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 March 2010

More On Mike

Mike and Qbert

So Mike and Qbert have come and gone. Mike is my helicopter pilot friend. I wrote about him here. Last I heard, he’d gone off to Washington State for a seasonal job flying a Bell 206 very similar to mine (more correctly, “the one I fly”). This was back before Christmas.

I didn’t hear from him for a while, so I called him up. His cell phone voice mailbox was full. Couple of days later, the message was that the number was no longer in service. Uh-oh. He wasn’t answering my emails, but he never answers emails. Another friend of his emailed me, saying that he also was not able to get in touch with Mike, and did I know anything of his whereabouts? I didn’t. So I did a little digging, and through mutual friends discovered that the job he went for disappeared literally a week after he got there, leaving him in the lurch. With no job and no money, he retreated to his mom’s house in Wisconsin.

When I finally got in touch with him, he sounded pretty depressed as you’d expect. “Just come on back to Pensacola,” I told him, adding confidently (perhaps a little over-confidently), “We’ll find you a job. In the meantime, you can stay with me.” Mike has a mentor here who brought him up through his various ratings. This mentor (Roger Buis, a great guy who flies airshows in the “Otto” helicopter) likes Mike as much as I do. I still have some contacts in this business. Between the two of us, I was pretty sure we could hook Mike up in some sort of aviation-related job, even if it wasn’t as a pilot right off the bat.

Roger Buis and Otto

And that’s pretty much what happened. Mike did come down, and he did stay in my house. He came with his dog, Qbert, a 10-year old Doberman that must be the most gentle, friendly dog in the world. Mike’s had him since birth (the dog’s, of course). I’m not a big “dog person” but I really became attached to Qbert. (What is it about dogs and their peculiar relationship with humans? It’s strange.)

Roger came through and got Mike a job as a helicopter mechanic at Heliworks here in Pensacola, while Mike networked his ass off. Shortly, two job offers came in; both of which would involve moving out of state again. Plus there was the strong possibility of one other flying job if he stayed in Pensacola. Would these jobs have materialized if Mike had stayed in Wisconsin? Probably…maybe…who knows? But there is something to be said for being in a good emotional place and being in a good frame of mind. You know I’m a big believer in the power of exuding positive energy and all that. And of course it’s always easier to get a job when you already have a job.

In the end, Mike - ever restless - opted to go back up to the Great Northwest, doing the same kind of flying he was doing before, but for a different operator. He’ll be flying in the Brewster, Washington area, in the Cascade Mountains close Mt. St. Helens. It’ll be a grand adventure...if it works out this time, which we hope and pray that it does. Aviation can be a tough industry for itinerant pilots.

The job Mike’s taking is so cool that even though it is seasonal (it ends in September), I would take it if I could. Unfortunately, I can’t just pick up and move so spontaneously anymore. I’m not exactly Mr. Settled Down myself, and I like to think I’m still flexible enough to move around. But the truth is that there’s just too much baggage to pack up and move for a job that starts next week. When did I get all this furniture? And what the hell…three motorcycles out in the garage?! I guess I should finally admit that Pensacola is my permanent home. After all, I’ve been living here for over twenty years now. Mike on the other hand is still in that “transient” stage of life. Pretty much everything he owns can fit in his Jeep. There’s something to be said for that, both good and bad. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy him a little. Obviously, I’m ambivalent about my own life.

So I’ve got my house back to myself. As I type this, Mike and Qbert are on the road, somewhere between here and there, driving straight through, sleeping in the Jeep in rest areas. God love him, I couldn’t do that anymore. He called me this morning, and I warned him of a line of bad weather ahead that’s just by Billings, Montana now. The cold front has all pink and blue along it, and those are not good colors to see when you’re driving.

As much fun as it was having them around, I have to admit that I prefer living alone. The weather has finally been warming up. I think I’ll grab one of the motorcycles from the garage (the Sportster - the one that runs) and head down to the beach for a beer or two. I’ll make a silent toast to Mike’s footloosedness. And I’ll leave all that settling down and growing up stuff ‘till…tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.

22 March 2010

A Little Rock 'n Roll History

Two things got me thinking about the music of the 1960s: the recent death of Davy Jones of the Monkees; and a conversation with my brother Bill when I was up in New York a couple of months ago. So I punched up YouTube and started noodling. I’ll tell ya, YouTube can be addicting, especially if you like watching music videos as much as I do. There's a treasure trove!

Okay, look at this guy…

Cute kid, no? You probably don't recognize him; cute kids were a dime a dozen in rock bands back in the '60s. But this one's name is Stevie Wright and he was the lead singer of a band called The Easybeats. He could have - and should have been the Justin Bieber of his day. The Easybeats were pretty popular overseas, but as fate would have it they had only one big hit here in the States in 1966. It was an incredible anthem called, “Friday On My Mind.” Wright was seventeen. Below is a video in which they’re performing the song live. It's 2:45 of musical heaven.

