Who Am I?
- Bob Barbanes:
- 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?
31 August 2008
So Louisiana is bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav, which has grown into a Category 3 storm – as of right now. The images above show the expected track. Gustav should “beach-in” somewhere just west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The towns of Fourchon, Golden Meadow and Houma are directly in the path, and things do not look good for them. Not to mention Morgan City and Lafayette.
But let’s remember that the worst weather of a hurricane is on the right (east) side. This means that New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are in for it as well. With the post-Katrina rebuilding process still incomplete, one can only imagine what Gustav is going to do to this area.
The key will be Gustav’s exact track, which nobody can predict right now. A small variance either side of the projected track could have major – and disastrous - consequences.
The good news is that Gustav is moving fairly quickly: 15 knots (17 mph). That’s a good thing. It means that it should move through relatively quickly. It’s not just the strength of the winds that does the damage, but the length of time that those winds are sustained.
We’ve been holding our breath here in the Florida panhandle. Back in 2004, Hurricane Ivan was initially headed right for New Orleans – or so we thought. It made a little right turn and started coming directly north, ultimately making landfall just to our west. Gustav could still do the same, although it does not look likely.
The hurricane will hit somewhere. And it’s not going to be pretty. At this point, all we can do is hope and pray that the loss of life will not be great.
29 August 2008
So, last week's Tropical Storm Fay was just the opening act...the warm up. Here comes Gustav into the Gulf o' Mexico. Greaaaaaat, another storm with a Russian-sounding name. My friends are wondering, "Is Gustav a relative of Ivan and Katrina?" Needless to say, the entire Gulf Coast has been in a tizzy. As of Friday morning, Gustav is still just a tropical storm. But The Weather Channel is already in full panic-mode, claiming that this could be a "major" hurricane.
We shall see.
Fay was a no-show for us here in Pensacola. By the time is moseyed into the Florida panhandle, it had been over land long enough to seriously weaken. It drifted north of us, dumping most of its rain on central Alabama. In fact Sunday, which was "scheduled" to be our storm-day, turned out to be quite beautiful and I even flew the helicopter on a trip. Go figure. Storms have a mind of their own.
Now, both The Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center seem to agree that Gustav will hit Louisiana just west of New Orleans. Hmm...that's where all those oil refineries are, eh? You know, the ones that suffered damage after Hurricane Rita, which was that strong Cat-3 storm back in 2005. The price of oil has already gone up $20 a barrel or so in advance of any damage (with a corresponding and immediate increase in the price of gasoline).
There are a half-dozen different agencies that publish projected tracks for storms. They often do not agree. In fact, meteorologists within a single agency can disagree on where a storm is going. The track you see on t.v. might just be the one that your local weatherman likes the best. It is an inexact science. (Sometimes, if your local t.v. weatherguy is brave he'll show you all of the various published tracks.) With huge storms, a little wobble can make a big difference in where they hit. I would not be surprised if Gustav takes a different track than that depicted in the picture at the top of the page.
I'm sure that the people of Louisiana, especially New Orleans and those who work in the refineries in the western part of the state are not feeling very good right now. The casino owners along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and those still living in government provided mobile homes must also be equally queasy. We're not exactly celebrating here in Pensacola. "Our" Hurricane Ivan was also "headed for Louisiana" before taking a last-minute jog towards us.
I'm not worried. If it comes here, I'll simply board up the house and leave. The Boss has already said that he wants me to move the helicopter up to Birmingham, Alabama. If that city is full, then I'm to keep flying north until I find hangar space and a motel. How cool is that?
And so it goes...the fun and games of hurricane season.
28 August 2008
I had flown over to Montgomery, Alabama to drop off a passenger. Heading back to the hunting camp around nine a.m., I spotted smoke rising from a fire. Curious, I banked over to take a look. We pilots always do. This is what I saw.
If you right-click and open the picture in a new window, you can see that there's a mobile home obviously on fire. And just as obviously it wasn’t that bad yet. Smoke is coming from all of the roof vents and some windows, so I knew it wasn't just a little stove fire. It had gone way beyond that.
