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?

24 December 2007

Christmas 2007

Flashback to Christmas 2006: It was a warm, sunny day. I was lying on a beach in Honduras, working on my tan which has since faded like Jamie Lynn Spears' career with Nickelodeon.

Ah, little 16 year-old Jamie Lynn Spears - or as she's about to be known, "Mommy." Well, with such a role model as big sister Britney, I guess we shouldn't have expected anything else, right? It is sad though. Now, parents all across the country are going to have some 'splainin' to do to their little daughters who've watched the show. Thanks, Jamie Lynn! (I would say that it's ruined her career for good, but in this crazy country? Meh- I doubt it.)

I'll admit it, some of my Christmases have not been so great. I've spent too many of them away from family and friends, working at my oh-so-important job of flying roustabouts out in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't do that anymore, and it's nice being home. I'd like to be with the family, but we're scattered to the four winds and don't get together much.

My friend Hal Johnson and I have been corresponding about a number of things, mainly our wariness of Mike Huckabee and his potential as a POTUS*. Hal still works for Petroleum Helicopters Inc., transporting those roustabouts...those guys who keep the oil flowing so you and I can keep driving around like we do. The oil production never stops in the Gulf of Mexico, not for nothin'. Hal is working this week, which has got to suck since he has a wife and seven year-old son at home, and they're holding off on "real" Christmas until daddy gets back on Friday.

For me, it's been a relatively serene week. In that regard, it's nice being single; you can get things done at a reasonable pace without a lot of the stress and panic. There was no big, head-long rush into Christmas this year. Tomorrow I will spend a leisurely day cooking a turkey and some other side dishes (I make a crabmeat potato salad that is slap-yo-mama good!). Then I'll join some other friends and combine our collective foodstuffs in the afternoon. It should be a wonderful day.

I hope it will be a wonderful day for you too. I hope you are where you want to be - spiritually, physically, financially and emotionally. I hope the holidays are everything you expect them to be and more. I hope you keep in mind the reason for this holiday and why we celebrate it: the birth of God's son, Jesus Christ on earth. If you are reading this blog, I may not know you personally but I thank you and wish you the best. You deserve it.

Merry Christmas!

*President Of The United States

22 December 2007

Chuck and Huck

Former martial arts champion Chuck Norris may not be known for his incredible range and versatility as an actor, but the man does have a sense of humor, and he doesn't take himself too seriously. Say what you will about his acting ability or lack thereof, he has played a consistent character all along. If you see something with Chuck Norris in it, you know he will be the even-tempered good guy who will not back down from a fight when necessary, usually utilizing his famous roundhouse karate kick. He doesn't try to do comedy like Jackie Chan, or "sensitive," roles like Mel Gibson or Clint Eastwood. Nope, Chuck knows his limitations: He's the strong, silent type. And he has parlayed those qualities into a long-lasting career.

Chuck Norris' last t.v. series, "Walker, Texas Ranger" left the regular weekly schedule in 2001. But because of his never-changing, stoic countenance, he turned into something of a pop culture icon. Late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien started it, inserting clips of "Walker" into his show for comic relief. From there, a couple of internet geeks put up a website listing a number of Chuck Norris "facts." They're all hilarious exaggerations of Norris' uber- tough-guy image, such as:

Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried. Ever.


Chuck Norris can hit you so hard that he can actually alter your DNA. Decades from now your descendants will occasionally clutch their heads and yell "What The Hell was That?"


Chuck Norris has the greatest Poker-Face of all time. He won the 1983 World Series of Poker, despite holding only a Joker, a Get out of Jail Free Monopoloy card, a 2 of clubs, 7 of spades and a green #4 card from the game UNO.

You get the idea. The website and number of "facts" started off small, but like many internet phenomenons it has grown inexplicably large. The list has been continually updated and revised since it first appeared in 2005 and there are hundreds now. Some of them are lame, but many are so absurd they will make you laugh out loud.

Okay, one more...

Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience.

Chuck Norris is the only person on the planet who can kick you in the back of the face."

Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he needs.

Chuck Norris died ten years ago, but the Grim Reaper can't get up the courage to tell him.

