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?

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas

So back in November at Thanksgiving I was complaining that I burned the turkey. I said that my experty calibrated oven couldn't have been at fault - oh no! Had to be the stupid, wrong directions on the turkey itself.

Umm. Well...

Long story short, the thermostat in my oven is apparently going on the fritz. Turns out that when I put the dial on 325 degrees the oven goes to 450. Or 200. It varies. To actually *get* 325 I have to set the dial to...ahhh, something less. And then something more. The oven won't keep a constant temperature. In retrospect, I'm lucky I didn't burn the house down last time.

Anyway, today I'm watching over the turkey like a mother hen. Ouch. Even I wince at that strained metaphor. But watching it, I am: constantly adjusting the temperature selector to maintain that proper and exact 325 degrees. So far, so good. The presents are wrapped and ready to go. The tree lights are a-twinkling. I feel very good - who doesn't love Christmas Day?

We're doing Christmas at Matt's, as usual, since he's got the bigger house with the bigger kitchen and the bigger family to go with it all. He's working on the side dishes as we speak...or at least I hope he is. The gathering will include his brother Jacob, sister and her husband, who-knows-which-other family members (maybe his real dad), and a few lone stragglers who don't have anywhere else to be. We've got plenty of food and plenty of wine.

Matt's house has always been a central gathering place. It started back when Hurricane Ivan hit. He and I broke out our extensive camping/cooking gear, and managed to eat fairly normally while most other people were "feasting" on grilled hotdogs and hamburgers and cold-cut sandwiches. I made chicken and sausage jambalaya one day and a chicken pasta salad that you would not believe how good it is on another. No hamburgers for us!

This year, Alisha has requested/demanded that along with the turkey I bring a big tub of my patented crabmeat potato salad. It's not a complicated recipe (basically just potatoes, crabmeat, and mayo plus some seasonings) but the taste is out of this world. There is never any leftover - and I always make tons! So it's done, and it has taken all of my self control to keep from grabbing a big mixing spoon and shoveling it into my mouth.

I haven't been flying much lately. But the few times we've gone anywhere, the Boss has requested that I put one of the Christmas music stations on the XM radio. Now look, I like Christmas music as much as the next guy, but I'm friggin' SICK of hearing Dean Martin's "Rudy, The Red-Beaked Reindeer" or the 99-millionth version of "Winter Wonderland."

And so I'd almost forgotten about my favorite Christmas song of all time, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses. It's not a Christmas song in the traditional sense; it was one of the first "Alternative" Christmas songs.

Written in 1981 and recorded during the summer of 1982, it's a bittersweet tale of a harried, lonely, kind of depressed city girl. She met a guy last winter in a ski shop, and all year long she's been trying to hook up with (not in the modern sense but in the early-80's "get-together" sense). But things always keep sabotaging their plans: she gets a bad sunburn in the summer, his car craps out at Halloween. So she decides to spend Christmas alone, cooking dinner on Christmas Eve. But - and I can relate to this - she's forgotten the cranberry sauce.

The A&P has provided me
With the world's smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn, guess what I forgot!

So back out into the cold she goes, to the only store that's open. I won't spoil things if you're not familiar with the song, but let's just say it has a happy ending. It's up in the player at the top of the screen, and it's worth a listen.

I love the song because it reminds me of Christmas in New York City - which, although beautiful in its own way, I hope I never have to endure again as long as I live. I love the song because it's optimistic...that it gives us hope that life does sometimes work out. I love the song because it's about people who are cool with spending their Christmas alone, which a lot of us do. And I love the song because it fades out with this incredible Dixieland riff that sounds so...un-Christmas-y.

I have spent Christmas alone in the past, intentionally or not. I have spent Christmas lying on a beach on a tropical island, soaking up sun and drinking rum. I have spent Christmas at work, like my friend Hal Johnson is doing today, sadly. It's always better to spend Christmas with family and loved ones, of course. But the important thing is to recognize why we're marking and celebrating this day at all.

And I can't let it go by without expressing the hope that...wherever you are, whomever you're with (or not with), and whatever you believe...that you have a wonderful, warm, joyful, rewarding Christmas. In other words, I wish for you the same as I have for me.


