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?

29 December 2012

Our Litigious Culture

Whenever anything happens in America, you can be sure that lawsuits will be filed but quick. And so it is in the case of the recent school shooting in Connecticut. According to a story by the news organization Reuters published on Friday, December 28th, only two weeks after the event it was announced that the parents of one of the students who survived the shooting have filed a lawsuit against the State of Connecticut.

The lawsuit claims that the unnamed child suffered, “…emotional and psychological trauma and injury, the nature and extent of which are yet to be determined.”

Soooo…they’re not really sure that their child actually suffered any permanent damage…but she must have! And in any case, they’re suing!

Well, sure, why not file a lawsuit claiming your child has suffered damaged that are not yet apparent? Makes perfect sense. And how much are these parents seeking from the state in damages? Ohhhhhh, only $100 million. Seems like a reasonable amount to me for possible, as yet to be determined damages caused by a horrific event. Perfectly reasonable!

According to the Reuters story Irv Pinsky, the lawyer for the little girl contends that, “…the state Board of Education, Department of Education and Education Commissioner had failed to take appropriate steps to protect children from ‘foreseeable harm.’”

Oh, I see! Every principal of every school should already be anticipating that a lunatic gunman would waltz in and start shooting up the place. Happens all the time! The fact that the (deceased) principal of the Newtown school didn’t is negligent! Negligent to the tune of $100 MILLION smackers.

Here in the good, ol’ U.S. of A., whenever anything bad happens, by God SOMEBODY is gonna pay! And thank the Lord we have attorneys like Irv Pinsky to be there to guide the parents of that little girl with the as-yet-to-be-determined damages.

Read the story HERE

18 December 2012

On Guns and Shooting

I own a gun: A .40 caliber Glock model 22. It holds 15 rounds in the magazine and I can have an extra one in the chamber if I choose, for a total availability of 16 bullets. Over the years I have put a lot of bullets through this gun at the range. I am not afraid of it; I don’t see it as a horrible device for human destruction. I am comfortable and proficient with it. I pray to God that I'll never have to use it in anger. But if I do, it will do what I ask of it.

I have carried it – both on my person at times but mainly in my car. I have taken it camping and hiking. I have a shoulder holster for it, but honestly the Glock is so bulky that it’s hardly concealable. I could wear it in an ankle holster…if bellbottom pants ever come back into style, and dear Lord we hope they don’t. Otherwise, the only other option is a small-of-the-back holster, but even then you have to wear a jacket or an untucked puffy pirate shirt. And let's hope those never come back in style either. If I am ever carrying it when we are together you will probably never know for I will not tell you.

The Glock does not give me a sense of invulnerability or power, and it doesn’t turn me into Dirty Harry, but it does give me a tool to use if something really, really bad happens. Something to level the playing field, if you will.

Do I seriously expect that something really, really bad will happen? I’m not sure. I wonder if those people in that mall in Oregon recently ever thought about it. And I wonder if those people who had merely shown up at a movie theatre in Colorado to see the latest Batman movie ever thought about it. Lastly I wonder if the teachers at the school in Newtown, Connecticut ever thought about it. Bad stuff happens. I’d rather be prepared than not, thank you.

With all that’s been said and written about the tragedy in that school in Connecticut, I can’t help thinking that if *I* had been in the building that day with my gun, I would have at least had a chance to do something before that Lanza kid could kill 27 students and teachers. In other words, I would not have had to be a victim – at least not initially. And I think the odds would have been pretty good. He, with his larger and bulky semi-automatic rifle; me with my lighter and more maneuverable semi-automatic pistol. Unless Lanza was really proficient in the use of that Bushmaster rifle and the two pistols he carried, he might have been an easy take-down. But yeah, I know, that’s pure speculation, isn’t it?

I’m not being overly macho or pompous here. I have a gun and I know how to use it, simple as that. Could I have shot Adam Lanza with it? Yes, without hesitation, yes. In the head. Does that make me a horrible person…because deep in my heart I know that I could take the life of another human if it came down to that? Does that make me as bad as him? I don’t think so. I had to wrestle with that issue when I bought the gun. I had to ask myself: Could I really kill someone with it? I think we have a fair duty to protect the lives of others, to not merely lie there and be a victim, to do what’s necessary to eliminate the threat, even if it means taking the life of someone else to do it. You may think it makes me a bad person, but I can live with that, no pun intended.

What happened in Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012 was a terrible, unspeakably horrible tragedy. I wish it had never happened. I wish that Lanza kid’s mother had the common sense God gave a flea and would not have had guns in the house with that emotionally disturbed child of hers. Sometimes I wish that guns had never been invented at all. But they were, and they’re not going away anytime soon. And as long as there are crazy bastards like Adam Lanza out there, random shootings will happen again. I go to the movies…I go to the mall. So…how would you want to prepare for such an event?

14 December 2012

I Hate

I often hear people say that they “hate” this or that. Sometimes they say it quite convincingly, or at least convincingly enough that I believe them. Me, I don’t like to hate anything. Hating takes too much energy, and I’d rather not waste my meager remaining resources of it. Still…to my dismay I find that there are things in life that I do actually hate. For instance!

“Someone” changed out all of the wall switches in this house to a low-profile rocker type. (And no, that someone was not me.) Unlike the normal, tried-and-true toggle light switch which you probably have in your house which has been in service since the days of Tommy Edison and little Georgie Westinghouse, these newfangled rocker switches are unobtrusive in appearance and quiet in operation. But their “action” is not definite; there is no solid detent between the two positions. It’s very easy to flip the switch to “on” and immediately inadvertently swipe it back to “off” as your hand falls away. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve done it. I hate these switches. Yes, hate.

Then there’s my shower curtain. Oh. My. God. No matter what I do, it billows inward, narrowing the available space in the tub to about a foot or so. Those little magnets that are supposed to secure it to the tub? Totally ineffectual. I’ve tried everything: Using curtains of heavier gauge plastic; leaving the bathroom door opened…or closed; leaving the exhaust fan off…you name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve even tried leaving one end of the curtain open a little to let some equalizing air in – no difference. I took a shower in my guest bathroom (which has a different curtain setup) and the problem exists there too. I suppose the only solution is to switch to sliding glass doors. I really hate my shower curtain. Yes, hate.

I also hate Guy Fieri. In case you’ve never heard of him, Fieri (nee Guy Ferry before he changed it to make his name more exotic and foreign and hard to pronounce) is one of these “celebrity chefs” which are all the rage these days. In this case, Fieri is more “celebrity” than “chef.” He’s a tremendously annoying little shit with spiky, peroxide-blond hair (and strangely, a grey beard!) who wears his sunglasses on the back of his head for some strange reason that only God knows. And he’s got a shrill, raspy voice that to me is like chalk on a blackboard. Fieri owns a couple of restaurants out west, and is expanding his “brand” across the country.

On cable television, The Food Network - which is about the only thing I watch on TV - has fallen in love with Guy Fieri. No matter what hour of the day or night I tune in, I’m guaranteed to find Guy Fieri on the screen with his spiky hair and backwards sunglasses, yelling at me on his show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." Guaranteed. Every mother-loving time. I don’t know why, but I really can’t stand the guy. Ever take an instant, irrational dislike to someone? Yeah, like that. Just rubs me the wrong way, I guess. But would I go so far as to say I “hate” Guy Fieri? Oh, yes, hate. When I turn the TV on to The Food Network and see Fieri’s ugly mug, I don’t just turn the channel, I curse like a drunken sailor who just hit his thumb with a hammer, and then snap the damn TV off in disgust. (I probably should see a therapist about this.)

Recently, Mr. Fieri opened up one of his “signature” restaurants in Times Square in New York City – an enormous three-story, 500 seat food-factory called “Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar.” Pete Wells, the food critic of the esteemed New York Times paid it a visit…four visits, actually (to be fair). His review was…shall we say “less than kind.” But it is hilarious!

Fieri naturally took offense, and went on NBC's "Today Show" to plead his case...that being the NYT reviewer was just trying to make a name for himself. Huh? Attention, Guy: If you get to the lofty position of restaurant reviewer at the New York Times, you've ALREADY "made a name" for yourself. But if you attach your name to a high-profile restaurant in New York City, you better be prepared to be held to an equally high standard.

