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?

30 September 2008

Drinking, Music and Flying: Not necessarily in that order

HarborWalk Village from the water

Matt and I went out drinking in Destin this past weekend. There’s a new condo palace…well, “atrocity” would be a better word for it…right at the very point where the bridge comes across. It’s called HarborWalk Village. The place is huge. And gaudy. Perfect for Destin, in other words.

HarborWalk offers all of the amenities designed to keep the condo dweller from straying off the property: Fishing boat charters; sailboat rides, pontoon boat rentals, blah blah blah. And, as upscale as it tries to be, all the usual pricey restaurants are there.

We started off at Harry T’s, which reportedly used to be located at some condo until the place got so rowdy that it was kicked out. That was hard for me to believe this past Friday night, because it was pretty dead despite or because of having a pretty bad live band playing. I knew we weren’t in for a rockin’ good time when the first song coming back from a break was “Just The Two Of Us” or some such crap. After paying $12 for two little Rum-and-Cokes in plastic cups…twelve dollars! we decided to wander. The bartendress, sensing our impending departure, bought us a round. We said, “Thank you!” then took the drinks and left anyway.

Just to the east of HarborWalk is a place called AJ’s, which has been there forever. Perched up high above the harbor, and mostly open-air, it was packed, which always makes it fun. The drinks there were only slightly less hideously expensive. (They do take advantage of the tourists in Destin.) There was a band playing – more up-tempo stuff but to be honest they were really bad. The lead singer couldn’t hit a high note to save his life. I heard him produce some that would have shattered my drink glass, had it not been cheap plastic.
Matt and I love live music - we've gone to great lengths to see/hear it. We've heard an awful lot of bands. But - to a point - even bad live music trumps a d.j. and a sound system. To a point.

During one of the band’s breaks a d.j. spun some tunes, and I brought myself up to speed on current music. A catchy song played. The sound system wasn’t that great, but this tune was vaguely familiar. I told Matt that I liked it, and he made an “ugh” face.

“That’s Kid Rock,” he said with some disdain. Not a fan, evidently.
“Yeah, so? It’s a good song,” I countered. I don't hate Kid Rock.
“Yeah, because he ripped-off this one to make his.”

What? I cocked an ear. By then, Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing. Clever d.j.

So I got home and internetted the new Kid Rock song, which is called “All Summer Long.” And yes, it is more than a mere homage to the Lynard Skynard classic. It’s a cross between a "sort-of-remake" and "complete-ripoff." Let’s just say that Kid didn’t have to expend much of his song-writing “talent” in coming up with this one.

But it is also reminiscent of another song…a Warren Zevon song…a song which has already been mentioned in this blog, in the post just below this one in fact. Non-music fans will be puzzled; music fans will know exactly. WZ would undoubtedly sue, were he still alive. Which begs the question: Which song came first, "Werewolves Of London" or "Sweet Home Alabama?"* It is interesting to hear them back to back, as you can here!

Coincidentally, the Beach Boys also had a song called “All Summer Long.” It was used over the closing credits in the movie “American Graffiti.” Great, bittersweet tune, gotta love it!

I know I’m risking turning this into a music blog (and I haven't even gotten to the Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes song yet). But the alternative is to write about politics and economics, which a lot of bloggers seem to be doing. Me, I’d rather stay away from such topics, mainly because I don’t really know enough to have anything other than my ill-formed opinions. And you probably have your own, so why should I subject you to mine? You’ve all read the news – you know what’s going on.

My helicopterish life has been rather mundane lately. We haven’t really been flying much, and we go to the same old places. Oh, I had one guy puke out the back window the other night. I didn’t think he was sick, and he surely didn’t tell me. Had he just said something, I would have handed him one of those “Sic-Sacs” that I keep for just such an emergency. (I’m just glad he puked outside and not inside the aircraft.) Hey, it happens. It’s why I don’t go out on boats.