Christmas Wrapping Lyrics

21 December 2008

It Is Being What It Is - Part II

Sometimes, the responses to blogposts can get longer than the post itself. I wanted to reply to the comments made about my last post, and it got so long I figured I'd just make another post.

Okay, I should explain.

I didn't mean to tarnish all pilots with a single, broad brush. I didn't mean to say that all pilots are deficient or defective or socially inept. It's just that "some" of us are. Okay, a lot of us are. I mean, I've been in aviation pretty much full-time since 1976, which makes it...what?...nearly 33 years?! Ouch. In that time, I've come to know an awful lot of pilots. And we share a number of common characteristics.

The thing is, the majority of us think we're quite normal, well-balanced and well-adjusted individuals, thank you very much. We don't recognize those little...umm, "peculiarities" that endear us so much to our loved ones. Or if we do, we minimize their importance: "Well, I'm not that bad." Yes, you are.

In my previous post (just below, in the weird way blogs are "published") I rattled off a few character traits of mine - at least, the ones I'm aware of. One is my absolute intolerance for stupidity in others while often demonstrating truckloads of it myself. Blogger Michael/Redlefty aptly noted, "Pilots don't have a monopoly on this one!"

True, Michael. But when combined with my other pilot-qualities it adds up to something bigger than the parts. Just like the Beatles! But in a bad way.

I also said that I did not consider myself funny, which is true. "Other" blogger Bob disagreed.

Well Bob, anyone can be funny in print when you can spend time refining and polishing the jokes. It is in real life where I'm often tongue-tied and slow on the uptake. Like George Costanza in "Seinfeld," I'm always thinking of great comebacks long after the moment has passed.

Fellow blogger/helicopter pilot/friend Hal Johnson has been told that he's well-liked at work, but feels instead like a "grumpy, middle-aged bastard."

I think that's because by the time we get into our 40's and 50's, we've seen enough of life that we're not awed by too much anymore, and we get fed up with the bullshit.

On the other hand, my friend Matt, who's just 27, is still on a constant voyage of discovery - both of himself and the outside world. He's still experiencing things for the first time, and life is still new and fresh. Heh. That'll change, and probably soon. In the meantime, he's fun to be around, and he keeps me feeling young when *I* start to feel like a grumpy, middle-aged bastard.

Hal also mentioned that he doesn't feel well-liked in new settings. His wife attributes it to Hal's imposing tallness and the sense that people are leery around him until they find out he's not an...let's just say "ogre."

I understand Hal's viewpoint, but I'm just the opposite; I'm usually immediately comfortable wherever I'm at. It's a knack I picked up somewhere along the way when I realized that most people have at least some levels of anxiety due to feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness - even the high-rollers and heavy-hitters I sometimes meet now with the Boss. They're just human, and we humans are often uncomfortable meeting new people. Once you understand that, you can exploit it. Okay, "exploit" is maybe not the right word. What I mean is that if you realize that everyone else in the room is feeling some level of emotional distress, then you can relax! Well it works for me.

But it's not always a good thing. One of the negative comments that was relayed to and about me recently was that I had a haughty attitude, always "..acting as if I owned the place," and as though I thought I was better than everyone. What can I say...guilty?

These blogs provide little one-dimensional glimpses into the lives of people who are sometimes very fully two-dimensional. In the PC days (that is, pre-computers) I was able to meet some well-known writers who I presumed would be fun, fascinating people to know, only to find out that they were, um, not. So I cannot vouch that you'd like me.

Apparently...and luckily...liking the writer personally is not a prerequisite for subscribing to blogs. There is one blog I read, written by a guy - an insensitive jerk - down in south Florida who often comes off as a real, complete A-#1 asshole. Yet he makes these little, short posts nearly every day and sure enough, for some reason I click on him every day to see the update and find out what's going on in his town. But I absolutely would not not want to meet this guy, no way.

I guess you just can't please everybody.