In an article on Poynter.org website, Wells explained his position and why he wrote the review as he did. And the review is the literal definition of “snarky.” You should definitely read it. (All links are below)

It’s all very amusing in and of itself, but something caught my eye in the comments section to Wells’ original review. The level of…shall we say “dislike” for Guy Fieri is amazing. People really can’t stand this guy. I guess I’m not the only one then! In a perverse way it makes me feel a little better about myself.

By the way, the comments section has some stuff that's as funny or funnier than Wells' original piece. People were calling for a Food Network mashup, sending real chefs like Gordon ("Kitchen Nightmares") Ramsay or Robert ("Restaurant: Impossible") Irvine to go straighten Fieri's place out. One erstwhile "civilian" reviewer dryly noted, "It's not a diner, and it's not a drive-in, but Fieri's restaurant most definitely is a dive." I'm telling you, snarky stuff!

I really don’t like hating. As I said, it’s a waste of energy. And aside from the three things I listed, I really don’t “hate” anything or anyone.

I can change out the light switches in the house. And I can install sliding doors in my shower. But I just hope that Guy Fieri and I never cross paths.

Pete Wells' initial NYT Review

Guy Fieri's Appearance on NBC "Today Show"

Wells' Explanation on Poynter.org

05 December 2012


Poverty and homelessness is a big problem in this country, no doubt. But we’re becoming callous toward the poor. We know that there are plenty of social services and programs for those in need. In most cities, no matter how poor you are you don’t have to live on the streets – not anymore. There’s welfare and food stamps. There are shelters and food kitchens. We’ve come a long way since the days of The Great Depression. And we’ve gotten to a point where some people scoff at those…the “takers” of society who’d rather shirk their responsibilities and live off the generosity of others.

And so our growing skepticism and cynicism causes us believe it when we hear apocryphal stories of beggars at street intersections who at the end of the day drive off in a Cadillac. We get to thinking that if not all, then most homeless people we see are homeless by choice and probably a lot better off than they’re letting on. They’re poor because they want to be!

Recently, a picture made the rounds on the internet. It was shot by a tourist in New York City. This tourist happened to witness an event where a police officer in Manhattan gave a barefoot homeless man a pair of boots. The cop bought the $75 boots out of is own pocket. The photograph “went viral” as it is called and the story made the national news. The officer was justifiably lauded for his generosity and we all felt the warm glow of one human being kind to another. A true holiday “feel good” story.

Well, you know the expression, no good deed goes unpunished.

The headline: Homeless man spotted shoeless again! What the deuce? His explanation was that he could be killed for such expensive shoes and so he “hid” them in a safe place. Hey, in New York City that actually makes sense. If you’re sleeping on the streets and you have on a nice pair of shoes, they very well might be stolen from you before you wake up…*IF* you wake up at all. When I saw the original picture I said, “Nice try, officer, but those shiny new Redwing boots aren’t going to last more than a couple of days before somebody steals them.”

It gets worse. The local media found out who the “Homeless Guy” is and did a more in-depth investigation on him than a certain Barack Obama was subjected by Republicans to when he announced he was going to run for president. And it turns out, according to the New York Daily News that, “Homeless Guy,” aka Jeffry Hillman is not so homeless after all. Turns out, he’s got an apartment in another part of the city and receives money from the federal government for housing, Social Security disability and veteran’s benefits. Hillman was in the U.S. Army. Does he have to live barefoot on the streets, panhandling for money? Nope.

You think there’s a lot of homeless in your town? New York City has a whole Department of Homeless Services. And they know Jeffrey Hillman. A spokesperson for the NYCDHS says that Hillman has repeatedly turned down their services and offers of help. Hillman’s family was contacted; his brother said that Jeffrey had not been in touch with them lately and that he “preferred this way of life.”

And so we are left feeling empty…feeling cheated by a phony homeless person…again! For some, it will reinforce the impression that the majority of "homeless panhandlers" are nothing more than scam-artists. Because every time something like happens it makes us just a little bit more cynical and indifferent to the plight of the truly poor and needy. And that's sad.

At the end of the day, no matter how anyone else acts, WE still have to act in a Christian way. And despite hearing disheartening stories like this latest, we must not let that stop us from performing acts of charity for those less fortunate than us. As my blogger friend Debby points out, we ARE our brother’s keeper. For some of us, that will never change, even with all the scam artists in the world. But they don't make it easy.

For the Daily News story on Hillman click HERE

03 December 2012

Meet The Beatles

It is impossible for those who were not around at the time – the young ones – to understand the impact that The Beatles had on the world…not just music. And they weren’t just four musicians who got together and made some records. Oh, no. The Beatles were a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Would they have been The Beatles without Ringo? Certainly not. It can be said that the coming together of the four of them (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard "Ringo" Starkey) was of cosmic significance and origin. Nobody on the planet could have engineered such a thing. Combine them with a genius record producer named George Martin and, well, the rest is history.

John, Paul and George began playing together as teenagers as early as 1958. Ringo wouldn’t join them for four years. But as George Harrison once noted, Ringo was always a Beatle; he just didn’t join the play until the second act. Or something like that.

In the beginning, The Beatles were basically a “cover-band,” doing other people’s songs, often adapting them to the rock ‘n roll format (e.g. “Ain’t She Sweet”). They went through a couple of name-changes, finally settling on “The Beatles” in 1960. Gradually they began writing their own songs. John and Paul found that as a team they had a particular gift, which they exploited. But George was no slouch either.

Though their popularity had been steadily increasing in the U.K., they did not become an “overnight sensation” in the U.S. until 1964. Rock ‘n roll had been around for a long time, but The Beatles’ music was different than anything else on the radio. But remember, by 1964 the three of them had been playing together, writing songs and honing their act for nearly six years.

It was crazy. There had never been anything like “Beatlemania” before. And it was a worldwide mania. Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley both had been the object of young girl adulation, but not nearly on the scale that The Beatles generated. We dressed like them; wore our hair like them; hung on their every utterance; memorized their songs…all of their songs. It’s fair, and it’s no exaggeration to say that The Beatles changed the world.

When we look back, people often argue over the relative talents of the individual Beatles. But it’s silly. It’s like saying that a Ferrari is a “better” sports car than a Lamborghini. Well…yeah, maybe, but a Lambo is still eons better than just about anything else on the road. All four Beatles were extremely talented. And anyway, it’s not about that. It was the synergy that resulted when the four of them got together. Other groups tried, and some came close, but none really could replicate the magic that was The Beatles.

By 1969 it was all over. They split up and went their separate ways. It is not surprising; a lot of "stuff" happens to people between their teenage years and their late 20's. All four had gotten married...you know, grew up. The fact that they stuck it out for ten years is amazing in itself. We are thankful for that. And we are also thankful that each of them continued making music - music that sometimes sounded an awful lot like "Beatle" music! So it's not like they went away completely.

The Beatles provided the soundtrack of our lives. We got to know the songs intimately, and they took on profound significance. We knew all the words; we could even sing the harmony and backup vocal parts. And we still remember all those details even after all these years. Put a Beatles song on…any song at all…and I can sing it unerringly. I can sing Paul’s part; I can sing John’s part. It’s hard to explain to my young friends. I mean, it’s just…it’s just…music, right? Wrong. It was more than that. Much more. If you weren’t there, you can’t really appreciate The Beatles. If you were there, and I was lucky enough to be, then you got to experience a musical and cultural phenomenon that hasn’t been repeated since, and isn’t likely to be repeated in the future.

29 November 2012

Those Damn Unions

Many of you will claim that labor unions are responsible for the wholesale demise of business in the U.S. (Just look at the situation with Hostess!) Unions typically make silly, stupid, unreasonable demands…until management finally gives up and says, “Enough!” and moves the company right out of the country…to someplace where people will produce the exact same goods far more cheaply. Hey, that’s business in a global economy! Yup, fair is fair.

Some will grudgingly agree that unions may have been necessary “once,” but surely their usefulness is past and their viability is long gone. Companies know they have to treat their employees right, right? Here in the U.S. we already have the best working conditions in the world, and companies know they must pay a competitive, livable wage. So why do unions still exist? Shouldn’t they be outlawed or something?