It’s an awesome pop song, and it’s nice to see how accurately they reproduced the way it sounded on the record. What’s surprising about the video is the young Stevie’s manic dancing; he was getting down! And yet he still managed to belt out the song without the benefit of lip-synching or employing the dreaded AutoTune. It's fun watching him - he's clearly having fun despite having performed the song perhaps a bazillion times by then.

Had they stayed together, The Easybeats could have been huge. But they broke up in 1969. Stevie Wright went solo. Unfortunately, by 1973 he was giving in to the allure of drugs and alcohol, which probably short-stopped his career. By 1976 he was in rehab. In an effort to get clean, he hooked up with a quack who may or may not have been a psychiatrist by the name of Dr.
Harry Bailey who used a controversial combination of deliberately-induced comas and electroshock therapy to help his patients. Often this “treatment” did more harm than good, and Stevie (among others) suffered permanent brain damage from it. Some died. While being investigated about the deaths of 85 of his patients, "Dr." Bailey committed suicide.

Fortunately, Stevie Wright is still with us...damaged. It is sad to see what has become of him. The best we can say is, "At least he's alive..."

Also in the Easybeats were two guys who would go on to become extremely noteworthy behind the scenes in the music industry: Harry Vanda and George Young. Young was from a musical family. His two younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus were in a band that in 1973 became AC/DC, which you've heard of, I'm sure. Vanda and Young have produced many of their records.

Vanda and Young were not only producers but also recording artists in their own right. In the late 1970s they formed a group called Flash and the Pan. They weren't what you'd call insanely popular here in the U.S., but in 1977 they did have one fairly big hit called, "Hey, St. Peter." I present it to you below. But I warn you! It is perhaps even cheesier than the Survivor/"Eye Of The Tiger" video I so gleefully made fun of a couple of posts ago.

The fun thing to watch for in this almost-unwatchable video is, just past the middle where George Young dresses up in a schoolboy uniform. He is spoofing his younger brother, Angus, who has forever appeared onstage with AC/DC in a similar getup. Enjoy! ...Or not.

Ouch! Well that was awful. In spite of the horrible video, "Hey, St. Peter" is a wonderful song. Vanda and Young have put out some great music in the '70s and '80s. Unbelievably, AC/DC is still around and reportedly working on a new album. As for The Easybeats...well...it's still fun to go back and listen to their big hit, because as sentiments go that one is as relevant as it is timeless.

Monday, I'll have Friday on my mind..

09 March 2010

Unintended Consequences and Accelerations

The horrible spectre of the OUT OF CONTROL CAR! (music: dah-dah-dah-daahhhhhh) continues. Now some other moron, this time in a Toyota Prius is claiming that his car began accelerating uncontrollably and there was nothing he could do about it except call the cops. Accelerating "uncontrollably."

A Prius.

I know. I can't believe it either.

Dear Lord! What kind of idiot drivers are we allowing on our public roads?? Idiots like, evidently, 61 year-old James Sikes of...you'll never guess...California.

Here's the Associated Press
STORY as it appeared on Yahoo News this morning:


Mr Sikes says he was on Interstate 8 and went to pass another car when his accelerator jumped to the floor and stuck there. He says the brakes were useless. So he did a perfectly normal thing: He got on his cell phone, called 911 and got the California Highway Patrol involved. You see, ALL drivers know how to use a cell phone, even if they don't know how to operate the car they happen to be driving at the time.

A police cruiser soon pulled up next to him. After all, the Toyota Prius is not exactly a high-speed, high-performance car, and it probably wasn't all that hard to catch. The trooper offered instructions through his loudspeaker. He suggested some highly unusual techniques such as pushing the brake pedal to the floor and holding it there and applying the handbrake.

Now here's an interesting tidbit from that story:

"After the car decelerated to about 50 mph, Sikes turned off the engine and coasted to a halt."

Well, damn!

Ooooooookkaaaaaayyyyy, WHY didn't Sikes just do that at the first sign that his car was doing something he didn't intend? Are people really that stupid?

"Gee, my car is accelerating and I can't stop it. Should I shift to neutral? Shut the engine off? Naaaahhhh. I think I'll call 911 instead! Hopefully, they'll send a police car out to help me before I crash and kill myself...and maybe other people. No hurry!"

I am appalled at the lousy drivers on the road today. Our licensing standards are a joke. I am terrified that drivers like Sikes might be behind me when I'm out there driving around.

As a public service, I'm going to now give you some basic instructions on what to do if your car begins to accelerate uncontrollably. This advice applies no matter what kind of car you drive:

1. First try to dislodge the gas pedal with your foot. If that doesn't work;
2. Stomp on the brake pedal as hard as you can AND HOLD IT THERE! Do not let up;
3. Apply the hand/parking brake;
4. Shift to neutral;
5. If Steps 1 through 4 do not work, SHUT THE ENGINE OFF.
6. Do not whip your cell phone out to call the police or your mom or Mr. Toyoda until AFTER the car comes to a stop.