18 December 2008

It Is What It Is

I got word recently that a person I know said some bad things about me. This news was relayed with a tad more glee than I would have liked, but what the hey? The bad-mouthing was nothing particularly hateful, nor was it surprising. I've been called a "a-hole" in the past - it was not the first time - sometimes behind my back and sometimes to my face. Usually it's combined with other words...modifiers like pompous and arrogant and one that begins with the letter "f." And sometimes all three!

For the record, my "offense" in this case was one of non-contact with a person to the point of avoidance, something I do not deny. There are just people I'd rather not associate with. So sue me.

Not long ago, I worked briefly for a non-aviation consulting group. It was lucrative and kind of fun, but it wasn't aviation! and my heart just wasn't in it. My coworkers were, no surprise, non-aviators. They were pleasant enough people. Our workspace was all open and social. And I obtusely thought we all got along great.

It turned out that some of them disliked me intensely. I found this out at a Christmas party when people's tongues were well-lubricated with beer and scotch and rum. And honestly, it was troubling at the time. I mean, we all want to be liked, right? Isn't that part of our human nature? And so the fact that my charming personality couldn't win these people over was rough. Okay, maybe I didn't lose any sleep over it, but I confess that I did wonder why?

Then again, I am a pilot. And we pilots can be...well...we're different. Sometimes our social skills leave a little to be desired. I know that "I am a pilot" is a weak excuse for anything. But understand, my whole life has revolved around being in absolute, complete control while involved in a certain endeavor. This manifests itself in my non-flying life in many ways. To wit: I am often overbearing and insistent and intense - a classic control freak. I think very linearly and logically. I view most things as problems needing to be solved. I am intolerant of "stupidity" while demonstrating vast quantities of it myself. I can be quite neurotic. I have a morbid sense of humor, and a nonchalant view of death (hey, it happens to all of us sooner or later - some pilots just go sooner).

I realize these things, and I usually try to ameliorate or at least modulate them, with varying degrees of success. My family and close friends seem to understand - at least, they put up with me. (Although frankly I don't know how Matt has for so long. I sometimes think he looks up to me as an example of how-not-to-be-when-I-get-to-be-his-age.)

I know some people who openly state that they don't give a rat's ass if anybody on the planet likes them, and they act as though that is their actual goal. People like that usually get what they're seeking. On the other hand, it's not good to be a "pleaser," somebody who goes out of his/her way to be liked. I try to find some middle ground.

We all have this self-image that we think we project to the outside world. Me, I like to think that when people see me they see a combination of Rodney Dangerfield, James Bond, Alan Alda, Charlie Rose, and Chuck Yeager. ...In other words, someone who's funny and likes to have a good time, who's self-assured, glib, smart, and the best damn pilot on the face of the planet. However, I suspect that some people are not getting that. Hmm.

And don't get me wrong! I'm not looking for gratification or validation. I do the best I can - we all do. But I know that you cannot be loved by everyone. So, I guess what it comes down to is that our self-image and our real image can be quite different. Some people will see me as Good-Time Bobby, and others will see me as Bob the Pompous A-hole.

In the end, there's not much you can do about it. It just is what it is.

16 December 2008

On Humor - Jeff Dunham

I'm not a funny guy. I love to laugh, but I'm not really good at making others laugh - except unintentionally, like when I make one of my many and various goof-ups (and I do). But I do believe that one of the more important secrets to life is having a good humor about you - to see the lighter side of things and not take stuff too seriously. I want people to meet me and go, "Man, that guy loves life!" And afterward, I want them to remember me as a guy who was always in a good mood.

This may sound strange, but every morning, before my day gets started - like when I'm driving to work - I think about funny stuff. And not just mildly amusing stuff, but really hilarious things that make me laugh out loud. I think that if you're crabby when you wake up, then there's a certain psychological momentum that'll keep you crabby throughout the day. And there are certainly enough crabby people in the world, thank you very much. I just don't want to be one of them. If you try to make yourself laugh, it'll lighten your mood - which can only be good, right? And to be honest, it doesn't take much to crack me up.