Other than that, we’ve got some exciting things in the works…things that could mean big changes Your Humble Reporter. The Boss has expanded his business to the point where we really do need a fixed-wing aircraft to supplement the helicopter. At this very moment I am scouring the market for such a plane. And unlike the helicopter field, I have airplane salesmen falling all over themselves to sell me something. So if all continues to go well, ol’ Bob will be flying airplanes again as well as helicopters! And although a lot of helicopter pilots don’t like to cross-pollinate, I really enjoy flying fixed-wing. You might say I go both ways.

*"Sweet Home Alabama" was written in the late summer of 1973 and released as a single in 1974. The earliest recording of "Werewolves of London" is noted as being in late 1974, and Mr. Zevon did not release it as a single until 1977.

24 September 2008


You are probably listening to the dulcet tones of Leonard Cohen's "Democracy" right now and thinking, "What has this moron done now? You may like the song. You may hate it. If the latter, you can hit the "Stop" button. Hey, it's not like you don't already have the mouse button in your hand.

Personally, I really can't stand it when I open a blog and music starts playing automatically. It drives me nuts - usually because I have to search for the "widget" to turn the volume down (or completely off), and the widget is not easily locatable. Aaarrrggghhh!

So I've decided on a couple of things. One, I like this Leonard Cohen song, which I first heard when watching the political coverage on PBS. They were using it as a musical bed for their coverage logo.

Secondly, I decided to put the widget right at the top of the page, where you can readily click it off. And you will, if you're a regular visitor, because every damn time you come to this blog you'll be treated to Cohen's raspy "singing."

Great poet, Leonard Cohen. That he also makes music is incredible. Although his name had sort of vaguely been in my consciousness as I was growing up, he wasn't "rock 'n roll" so I never really paid much attention. That is, until I watched the movie "Natural Born Killers" and Cohen's "The Future" was played over the closing credits. "Democracy" has such great lyrics and phrasing that I couldn't pass up passing it along to you.

So in the spirit of the day, "Democracy" will stand...at least until I get sick of it. Then, maybe I'll replace it with another song. Or maybe not. Like I said, I really can't stand it when I open a blog and music starts playing automatically.

23 September 2008

In Praise of Captain Kirk

So I’m sitting home last evening when Matt calls.

“Hey, you want to go to Kooter Brown’s and drink some beers, eat some chicken wings and watch the Jets play on Monday Night Football?”

I had just had supper and was stuffed, as usual because I cook for an army and eat like horse. But beer and chicken wings? That's like Jello: There's always room for beer and wings. “Sure!”

“Well I’ll be pulling into your driveway in about, ohhhhh, forty-five seconds,” he says.

He knows me so well. He was already enroute to my house when he called.

Kooter Brown’s is a local sports-bar – you know the kind, with t.v. sets all over the place showing a multitude of sporting events and sports memorabilia lining the walls. Places like this are normally packed on Monday nights here in Pensacola. But Kooter’s was surprisingly (and disturbingly) empty. Don’t people go out to party and have fun anymore?

Anyway, one of the televisions had ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” on. (Our waitress said that an elderly couple had asked if they could watch it. We didn't see any "elderly couples" in the place and assumed it was the waitress herself who wanted to watch it.) Neither Matt nor I recognized any of the “stars.” Thankfully, that show ended. Then “Boston Legal” began.

Now, I don’t watch television; I spend most of my free time online. But every once in a while, I’m reminded that there are some really, really good shows on network t.v., and I think “Boston Legal” is one of them.

Begun in 2004, “Boston Legal” was a spin-off of a series called “The Practice,” which was a fine show in its own right. “BL” has got a great cast: James Spader; Candice Bergen, John Larroquette, and of course the great, larger-than-life William Shatner. I used to watch “Boston Legal,” but it was part of the collateral damage when I got fed up and just stopped watching t.v. altogether.

Seeing “Boston Legal” again (silently, the volume was turned down so everyone could hear the Jets’ commentary) reminded me of how much I like William Shatner. And who doesn’t like Shatner?