Although smoke obscures the front yard in the above picture, there is a vehicle parked right by the house. I could also see children’s toys strewn about the place. As I continued to circle, no people were outside the house, and there were no fire engines yet on the scene. Nor could I see any coming up or down that road. Cars drove by, seemingly oblivious to the smoke.
The area is very rural…waaay out in the country, about 18 air miles from Selma, Alabama and about 21 miles from Montgomery. I found out later that it was the tiny town of Hicks Hill, Alabama.
What to do...what to do? The only radio in my aircraft talks to air traffic control. I didn't know where I was (we generally do not carry road maps) and I didn't know what road that was below me or what little town I was near. What could I tell Montgomery Tower? "Hey, there's a fire out here...uhh, somewhere... Could you call...uhh, some...fire department and let them know?"
So here's the first dilemma: Land or don't land? You're not supposed to just plop down anywhere, but on the other hand, it's a helicopter. Landing at places that are not airports is what we do.
I decided to land in that little strip of clear area just to the left of the house. I did a good recon of the area (it wouldn’t be a good time to screw up and hit a wire or something), then set the ship down as quickly as I could. I ran over to the house and began banging on doors and windows. There was no response, and I couldn’t see anyone inside…well, I couldn’t see much of anything inside due to the smoke that filled the entire inside. As I did that, windows were exploding at their tops from all the heat.
On the north side of the house was a small porch and door. The car in the driveway (visible at the very left of the above picture) had me worried that someone was still inside, so I kicked that door in. Wrong move. Venting the fire only caused it to get worse. I could see that the living room (on the left or downwind side of the house in the above picture) was ablaze. The smoke, heat and flames were pretty intense inside, while the fire itself has not yet breached the roof.
Now here’s the second, bigger dilemma: Go in or don't go in? If someone was inside, there could still be hope that they could live if rescued. If there was no one inside, I’d be risking my own life for nothing. It’s not an easy decision to make, believe me.
As I was struggling with it, two cars pulled up in quick succession. In the first were two guys who saw the helicopter land and wondered what was up. I closed the door, and got them to call the fire department. In the second car was the mother of the man who lived there. She was sure that her son’s children were in school, and that he himself had a doctor’s appointment and "shouldn't" be home. But she had not been able to contact anyone to verify that he was there. Needless to say, she was frantic and distraught. It was pretty heartbreaking.
The mother of the owner of the home asked the two guys to pull the white SUV away from the house. They hooked up a chain to it. As they did, we heard a loud WHUMP! and suddenly the fire had broken through the roof. Those mobile homes burn quickly!
After about fifteen agonizing minutes, a lone fire engine arrived, manned by two guys. They quickly unreeled a three-inch hose and began fighting the fire. But by that time the whole house was burning pretty good.
With nothing more that I could do there, and a boss who needed to get picked up and taken on his rounds, I had to leave. I took a few more pictures as I circled overhead on departure. I left, not feeling very good about what had just happened.
Later, I called the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department and learned that the mobile home was unoccupied at the time of the fire. The kids had gotten to school and the man to his doctor’s appointment. Good news! (What the car was doing in the driveway, I do not know.)
So the end result was a relief, but I learned something about myself about which I’m not entirely proud. I suppose that I could have put a wet rag over my face, gotten down on my belly and crawled through the mobile home when I first got there. The inside was burning but not that badly. I could have gotten in – but in retrospect know that I would have been trapped and would have had to go out through a window in the back as the fire consumed the one (north) side of the house first.
I’ve never really had experience with fire before. The heat and smoke (not to mention the flames) are…well, a little scary to be honest. So while we’re all brave, bulletproof and fearless in our minds and dreams, it’s not always true in real life.
And so what would you have done? There's a house on fire, a vehicle outside, and you're not sure if anyone's inside. I keep asking myself how I'd feel if it turned out that there was somebody inside, and they died because I was too...err, umm, cautious to go in.
23 August 2008
Ah well, win some/lose some.
In my previous posts discussing Tropical Storm Fay, the thinking was that it would hit Cuba, turn north and then exit the scene, missing the Florida Panhandle by a mile. Or two. Well darnit, Fay had other plans, as you can see.