Speaking of which, the other night Matt, Alisha and I went to see this comedian named Jeff Dunham. Maybe you've seen Dunham on TV or YouTube. He's a ventriloquist - something I thought was a lost art. Throughout the history of comedy there used to be plenty of ventriloquists around. But that type of humor fell out of favor, and they pretty much all disappeared along with the Ed Sullivan Show. So Dunham (who happens to be a helicopter pilot, which earns him high marks in my book) has the field to himself. He's been doing comedy since the late 1980's and has appeared on the old Johnny Carson Tonight Show.

Humor is very personal, and certainly Dunham may not be everybody's cup of tea. His act covers many subjects, some of which are quite offensive and adult in their content. Yet I saw plenty of families with their young teenage kids attending. The couple next to me brought their thirteen year-old daughter along. I questioned the wisdom of that. "Oh, most of the jokes will go right over her head," the wife said. Man, I hoped so. I hope the language and the racist stereotypes did too.

I think Dunham's funny. His act is edgy and...well, kind of bizarre. He's got seven dummies, and he'll use most of them in every show. Each, of course, has its own personality.

The amazing - and somewhat weird - thing about Dunham is his, err- relationship with the dummies. I mean, you know that it's just him giving them a voice, but still...there comes a time in his act when you go, "There's something going on here..." Check this short clip out. It's Dunham and "Achmed, the Dead Terrorist." Achmed's signature catch-phrases are, "SILENCE!" and a terse, bleating, "I KEEL YOU!" You'll see...

I'd seen many of Dunham's video clips on YouTube (and you can too!). I wondered if his show here in Pensacola was just going to be a rehash of old material. Not to worry, there were only a couple of things - very little, actually - that were familiar (like Achmed's soon-to-be-classic Christmas song, "Jingle Bombs"). And even they were still funny.

One major plus was that some of Dunham's material was pretty fresh. Even he was cracking up at some of the jokes. I like that...I like a comedian who's not so jaded by the job, the industry and the grind of touring that the material isn't even funny anymore. I like a comedian who keeps coming up with new material. Dunham honestly looked like he was having a good time up on that stage. And at some of his own bits, he'd crack up sufficiently that he'd lose his place. It's what makes a ventriloquist act different from regular old stand-up. And it is exactly that spontaneity and improvisational quality that makes watching such live comedy (and live music for that matter) so enjoyable.

In fact, during the finale, when Dunham pulled out his rednecky, "Bubba J" doll (part of the act with which I was not familiar), the admittedly rednecky people in audience in the packed-to-the-rafters Pensacola Civic Center (who evidently were familiar with it) began "singing along" with the jokes and calling out punchlines a split second before Bubba J did. Dunham initially seemed startled and taken aback. Then, he got into it and, with genuine glee continued the rest of that part of the act at a slightly slower pace to allow the audience to paricipate. It was a very "Rocky Horror Picture Show" moment. You could almost see Dunham thinking, "I gotta come back here!" And I hope he does.

What would this world be without humor and music? A pretty dreary place, that's what. But it's not, thanks to guys like Jeff Dunham. (And he's a helicopter pilot, too!)

Jeff Dunham's Website

Jeff Dunham Wikipedia Page

YouTube Videos

13 December 2008

Blissful Delirium and Dementia

Four a.m. - I like waking up early, but not this early. It was a splitting headache that woke me up. I hardly ever wake up with a headache anymore (especially when I haven't been drinking), but this one was a doozy.

I was not looking forward to the day. Later this afternoon, I've got to fly the Boss and three others up to some Christmas party in some town about an hour-and-a-half away. The return is scheduled for "around" nine o'clock, and you know what that means. I'll be lucky if we get back to the homedrome by eleven. Hanging around with a bunch of people I don't know at a party where I can't drink? Oh joy. And since the airport fixed-base operator (FBO) where we'll be landing closes at five p.m., I won't be able to hang out there. Which means I'll have to tag along with the boss to the party...which means I'll have to dress "nicely" instead of wearing my usual jeans-and-leather-jacket uniform.

Life sucks!

It was not just an ordinary headache, as I said. Not quite a migraine, but extremely annoying. Sometimes I can put up with a headache, depending on where the pain is focused. This one was getting in the way of conscious thought. And sleep. (Although truthfully I'd gone to bed early and had gotten my usual five-plus hours.) I realized that I was also in a fairly bad mood, separate from the headache, which is unusual for me.

