Who Am I?

My photo
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?

25 April 2008

Helicopters And Their Unique Capabilities

N206TH sitting at our jobsite in Gulfport, Mississippi

As I've written before, I love it when helicopters get used in the way for which they are designed. It frustrates me when people don't do this...when they instead use helicopters to go from airport to airport. Use an airplane! Helicopters are meant to land off-airport, at places where airplanes cannot go. Over the past couple of days I have been doing just that. It's pretty neat.

Yesterday morning, I had to run down to the airport (ugh) in Destin, Florida to pick up Mrs. Boss and take her home to the main house in Brewton, Alabama. Destin is a densely populated vacation town, and the only place to land is at the aeropuerto. Oh, it's a nice enough little strip, with unfailingly friendly and helpful people, but there just so many...airplanes...there. I usually try to avoid airplanes and the places they congregate. Anyway, after dropping her off, I picked up the Boss and we flew up to his timberland/"hunting camp" property near Selma, Alabama where he had some business to conduct.

(I remember the first time I flew up there. It was a couple of years ago. I was in the private helicopter of a pilot friend who owns a house on my Boss's property. Before landing at the camp, we stopped in to see Billy Johnson, a guy who buys and sells timber. His office is on a two-lane highway and he has this big field right behind it. So we just set down there, shut down and visited with "Mr. Billy" for a spell.)

Once the Boss was done around midday, we flew up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he owns a mobile home dealership. I dropped him off at the "store" (as they call it) and then repositioned over to the airport for fuel and overnight parking.

This morning, I flew back to the store and picked up the Boss around 11:30. The original plan was to drop him back off at the hunting camp where he's spending the night, but instead he asked if I'd land at a Chevrolet car dealership in the tiny town of Camden. The hunting camp is not used when it's not hunting season, and there is no food there at this time of the year. So the Boss needed groceries. I've landed at this particular Chevy dealer before. They've got a huge grass patch in the front - more than enough room to comfortably land the helicopter. Great guys, too. We borrowed a truck and then headed out for lunch and the local Piggly Wiggly. Mission accomplished, we loaded up again and headed for the camp. The Boss will be driving back down tomorrow, so I split for home, empty. Fighting a headwind, I climbed to 2,000 feet, turned up the XM Radio and kicked back for the long ride home.

Where I come from - the New York City area - the unannounced landing of a helicopter was usually a media event. People always thought that "something was wrong"...that something had to be wrong. The helicopter would always attract a crowd, and usually the local police. It could quickly become a circus. Although we helicopter pilots can generally land anywhere as long as we have enough room and landowner's permission, that's not enough. We still cannot endanger anyone or anything on the ground. So in densely-populated parts of the country you didn't just "drop in" on people, even if they know you're coming, especially if there was no crowd-control arranged. It's just too big of a risk.

But down here, the rural land is so flat and open and sparsely populated that you can really land anywhere safely. As long as you're not stupid and try to put down in the middle of a town, you can land and the occasional vehicle traffic hardly slows as it goes by. Helicopters and airplanes (usually cropdusters) are common sights for these people, and the presence of an aircraft does not always signal an emergency-in-progress. The difference is striking, and a little hard to get used to. Sometimes I'll find myself thinking, "I can't believe we can just land out here and nobody cares...nobody comes...there are no news photographers...and no police."

I get a big kick out of it.

22 April 2008

Good Parenting

My friend Hal Johnson writes a lot about in his blog about his seven-year old son, Dylan. Hal obviously derives great pleasure and reward from being a parent. It pains him to be a pilot who is gone from home for two weeks at a time. In fact, his blog is titled, Dispatches From The Away-Dad Nation. His stories always tug at the heart a little, sometimes a lot. But, aside from being the same age as Hal (although rumor has it that he has suddenly aged a year on me as of...yesterday?), I have absolutely no desire to be a father. I know that I would not be good at it.

And don't give me that line about how you never know what kind of parent you'll be until you actually have your first child, and how being a parent "changes you." I don't wanna know, and I don't wanna change.

We went camping this past weekend. "We" being me, Matt, Alisha and her five-year old son, Dylan. It was only to the nearby Big Lagoon State Park on the outskirts of Pensacola. Kind of small, and located in a swampy area on the Intracostal Waterway (and without any real beach to speak of), Big Lagoon is often overlooked and overshadowed by our Gulf Islands National Seashore (which is mostly still closed from damage caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2005). Still, it's a nice park, and for our first camp of the season / dress rehearsal it was perfect.

I've been camping all my life, and I love it. My parents always took us camping, mostly as a way of escaping New York City. So whether it's minimalistic camping on a motorcycle, "roughing-it" on a hike with a backpack, canoe-camping in the wilderness, or "kitchen-sink" camping from a vehicle, I'm good at it. I know how to prepare and what to bring. This trip went pretty well, all things considered. The only thing I forgot to bring was milk for my morning coffee. I do wish we'd "forgotten" to bring the rum. Sadly, we never forget that.