Spader (“Alan Shore”) and Shatner (“Denny Crane!”) are wonderful together. It’s fun to watch them. And I guess I will be doing it again. Temporarily. “Boston Legal” is in its fifth and final season – and a short one (12 episodes) at that. Oh well…

To give you an idea of how much fun “Boston Legal” is, here are a couple of snippets of dialogue from the series:

Alan Shore: [referring to a book about parasites found on salmon] "This book, '
A Stain Upon The Sea,' it's all about these sea lice."
Denny Crane: "Interesting."
Alan Shore: "They call them cling ons."
Denny Crane: "Did you say Klingons?"

And this one…

Denny Crane: [walking through a crowd of reporters] “Dennycranelaw.com. Pictures, bios, hobbies. I once captained my own spaceship. Multi-talented.”

I love t.v. shows that don’t take themselves too seriously. “Boston Legal” certainly does not.

Remember the phone company called MCI (now Verizon)? They had a t.v. commercial on that was just hilarious.

Adding Jonathan Frakes ("Commander Riker" from "Star Trek: The Next Generation") was a stroke of genius.

Then again, I am obviously and easily amused. I love these little flashes of brilliance that t.v. can occasionally offer.

Finally, William Shatner is known as the spokesman for the Priceline.com travel service.

The look on Shatner's face as the realization sinks is is terrific.

By the way, wings were great (hot!), the beer (Yuengling) was watery and the Jets lost.

15 September 2008

Our 206B: One Year Later

Here we are at our "store" in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

September 11th is a noteworthy date to be sure. For me, it is extra-poignant because 9/11/07 was the day we officially took delivery of “our” new helicopter. I was down in Sarasota, Florida picking it up from Phil Carey of Engage Aviation from whom we bought it. A year has gone by, so I thought I’d give you an update.

We’ve flown a total of 300 hours – not bad usage for an aircraft. We changed the FAA registration number, the equivalent of getting a vanity license plate for your car. We added some convenience items, like cup holders and extra interior lights given the amount of night flying we do. Other than that, it’s basically the same aircraft as when we bought it. The paint and interior have held up well. The boss loves it.

In the past year, we have had a couple of minor problems - little glitches, really - that were easily fixed by our friends at Heliworks in Pensacola. Nothing major broke, and we never had to cancel a flight due to unexpected maintenance. The helicopter waits patiently for me to come, jump in and mash the starter button. It’s always ready when I am.

There is an expression to the effect that a helicopter is nothing but a collection of parts flying in close formation with each other. To a large degree this is true. There are many parts on a helicopter that are either life-limited or are on a schedule whereby they must be overhauled at various intervals. These limits are not “smooth,” meaning that they do not all come due at the same time. So when you buy a helicopter you must study the records closely to see which components have how much time remaining. It's not as easy as you might think. There are plenty of opportunities for “gotchas.”

One helicopter the boss and I looked at was outwardly very nice. The price seemed reasonable. All of the components had good times-remaining…except…when I dug a little deeper, there were two turbine wheels in the engine that were due for replacement – at a cost of about $25,000 apiece! not including labor. The seller had cleverly disguised this fact in the spreadsheet. An unwary buyer might have missed it completely. Needless to say, we passed on that ship.

One odd thing about the aviation industry is that I had a hard time getting people who had aircraft for sale to call me back. My call would go straight through to voice mail (nobody answers their phone anymore) and I’d leave a message and would not get a response. Or I’d call the owner/operator and request specs on their ship (sometimes more than once!) and they’d never come. It seems as if people in aviation don’t know how to sell stuff.

And then there's Engage. When N218AL came on the market, we liked what we saw. It was freshly refurbished (new paint and interior bits) and seemed to have good component times remaining. I called Engage and talked to Phil Carey’s assistant. Phil immediately got back to me. That in itself was impressive; I'd been getting pretty frustrated up to that point. He then sent me all the specs on it, and invited me down to fly it. Of course I accepted! (Some sellers I contacted were either reluctant to let me fly their machine or said flat-out that it was not possible.)