A couple of extra-strength Excedrins didn't even begin to make a dent in the pain, so I turned to my one sure-fire cure: Music. I don't know why, and cannot explain it, and it sounds illogical as hell, but listening to loud music - mostly rock music that would give other people a headache - can cure my mine. Like I said, don't ask me why; it just works, ever since I was a teenager.

The same way I've never had a headache while flying - at least, not that I can remember. Even if I have a headache right before going up, it disappears once I'm in the cockpit and strapped into the seat. Maybe it's the brainpower that's required to concentrate on aviating...or maybe flying causes the release of certain chemicals in my little pea brain...I don't know. All I do know is that I cannot ever remember flying with a headache. Just doesn't happen.

But the helicopter was safely tucked in its hangar, an hour away. Flying was not an option (plus I was still in my pj's). So I went out to the livingroom and lay down on the couch with the Christmas tree lights on and the iPod turned up loud.

Coincidentally, "Wrong Number" by The Cure was already playing. Stroke of luck; The Cure! Just what I needed. I love The Cure. And "Wrong Number"...so multi-layered and textured, almost to the point of being cacaphonous - jeez, what a terrific song.

It was followed by Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man." One thing I'd never noticed - even after listening to that song as often as I have - is the incredible, McCartney-esque bass line. So expressive! I'd love to meet that bass player. Played that one a couple of times.

Widespread Panic's "Little Lilly" came next. Oh man... Swirling and ethereal, WP's music always takes me off into another dimension. Who needs drugs with music like Widespread Panic's?

Oh the lady like Beatle songs
The words are off but they don't seem that wrong
"She came in through the bedroom window
Like a blue bird, like a blue biiiiiiirrrrddddd"...

Then it was the haunting "Back To Black" by the train wreck that is Amy Winehouse, which I almost skipped over even though I love the tubular bells clanging through the song. But then I remembered getting on an airliner in Washington D.C. last year and hearing "Back To Black" over the p.a. system as we boarded. At the time, I chuckled because I was certain that Air Tran would probably not have let the song play if they knew the first stanza went:

He left no time to regret, kept his dick wet
With his same old, safe bet

Nice, Amy, nice. Thanks for the imagery. You gotta love Amy Winehouse. Now that's some world class self-destructive behavior. Will anybody be surprised to read of her death-by-overdose? Not me. (Sweetie, you better get yourself right with God, 'cuz you're probably gonna be meeting him real soon.)

There followed a strange combination of old and new songs by Three Dog Night, Coldplay, Oingo Boingo, Blue October, and the Electric Light Orchestra.

Ahh, ELO. I love Jeff Lynne, the wannabe-Beatle who ended up being the keeper of the flame. Perhaps ELO's most ambitious, can't-top-this album was 1977's "Out Of The Blue." Great stuff. But as good a songwriter/arranger as Jeff is, he could sometimes stumble, as in "Night In The City," the cut on my iPod.

Standing at the airport, looking down the strip
She was drying her eye, she was biting her lip
Seven-four-seven just left from gate eleven
And there's no turning 'round, cuz it's just leaving the ground
And getting higher...higher...

Standing at the dockside, looking out to sea
When I saw her but she did not see me
As she stood with no hope, because she missed the boat
And as her dreams sailed away, she headed back for the day
Back to the city...

Not quite enough syllables in that seventh line. I always laugh when I hear that awkward phrasing, turning the word "missed" into two syllables. "...As she stood with no hope, because she miss-ed the boat." I know Jeff must've wrestled with it. It sounded forced back then, still does now. But I like the 747 reference. Great song.

And finally it was, "Me and You and a Dog Name Boo," by Lobo, yet another song from the '70s. Damn! I need more modern music. But "Boo" is a great feel-good song with a great sing-along chorus...

Me and you and a dog named Boo
Traveling and a'livin' off the land
Me and you and a dog named Boo
How I love being a free man

...One of the few I'd consider doing in a karaoke bar. Just as well it's not in any of the karaoke libraries I've seen (yeah, I've looked).