Well-grounded and down-to-earth, Chuck takes the ribbing in stride. In fact, he responded to it with characteristic good-nature on the World Net Daily website, to which he is a regular contributor.

Chuck Norris is an unashamed Christian and also a good Republican.

Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has shown himself to be most glib and at-ease in front of crowds and t.v. cameras. He comes across as very "real" or at least less-fake and scripted than any politician I've seen in a long, long time (with the exception of the latter-day Bill Clinton). Like Chuck Norris, Huckabee apparently does not take himself too seriously either. Check out this ad, which we bring to you courtesy of the good folks at YouTube.

Okay, so this Huckabee has a sense of humor. I like that. Our current President's attempts at humor are...let's fact it, painful. It is wise of Huckabee to align himself with such a bad-ass icon as Chuck Norris. That swaggering tough-guy image worked for Ronald Reagan, and you have to admit that George W. Bush has played up his Texas roots for all it's worth. Americans love cowboys. Even modern-day cowboys who drive SUV's instead of ride horses (but it doesn't hurt to have some photo-ops of you actually on a horse once in a while).

But there's more to a President than a sense of humor and some clever one-liners. Where does Huckabee stand on other important issues? Like the question of faith. Politicians are good at side-stepping or evading sensitive questions like this. Not Huckabee!

They were trying to box Huckabee into a corner. Wolf Blizter tried to nail him down on a meaningless technicality, trying to get Huckabee to say that he believes the earth was created in seven "days" as we know them now.

Huckabee wasn't having any of it. He was obviously prepared for the question, and his response sounded well-rehearsed. Still, I liked it. I liked when he said, "I'll tell you what I'll tell this country. If they want a President who doesn't believe in God there's probably plenty of choices. But if I'm selected as President of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words, that God did create."

I hadn't really thought that the Republicans were fielding anybody worthwhile in this election. But I'm getting tired of Hillary's non-answers or rambling talking-point evasions. Now I'm going to have to take a closer look at Governor Huckabee.


Official Chuck Norris website
Chuck Norris "Facts"
Chuck Norris Official Response
Chuck Norris Wikipedia

17 December 2007

'Tis The Season

I had to go over to my buddy Matt’s house at 7:30 this morning to proof-read a twenty-five page college term paper that had to be submitted by 9:00. He stayed up most of the night “finishing it” – his term. My term would be “starting it.” (He tried emailing it to me, but his college’s computers use a version of MSWord that my computer does not recognize.)

It’s only about a ten minute drive, and I stopped by Hardy’s to pick up some biscuits and gravy for us to eat while we worked. And coffee. Matt never has any damn coffee in the house. Doesn’t drink it, he says. Neither does he drink iced tea. Makes me wonder just what kind of bogus southerner he is?

Seven a.m. constitutes the start of our “rush-hour” here in puny Pensacola, and people were already out racing around, driving like maniacs, nearly interrupting their cell phone conversations to avoid hitting someone (like me) at the last second. It is quite odd, how frantically people drive on their way to work. It seems that most people do not like to get up and out in the morning, nor do they evidently give themselves even a minute or two of extra time. This should be no surprise. After all, I grew up in one of the great rush-hour capitals of the world: New York City. Maybe that’s why I’m so anti-rushing around nowadays. This morning it seemed like I was just getting in everyone’s way.

The paper did not need much editing. I don’t know a thing about the banking industry, so I can’t comment on the content. Matt submitted it on time, and later in the day learned that it had earned a B+ grade. Not bad, I suppose, for a paper that was only begun to be worked on less than 24-hours before it was due.

No flying today, so I spent it running errands and picking up some last-minute Christmas gifts. The pressure of the season must be getting to people, because the race-car driver mentality was in full-swing all day. That might explain the lunatics on the road this morning, but to be honest they always drive like that on their way to work, Christmas or not.

Finally, this evening I went to Wal-Mart on Creighton Road. I expected it to be a madhouse, and wasn’t disappointed. One guy in a big pickup truck, fed up with the wait in a line of cars that wasn’t moving fast enough for him, just drove over a curbed divider and found an alternate route. I did my usual park-as-far-from-the-entrance-as-you-can routine. Sometimes my friends grumble, but you know what? It only adds a mere 40 steps or so to the trip to the front door. FORTY STINKING STEPS! How many steps are you going to take inside Wal-Mart? And you think an extra 80 is going to kill you? Sheesh.