No matter what you might think...no matter what the media might lead you to believe, the brakes of your vehicle are far more powerful than the engine. The brakes never "stop working" (unless they are defective, in which case you should not have driven the car). Push the brake pedal down and hold it there. Don't worry about the smell of burning brakes- that's normal. If you let up (even slightly), the car will simply accelerate again and the brakes will have to work all that much harder the next time. Just push the pedal as hard as you can AND HOLD IT. Then shift the transmission to Neutral.

Is this too much to ask?

Oh, don't believe me? Read
THIS article in CAR AND DRIVER Magazine.

05 March 2010

The Kid Controller at Kennedy Airport

Sometimes I just have to shake my head and ask, “What the hell is this world coming to? Have we gone completely friggin crazy?” I truly think so.

Taking your kid to work is a tradition. You want to motivate, inspire and educate them. You proudly show them what you do, and you even let them try it, if possible. It’s been going on since time immemorial. In the mid-1960s when my dad worked for Pan American Airways at Kennedy Airport, he’d often take us to work and show us what he did…show us the planes…let us tour the hangar and the terminal. I was only nine or ten but it was what sparked my love of aviation and is probably the main reason why I’m in it still as a vocation and as a hobby.

Later, when I was twelve or thirteen my family became friends with another. The father of this group was an air traffic controller (as my father had been in the late 1950s when he got out of the military), and they had a grand old time swapping stories.

This controller offered to take me and my brother to work with him one night at the ATC facility in Ronkonkoma, New York. He sat us down at his radar screen, plugged us in with headphones, and explained what he was doing as he guided the late-night arrivals in toward JFK Airport. It was fascinating! Better yet, he let me speak to a few airplanes as well, telling them to descend to whatever altitude or to “contact Kennedy Approach on 127.4.” The pilots could obviously tell I was a kid, and were all good-natured about it. It was a high like no drug could ever produce. This happened forty-one years ago yet the memory of it is still vivid today.

And so recently another air traffic controller took his kid to work and let him talk to a few planes. This controller works in Kennedy Tower. Here is the audio clip from a website called LiveATC.net, a place where you can eavesdrop on communications between airplanes and ground facilities at airports all over the world:

LiveATC.org - The kid in JFK Tower

It is clear that the father is closely overseeing what the young boy is doing and has not just left him alone to coordinate landings and takeoffs at one of the world’s busiest airports. The father is clearly on top of things. Apparently, he has even instructed the boy to say, “Adios,” to a departing Aero Mexico jet crew, who respond in kind. All of the pilots seem to appreciate and enjoy the situation. Safety is not compromised. The controller, who’s voice is familiar to me, opens the mic and cracks, “This is what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school.” To which one bemused airline pilot replies wistfully, “Wish I could bring my kid to work!”

Don’t we all.

But now OF COURSE the FAA is “investigating” this egregious violation of the rules. According to an Associated Press article, they have evidently reassigned the two controllers involved. The FAA spokesidiot, Laura Brown is quoted as saying, “"This behavior is not acceptable and does not demonstrate the kind of professionalism expected from all FAA employees." The air traffic controller’s union has also weighed-in negatively with the pompously moronic, “It is not indicative of the highest professional standards that controllers set for themselves and exceed each and everyday in the advancement of aviation safety.”

Oh for the love of God. Shut the hell up, the both of you! The guy let his kid talk on the radio a few times. Quit making a big, federal case out of it.

But no, here we go. The media is on it now! CNN is doing a
big investigation. Reporter Susan Candiotti said she is trying to “dig up more details” to see what she can find out. Isn’t that nice. That’s just what we need.

Look, mentoring is what aviation is all about. A person…even a lousy pilot like me can take your airplane all apart and put it back together and he does not need a mechanic’s official FAA Airframe and Powerplant Rating as long as he works under the direct supervision of such a qualified individual. When I fly with non-aviators I often let them “try the stick” if they wish to see how the helicopter flies. This is how it works. We share the magic with others.

There was nothing unprofessional…or, for that matter unsafe…about what that Kennedy Tower controller did. Hell, that kid might be a future air traffic controller himself someday! Where do the FAA and the stupid controller’s union think these people come from? Instead of reprimanding the guy, they should be complimenting him – or at least, keeping their big yaps shut, shrugging and saying something like, “This is not an issue we are concerned with.” But that won’t happen. Not in this day and age in which everything everybody does is WRONG.

It is sad that people have to react this way…sad that we’ve become such a stuck-up, paranoid, afraid-of-our-own-shadows, rules-driven society that a guy can’t even bring his kid to work with him and let him try it out and not have it get blown all out of proportion.