In the image above, there is a white line marked "Sunday AM." Just to the right of this is where Pensacola is (by the "m" shaped outline of our bays). So we're not in the dead center of the projected path, but close enough. Either way, it's going to be a dismal, wet weekend. Bands of rain have already begun moving into the area.
And although the white lines indicate where the center of the storm will be at any given time, we should remember that the worst weather of a tropical storm (including a hurricane) is always on the east side (at least here in the northern hemisphere). So while the eye of T.S. Fay might not get to Pensacola until early Sunday, the worst of the weather associated with it won't arrive until sometime later. Oh, goody.
Weather events like this...and storms in particular...are of keen interest to us Floridians. We watch intently for squall lines, isolated nasty thunderstorms, waterspouts, tropical storms and of course hurricanes. With so much coastline, both on the Atlantic Ocean side and Gulf of Mexico side, we have quite a lot of opportunity for storms to hit us. Sometimes, like in the case of Hurricane Ivan (and others) and T.S. Fay, they strike the coastline more than once.
Sure, other parts of the country have their issues too, and I don't mean to minimize them by focusing on our little problems. My mom lives in Long Beach, California. It would be tragic, but none of us would be surprised if that section of the country cracked off and fell right into the Pacific Ocean someday. Even knowing and acknowledging this, mom continues to live there.
The Midwest has its share of "tornado alleys," where twisters and those who chase them abound. Odd fascination, that. Sure, a tornado is a magnificent event, but I'd prefer to observe it from afar, thank you very much.
The east coast of the U.S. has been hit by some awful storms too - and not just Atlantic hurricanes in the summer. In my lifetime there have been more than one winter "storms of the century" that have struck the New York area or Northeast Corridor.
Still, down here after dealing with Hurricane Ivan, we Pensacolians have become rather jaded and blasé about storms. We watch them coming but it's with a ho-hum - no big deal attitude. And that’s not a good thing. Although all of the signs point to T.S. Fay as being a non-event (our local t.v. weatherguesser was almost yawning as he gave his report last night), the season is long and there will certainly be more behind her, one of which that could certainly kick our ass again.
20 August 2008
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
While watching the McCain/Obama “debate” last Saturday night, I had to ask myself how much of a role religion should play in our decision as to who is going to be President?
Pastor Rick Warren, who hosted the two interviews, told us that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. But while that may be a widely-held assumption, it is not true.
It might surprise you to know that nowhere in our Constitution, or even the Declaration of Independence do the words “God,” “Jesus Christ,” “Bible” or “Christianity” exist. Our Founding Fathers were all deists, in that they believed in a divine Creator, but they very clearly were not basing their actions and the construction of our new government on the Bible, or even these so-called “Judeo-Christian principles.”
Well, remember that during that time it was assumed that a King’s power was given to him by God. The Bible seems to back this up! If we want to pick and choose, let’s use two examples:
First, take this: "Because of the Lord, be obedient to every human institution, whether to the emperor as sovereign or to the governors he commissions for the punishment of criminals and the recognition of the upright. Such obedience is the will of God." (1 Peter 2:13-15)
Next, see what Paul wrote: "Let everyone obey the authorities that are over him, for there is no authority except from God, and all authority that exists is established by God." (Romans 13:1)
Um, holy crap! So that’s where President Bush gets his power!
Reading those two verses you might wonder how, if the Founding Fathers’ were “good Christians” there could have been an American Revolution at all! Indeed, what they were doing was radical…heresy!
So let’s dispel the notion that America is a Christian nation, formed by men who were Southern Baptists or Catholics, with a government based on the Bible or “Christian” principles. It is not.
Ironically, despite allowing any the practice of any religion (or no religion at all if you prefer), America has become one of the most strongly religious and religiously diverse countries in the world. Of our population only a tiny percentage classifies themselves as “atheist.”
Over time, “God” has crept into government. Nearly 100 years after the Revolution, Abraham Lincoln was invoking God’s name in blessing and supporting the Union. Our money bears the inscription, “In God We Trust.” And in the 1950’s, the words, “under God” were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. Thomas Jefferson is probably rolling over in his grave.