My rationale for parking so far away is simple: It’s easier to get out of the parking lot. No pedestrians with carts full of groceries behind you way out there. And it’s easier to see cars coming up the row because there’s usually few cars parked around me. I hate backing up.

On the way home, people were still driving like madmen, doing their best impression of a demolition derby or Formula One race. And apparently, I wasn’t driving fast enough for anybody. I just need to be in more of a rush, I guess.

I’ll be glad when Christmas is over and things get back to normal around here...whatever that is.

16 December 2007

The Crappy Pensacola News Journal

Our local newspaper, the Pensacola News Journal is pretty awful as I have already mentioned. They proved it again today.

We had a cold front come through the area yesterday, bringing with it some strong winds. Hardest hit was the town of Navarre, where people incurred damage to their property. In reporting this event, the PNJ’s intrepid, star reporter Sean Dugas went and interviewed some residents. (You can read the story by clicking
here. I don't know how long the link will work.) Here’s what he wrote about one Navarre resident.

Lisolette Heilman, 76, was taking a nap in her mobile home on Avenida Del Sol near the Publix in Navarre when she heard what sounded like an explosion as the winds ripped a metal awning off the back of her home and tore a bowling ball-size hole in her roof.

“It sounded like 16 cannons going off in front of my house,” she said with a heavy German accent. “I thought it was a dream.”

Say what? Was it really necessary to report that Ms. Heilman spoke with an accent? What if her name had been Shenid Bhayroo (referenced in another story)? Would it have been any more or less racist to say that Ms. Bhayroo spoke in a heavy middle-eastern accent? Or that Shaniqua Jackson spoke in a heavy ghetto-Ebonics accent? Of course not. But the newspaper never could have gotten away with saying such a thing about Ms. Jackson, because a certain reverend with the same last name would be on a plane down here from New York before you could say “Don Imus.”

What the hell is wrong with people? The fact that Ms. Heilman spoke with a heavy German accent has absolutely no place in a news story…especially that news story. Perhaps Mr. Dugas was only trying to add “color” to his story. If so, he forgot to mention the "heavy Polish accent" of Will Poloski, age 14, whom he quoted earlier in the story. Mr. Dugas obviously felt it necessary to inform us of something that was completely irrelevant and inappropriate.

Such is the racist state of affairs that still exists in small southern towns, even ones that pretend to be as cosmopolitan and sophisticated as Pensacola, Florida does. Heh, this is such a backwoods burg. Probably always will be.

14 December 2007

The Versatile Helicopter

Here's our November-Two-One-Eight-Alpha-Lima, sitting pretty in a mobile home dealership in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

So…the Boss asked me to pick him up this past Wednesday morning at the company headquarters at 9:30. He had a doctor’s appointment in Pensacola, so we flew there first. It would have taken him about 1:10 or so to drive. We made it down from Brewton, Alabama to Pensacola in less than thirty minutes. Then the good folks at Heliworks loaned him a vehicle to get to his doctor, which was right near the airport.

By 11:30 we were airborne again, headed west to Gulfport, Mississippi where we have a big project underway. An hour later we were on the ground. The boss did…whatever it is that bosses do. I took a long lunch.

At 3:30 we were lifting off and headed for home. About another hour flight.

“This is just great!” he said as we neared home base. “The helicopter has really let me do a lot more in my day. I got a lot of work done, and I still have time to make some phone calls from the office when I get back. I never could’ve done all of this today by car.”

My boss uses the helicopter for both business and pleasure. And I have to admit, we are utilizing this JetRanger exactly in the way Bell Helicopters envisioned when they designed it. We go from point to point, landing right where we need to be most of the time. The helicopter has increased my boss’s efficiency and productivity immensely. It is the right size and speed for the job. It is, for a helicopter, economical and dependable.