That’s probably what many of you think. That’s probably what Walmart thinks too. You know Walmart: That’s the company that decided it was more efficient to have some of the clothes they sell made in Bangladesh. Hey, they’re always starving over there…even George Harrison’s 1971 benefit concert did little-to-nothing to fundamentally change anything in that country. So if Walmart can have clothes made in Bangladesh…great! Right?

Right. Except. Except that a fire broke out in a garment factory in Bangladesh this week, and 124 people died because the fire exits were either non-existent or blocked and people couldn’t get out.

Walmart, Sears and Disney all had clothing made in that factory. But they cleverly had enough plausible deniability to distance themselves from the actual process of manufacturing. Well, we did not contract directly with that company. In fact, we directed our suppliers to not use that company! Which is exactly what Walmart actually claimed. Left unsaid was, But you know…we don’t really monitor such things closely as long as we get the product for the right price. And how could we! Bangladesh is soooo far away from Bentonville, Arkansas.

Those damn unions! If not for those damn unions we'd still be making clothes in the U.S.!

Well this is what we get – this is the high cost of low prices. It might be easy for some Americans to shrug it off and say, “Hey, that would not happen in America.”

But it did. Triangle Shirtwaist Company, anyone? Ring a bell? Probably not, because it was 100 years ago. (A hundred and one, actually.)

Just after the turn of the 20th Century, New York City was a hub of manufacturing, including clothing. The Triangle Waist Company made women’s blouses that were called “shirtwaists” back then, don’t ask me why. The company occupied the top three floors of a huge 10-story factory in lower Manhattan. The employees, mostly young women, worked nine-hour days from Monday through Friday, and a seven-hour day on Saturday. They made a maximum of about $12/week.

In March of 1911 a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the factory. There were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no fire-hoses…and so the fire got completely out of control before people on the two upper floors even realized what was happening. Emergency exits were locked, ostensibly to prevent stealing by employees. There was one rickety fire escape which quickly warped and collapsed due to the heat of the fire, sending as many as 20 people to their death. When the NYFD arrived, the ladders on their trucks were not tall enough to reach the floors that were burning. In all, 146 people died.

The Triangle Waist Company fire led directly to better, more strict regulations concerning worker safety in factories. It also led to the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which worked hard for better treatment of employees in both compensation and working conditions.

Well, screw that! Manufacturers simply moved their factories out of high-profile places like New York City, to other locations where people would work more cheaply, would be happy to have any job at all, where there were no pesky labor unions and where government oversight and scrutiny was not so…let’s say “intense.” Places like Central America. And Bangladesh.

And so a couple of days ago, 100 years after the Triangle Waist Company fire, there was another fire, this time in a garment factory in Bangladesh in which 124 people were killed.

Boy, we’ve learned a lot in 100 years, huh? But this is what we get. This is what we get when we, as Americans willingly accept the “fact” that companies should be allowed to produce their goods wherever they can do it the most cheaply, and then ship those goods to us with no restrictions. This is what we get when we do not hold companies like Walmart and Sears and Disney directly accountable, and morally and financially responsible for disasters like this. We should be ashamed of ourselves, but we’re not. Not as long as we can get that Disney-branded jacket for our kids at a cheap price or that $6 sweatshirt from Walmart.

We see how corporations act when they are left to make up the rules on their own. We saw it in lower Manhattan in 1911. And we just saw it again this month in 2012 in Bangladesh.

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

WIKIPEDIA: Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire

22 November 2012

Giving Thanks, 2012

The house is quiet again. For the last three days it’s been filled with the sounds of Matt, Alisha, and their pair of rambunctious ten year-olds: Faith and Dylan (and their cat). It’s a wonderful noise! It makes the house sound alive. They were visiting from Atlanta – came down early for Thanksgiving since there were other family plans back up in Georgia on the specific day. And so we had ours on Monday, which is fine.

I’ve known Matt for a long, long time…since well before he was married with children. In fact, I was honored to be Best Man at his wedding. I constantly marvel at what good friends we are and have stayed. Although we’re not blood relatives we might as well be.

One of the things we have in common is that we both love to eat! As single guys with no local family, we’ve spent a lot of holidays together over the years. We both also like to cook, and by happy coincidence it turns out that we cook well together. We get along really well in the kitchen. This shouldn’t have been any surprise really. We’re great working on cars together, and if he were a pilot I know we’d get along well in the cockpit too. We’ve got some individual recipes that we bring to the table. We'd usually cook up a big, traditional holiday feast, even it was just for the two of us. This year Alisha joined us in the cooking. It was fantastic. The meal turned out awesome.

We did a turkey, of course; what kind of un-American pinko heathen would not have turkey on Turkey Day? For side dishes, Alisha did yams with marshmallows – yum! She also did a special side dish of green beans that was dee-licious! Matt did the chicken-cornbread dressing from scratch, a recipe he got from an aunt which is literally to die for. I did my world famous crabmeat potato salad. There was more…too much more, actually…an embarrassing amount of food for three so-called adults and two well-fed kids. But collectively we have a lot to be thankful for, and you know we Americans celebrate that thankfulness with food.

I’ve mentioned before that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And this one was one of the best ones yet.

They’re gone now; they left Wednesday morning on one of the busiest travel days of the year. I’m happy to report they made it safely back to Atlanta. And so the house is quiet again. And as KC and the Sunshine Band once sang, that’s the way (uh-huh uh-huh) I like it. I love Matt and Alisha and their kids, but I do like my solitude.

Whether you celebrate this particular holiday in your culture or not, it’s good to occasionally take time to stop, step back and give thanks for all you have. I, for one have been extremely blessed. With the best family and friends a guy could ever hope for, I have the best life of anyone I know.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

10 November 2012

The Best Political Post EVER!

Okay, maybe not.

Some of my friends are pretty angry and bitter right now. Having President Obama get elected for a second term really chaps their collective asses. To paraphrase Michael Stipe and REM, it’s the end of the world as they know it, and they don’t feel fine. They (still!) make endless posts on their Facebook pages, predicting the veritable destruction of the U.S. and all they hold dear. They blame the left-wing liberal Commies for this inevitable downslide off the cliff and into socialism. And they’re pissed.

The mistake many Republicans make is the same one that Mitt Romney made -- the one that probably cost him the election. They assume that everyone who votes Democrat is a lazy, unemployed welfare-cheat…someone who exists on government handouts, considers themselves a “victim” and has no inclination to better themselves. They assume that everyone who votes Democrat would prefer to live in a socialist country like Communist Russia…where all you have to do is sit back and the government will take care of you.

And these assumptions are wrong.

Umm, here’s a newsflash: We’ve all seen how life is under socialist regimes like in today’s Russia. None of us would opt for that. Really.

Here’s a little chart that got published on Facebook. It’s telling, at least to me. What it shows is that the top ten states that have people with college educations voted for Obama. The top ten states that have people without college degrees voted for Romney...with one glaring exception.

Now, a college education does not guarantee that someone is a genius, or even smart, or even has any common sense. It only means that you spent the time and took the courses and got the degree…which admittedly could have been in Liberal Arts. Nevertheless, people with college educations do know how to think critically. And whaddya know, more people in states with college educated people chose to re-elect President Obama.

Some Republican doom and gloom friends of mine have gone so far as to minimize the importance of having a college degree in life. Perhaps obviously, these are people who do not themselves have a college degree. Go figure.

The fact is, just over half of the entire population voted for Obama. More people in the states with the larger number of electoral votes voted for Obama. The states that have the highest number of college graduates voted for Obama. Tellingly, Romney could not even carry Massachusetts, the state in which he was governor. Didn’t they remember him?? Oh wait…maybe they did! Similarly, Paul Ryan did not carry his home state of Wisconsin. Make of that what you will.

Things have changed, people. Our country has not only elected a black president, we've elected a black president twice!

But we did not elect a king. Obama is still just the president, and as such he has to work with Congress. So I don’t expect a wholesale conversion to Marxist socialism any time soon.

If you voted for Obama you are probably happy with the outcome right now. But if you don't like the way the election went, then you better get with your senator and congressman and make damn sure they know how you feel. 'Cuz it ain't majority rules in this country. We still are a thriving, surviving democratic republic.

Me? I did not vote for Romney. I could have, but I did not.

05 November 2012

The Devil You Know

You’re probably as sick of all the political crap as I am. I cannot wait for this election to be over. And you know what? I really don’t care who wins. Really.