It seems that Americans want some God, but not too much! Remember how upset people became when the Reverend Mike Huckabee was running for President…to say nothing of Mormon Mitt Romney!
And so both John McCain and Barack Obama went out of their way Saturday night to pander to the religious extremists and proclaim their faith in God and Jesus Christ. I thought it was as silly as it was unnecessary.
There is a large number…hell, there may indeed be a majority of people in this country who espouse “Christian” beliefs. They may feel that because of their majority, it entitles them to a government which is sympathetic to their beliefs. That very idea frightens me. I’d rather that our lawmakers not be influenced by the Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Mennonites, Men-In-Tights, “Christian fundamentlists” or any other group. Not even the Amish.
I do not want to live in a military dictatorship, nor do I want to live in a country in which there is a government-sponsored religion. No, I prefer America…that is, the America our Founding Fathers dreamed up…the one where the Church and State were separate entities, and kept that way for a reason. Thus, whether John McCain worships Jesus Christ or Charlie Manson, it has absolutely no influence on me not voting for him.
18 August 2008
Well! I was wrong, they were right. Overnight, Tropical Storm Fay did make the northward turn. Now, instead of moving out into the Gulf o' Mexico, it is taking aim on central Florida.
And to think I took that preparatory cold shower this morning for nothing. Oh well...
17 August 2008
Since I moved here in 1988, Pensacola had been hit by two hurricanes: Erin; and Opal in August and October of 1995 respectively. Afterward, things were quiet for nearly ten years. Then we met Ivan.
As opposed to Californians and their inevitable earthquakes, we Floridians know when hurricanes are coming. So we have no excuse for not preparing. I, however, am an idiot. In fact, you might say that I am King Of The Idiots. I prepared for Ivan...not one bit. I did not stock up on groceries or water or supplies or anything. Because I live pretty far from the water (nearly 10 miles from the beach), I assumed that "damage" would not be extensive and that surely McDonald's would be open soon after the storm passed. Heh. Idiot.
On September 13, 2004, Ivan barged through the channel between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 5 storm. Once in the Gulf of Mexico it headed for New Orleans. However, instead of going right up the mouth of the Mississippi, Ivan jogged to the east and "beached-in" at Gulf Shores, Alabama which is just to our west. Fortunately, the storm weakened as it approached the coastline, ultimately hitting as a strong Cat-3. Even so, the destruction in Gulf Shores and over to Dauphin Island was astounding. The worst weather of a hurricane is around the eye-wall, obviously, but also on the northeast side. As you can imagine, everything east of Gulf Shores, including Pensacola and down to nearly Ft. Walton Beach was hit badly. Here in Florida, Ivan was responsible for fourteen deaths.
The back side of my house faces south and adjoins a high school. Just beyond my fence is a huge, unobstructed parking lot. In 2004 my roof was new. We blocked the south-facing windows and hoped for the best. The power went out around six p.m., suspiciously even before the weather got very bad. (I still believe that Gulf Power intentionally shut it off.) But before it did we knew that the storm was changing direction toward us. As darkness fell things got worse and worse. There wasn't anything to do but lie in bed and wait for it to pass, rethinking my stupid decision to stay instead of evacuate and hoping that in the morning I wouldn't find my car impaled by a pine tree. Or me, for that matter.
When daylight came it was bright and sunny. A quick assessment showed no broken windows, no downed trees...hell, I didn't even lose a shingle! Some of my immediate neighbors were not so fortunate. Just a block away it was apparent that a "mini-tornado" of some sort touched down; the short path of its destruction was quite clear. The power was out but I still had water and phone.
While it is true that my area did not suffer from flooding, there was extensive structural damage, especially to the power grid. While many areas of the country have seen fit to bury power lines, Gulf Power has decided against such practice here. Initial estimates were that we could be without power for as much as a month. I hoped they were just being pessimistic.
Without power there was no food. No McDonalds. No Wal-Mart. No nothing. I had enough canned food to last for a couple of days, so I wasn't really worried. But without power, gas stations could not pump. Gasoline became precious and something to not waste by driving around aimlessly, although many people did just to see the damage. And oh boy, was there damage!