There are times when I’d like a bigger helicopter…a faster one…maybe a more-sophisticated one…or a ship with two engines. But I’ve resisted pushing for such a helicopter because this one fits our needs so perfectly. I’ve known pilots who’ve sold their bosses on “bigger, better” helicopters and eventually sold themselves right out of a job. (The expenses of owning and operating a helicopter can truly be staggering.)

We've got this JetRanger equipped with a terrific Garmin moving-map GPS that has terrain-avoidance and obstruction warnings, plus it displays weather information in nearly real-time sent down to us from XM Radio. The GPS is also hooked to a collision-avoidance device. It is a level of capability that would have been either completely unavailable and/or astronomical in price just a few years ago. Because we fly at night, we've upgraded the instrument lighting on the panel and augmented the standard landing lights with an HID auxiliary light that is almost as bright as those you see on police helicopters.

Here we are on the Cambrian Ridge Golf Course in Greenville, Alabama. We landed (with permission) on one of their unused driving ranges.

The Bell 206B JetRanger has always been one of my all-time favorite aircraft. It may not be the most glamorous aircraft in the sky, but it is one of the safest, and it suits us well. And I’m damn proud to be flying it for this company. Plus, I just like the look of the thing. Pretty, isn't it?

09 December 2007

Drinking and Driving

If you don't want to be killed by a drunk driver, I've got a simple solution: DON'T DRIVE AFTER MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY OR SATURDAY NIGHT.

Why is nobody suggesting this? We are so afraid of any hint of "blame the victim" that we neglect to factor in our own personal responsibility for our actions. But let's get real. When do these drunk-driving accidents happen? On weekends, usually after midnight. Ergo, stay off the road at those times! Why is this not obvious?

Our local fishwrapper...sorry, "newspaper," the incredibly mediocre Pensacola News Journal has been on a rant lately about drinking and driving. Every week the paper is full of sad stories of people who've lost loved ones in drunk-driving accidents.

Today, they chronicle one family - a young couple and their seven-month old baby from north Alabama who were on their way to a beachfront condo in Perdido Key. They left their hometown late on Saturday evening "to let the baby sleep on the way" (what??). They were sitting at an intersection in the area of Pensacola we call "car city" when they were rear-ended by a drunk in a truck - a drunk who already had gotten two DUI's. The man and his wife were seriously injured; the baby subsequently died. The truck driver only suffered minor injuries.

A month or so ago, the PNJ did a big story on two young girls who were killed when the car they were riding in was rear-ended by another drunk - a boy in a Honda who was having "girlfriend problems" and who was waaaaaaaaay drunk and doing 90 or so on a four-lane divided highway east of Pensacola. In this case, the car he hit (the girls' car) was being driven by a guy friend of theirs who was going the speed limit, "more or less." The driver of this car was, the police say, stoned on weed although they declined to claim it was a factor in the accident (I disagree). One or both of the girls were ejected from their SUV which subsequently, as they do, rolled over them.

Tragic stories, to be sure. Unless you've been through it (and I dearly hope you have not), one can only imagine how their families and survivors would deal with such pain.

Now. Wait.

It's easy to point to the drunk drivers as being completely at fault in these two accidents. But there's more to it than that. Let us not overlook some of the details. In aviation, an accident is rarely the result of a single "causal factor." Usually it is a series of events that lead up to the accident. So too with these "drunk-driving" automobile accidents.

In the first accident, the driver from north Alabama was stopped at a red light. "Car city" has very little traffic at two a.m. Didn't the driver notice the headlights of the truck bearing down on them from the rear? When I'm at a red light, I'm watching for the green, sure, but I'm also watching to make sure that cars coming up to the light from behind me are going to stop. It was two in the morning. Was the driver of the car at the red light fatigued and sleepy? It would not be unreasonable to assume so, especially after he'd made a nearly five-hour drive.

In the second accident (the one with the girls), neither of them was wearing a seatbelt. Would they have died if they'd been properly secured and stayed inside the vehicle? We'll never know the answer to that. But it is an important question. What was the driver of the girls' SUV doing? Traffic was obviously not heavy on that highway at that time of night, or the boy in the Honda would not have been able to be going so fast for so long. And it's a flat, straight stretch of road with good sight-distances. Didn't the driver of the SUV see the headlights of the fast-approaching Honda in his rearview mirror? I don't know how you drive, but I'm always keeping track of what's ahead of and what's behind me. Especially at night. Especially on a weekend night.