I am either the most left-leaning Conservative you’ll ever meet, or perhaps the most right-wing Liberal. I staunchly oppose gun control, but I’m against totally against abortion. I think we need the federal government out of our lives, and we need a smaller military. I think every American should have health care. Not “access to” healthcare, but healthcare. We are supposedly the most advanced nation on the planet. What does it say about us that we do not take care of our citizens?

Anyway, does all this make me: Undecided? An Independent? A moron? Probably all three.

Politics has gotten so divisive lately that it’s sickening. People are so angry! On Facebook I have had to unsubscribe from the newsfeeds of some of my more vociferous friends so I don't have to be subjected to their continual childish rants. I’ve come very close to “unfriending” them completely. Sad to say, these are usually Republicans. They make post after hate-filled post about Obama and liberals. It wears me out. I get it, okay? I do not recall such anger back when George W. was running for his second term, but that may just be selective memory. I mean, let's face it, Dubya wasn't a very good president. And I love how Republicans keep invoking Reagan's name and keep skipping over the two guys named Bush. Clever, that.

I was confronted recently by a guy I know who is a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative Republican. He was literally steaming about Obama…how’s he’s ruined “the country” and how if he is re-elected “the country” will be totally, off-the-cliff destroyed. I offered that from my point of view it didn’t seem to matter who won this election. Oh boy, wrong thing to say!

This guy went into a Hannityesque anti-Obama tirade that included everything from our bad relations with Israel to the Iranian nuclear situation to gasoline prices to Benghazi – the usual Conservative talking/yelling points. Oh, and he also stated as a fact that Obama cancelled the “Keystone Pipeline” which is simply not true although many uneducated boobs believe in their feeble brains that it is.

I shrugged, refusing to get drawn into yet another pointless political argument. This put my buddy into Personal Attack Mode. Republicans really do believe that Obama is destroying “the country.” And Mitt Romney will save it. And if you’re not totally with Romney then you, yes YOU are complicit in destroying “the country” as well. Well! Made me feel like a right traitor, he did!

I recall that in 2008 then-candidate Obama ran on a platform of “hope and change.” He would change Washington, he promised us. He was just what we needed. And now, four years later Obama admits that you cannot change Washington from the inside. Oh really? Whodathunkit! And now along comes Mitt Romney, promising us that HE will be the change! HE is just what we need! Yeah…right. I’ll tell you what: I didn’t believe Obama back then and I don’t believe Romney today.

I think my biggest objection to Mitt Romney is that he’s a phony. He’s fake. He will say anything to anyone to get elected. Just go on YouTube; a quick search will turn up all of Romney’s inconsistencies. Flip-flop, back and forth. And this is not a trivial point…which is that no one really knows where Romney stands on issues. Because what he says today may not be what he says or does tomorrow. he tells us. Trouble is, I don't.

Is Obama any better? No. He promised us many things…over 500 promises of which he kept less than half (about 38% according to people who track these things). He promised us transparency, but his presidency is one of the least transparent ever. Like Romney, Obama is a typical politician. But in this case, President Obama is the devil we know. And for better or for worse, the devil we know may be the choice this election. Not “the best” choice, and not even “a better” choice. Just the choice. That, my friends, is sad.

18 October 2012

Di Blasio

Have I ever mentioned that my parents made me take piano lessons when I was a kid? My mom could play the piano pretty well, and I guess my folks thought I had some musical talent as well. Boy, were they wrong! Nevertheless I’ve always been fascinated by the piano and the people who play it.

The piano is a wonderful instrument. It has such a – pardon the pun – grand range and sound, even unamplified. There is something about the musical frequencies it produces that is…I don’t know…resonant with the human ear and brain in a way that few other instruments are. The sound is pleasant (not the way I played it though). We hear piano music and it affects us positively whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. And I suspect that often we are not.

There’s always been piano-based pop music, since even before there was “pop music.” But even into the age of rock ‘n roll and beyond the piano never lost its appeal. From Jerry Lee Lewis in the ‘50s to The Beatles in the ‘60s to Elton John in the ‘70s to more current bands and artists like Keane and Ben Folds, the piano remains almost as constant a presence as the electric guitar. Personally, I like it when the piano is employed in certain types of rock music. Ironically, I’m not too fond of the electric piano or “electronic keyboards” in general. I like the natural sound of a regular ol’ piano.

In the 1990’s there were a couple of pianists who came to prominence…think John Tesh and of course Yanni. There was also Raul Di Blasio! From Argentina, Di Blasio has been interested in the piano since he was six. In the 1990’s he moved to the U.S. and achieved some popularity. But music fans are fickle, and no pianist will ever capture our hearts like an Eric Clapton or a Jimi Hendrix. Sad, that, because Di Blasio probably is the pianist equivalent of Clapton.

Check out this awesome instrumental tune from Di Blasio: “Hasta Que Te Conoci.” (I think it means “Until I Met You.”) It was played a lot on VH-1 in the 1990’s. It rocks! Well…I mean…not in the traditional sense, but this song, with its intricate arrangement...the layering of instruments... the pounding drums, soaring strings and horns, and of course Di Blasio's magnificent playing of the piano - this song does rock. I can listen to it over and over. And do!

It’s a shame Di Blasio never became more popular. Clearly he has the chops (and eccentric looks) to have been a major star. Trouble was, we already had a Yanni, who was younger, better-looking and had more hair. But that does not diminish Di Blasio’s talent or importance in my eyes.

17 October 2012

Done Gone

It’s odd to think of myself as “not a helicopter pilot anymore.” I’ve been trying to divorce myself from this lousy industry for a long time. Meanwhile, my friend Larry Curtis had “retirement” agonizingly and prematurely forced on him when a heart problem put him on the sidelines for good. He wasn’t ready to go just yet. I’ve been ready for a long time. And that time has finally come.

The last job I had was so shitty that I ended up hating both the job and the guy I was working for. And I don’t “hate” anything! Not a good situation.

Within aviation, many pilots aspire to “corporate” jobs…that is, flying for some company instead of doing charters or whatever. Corporate flying is generally held to be “better” in that you usually fly nicer equipment, have a better schedule and better pay. But this is not always the case.

In my case, the Boss issued me one of those walkie-talkie Nextel phones. All he needed to do was hit the push-to-talk button and he expected me to reply immediately. If I did not, I’d catch hell. From seven o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night, he would expect me to be available for his calls. Yes, seven days a week. It gets old.

Truthfully, we did not fly a lot. On the other hand, I never knew when we would be flying, and had to be ready all the time in case the Boss needed to go somewhere. In fairness, he rarely called me to fly without at least one-day notice – but it did happen. I worked most holidays and a lot of weekends, and spent a lot of nights away from home. That sounds like whining and it is, I’ll admit. Such a schedule is simply the nature of this corporate/personal flying job. You sit around on “stand-by” waiting for the boss to call. It gets old.

In his mind, my Boss thought I “worked” very little, and he resented this greatly for he works his people hard. Over the course of our time together he mentioned a couple of times that I was the least-productive employee on his payroll. (To which I’d reply, “Oh yeah? Well then get your secretary to fly the helicopter.”) Thus, he’d dream up little non-aviation tasks for me to do…run errands for him and such. Nothing terribly unreasonable, just things to keep me busy. There were so many of these little tasks that one day one of the other employees was moved to remark, “Bob, you ain’t nothing but (the Boss’s) nigger!” And yes, sadly, people still do use that term freely down here in the south. As offensive and insulting as the comment was, it had a ring of truth. And it gets old.

There were other things of course; there always are. Bottom line is that I’m done with full-time helicopter flying. Gone. Done gone, as they also say down here. I hope to get back into fixed-wing airplanes. I think I’d be a good flight instructor (but maybe not!). Who knows what the future will bring?

I may…or may not even…return to Washington State next spring and do the cherry-drying thing. It’s fun and all, and I enjoy everything about that part-time summer gig, but hovering over the cherry trees in a 60 year-old helicopter is not without an arguable…let’s say “discussable” level of risk. And at this stage of my life I’m more circumspect about the risks I’m willing to take.

05 October 2012

Flying and Riding - And Why I Love My Sportster!