What you're looking at above is a section of Interstate 10 that goes from Pensacola across Escambia Bay to Pace/Milton. It is a 2.5 mile bridge that is a good eleven miles north of Pensacola Beach. It was built in two separate sections: two lanes each of east and westbound traffic. The roadway was built low, just above the water level. The geniuses who designed it apparently never considered the fact that the water in the bay might be a little, well, "rough." Hurricane Ivan churned up waves so high and strong that nearly the entire stretch of bridge was destroyed from below. It took them four years to rebuild it. As you have probably guessed, the new bridge is much higher off the water.
Very quickly, the National Guard set up a distribution station in the high school parking lot right behind my house. They were giving away ice, water and MRE's. Very efficient, and the lines moved swiftly. I would simply watch through my fence to see when the line wasn't so long, then I'd go around and drive through. Without hoarding, I was able to keep my coolers stocked with ice.
To their credit, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and the local supermarkets opened just as soon as they could - within two days or so. Supplies were obviously limited (delivery trucks could not get through) but canned and dried foods were once again available (no frozen or cold foods though). Since I'm a camper, I whipped out my camping gear and was able to cook pretty much normally. I was working for a consulting firm at the time, and since I had phone and food, we kind of made my place our base of operations for a couple of days.
Having no electricity meant no air conditioning, of course. And no hot water. Since it was September it wasn't all that hot. And the cold showers were, to me, not all that unpleasant because as I said, my cold water isn't very. Nobody had t.v. though, so we couldn't find out how extensive the damage was until later. We knew it was bad though. We spent a lot of time in our backyards, reading and listening to the radio.
Through it all, the people of Pensacola came together in a wonderful way. It was like the entire city collectively decided that it was just going to make the best of this bad situation. Quite marvelous to experience. Everybody pitched in to help where they could. Churches and the Red Cross served meals indiscriminately. There was food aplenty - if you went hungry...or without water or ice, it was your own fault. People's opinions vary, but I believe that the state and local agencies handled the response to Hurricane Ivan in a textbook manner...at least here in Pensacola proper.
Our power was out for about a week, maybe a little longer, I don't remember. What I do remember is that it didn't seem to be such a hardship. Not that I'd want to go through it again...
History tells us that we probably will though. Hurricane Katrina missed us in 2005. That one did do some damage to Louisiana and Mississippi as you'll recall. For us, after Ivan we were hit by Hurricanes Dennis and Georges - minor storms. Nothing would compare to "The Big One." At least, that's what we called it. And that's what many Pensacolians still think. Not me, brother.
And now there's Fay.
Right now, as of shortly before eight p.m. on Sunday evening Fay is still a tropical storm. The projected path, as you can see has it - somehow - making a sharp right turn and sliding up the west coast of Florida. But if you look at the last bit of track history, you'll see that it's still moving west-northwest and hasn't yete begun that northward turn. In fact, the latest track shows Fay bending slightly more to the west than northwest. Maybe they know something that we don't...
Or maybe they don't! I know it's still way too early to tell. We'll just have to wait and see where this storm goes, and how strong it gets. But I promise you this: Never again will I be as unprepared for a week without power as I was in 2004. I've learned my lesson.
10 August 2008
One of the reasons I hate t.v. are because of the commercials. For instance, take this guy, Billy Mays. Oh, you’ve heard him. “HI, BILLY MAYS HERE FOR…” he yells, beginning his pitch for some product. That product might be anything from household cleaners to food choppers to insurance. He bombards you with an over-the-top, high-pressure approach. It must be effective; he’s pitched dozens of products.
I’ve often wondered, "Why is Billy Mays yelling at me?" And the very next thought is, "Who the #*&% is Billy Mays?" He announces himself in a tone of voice that suggests that he is universally well-known…that it is just assumed that we know who he is. But I’d never heard of him, and let’s be honest, I’ve been watching t.v. since the mid-1960’s. Had I missed something? Well, yes and no.
