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?

19 September 2011


It was tough leaving the good people I’d worked and played with over the summer in Brewster, Washington. I’d had a ton of fun and formed some really good friendships, but eventually I really had to go.

When I first got up there, Dave Smith, owner of Golden Wings Aviation gave me a spare car of his. I was content to ride the motorcycle around, but there were times when a car came in handy (e.g. trips to Walmart) and I was glad to have it. In the end, I drove that car back down to Florida, leaving the Sportster in Washington for next summer when I return.

And this is where I left it. The sign on the outside of the hangar wall says, "Harley Parking Only - Violators Will Be Crushed." I know it's in good hands. And yes, they will put it in the hangar.

I did not have a flying job lined up for my Return To Real Life. That kind of worried me, but I am a big believer in the power of prayer. And you know, God works in mysterious ways. My friend Brad flies a jet for a wealthy Texan who lives in Dallas but has properties all over the place. Said wealthy Texan has been thinking about getting a helicopter for some time. A “good deal” helicopter has surfaced and Brad thought it might be a good candidate for his boss. He wanted me to take a look at it: How soon could I be in Dallas? So I said goodbye to my trusty Sportster and beat feet out of Brewster on Sunday evening, headed south. I did not get to stop and visit with friends along the way as I’d planned. (I also did not have to go to California either; the helicopter I was supposed to go see there got sold.)

I arrived in Dallas on Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, the first thing Brad and I did was jump in his car and drive up to Tulsa, Oklahoma to look at a Bell 206L LongRanger. This is a stretched and more powerful version of the 206B I had been flying in Alabama. This “L-Model” is much nicer, newer and has less total time on it. It’s also got an autopilot and air conditioning. Sweet! I gave it a good once-over and pronounced it as something I’d like to fly. A knowledgeable and experienced mechanic will have to evaluate the mechanicals.

Back in Dallas, we were supposed to meet with Brad’s boss but he was never available. I stuck around, getting familiar with the operation. He needed to go to his ranch in south Texas on Friday, so I rode along in the jet. I’ll tell ya- I’m a helicopter pilot by birth but I could get used to that jet flying stuff. Brad flies the twin-engine, six-passenger, single-pilot Hawker-Beechcraft Premier. It’s got bells and whistles that business jet pilots could only dream about just a few years ago. At the ranch, things kept getting in the way of us sitting down and talking helicopters.

The Beech Premier that Brad flies.

We finally met up with the boss back in Dallas on Saturday morning. I thought it was just a preliminary talk, but it turned quickly into a job offer. He pressed me for a salary number. I threw out a fairly large one. After some discussion, he agreed.

So now I have this dilemma. It would be foolish to turn down this gig – the money is just too good. But these “corporate/personal” flying jobs can and often do suck. They demand a lot of a pilot’s time: weekends, holidays and such. Often there are “extra duties” that don’t involve flying. (My last job had too many of these, as my then-boss made it clear that he considered me one of his least-productive employees.) This new boss does not seem to require much from Brad other than flying. That would be good for me as well. And even better, I’ll get to fly with Brad in the jet! (He and I are pretty good friends and have been for some time looking for a way to work together.)

So that’s my story. I keep falling into these weird situations. I have to say, I’m ambivalent about taking this job. Life is complicated, and it does not necessarily get easier...or more simple...as you get older.

09 September 2011

Owed To Johnny Rivers

I don’t know why I never respected Johnny Rivers as a musician. I guess I always just figured he was a singer of someone else’s songs and therefore not someone to be taken seriously. He might be best remembered for that “Secret Agent Man” song – at least, that’s what I remember him best for. But in researching him for this blog piece, I realized that he had quite a lot of hits over the years…and they were all songs that I knew (and liked) and went, “Ohhhh yeaaaaaah, he did do that!”

I always thought that Rivers only sang “Secret Agent Man” in front of a backup band or session musicians. Turns out, he doesn't look anything like I pictured him - and I'm surprised that since the 1960's I can't remember seeing even one picture of him. Also turns out that he not only played guitar on the song, but played that famous and iconic opening riff as well as the solo in the middle. Listen here…

I love the introduction by a very inebriated Judy Garland. She looks like she can barely stand up.

The clip is interesting. Johnny is clearly singing and playing the guitar – not sure if his bass player and drummer are the ones being heard. Perhaps there is a band offscreen somewhere, or perhaps Rivers is singing/playing to a soundtrack.