When I fly I think to myself, “This is my most favorite thing in the whole wide world!” And when I ride my motorcycle I think, “This is my most favorite thing in the whole wide world!” Honestly, it’s hard to choose between them when it comes to which I prefer more. Do I even have to choose?

There is something very soul-satisfying about riding a motorcycle that I cannot quite put into words. I mean, driving a car is – or can be – fun. But riding a motorcycle is fun in a much different way. You are so totally involved with the machine; each hand and foot has its own control (just like a helicopter!). And while riding, you’re hyper-aware of your surroundings as well. You’re…well…connected. The risk factor may play a part in the attraction but honestly I don’t think about it – or try not to.

Many riders report a feeling of “freedom,” which begs the question: Freedom from what? Yes, you do experience a feeling of being totally unfettered and unencumbered. There is always a strong temptation to just head for the city limits and keep on going. Only our responsibilities (read: debts) keep us from doing that. There is the freedom from the “cage,” which is what some motorcyclists call cars; the freedom that lets you smell the cut grass or the pine trees…or when the kids ahead of you are sharing a joint.  (Yes kids, if the state trooper behind you has his windows down, he'll be able to smell your weed.) 

I’ve owned a lot of bikes, and in fact own three now. But none have been more satisfying than my Sportsters. I know, I rhapsodize about the Sportster endlessly here in this blog, but I do love the “little” Harley. It’s such a basic, honest motorcycle. It’s not flashy or overly-complicated or even technologically advanced. It’s just an engine and two wheels…a simple, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine at that. Two exhaust pipes; one carburetor. No fuel injection (although later models have it). It is “powerful enough” for me. I can (and do) work on it, but I haven’t really had to - it has been dead reliable, giving me zero trouble since I bought it back in May of 2008. Has it really been that long?

This past August I was heading south on Route 287, coming down through Montana on my way home from Washington State. It was a gorgeous morning, and the road was a winding two-lane through breathtakingly beautiful country – I had not yet experienced the disaster of Yellowstone Park and thus was still in a pretty good mood.

I was listening to my iPod. As I’ve said, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Mostly I just prefer to listen to the sound of the engine and be alone with my thought. But this time I had the music cranked up as I came around a curve and saw a sign that I was entering the town of “Harrison.” And just as I spied that sign…I shit you not…the Traveling Wilburys song, “Handle With Care” started up. Now…full disclosure…among the 200 songs in this particular playlist on my iPod I have a lot of Beatles’ music as well as a smattering of solo stuff from Paul McCartney and George Harrison. So the odds of this happening are admittedly not astronomical.

Coincidences like this might not mean much to a normal person, but they entertain me greatly. They remind me that this life here is to be enjoyed. And I like to enjoy it from the seat of a motorcycle. Sometimes it's the simplest pleasures that are the best.

04 October 2012

Getting Sick

Okay, this could get a little gross. I’ll try to keep it as family-friendly as I can, but the subject is not pleasant and I apologize in advance.

I almost never get sick. Very rarely. I don’t know why - I don’t routinely get colds or the flu like some of my friends. I don’t even get headaches anymore. Thus, I don’t keep a bunch of seldom-needed, "just-in-case" medications in the house. That may change.

Last night I ate some leftover Chinese food as I watched the Presidential debate on PBS. Afterward I watched some commentary, played on Facebook and ended up going to bed around midnight. At approximately 3:30AM I was awakened by a troubling pain in my stomach. You know the type - it makes you go, “Uh-oh, this is not going to be good.” I put up with it for a while, knowing what was coming.

Sure enough, around 6AM the fun began. Plenty of warning. I thought, “Okay, let’s get it over with!” But I didn’t know what I was in for. I threw up so much I literally could not believe it. It seemed like it was everything I’d eaten for the last three days. I mean, the sheer volume of vomit was unreal. It was like that Monty Python movie. I think I saw a someone’s iPhone (a 3GS so it must’ve been in there awhile) and a license plate come out – a big, European one too, like from Germany. Usually, you feel pretty good after such an event – relieved, anyway. Not this time. I knew there was more to come. I started sipping glasses of water with a splash of orange juice, and then went back to bed to wait.

A little while later came Round Two. This time was as bad as the first! I saw a set of car keys (not mine) and I think an actual baby (the other-other white meat!). I was thinking, “What have I got, the belly of a shark?”

The third event was unexpected, and yet just as voluminous as the first! I was standing at the bathroom sink drinking some water and wondering what was going on when the overpowering urge to hurl took over. It was awful. Out of my mouth and into the sink clanked a ratchet wrench (3/8” drive) with a 9/16” socket attached! So that's where that went.  Holy cow, this was getting serious.

I went out to the kitchen and drank a small glass of some old, flat Sprite that was in the fridge. This merely caused a level of bloating and gas that rivaled a Saturn 5 rocket trying to break free of earth’s orbit. …Which precipitated the “other” malady that stomach problems usually generate. I don’t have to tell you what that is. Fortunately, the bout was a brief, one-time event. No problem on that end after that.

Now it is 3:30PM and I’m feeling better even though I’ve eaten nothing and drank only water all day. I was thinking about supper (I am always thinking about food) and it just made me sicker. If I felt up to it, I’d grab a shower and go out and get some Pepto. But that’s going to have to wait.

I don’t know what made me so sick. Rest assured I will not be patronizing the #1 Chinese Restaurant anymore. Just now I was going to say, “I don’t know what it was that caused me to get as sick as a dog.” But given that it was food from a Chinese restaurant, it might not be such a great joke.

30 September 2012

Charles Krauthammer Is An Asshole

You’ve undoubtedly heard of Charles Krauthammer; you’ve probably read his columns either in the Washington Post newspaper or perhaps your local paper since he is syndicated. Or maybe you’ve seen him pontificate endlessly on Fox News. He is a very pompous guy who presents himself as a brainiac and an expert on all things politic and economic. He is a loud, vocal critic of President Obama.

Look, there is no doubt that Charles Krauthammer is a really smart guy – I’ll give him that. But he oversteps his bounds (I’ll get to that in a bit). He acts like because of his smartness he’s privy to some inside information that the rest of us dumb hicks are not. Of course, the Fox News audience eats it up.

In his newspaper column on September 16th, Krauthammer rants and rails yet again about President Obama’s policy on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His opinion is that they are totally wrong. See, Krauthammer knows best!

Now, just stop. My mama didn't raise no fool. Does anybody really believe that President Obama is actually handling this entire Iran issue in public? Seriously? I’m no “genius” like Charles Krauthammer, but I would bet real money that what Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu say in public is different from what’s going on behind the scenes. I would bet real money that their public uneasiness and discord is a ruse merely to put Iran off-guard. I would bet real money that Obama and Netanyahu have a plan which has not been divulged…not to Fox News, not to the general public and certainly not to Charles fucking Krauthammer.

Think about it: If you were President Obama and you were faced with Iran possibly becoming a nuclear power (which everyone agrees is a bad thing), would *you* sit back and do nothing? Of course not. Alternatively, if you had a plan, would *you* announce to the world what you were going to do in advance? Of course not. We may live in an open society here in the U.S., but it’s a safe assumption that our President does not include us average citizens in his strategic planning.

It is clear…at least it should be clear to anyone with half a brain…that unless Iran really ceases its nuclear ambitions, Israel *will* strike. I mean, come on. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen…with or without the acquiescence of the U.S. (Probably with.) It will not happen before the election this November – that much has surely been agreed upon already – and Netanyahu pretty much said so in his recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly when he held up that silly poster with the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon bomb. (Netanyahu probably figures that Obama is going to win. But even if he doesn’t, having Mitt Romney in the White House would not necessarily be a bad thing for Bibi.)

I will guarantee that there is plenty going on behind the scenes that we do not know about.  And what gets announced publicly is either a tiny amount of the truth or possibly disinformation to keep the world from knowing what the real plans are. Whatever happens…whenever it does, we can be sure that one Charles Krauthammer will not be called in on the pre-strike briefings.

So instead of yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, which is the equivalent of what he is doing by harping relentlessly on subject about which he has no accurate inside information, Charles Krauthammer should just keep his big, fat, stupid mouth shut.