The ship was as gorgeous in person as it was in the pictures. (In fact, it is so nicely refurbished that most people don’t believe it was manufactured in 1975. Even people who are familiar with Bell 206’s are surprised.) While I was there, Phil made an office available for as long as I needed for me to study all of the records, which he had, back to the date of manufacture. It took some time, but the records were solid – no unexplained gaps or “red flags” that would indicate something was amiss. I told my boss that if we bought the helicopter we could fly it for at least a year without having to do a single thing to it (other than routine inspections, of course). On my second visit, we came to terms on a price, and the deal was closed.

Throughout the process, Phil had been great. He included some “extras” with the helicopter that he really didn’t have to, like a portable air conditioner that sits in the back seat. It’s come in handy when it’s just the boss and me, as it usually is. He made sure…and I mean really bent over backwards…that we were completely satisfied with our purchase. And we are.

Phil Carey usually deals in large airplanes on an international basis. He is a pilot, and an unabashed “helicopter nut.” I wondered why he even messed with helicopters, since they return much less profit-per-sale than a Boeing 737, say. He told me he sells helicopters just so he can get to fly them, which I totally understand.

I’ll tell you one thing about Phil. Due to an error in entering component times into a spreadsheet, I mistakenly came to the conclusion that our tail rotor blades were running out of life and would need to be replaced much sooner than expected. I wondered how I did not catch this during my “pre-buy” inspection, but I assumed that I just hadn’t been as diligent as I should have. Hey, it happens…

By chance I was talking with Phil by phone on another matter, and mentioned that we would be replacing our tail rotor blades soon. “Oh?” he said, sounding puzzled and concerned. “I could have sworn that all the component times on that ship were good.” Without me saying anything more, Phil generously offered to split the cost of a new set of tail rotor blades with us. He certainly was under no obligation to do so.

Based on Phil’s memory and his insistence that something wasn’t right, I went back into the records and double-checked. Sure enough, it was my mistake. Thankfully, we didn’t have to take him up on his kind offer. But the fact that he made it in the first place even before he knew the truth says a lot about the man’s integrity. You want a good deal on an aircraft, a deal you can be comfortable with? Call Phil Carey at Engage Aviation.

Recently, I had to travel to south Florida on business. On the way home I’d be passing “close enough” to Sarasota, and thought I’d pay Phil a visit. “Come on up!” he said enthusiastically. “We can go out to eat. You’ll be staying at my house – no arguments.” We met up, went out and had a wonderful dinner (he paid), then spent the rest of the evening at his place drinking Czechoslovakian beer and talking airplanes until the wee hours. At least I think it was Czech beer – I may have had a little too much of it. Whatever, it was gooooood.

In the coming year, we'll have one relatively inexpensive component that will be due for overhaul in a couple of hundred hours. Then we’ll go a long time without anything else needing to be done. Ol’ N206TH has been a trouble-free bird, exactly as it was advertised. To say we’ve been happy with our ship and Engage Aviation is an understatement. It was a great deal and it’s been a great year.

All plugged-up with nowhere to go: N206TH as I delivered it to Heliworks at Pensacola Regional Airport this past weekend for its 300-Hour Inspection.

14 September 2008

Update on Gas Availability/Prices

As is my usual custom I went out this morning for the Sunday paper and coffee. I could have the paper delivered but I prefer the exercise of getting out and walking...to the car, and climbing in and pulling the shift lever back from "Park" into "Drive." It's very refreshing! Gets the old heart rate going, it does.

There is a large gas station/convenience store not far from the house. I noticed that the big price sign out front had no listing for Mid-Grade or Premium, just one for Regular gas but I didn't look to see what it was. There were plastic bags covering the nozzles, which is the typical indicator that a station is out of fuel. The place was empty, save for just a couple of cars at the fourteen pumps, and some of the drivers had puzzled looks on their faces which I interpreted to be that of frustration over not being able to fill up their tanks.