Part of the reason for the trip was to get Alisha out more. She's only ever been camping one other time, I think. And so had Dylan. Matt and my goal is to make campers out of these city-folk.

Dylan is mildly autistic and extremely hyperactive at times. His attention-span is short, as you'd expect. But he's a great kid, and because I've been around him a lot, we've kind of bonded to the point where he's taken to calling me "Uncle Bobby." Which I'm not really comfortable with.

So it was Sunday morning and we were breaking camp. I had the Mother Of All Hangovers, teetering on the edge of asking God to just kill me and put me out of my misery. Dylan was zooming around like a dervish. If there had been walls on our campsite, he'd have been bouncing off them. He said...something...to me that ended with, "...right, Uncle Bobby?" And then he was off, doing something else. Facing away from him as I packed my gear, and assuming that he wasn't listening to me, I said to no one in particular (and not very loudly), "I've got some bad news for you, Dyl. There is no Santa Claus and I ain't your uncle." He gave me no indication that he heard it, and questioned neither statement at the time.

But Alisha heard it. And she wasn't happy. In fact, "royally pissed" would be the better term. Who was I to tell her kid that Santa Claus didn't exist?

Matt scolded me about it later. He said that kids hear everything, whether they acknowledge it or not. And I do know this to be true. My lame excuse was that if he heard me at all, Dylan will surely have forgotten that bit of news about Santa Claus when Christmas rolls around again in...eight months. And he continues to call me, "Uncle Bobby." Which shows how much he listens to me...about the same as my real nephews and nieces.

This little event explains why I am not a parent. It takes a special type of person to be a parent...you know, an ADULT. And I'm not there yet. Maybe never. Hopefully never.

I admire Hal and Matt and Alisha, and all the good, generous, capable people like them who've seen fit to bring young'uns into this world. God only knows what my parents had to put up with having us kids...six kids! It's just not for me. My best contribution to the art of parenting is that I refrain from the endeavor. I read Hal's posts about his relationship with Dylan, and it doesn't make me get all squishy inside and go, "Gee, I wish I was a parent." Nope. It makes me go, "Thank God it's not me writing that."

No offense.

05 April 2008

Bob and Matt and Bob and Ray

I love my friends. They make me laugh. I guess I naturally gravitate to people with a "good" sense of humor...which is to say a sense of humor similar to mine.

I was out having dinner with my friend / son-I-never-had, Matt and his fiance Alisha, a couple I've now taken to calling "Malisha" since it's in vogue these days. The sound system in the place was playing some cheesy 80's music at a thankfully unobtrusive, ignorable volume. Eventually they played the classic chestnut, "Just A Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" by David Lee Roth, who was most recently a former NYC radio "personality," and before that an EMT, and before that was the frontman of a little group called Van Halen (can't hold a job, Dave?).

You know the song. It's the one that trails out...

I ain't got no-bod-d-d-d-d-d-y
Nobody cares for me
I-I-I-I-I-I-I'm so sad and lon-n-n-n-n-ely...

Etc., etc.

As the song played, Matt cocked an ear and, totally deadpan and assuming that I was listening to the music said, "Uhh, to be grammatically correct, shouldn't that be, 'I ain't got anybody?'"

Hoo-man, I laughed. My pizza nearly came out my nose, I laughed. And agreed! And we "riffed" on that subject for a bit. Alisha, who had not been listening to the background music, just looked at us like we were crazy. As she usually does. And I was reminded of something I'd read about the legendary radio comedy team of
Bob and Ray.

If you've never heard of them, Bob (Elliott) and Ray (Goulding) were two comedic geniuses who specialized in understated deadpan satire. In a career spanning nearly fifty years, they created bizarre spoofs and skits and fake commercials with multitudes of characters (all voiced by Bob and Ray) and sound effects. It's not a stretch to say that if they didn't actually invent it, they perfected the "morning zoo" type of shows you hear on radio stations all across the country. The new ones are all pale imitators, pretenders.

Their humor was rather low-key and dry, especially by today's standards. Over the years, as what passed for humor got racier and edgier, Bob and Ray deliberately avoided controversial topics. They weren't punch-line-driven skits by any means. And although their act worked best on radio, they were even funny on t.v., as is evidenced by an appearance they did below. (The volume is kind of low so you'll probably need to turn it up.)

Though their career in radio started the mid-1940's, they were still going strong in the 1970's, when I would listen to and laugh along with their afternoon show on WOR-AM radio in New York City back when we still listened to radio shows instead of constantly flipping up and down the dial as we do now. They kept up their act until 1990. (By the way, Bob Elliott is the father of comic actor Chris Elliott.)

But as funny as they were together and on the air, apparently they were quite different personalities and were not hilariously funny guys individually. They just never got tired of trying to crack each other up. Which is the line about them that came to me in the pizza place with Malisha and the David Lee Roth song.

I'm not saying that Matt and I are incredibly funny people. We just spend a lot of time and effort trying to crack each other up. And succeeding, most of the time. Matt has probably never heard of Bob and Ray. But I bet he'd like them.