Turns out, Billy Mays is a nobody. He’s an ad pitchman, a salesman, that’s it. His one and only claim to fame is that he sells stuff on television. He got his start on the Home Shopping Network selling a product called OxiClean back in the early 1990's. That campaign was so successful it lead to other deals. His trademark (if you will) is his “unique” style of selling (i.e. yelling at you to coerce you into buying something) and…um, his beard. Yes, his “recognizable” beard. Which…come to think of it…he’s nearly as old as I am and yet there’s not a trace of gray in that beard…hmm.
Mays’ approach still works well enough, evidently. But when I hear that voice yelling at me, I tune out. I don’t care what he’s selling, I ain’t a-buyin’.
So through the power of the internets! I’ve solved the Billy Mays Mystery. I’ve spent much too much time on it already. I won’t subject you to a full Billy Mays commercial, every one of them is up on YouTube if you're interested. But it would be quicker just to turn on your t.v.
07 August 2008
Hal has written a couple of times about an artist known as Ice Mac Sea, real name: Michael McCrickard. So enthralled was Hal with one of McCrickard's songs upon hearing it on the radio while driving that he actually pulled over to note the title and artist. (Heh- I've done that too.) He ended up buying the complete CD, which as it turns out was released back in 2002. Hal gives it a big two-thumbs-up, and you can read his review here. Please do.
On the strength of Hal's thumbs, I downloaded McCrickard's CD, "Measure For Measure" and gave it a listen ($7.92 on iTunes!). It is...well...odd. Hal described McCrickard's voice as a cross between Ronnie Milsap and Junior Brown, and he's absolutely right. It's hard to tell how old Ice Mac Sea is. While McCrickard cites the Beatles as a strong influence, you can plainly hear echoes of the Dave Matthews Band, and other relatively younger bands. He admits to have been playing in various "obscure garage bands" for fifteen years, so that would put him in his 30's.
We Americans like music that fits into neat, narrow categories that fit into the neat, narrow radio station formats. McCrickard's does not do either. Don't expect to hear any of his songs on any "Q100" or "Hot97" stations or the like. It's sort of country, sort of rock, sort of electronica, sort of hip-hop. Like Donna The Buffalo, or my buddy Goat (Andrew Scott Rosen, who's not really my buddy), Citizen Cope, and Widespread Panic, it's very hard to nail down just exactly which category McCrickard falls into. iTunes lumps him in "Alternative" and I suppose that's as good a place as any.
Me, I happen to like music that doesn't fit into one specific category...music that crosses lines and expands boundaries. Which is exactly what Ice Mac Sea does.
The songs are great, but having said that, the music itself is strange, with beeps and other sound effects randomly thrown in. But McCrickard's vocals are often altered...modulated in a "hiccupping" style that is popular now but that I personally find to be distracting. Thankfully, his strong songwriting and singing transcend the wierd production of an obvious computer nerd. But jeez, he was ahead of his time in that regard. Ah well, it'd probably be a big hit with the college-age crowd. Or could have been. Or could be again. Sometimes it takes a while for musical tastes to catch up with certain artists.
Minor gripes out of the way, I quite enjoy the "Measure For Measure" album. It's one of a very few albums that I can put on and listen to all the way through. Then again, there are only eight songs with a total running time of about 35 minutes. I won't go so far as to say there's "something for everybody" on this record but there are few if any "tune-outs." (Ironically, I like more of the songs on Ice Mac Sea's CD than I do the new Coldplay CD. And I love Coldplay!)
"Chop Chop Chop" is probably my favorite song, as it's the most catchy and up-tempo of the bunch - and you know how I am about catchy and uptempo. But the others are good too. "Some Kind Of Funny Religion" hits home with me because of what I've been going through personally lately. All of the songs are clever, some are quite funny, and they all resonate, which I think is the key to good songwriting, no?
So Hal made that big post about Ice Mac Sea on his blog. I was going to just respond to it there, but then I figured - hey, why not get one of these viral marketing things going? If someone else hears one of McCrickard's songs on the radio, maybe they'll Google him, and up will pop both Hal and my posts! And then maybe they'll blog about him...
It seems as though McCrickard only put out this one album and hasn't been recording much lately. Too bad. I'd like to hear more from him. I think you would too.
Michael McCrickard's website: ICE MAC SEA