The store is usually quite busy with pre-church traffic on a Sunday morning. There is always a line inside. Not today. It was empty. As I was paying for my stuff I asked the clerk about his gas situation.

"We ran out yesterday," he said. "We just got a delivery of Regular, but I'm not sure when we're gonna get another delivery of anything."

You have gasoline, I asked?

"Oh yeah."

I pulled over to the pumps. Sure enough, the nozzle of the Regular gas had no plastic bag. So I filled up with Unleaded Regular at $3.63 per gallon. This is a mere four cents over what it was a couple of days ago.

So much for the feared dollar-a-gallon increases. Then again, as far as the aftermath of Hurricane Ike is concerned, it's still early.

Charlie Crist Is A Big Fat Liar

"It is important for the people of Florida to know that our state currently has an adequate fuel supply."

The above is a quote from Florida Governor Charlie Crist published in the Saturday edition of the Pensacola News Journal. The quote is in a story about how Hurricane Ike is affecting gasoline prices nationwide. In a press conference on Friday afternoon, Florida's Commisioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Charles Bronson said, "There is no fuel shortage in Florida."


In the town of Brewton, Alabama, which is about forty miles north of Pensacola and just over the state line, gas stations were out of gas by Saturday midday. This afternoon, we flew up to Tuscaloosa to see the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide football team play (the boss is a big fan). It was spooky to see how few cars were on the highways.

We didn't stay for the whole game, and I landed back in Brewton around 10:00 pm. Driving home to Pensacola with my gas gauge more down towards "E" than I like, most gas stations in Florida were out. The very few that were still open only had premium for sale. I suspect they'll be out by morning. It's a Saturday night and the roads were deserted.

Hey, Charlie and Charles, what was that nonsense about adequate fuel supply?

Politicians are lying bastards. We know this, of course, but it's always nice to have it reaffirmed in such an obvious manner.

07 September 2008

Cause For Optimism?

Good for us in northwest Florida, bad for Texas.

But it wise to remember -

They could be wrong...

06 September 2008

Jebus! Not Another One...

Nigga, pleeze! Can't a brutha catch a break? First it was Fay (which fizzled), then Gustav (which missed us). Now, Hurricane Ike is headed our way. And it's a doozy already. Those poor people in New Orleans won't know whether they're coming or going. The local newslady last night chuckled as she noted that there was a veritable "conga line" of Atlantic storms this season. Yeah, laugh it up, toots. For some of us down here, it ain't funny.

03 September 2008


If I hear the term "maverick" associated with John McCain one more time, I think I am going to puke.

The Republican Party is trying very hard to portray McCain as a Man Of Change! He's a man who crosses party lines, reaches across the aisle, blah blah blah. In fact, he's not just a maverick. Hell, he was a fighter pilot; he IS Maverick! Just like Tom Cruise in that movie!

It's just so much bullshit. He's a politician...a career politician. He will say whatever it takes to get elected, simple as that. I can't take it anymore.

Back during the primaries, there was that saying about Rudy Giuliani: "When Giuliani speaks, every sentence contains a noun, a verb, and 9/11." (It is still true today.) When John McCain speaks, every sentence contains a noun, a verb and "prisoner of war." It seems that it is simply impossible for anyone to talk about McCain (including himself) without bringing up his Viet Nam war experience, both as a fighter pilot and as a P.O.W.

Like it friggin' matters.

Okay, he spent years as a captive in a torturous prison. He endured stuff that would have in all likelihood killed me. For that he deserves and gets our undying respect. He's da man. But does that qualify him to be President? Does that even qualify him to lead our military as Commander In Chief? Let's just see.

McCain's U.S. Naval Academy graduating class consisted of 899 cadets. McCain did not graduate in the top 10. He didn't even graduate in the top ten percent. Not the top 50 percent, either. Nope, John McCain graduated 894th. Out of 899. Not exactly a great beginning. I'm sure his father and grandfather (high-ranking career military men themselves) were just bursting at the seams with pride. "Well hey Johnny, you sure did better than those other five guys. Way to go!"