Old songs don't go over well in karaoke bars patronized by young peoples, as I found out one unfortunate night after a very drunken, bordering-on-criminal rendition of Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show." Everyone was going, "What the hell song is THAT? Don't you know any Nickelback? Get that guy off the stage before he sings again!" Thankfully, I was among friends who understood the need for guys to do outrageously dumb things when they've had a few too many Rum and Cokes. At least I kept my pants on. That time.

I've really got too many old songs on my iPod. And I don't want to turn into one of these guys who only listens to music from the past. My friend Mike generously made me up a CD with a bunch of new stuff he thought I'd like. And he was right, it's all great! Where does he find this stuff? As you get older it gets harder and harder to to keep up with the new. I confess that I don't listen to the radio as much as I used to - not that the radio is even a good source of new music anymore. But at least radio was passive. Now you actually have to go find new music for yourself, and I don't have time for that. I want the old days back!

Anyway, after listening to all these songs (some more than once...some more than twice), my headache had long since melted away and I was feeling like myself again. I know it sounds corny and maybe a little fake, but my waking hours are filled with this...this...joy. I love life...love being alive. Some friends of mine call it a state of blissful delirium (with undertones of dementia). I don't know...I'm just always happy. And I don't like waking up in a bad mood.

I whipped off the headphones and got up. The sun was coming up. Clear as a bell out, going to be an awesome day - cold but awesome (only 38 degrees at six o'clock). Plus, I get to go flying! Attitude thusly improved, I made some coffee and sat down at the computer...

10 December 2008

A Bonanza of a Day

I've flown a lot of helicopters and airplanes, but one airplane I always wanted to fly but never got to is the Beechcraft Bonanza. On Monday I finally got my chance.

As you know, we're in the market for an airplane to augment our helicopter. We really do have a need for a plane. But in this economy, the Boss is understandably reluctant to pull the trigger. He fears that we'll buy something and it'll go down in value. "That may be," I tell him, "but just as real estate and the stock market will rebound, so will aviation. The plane we buy may very well lose value in the coming year, but it will most assuredly recover whatever it lost." The trouble is, we need it now. We cannot wait for the market to bottom out.

So we've been looking for something suitable. There are scads of models out there. Really, the selection is incredible. All have their various strong- and weak points. Some have one engine, some have two. Some are powered by piston engines, some are turbine-powered. Some are very fast, and some are more roomy than they are fast. (Roominess and speed don't usually go hand in hand.)

Enter the Bonanza.

The Beechcraft Bonanza is a legendary airplane. Amazingly, it has been in continuous production since 1947. Over the years it has garnered a reputation as a tough, dependable, safe, versatile airplane with superb flying qualities. In fact, it is the gold standard by which others in its class are judged.

Early Bonanzas (like the model 35, above) were identifiable by their unique "V-tail" configuration. Beech must have thought this was better/lighter/simpler/whatever. In reality it had no clear advantage over more conventional types of tails.

When Beech stretched the Bonanza (model A36, above) and made it a true six-seater, they built it with a conventional tail configuration.

A friend of our owns a very nice 1985 A36 Bonanza that he's been using to commute between his home in North Carolina and South Alabama. It's been very well taken care of, we know this. Recently, Tom (the owner) mentioned that he might be interested in selling it. Of course we had to take a look. We all met out at the airport.

It was a nice plane...needed a paint job, but the interior was clean and the engine had very low time on it. We talked for a while, and then Tom asked if I wanted to "go up and see how she flew?" This is pilot code for, "Let's go for a joyride!" He offered me the left (command) seat and I eagerly accepted.

Bonanzas have a very tall-but-narrow cabin, with big windows. You sit up high, in proper chairs (instead of reclining like a sportscar driver as in other planes). This gives the illusion of roominess, but the fact is that the cabin is not all that big. It is comfortable though. The back cabin can hold four people in what we call a "club seating" arrangement. Check out this publicity shot:

Looks roomy, doesn't it?

Tom coached me through the pre-start checklist. Once the engine was running, he set up the navigation equipment, and we were off. With just him and me onboard, we were light despite having full fuel tanks. We zoomed off the runway quickly and easily and were climbing like a rocket.

