "Oh yeah? We'll see about that!"

I'm not quite that bad. But I will admit that such an enormous selection of dishes is just too tempting, even for me. I'll tell you one thing though - if I keep eating like I did today we're gonna need a bigger helicopter. And soon!