10 September 2012

Dancing Fools

At what age do we unlearn how to dance? When I go to clubs now and see people my age (mid-50’s) dancing, they look so…so…horrid. So awkward. So uncoordinated. So uncomfortable. It’s almost painful to watch. You’ve seen them; you know what I’m talking about. I mean, they were probably good dancers…once…in their youth. But what happens to our groove? Do we lose it somewhere along the way? I’m sure that if I got out there on the dance floor I would look just as geeky and, you know, wrong as other old people.

Which brings me – sort of naturally - to my friend Hal Johnson. He posted this on his Facebook page tonight:

"Doing the prep work for my wife's fab lasagna, listening to Son Volt, and wishing my rotten kid would quit laughing at the way I dance in the kitchen."

See? Even him!

This post generated the kind of snarky, sarcastic comments you can imagine, which is about all Facebook is good for, let’s be honest. And I envisioned this big, tall moose of a guy writhing around spastically in his kitchen as he’s layering strips of pasta into a glass casserole dish (at least, I hope it was glass). And I’d bet that when he was younger, even Hal was a good dancer. Err…nah, on second thought, strike that – Hal was always tall. Tall people don’t make good dancers no matter how young or old they are. But I’ll bet he at least had rhythm.  When I think about Hal fast-dancing now, the mental image I get is not pretty.

I live alone. I like to listen to music - dance music predominantly, sometimes very loud. And sometimes I catch myself in the mirror (the singular mirror that’s not in my bedroom) dancing to some ‘80s popsong  (Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough," say). It causes me to immediately stop and make a solemn vow that I will never…no matter how funky the tune and no matter how much alcohol I’ve consumed…do such a thing in public.  Or in private for that matter.

We can only hope that Hal lives in a place where his neighbors cannot see in his windows.

06 September 2012

The Long Trip Home - Part 4


Generally, motorcyclists are a friendly bunch among ourselves. We all wave to each other as we pass on the road no matter what brand we happen to be on. It has to do with the unique nature of what we do, I suppose. We feel a special kinship.

From my lifelong experience as a rider, this kinship is even stronger among Harley riders. There is an undeniable sense of brotherhood and passion within this particular manufacturer. It’s hard to explain or quantify. It just is. You ride a Harley? You’re in the club. The brand-loyalty is amazing. You know that other Harley riders would do anything for you simply because you ride the same kind of bike. This is no illusion either. And it’s more than a little comforting on a long trip.

The Harley mystique is unreal. It extends beyond regular owners. Whenever I’m traveling and stop – at a rest area, for instance or even just for gas – people will invariably come up and talk to me out of the blue. It’s kind of amusing. They tell me their Harley stories; oh, and everybody’s got one. Sometimes it seems like everyone on the planet either knows someone who rides a Harley or they themselves “used to ride” one. Either way, they’re enthusiastic about the brand. (This did not happen much on any of the Kawasaki motorcycles I’ve owned.) I always listen politely, even if I really need to get back out on the road.

A lot of times, people will know enough about Harleys to know that a Sportster is, err, not the optimum bike for “touring.” They’ll raise an eyebrow (sometimes both) and say, “You’re coming from WHERE? And you’re going WHERE?! On THAT???” The implication is that you’d have to be crazy to take a long-distance trip on a Sportster. And maybe I am.

On the way home, I pulled into a gas station in Jackson, Wyoming just south of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Just as I was taking my helmet off another Harley rider roared in and stopped on the other side of the pumps. Young guy, scraggly beard, big “gauges” in his earlobes. He really looked the part.

“GODDAMN that was the worst mistake I’ve ever made!”
he bellowed, directing the comment at me as if it was the continuation of a conversation we’d already been having.

I chuckled and said, “What?” even though I was pretty sure I knew what he meant.

“Going through Yellowstone. What a friggin’ mistake!”

He was heading west, to California; I was heading east. For some reason we both ended up going south through Yellowstone, stuck in the same heavy traffic, he a mile or so behind me. As we filled our tanks we compared notes and commiserated on our poor choice of routes, chatting like old friends. And in a way we were. We finished tanking up, got our receipts and went our separate ways.

Further along, down in Mississippi I pulled into a truck stop/gas station. Four younger-than-me Harley riders followed me in: Two guys on Sportsters and two on Big Twins. The Sportsters were both older and highly customized – very nice bikes but not ones that I’d take on a long trip. We fueled the bikes and de-fueled ourselves and then replenished the lost body fluids. (Their beverage of choice was beer; mine was Powerade.) Afterward they came over to look at my Sportster, which by now was looking mighty road-weary. It was way dirty and buggy and leaking oil from a small seal that had failed on the shifter shaft that sticks out from the side case (since repaired).

It is most strange. We stood around chatting for a while, again, like we were all old buddies. We had this instant rapport. They were headed from south Mississippi up to Birmingham, Alabama to meet a friend of theirs who was returning – riding alone – from the big annual Harley get-together in Sturgis, South Dakota. Then they were all going to ride back south together. It was a fairly long ride, but the guys were acting like it was a walk in the park.

I like being a motorcyclist. I especially like being a Harley rider. You can’t beat the camaraderie and fellowship. It’s like being a member of a church. And for some, in a way I guess it is.

25 August 2012

The Long Trip Home - Part 3


My route home to Florida from Washington took me through Yellowstone National Park, which I’d always wanted to see. So I got off Interstate 90 between Missoula and Butte, Montana and headed south on Route 287 for the park. It was Wednesday and I frankly did not know what to expect. Would there be a lot of people? Yellowstone is out in the northwest corner of Wyoming, after all; how crowded could it be?

Route 287 is a nice, scenic, lightly-traveled two-lane road that winds its way down through Montana, following the Madison River for a good stretch. The scenery is awesome, as you might imagine if you’ve heard anything at all about Montana. It makes you want to stop just to drink it all in. And there were times when I did just that: Sat by the side of the road and listened to the nothingness.  Sadly, I didn't have enough time to tarry. But even when you’re in a hurry, seeing the country on a motorcycle is pretty cool; you have unrestricted visibility in most directions. In a place like Montana that comes in handy.

Traffic picks up as you continue down Route 191 to a point where Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all come together.  Then all of a sudden you're in the town of West Yellowstone which sits at the west gate of the park. It’s one of these impossibly crowded tourist trap towns – “impossibly” because it’s out IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! I wondered: How did all these people get here?

At the entrance to the park, the ranger took my $20 and wished me a good trip. I said, “Yeah, I’ll probably get stuck in a conga line of slow-moving RV’s.” He winced and said, “Yeah…probably.” Not exactly what I waned to hear, but that’s exactly what happened.

When you buy a new or used RV, they must make you sign an agreement that you WILL take it to Yellowstone. I’m not quite sure why everyone gravitates there. It’s not “wilderness” per se. Not when you’re on a tiny road traveling bumper-to-bumper with a zillion others just like you…and the odd motorcyclist stuck in between. Most of the campground signs I saw said, “Full.” On a Wednesday.

You pop out of Yellowstone and run smack dab into Grand Teton National Park.


The Tetons are an amazing mountain range…well worth seeing. But the number of cars and level of traffic here too was just depressing. Yep, load up the RV and get away from it all!

Between the slow traffic and the road construction, the trip through the two parks was anything but enjoyable. In fact, I didn’t even stop at Old Faithful because the traffic turning into the parking lot was too bad. The number of people in the park was literally astonishing.

In the end, Yellowstone was a big disappointment. Traffic was bad going in, horrible going through, and bad coming out. It was perhaps the worst decision I’d made on the trip…perhaps in my life. I’m sorry I went.  If you're out on the road in your "camper," save yourself the same fate and go somewhere else – anywhere else. You’ll be glad you did.  But if you must go, take your RV and drive through Manhattan at rush-hour.  That ought to prepare you for the "fun" that is Yellowstone National Park.

23 August 2012

The Long Trip Home - Part 2

Here’s the thing about traveling by motorcycle: You can’t really stretch out or shift positions. You’re body is locked into a certain posture for as long as the gas holds out. Which in my case is every 110-120 miles. My bike has a 3.3 gallon tank. The fuel valve is setup so that I have 2.8 gallons on “main” with a half-gallon “reserve. I get about 50 mpg. So I could stretch the range out to 150 miles, but it goes on “reserve” before that, and when it does I only have about 25 miles to find a gas station. That’s not a whole lot, really. And then sometimes with a headwind and high temperature I was getting less than 50 mpg. Which means, like, 20 miles on “reserve.”