McCain's proficiency as a pilot can be legitimately questioned. Robert Timberg's book, "John McCain: An American Odyssey" reports that he crashed two airplanes and had a wire strike with a third. And then, of course, he was shot down.

After returning from captivity, McCain was physically rehabilitated and then briefly given command of a flight training squadron in Jacksonville, Florida. Realizing that he'd never make it to the rank of Admiral (no sea command), he retired in 1981. In 1982 he switched to politics. He's been in Congress or the Senate ever since.

People talk about McCain's military background if it were the only thing that should be considered of a presidential candidate. Well, if being President were solely about leading our military, John McCain would not even be my first choice. There are those better qualified than he. But as President, McCain will very likely have to deal with one or two other issues. He's already admitted that his knowlege of the economy is weak. God only knows what other deficiencies he has.

He is certainly a mediocre public speaker, as evidenced by his speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention last night. I expected to be glued to the screen in rapt attention. Halfway through I picked up my laptop and began surfing my helicopter discussion forums, only half-listening to the same crap we've heard year after year after year. Then again, Rudy Giuliani's speech/stand-up comedy routine and Mitt Romney's astonishingly bizarre rant from the previous night were tough acts to follow. Even Sarah "Maverick" Palin upstaged McCain with her acceptance speech.

Look, has any presidential candidate ever not promised to shrink government...to cut wasteful government spending...to reduce our dependance on foreign oil? Has any presidential hopeful ever not promised to cut taxes...and stand up to those nefarious "special interest groups?"

Do we even pretend to believe them anymore? Dear God, why? Oh, please. I'm just sick of it. Sick of all the lying and pandering and politicians telling me what they think I want to hear.

If McCain wins...and that's a very big "if" at this point...he will be a very mediocre one-term president. Four years won't nearly be enough to accomplish all of the things he's promised us so far.

02 September 2008

Sonic Drive-In: The Art of the TV Commercial

Although I don’t watch much t.v., I am fascinated by it, and how creative it can sometimes be. Especially the commercials. Most are insipid and forgettable, but some are genuine works of art. The Budweiser “Real Men of Genius” spots are truly some of the best commercials ever to be broadcast.

In 2005 the fast-food chain Sonic Drive-In began running an interesting ad campaign featuring two people in a car interacting as they enjoy Sonic food. At first it was two guys (“improv” actors named T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz), and then with a “husband and wife” couple (Molly Erdman and Brian Huskey). The repartee between the players seems very relaxed and natural, much like it is with real friends/couples.

The ads are incredible – not just for the humor but for the insights we get into their relationships and the questions that get raised. The woman and man: Are they really married? Then there’s the controversial: Are the two guys just friends or something more? Is the guy on the left (T.J.) really that dumb? Is the husband really that obtuse? I’m not sure whether Sonic should be applauded or criticized for showing Americans that we really can be, err…not too bright. Either way, it’s pretty funny.

The commercials are not scripted but mostly ad-libbed. One food industry insider tried to get Sonic to comment on the clever commercials and was peeved when he was stonewalled by both the Sonic corporate headquarters and their ad agency.

Sonic, which reportedly is spending $100 Million on this campaign, is running the spots nationally, even in markets where they do not have stores! And then they won’t talk to "The Press" about their television commercials? That’s pretty ballsy, if you ask me. I love it.

The commercials have spawned a bunch of YouTube imitators, as you might imagine. All of the ones I've seen are horrible. (No offense YouTubers, but you really should leave the professional stuff to the professionals.)

The ad campaign has been running since 2005, so there are a bunch of real Sonic spots, and it's hard to choose examples to include here. But below are three that I find amusing. I have only three words for Sonic: Best. Campaign. Ever.

"May I sub-respond before you finish?"

"You have a mustache on you, right now...only now...n-no other times...just now..."

"Minty!" "That's...not really the word for it."