And what a soundtrack! In the 1960’s we went through a period where “rock ‘n roll” artists were accompanied by orchestras with predominant, big brass bands with big, modern amped-up drumkits and up-front electric guitars. (Think of the James Bond theme.) The result was a huge, bombastic sound that was, in my humble opinion, really awesome. Then The Beatles came along and pared us down to two guitars, bass and drums. And we thought that was all you needed to be a rock band. (Then of course later The Beatles added a full orchestra to their music and we were back where we started.)

It is said that while Johnny Rivers did do versions of other peoples’ songs, he “made them his own” and in some cases did a definitive version that was better than the original or the one a major artist was primarily know for. Which brings us to…

A song popped into my head the other day. It was called, “The Snake” written by a guy named Oscar Brown Jr. but made popular in 1968 by a singer named Al Wilson.

Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in for goodness sake
Take me in, oh tender woman
SSSSSSSSSighed the snake…

Great song. Songs like that get rattling around in my brain and I can’t get them out for days. Anyway, I was going to put Al Wilson version of the song up here in this post, but as I was listening to it I saw that Johnny Rivers also did a version of it. Turns out that Johnny Rivers produced the Al Wilson version when he signed Wilson to his record label.

I listened to Johnny Rivers' version, which was performed on that same TV show on which he did "Secret Agent Man." And I have to admit, the guy does a great job! Listen...

This Johnny Rivers' version is awesome - he kills it! This is such a great video. I really love the go-go dancers in the background, especially that skinny girl on the left. Look at her go(go)! Also, check out how the bass player can't keep his foot still during the song. And again, that backing orchestra is tremendous.

Johnny Rivers' attempted rise to fame coincided exactly with the arrival of The Beatles and the British Invasion. The Beatles knocked just all American artists (including Elvis!) off the charts. Those artists were still making records, but our focus was on the new style of music from England, with which we were so infatuated. But Johnny Rivers persevered, and he ended up having a long string of Top-40 hits, right up through 1977.

Surprisingly, Rivers is still singing and playing today! You can check out plenty of YouTube videos of his performances. He still looks and sounds great...for a 68 year-old guy.

So this is my post giving belated props to Johnny Rivers, a very under-appreciated artist of humongous talent. I've owed it to you for a long time, Johnny. Sorry it took me so long to get this to you.

02 September 2011

On The Road Again? Err...not yet

Nope, still in Washington. Yes, I've stayed a lot longer than originally planned, and I have this nagging feeling that I ought to leave. Young Brandon is still here too. I suspect that we’ll both be gone very soon though. We both need to move on and get on with our lives, but we've been dragging our feet. Maybe we just don't want this to end. It's really been an awesome summer. And you cannot imagine how amazingly beautiful it is up here. Or maybe you can, if you’ve ever been to this part of Washington State.

There is a farmer up here who owns a Bell 206- the one my friend Mike was flying before he left suddenly to take a job in Alaska (long story). His replacement, a pilot named John, is also gone, as the cherry-drying season has ended. Although it’s ended for me too, I’ve been hanging around on the flimsy excuse that the weather has been too nice here and is too hot and humid in Pensacola.

So anyway, I heard that this farmer needs some 206 flying done, and I’m a Bell 206 kind of guy. I called up his insurance company and they easily added me to his policy. I suspect we’ll do some flying this weekend or perhaps early next week. Make a little extra money.

Then yesterday my jet pilot friend, Brad called. The guy he flies for, a rich lumber guy in Texas has been threatening to buy a helicopter for a couple of years now. Well guess what: Hunting season is right around the corner and a Bell 206 LongRanger has been found. (The LongRanger is just like a JetRanger but it’s stretched a bit and has two more seats. It also has way more power.)

A long time ago I had “sort of” committed to Brad that I’d come to fly his boss’s helicopter, not really thinking that he’d ever actually pull the trigger. But Brad was very clear: They could have the deal done within a couple of weeks. Oh Jeez…I really wanted to not have to take another full-time flying job. I don’t understand it. They just keep dropping in my lap. And the kind of money they’re talking about is too good to turn down. Unlike my old boss, this other guy pays pilots what they’re worth, not the minimum he can get away with. (By the way, I will finally make a post about the reasons I left my last job, which a lot of people thought was the perfect flying gig.)

The company I’m working for now wants me to swing by Los Angeles, California on my way home to look at a helicopter that’s for sale down there. Yeah, heh, “swing by,” not like it’s out of the way or anything. I'll also stop in Dallas, Texas, which I had wanted to do anyway, just to see Brad if he wasn't off on a trip. Only now it'll be an official stop. And I’ll probably end up flying this winter for yet another rich guy, something I swore I’d never do again. Looks like I won’t be getting home anytime soon. Life is funny like that, as my blogger friend Debby is fond of saying.