Oh, you get stiff riding a motorcycle. Fortunately, I have three sets of footpegs I can use. The standard pegs are pretty much right under my butt. But they are mounted too high (or the seat is mounted too low) and it forces my thighs up at an uncomfortable angle. To remedy this I have installed “highway pegs” which allow me to assume that classic Harley “leaned-back/feet-forward” stance. Other riders make fun of us, but it is comfortable.

I also use the passenger pegs, which are behind me. When I do, I lean forward a bit toward the handlebar. This is actually quite comfortable too. It gets the weight off my coccyx and lets me lean into the wind, which take some of the weight of my torso from my arms. Old, high-speed touring bikes like BMW’s were deliberately set up this way before the invention of these huge, wind-blocking fairings. My problem is that I have a small, clear windshield installed on the bars which blocks much of that wind from hitting my torso. So I have to be going quite fast for this riding position to be effective. I can do that.

Whichever position I use (and I alternate among them frequently), I’m usually more than ready to stop by the time 110 miles has rolled under the wheels. Gas stops end up taking a bit longer than if I was in a car because I really need to walk around and uncramp the leg muscles. I cruise along at 70-75 mph (and sometimes higher) but you cannot maintain that for the entire time. There are always things that slow you down (construction zones, clumps of slow-moving traffic, etc.)

Thus 110 miles will usually take me an hour-and-forty-five. Throw in a 15 minute gas stop and we’re talking two hours to go 110 miles. My “block speed” as we pilots call it has just diminished to 55 mph. That’s the best-case scenario. Some gas stops are longer because of meals and restroom breaks.

Sitting in basically one position all day long forces you to do certain things. For one, you get to think a lot. Mostly you get to think about how damn uncomfortable you are! But seriously, there’s a lot of time for introspection and self-evaluation and world problem-solving. Sometimes I listen to music. If I’m wearing my full-face helmet I can sing along with the songs without anyone else knowing. Or hearing.

Riding for long distances is fatiguing because the mere act of conducting the motorcycle down the road takes so much concentration – tons more than is required of a car driver. You can’t stop riding for even a second. You can’t let go of the bars; do so and the bike would quickly head for the ditch or the median. You must always guide it down the road on exactly the path you choose. You have to be constantly vigilant for “stuff” in your lane. Even a piece of truck tire carcass can cause a motorcyclist to crash. Every on-ramp and off-ramp…every corner…must be negotiated with care. The level of concentration rivals that of flying a helicopter. Which is probably why I like riding so much.

There are motorcycles like the Harley Electra Glide and the Honda Goldwing that take the pain out of long-distance trips. But they get mighty close to the line between motorcycles and cars. Too close for me. Both bikes have cruise-control and kick-ass stereos. The Honda even has a reverse gear!

Me, I prefer my “little” Sportster, even if it is not the best bike for covering lots of miles in a short time. Because when I get to where I’m going, there is no better bike for just riding around.

21 August 2012

The Long Trip Home - Part 1

It seemed like such a good plan.  But then they always do.  I’d leave Brewster, Washington on the motorcycle on August 1st, making a leisurely ride home on the Sportster. I’d stay off the Interstates as much as possible, and visit friends old and new along the way. I guess the question is why I ever thought it would work out that way?

Brandon showed right as I was supposed to leave. He had been one of our copilots last year, and we had become close. I wanted to spend some time with him, so that put my departure date off a bit.

But I had houseguests as well. I have a big place in Pensacola, Florida and a number of my friends have keys. They know they can always stop by and stay…whether or not I’m there. I like that.  In this case, my friend Gene would be in town from August 8th through the 12th. Jacob and his new bride, Melisa announced they were coming a couple of days after that.  I needed to be home. 

I finally left Brewster on Wednesday, the 8th. My planned route home worked out to be about 2,850 miles. I figured it would take four solid days of riding.

When you embark on such a long motorcycle trip you always wonder how things are going to go.  You plan for the worst weather, and for mechanical breakdowns.  In my case I packed a good rainsuit and some plastic money instead of tools.  I am an optimist.  As it turned out, I needed neither the rainsuit nor tools.  Things went surprisingly well.

Originally, on the way up last year I thought I could do 800 miles per day on the bike. That turned out to be a wild fantasy. Six-hundred was about all I could endure. And even then, when you’re only averaging 50 mph, 600 miles takes 12 hours.  This year, for the return ride I knew I'd have to average more than 700 miles per day.  It was gonna be rough.  And it was.

The trip ended up being 2,950 miles. I did make it home Saturday evening just before dark - four long days after leaving Washington.   Unbelievably, not one drop of rain touched me or the motorcycle. The Sportster performed flawlessly, never missing a beat. My aging, aching body…not so much. Trips like this remind me that I’m not a kid anymore.  I just act like one.

I will take the Sportster back up to Washington next year…only it’ll be on a trailer hooked to the back of the car.

12 August 2012

Get It In Writing

Below, I made a post about some pilots who came to work for us up in Washington this past summer, and how some of them didn't work out. I do try to be accurate and fair in my writing, but sometimes it's tough to report on events when you hear things third-hand. The guy I referred to as "Pilot D" replied, giving me his version of what went down.

What does this all mean to you, the reader? Very simply, clear communication is the key to happiness in life. If you enter into an agreement with someone, make damn sure that the terms are fully understood by everyone involved. Get it in writing if possible (an email is okay). Because when things blow up, as they sometimes do, the whole "he said/she said" thing gets mighty old for those of us who are not the original he and she.

Here is "Pilot D's" response, and my response to his response:

Pilot "D" here. Sorry Bob your account is not accurate as it pertains to my relationship with Golden Wings Aviation. To start off, I never mentioned pay once. Not once. I made the mistake to assume that what had been previously agreed upon during phone conversation, was being paid when I got there and getting the required 5 hours for PIC. Things went off the rails on the 3rd day of flying at around 4 hours in the cockpit Davey tells me how, and I quote "Dad was grumpy this morning and wasn't going to start paying me until I was put online as a pilot." Whatever that means. I told him I don't work for free and if they want to keep me you're going to have to pay me. At no time did he express that they were unhappy with my flying. After that I never heard from anyone, not to stay on or even an apology for wasting my time and money getting there. I only spoke with Davey, and negotiated the terms before coming up plain and simple. Now he wants to blame someone else for going back on his word? Its AMATEUR HOUR with those guys. I've invested too much time and money to not be paid for what I do. Any other career that expects that? No. Pilots are there own worst enemy when it comes to pay like we don't deserve to make at least a modest living. Its bullshit.

Pilot D! How happy I am that you responded. See, I've only heard two sides of this fiasco: The Smith's side and what I've heard from Mikey. I had not heard directly from you, and I appreciate that you took the time to give us your input.

But let's get a few things straight.

1) You may have negotiated the terms of employment with Davy (which is also what I heard), but as everyone knows - and I'm sure Mikey told you - it is Senior who writes and signs the checks. To say you were unaware of this, or that Davy can act unilaterally is silly. Everything Davy told you came straight from Dave Senior.

2) You believe that your pay was supposed to start when you got there. For his part, Davy *swears* that he told you on the phone that your pay would start when you got checked-out in the S-55, which it turned out was going to happen on the first day of drying: Tuesday morning (your fourth day at Golden Wings). I've known Davy long enough that I believe him.

3) You may have had that conversation about not working for free on the third day of your training (that would have been Monday). If you had decided to draw your "line in the sand" then (as we suspect) you should have left at that point. But you did not, did you? No.

According to Mark and Danny, the FACT is that you had another confrontation with Davy on *TUESDAY* morning just before going out to dry for real - which would have been your first day of work. Instead you refused to go flying and walked off the job. You told Mark to grab his headset, that he could fly with Davy, and then you went in and packed your stuff, never to be seen again.

3) You're right that pilots should be expected to be paid to fly. The company recognizes that there is quite a bit of expense involved in just getting to Brewster for a part-time summer job. (It cost me nearly $500 in gas/food/lodging just to get home to Florida this week.)

But companies should not be expected to invest a bunch of money in pilots who don't end up checking-out. For instance, Golden Wings paid, fed and housed those other two pilots for an ENTIRE MONTH and neither of them checked-out.  I can assure you that won't happen in the future - not with you, me, or anyone else.