Away from the airport, we leveled off at 4,500 feet. The Bonanza's forte is that it's a classy ride and you travel in style. People think they're speedy, but the honest truth is that they are not all that fast. With the power setting that Tom routinely uses (he doesn't flog it), we were only indicating 162 knots (about 186 mph). Not bad, but not great. There are faster planes out there.

Had we been headed to our jobsite in Beaumont, Texas (about 350 miles to the west), we could anticipate being there in a little over two hours. It's too long a flight to even consider in the helicopter: easily 3.5 hours (or more) and a fuel stop to boot.

On the other hand, if Birmingham, Alabama was the destination (150 miles to the north), we'd be there in under one hour in the Bonanza. As a point of reference, it takes me 1:30 to get to Birmingham in the helicopter. The Bonanza would use about 20 gallons of gas to get there; the helicopter burns about 38.

After checking out the plane...making sure everything worked the way it was supposed to and finding only one minor "squawk," we headed back to the airport. Tom let the autopilot fly the approach, then took over at the end and manually made a (perfect) landing.

I don't know if we'll buy Tom's Bonanza. It has good and bad points. It would make some private owner a hell of an airplane; I'm not convinced that it's a good "corporate" plane as it sits. It needs some work, which means downtime, which means that it's not available to the Boss. And when the Boss buys something, he'll want to use it NOW. So honestly, we'll probably keep looking for something that is more "turn-key."

But it was fun flying the legendary Beechcraft Bonanza. It was everything it's cracked up to be, and I now understand why so many people lust after them and own them proudly. It is a high-quality airplane.

05 December 2008

Atheists Trying To Spoil Christmas

So the capitol city of Olympia, Washington decided to install a Nativity scene in their Legislative Building this Christmas. Those who believe that "freedom of religion" means freedom from religion screeched as expected. Coincidentally, a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation forced the state government to allow a plaque to be put up supposedly celebrating the (cough-cough) winter solstice. The plaque reads:

At this season of the winter solstice let reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the 50-pound sign was stolen and tossed into a nearby ditch. It was later recovered and returned. Point made.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was founded and is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. The FFRF believes that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a "wall of separation" between government and religion.

For the record, the Declaration of Independence makes it abundantly clear that there is a God. The very first sentence (a humongous, confusing run-on, explanatory sentence) refers to people's equal station on the planet, entitled to them through the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." The next section (The Preamble) asserts that all men are created equal, and that "...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

Hmm again. "Nature's God?" "Creator?" Whaaaaat?

Even the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution curiously only states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That is all. No mention of "separation of church and state." In fact, nowhere else in our Constitution or Bill of Rights (Amendments) is that phrase uttered.

So. Clearly, the Founding Fathers believed in a Creator/God. They were not uneducated dolts. Nor were they atheists. They were smart men, and they simply wanted their new government to be free from any religous influences or interference, and to be free to worship in any way they wanted without persecution by the government. We may not be a "Christian nation" but we are one that believes in God.

But wait. Isn't the very belief in a Creator/God a form of religion in and of itself? That is an argument that can be, and often is made. My own personal opinion (and the opinion of the majority of sentient, intelligent, reasonable, rational citizens of the U.S.) is that the evidence of a Creator is strong. No, that evidence may not be scientific, but that does not disqualify it as such. You don't need to be a member of an organized religion to believe in a Creator/God.

Okay, okay. So anyway, there is this guy named Dan Barker. He's the co-president of the FFRF and husband of the group's founder. He is also a former Pentacostal Christian minister. When people objected to putting that plaque up next to the Nativity scene, this is how he replied:

"If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we're all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Does he really believe...really believe that the mere display of a Nativity scene says that? Is this Dan Barker an idiot? Or does he just play one in sound-bites? It must be the former. Listen to what he says next!

"When people ask us, 'Why are you hateful? Why are you putting up something critical of people's holidays?' -- we respond that we kind of feel that the Christian message is the hate message. On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don't submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways."

Wow. This, from someone who was once a Christian minister? I guess if you're a hateful person, then hate is what you find when you look. That's pretty sad. More than that, one must really question the sanity of a person who would make such a remark. By spouting such bullshit, guys like Dan Barker and his FFRF do more harm than good to the cause of the unbelievers/atheists. If I were an atheist, I would go see about shutting him up and getting him some psychological help.