There was a recent drunk-driving impact panel meeting at the University of West Florida. DUI offenders were required to attend. There were the usual speeches by family members of those killed in DUI accidents, as well as some gory movies of others.

A woman got up and gave a very heartfelt talk about her 20 year-old son who'd been killed by a drunk driver. Of course it happened late on a weekend night. The woman said her son had "just gotten off work" although we don't know where or when. Turns out that the boy was ejected from his vehicle and was killed when the drunk's car landed on top of him. Ahh, no seatbelt for the kid, evidently. Again.

Despite Florida's mandatory-seatbelt laws, we constantly see people being ejected from their own vehicles in "rollover" type of accidents. I'm constantly amazed at how many people I know who will drive along, unbelted and seemingly oblivious to the annoying bong-bong! of the warning chime. I'm, like, "OH, JUST PUT YOUR DAMN SEATBELT ON!"

(By the way, this kid, this 20 year-old, apparently unmarried kid already had one child, and another one that was born three months after his own death - meaning that he had his first child when he was only 18 or so. This has absolutely nothing to do with his accident, of course. But it says a lot to me about how we're "progressing" as a culture and society. It seems like having traditional families doesn't matter much anymore. In any newspaper article about a parent and child, more often than not they have different last names. I'm not convinced that this is a good direction we're going. To me, it points to the incessant and perhaps inevitable crumbling of our societal mores, just as we so cavalierly disregard "meaningless" laws like the ones requiring us to wear seatbelts, and our propensity to hold SOMEBODY responsible for everything...somebody else, that is.)

I know, you think I'm being unsympathetic and horribly cruel for even suggesting that people have some responsibility for their own lives...or deaths. But come on, we're adults. We've known for as long as there have been automobiles on the road that people are going to drink and drive them. This is not a new phenomenon. To plead ignorance and innocence is, I think, trying to weasel out of your duty as a citizen.

Let me put it this way. If you go out driving on a Friday or Saturday night, you damn well better be on the lookout for drunk drivers. You damn well better be super-vigilant and careful. You better check and double- and triple-check everything...in front, to the sides and behind you. And you better damn well wear your seatbelt. Every safety guru you talk to will tell you that your chances of surviving a wreck are immeasureably better if you stay inside the vehicle. You cannot do that if you don't wear your seatbelt.

Personally, I think that anyone who ventures out on the road on the weekend after midnight is just being careless - especially so if they bring their family along. Do I drive at those times? Only if I absolutely have to, and not if I can avoid it.

Admittedly, not everybody can. There are those whose jobs or personal situations require them to be on the road during the "death hours." These drivers must acknowledge the very real risk, assume that every other car out there is driven by a drunk, and take the necessary steps to avoid an accident. It's Defensive Driving taken to the highest possible level. It's what we pilots do all the time.

So now we get to the larger issue of the actual drinking and driving. Obviously it is wrong. And just as obviously, all the laws, t.v. ads, traffic checkpoints and legal penalties will not prevent it.

America is a car culture. I don't know about your town, but I live in the city of Pensacola and nothing is within walking distance of my house. That's just how our cities have evolved. So no matter how much we demonize drinking, society still condones drinking and driving. Don't believe me? Then why do we allow bars to have parking lots?

You want to stop drinking and driving? Mandate that bars cannot have parking lots. Oops, but what about restaurants that serve alcohol? Hmm. Oh, and what about stores that sell cold beer? What is the purpose of selling cold beer? Are people in that much of a hurry to get home and drink it? Or do they perhaps want to drink it on the way? No matter, you can always go to a liquor store and buy any kind of booze you want. As long as people are going to drink, they are going to drink and drive. And as long as people are going to drive, they're going to drink and drive.

In any event, our national committment to stopping drinking and driving is weak at best. If we were serious about it, we'd enact the kind of Draconian laws that some European countries have. Heh- and that will never happen as long as politicians and other powerful people get busted for DUI on their way home from parties and such.

So I say, just be smart - stay off the road when the drunks are out.

And wear your goddam seatbelt.