(And by the way, Pilot B is still there, living in the Smith's pilot quarters and eating their food.)

The way I see it, you threw away a month or so of work for $450. If that seems like a fair trade to you, so be it. It doesn't to me. The Smiths have a reputation of helping people- not screwing them. (Ask Mikey if he intends to ever repay the 50 gallons of jet fuel that he "borrowed" from them when he was low. Or did he "forget?" What is jet fuel these days, $5.00 per gallon?)

Dave Senior is one of the most generous, kind-hearted men I know. He's treated me wonderfully. He's treated Mark wonderfully. Golden Wings took Mikey in and treated him like one of their own, giving him unrestricted access to their facilities, and inviting him to events (restaurant lunches) and barbecues at the hangar that nobody else got invited to. But I'm sure Mikey will only see the things *he* did for Golden Wings - because in his worldview he only sees the things he does for other people and usually discounts or ignores the things people do for him (like ohhhh, loaning him money repeatedly and let him and his dog live with them rent-free).

I have no doubt...in fact I guarantee!...that Dave Senior would have paid you for your first three days of training. And he probably would have paid to have the brakes on your truck fixed. Yeah, he's like that.

Your problem (and Mikey's problem as well) all seem to center around Davy. You guys don't like him? Fine. You want to make him the bad guy here? Hey, if you need to feel good about your decisions and actions, go for it. But by doing so you messed-up big time. You and Mikey both did. Making a pay demand at 6:00 in the morning and then walking off the job was simply unprofessional, man. Call it what you want, but that is what happened and it is what it is.

More than that, you made Mikey look bad too.

No, Golden Wings is not PHI. But calling it "amateur hour" is unfair. On Monday, after that conversation with Davy, you could have come to Danny...or me...or Mark...or even Senior(!) and asked what's up? But no, you just got pissed and decided right then that you weren't going to stay. That much is obvious. Oh well. If the company did not live up to your standards and expectations, what can I say? Perhaps there are other, better, less-amateurish companies that will appreciate your 1,200 hours of flight time and A&P ratings.

I may be wrong, but the way I see it is this: You came up to Brewster with the attitude and assumption that "something" would go wrong...that you were going to get screwed. And, self-fulfilling prophecies being what they are...you did. At least in your mind.

The reason I'm even putting all of this bullshit up on the blog is because I believe in communication, and I believe that there is "more to the story" here. There's another factor...an agenda that I'm missing. Maybe you didn't like flying the S-55. Maybe you just dislike Davy so much that you couldn't see sticking around and working with him. I don't know.
I'm really, really sorry that it worked out the way it did for everyone involved. I was truly looking forward to hanging out with you, having fun, eating some great food and going for some kick-ass motorcycle rides. And in the end, all I can do is wish you luck wherever life takes you next. 

Oh, and next time, get it in writing.

03 August 2012


Recommending someone for a job is always risky. What if it doesn’t work out? It can make you look bad. This summer, both my friend Mikey and I recommended a total of four pilots for the job of cherry-drying, and only one of them worked out.

In the first case I’d known “Pilot A” from online helicopter forums for years…literally since the late 1990’s. I knew that he had quite a lot of flight time: 11,000+ hours in fact in both airplanes and helicopters. Although he had not flown since 2008, that should not have been a problem. The guy claimed to be the best pilot this side of Chuck Yeager. I like confidence in a pilot. But there’s a flip side to that: you actually have to be good as well. With this guy’s experience, I assumed that he was, and that he would check out in the S-55 easily.

The other guy, “Pilot B” was Mikey’s very first flight instructor. Mike had spoken to me about him before, and regarded him highly. This guy’s total flight time was relatively low (just under 1,000 hours) but the good news was that all his time was in piston-engine helicopters which are “harder” to fly than turbines. (See, in a piston helicopter the pilot usually has to manipulate the throttle to match the engine r.p.m. to the power demand. In turbines, the engine r.p.m. is governed automatically, reducing the pilot's workload.) The trouble was, “B” hadn’t flown since 2009. Still, Mike assured me that he could do the job with minimal training.

I had also recommended a third pilot, a low-time young guy I sort of knew from Facebook who seemed very well-respected by some heavy-hitters in the “Utility” end of our industry. (Word of mouth, baby!) But initially he was only to function as a copilot this season, not as full PIC.

We all showed up in Brewster, Washington around the first of June. Right off the bat, two of the new potential PIC’s had problems. You expect pilots who haven’t flown in some time to be rusty. But you also expect that they’ll pick it up quickly and get back in the groove. The first guy, “A” not only didn’t get his groove back, but he made our chief flight instructor doubt whether he had as much helicopter flight time as stated on his resume. He was rough. This was not looking good.

Generously, Mikey immediately took his old friend, “B” up in the Bell 206 first so he could get his “sea legs” back before even flying the old Sikorsky. However as with pilot “A” the results were not so good. Even though “B” had never flown a JetRanger before, it is – come on now – one of the easiest helicopters to fly. “B” was more than just rusty. Plus, he was (and is) timid to the point of making us doubt his self-confidence. There’s a fine line that pilots must walk between being overly conservative and too arrogant; this pilot was way too far on the “conservative” side. And yes, there is such a thing.

Granted, in their defense neither “A” nor “B” got much time with us on any given flight. The hops were short. But still, neither of the guys was progressing at any reasonable rate. With such experience levels, they “should” have been doing better. In the helicopters’ defense, they are not incredibly difficult to fly – they’re “old school” in many respects (okay, in every respect) but we’re just hovering, fer cryin’ out loud. They fly like every other piston-engine helicopter. From very early on we had our doubts as to whether either of these guys would check out as PIC (pilot in command). They both made reasonable-sounding excuses for their performance, complaining about this or that.

After a month of feeding, housing and paying them, the owner of the company finally had to let both of them go. “A” left to go home, while “B” stayed on as an unsalaried “copilot” for the experience and the fun. And who knows, maybe he’ll improve enough to be a PIC next season. Now here’s where it gets weird.

We still needed two pilots, so the company asked Mikey to reach out to another friend of his whom we all know. This guy (“Pilot D”) is both a certified mechanic and pilot, and has more than enough experience to do this job. But could he fly? We’d have to find out.

“D” bargained hard for, and got a higher pay rate than a standard first-season cherry-drying pilot; higher than I got my first season. Hey, more power to him. But that higher pay came with a catch: He had to be “shit-hot” on the controls.

“D” showed up on Saturday and began training almost immediately. I was happy to see him here. As I said, I knew him and I liked him. Plus, he brought his motorcycle up with him and I figured we’d be doing some riding on the nice, no-fly days of which we have many.

On Tuesday morning we were called to go dry cherries. “D” showed up at the base and immediately confronted Davy, the son of the owner of the company and the pilot “D” would be flying with that day. (If all went well during that first period, Davy was going to turn “D” loose to fly the machine by himself for the rest of the day.) But before they could even strap-in, “D” demanded to know that he would be getting paid from the day he got there (Saturday, only three days prior). Davy says that he told “D” that was not their deal, but in any case he should take it up with the owner – who happened to be away that day on a trip. “D” drew a line in the sand, saying that he was a professional pilot and that he didn’t fly unless he got paid. With that, he turned around and walked off the job.

We were baffled. Dave Senior, the owner of the company had been around all weekend. We were all at a big steak barbecue at his house on Sunday afternoon, and then he left on a trip late Monday evening. If “D” had an issue or question about his pay, he should have addressed it with Dave Senior while he was there, instead of bringing it up with the son right before they were to go flying. It seemed strange and, well, somewhat unprofessional. But as Mikey likes to say, it is what it is.

On the other hand, I’m happy to report that Pilot “C” turned out to be an exceptionally talented pilot. We gave him some extra training and he checked-out in the S-55 as a PIC with no problemo. He flew the second ship on my contract. (Check out my Facebook page for pictures and videos of him.) But we were still short one pilot…kind of. (Dave Senior would rather have stayed in the office and coordinate than have to go out flying.)

Needless to say, Mikey and I feel terrible. But that’s what happens when you recommend someone for a job. I can’t say I’ll never do it again, but it sure sucks when it doesn’t work out.