Bottom line: The construction of our government does not prohibit the display of a Nativity scene in a public building. It does not preclude the celebration of general holidays like Christmas. You want to display some atheist crap alongside the nativity scene? Fine. I might think you're trying to shove your views down my throat, but I won't try to stop you. Just don't be surprised if it gets stolen/vandalized by people who feel differently.

Does this mean I'm condoning what was done? Nah. What the thieves did was wrong. It's just that in the state of Washington, only about 7% of the residents identify themselves as "atheist." So in a city of 42,000 or so like Olympia, only about 3,000 would be atheists (plus some troublemaking visitors from Madison, Wisconsin). And if the other 39,000 would rather have a Nativity scene in the Legislative Building than some insulting poster saying that religion is nothing but a "myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," then I have no problem with that.

03 December 2008

Job Security

A lot of people - pilots included - only want to do the job for which they were hired. When I was at Petroleum Helicopters (for 13 years) I routinely heard other pilots say, "Hey, they hired me to fly, not answer the phone or make coffee." Or more annoyingly, "That's not in my job description." And this was long before the pilots were represented by a union.

The FAA dictated that our Operations Manual describe the duties and responsibilities of the various people in the organization, from the Director of Operations down to the Line Pilots. In the description of what we pilots do there was the line, "...or any other duty requested by the Chief Pilot," or words to that effect. Trouble is, some pilots ignore that admittedly vague last part.

Some of us would probably rather not be asked to do anything new or different. Maybe that was possible once. Now, the reality is that few of us have the luxury of a narrowly focused job description. The reality is that your employer can reasonably ask you do anything. You have a choice; you can do that of which you are asked, or you can quit. It's that simple. (Let's exclude those covered by union contracts that narrowly define and limit their duties.)

When I worked at the helicopter plant, money was continually tight. I knew it. Although we initially had a crew that came in weekly to clean, even that service was eventually cut. All of us emptied our own trash and refilled the copy machine and stuff. If you drank coffee you were expected to make coffee. If you took your trash to the big can and the big can was full, then you put a new bag in the bi can and took the full bag to the compactor.

When visitors would come to the plant, everybody pitched in to spruce the place up. I became the highest paid General Manager/Bathroom Cleaner in the Pensacola area. It reminded me that no matter what your qualifications are...no matter what your title is...no matter what you were hired to do, sometimes you've got to clean a bathroom once in a while. That's just life. You don't have to like it. Life doesn't care.

My current job title is "Corporate Pilot." However, I am and have already been a "go-fer," a truck driver/boat transporter, a cook, farm hand, mechanic, and probably a couple of things I've forgotten. Do I complain? Certainly not! I like my boss (who pays me very well) and I love my job which, at the end of the day is not very demanding.

And so this week finds me up at the boss's hunting camp, not as a pilot, but as a cook. Or more accurately, a cook's helper.

On nearly every weekend during hunting season, the boss invites friends, business associates, and guests to come up and hunt. We have a full-time staff. This year he had a party of six hunters scheduled for the first week in December, meaning there would be ten to twelve people to feed. But since the cook was unable to start just yet, the boss was in a bit of a bind. He asked if I would come up and help him cook. And so, just before sunrise on Monday I was on my way up to the airport to be up at the camp "as early as possible."

As soon as I got here I secured the helicopter - wouldn't need it again until Thursday or Friday. Then Johnny (one of the other employees) and I ran up to Selma on a grocery run. It's a good thing we took a pickup truck; we needed every bit of the room.

All through my career I've never objected to doing...whatever...was asked of me, above or below my pay grade. Sometimes you do our own job, and sometimes you help with the cooking even if you're not one. Monday night, the boss handled the steaks on the grill. Johnny and I did the side dishes. He did the salad; I did the potatoes, biscuits and rolls.

Fortunately, the real cook did show up yesterday around noon. I'm happy for that. I don't mind helping out (and still will), but it's always better to have those people who are really qualified do the job. I'm lucky in that I'm the only one in the company that can do mine. Talk about job security!