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?

31 May 2012

Mikey and Me

“Whatcha doin’?” Mike asked.
“Sitting here in the hangar, staring at S-55s,” I replied.
“Let’s go get breakfast.”
“Well alrighty then!”

After Mike bought me breakfast he dropped the other shoe. “Sayyyy, I wonder if you could help me pull the JetRanger into the hangar…after we take it and the Huey up and fuel them.”

His helicopter utilizes ground-handling wheels attached to the skids to move it about; it’s awkward and takes two people. And the fuel installation that Mike uses is remote from his hangar, way up a hill on another part of the orchard.

I’m not normally a “stick-hog.” I've got quite enough flight time, thank you, so I usually let the younger guys get whatever flight time is available, since we’re not exactly flying our butts off up here, especially before the drying season has really begun. But there were no young’uns around when Mike asked if I wanted to fly, so I said, “Sure!” Flying JetRangers is one of the things I do best. Maybe the one thing.

Mike Nehring and I are a little, um, competitive. He always likes to show me how good of a pilot he is (and he is), and I’ll admit that I get a little kick out of showing him how well I fly. So we’re always trying to out-do each other…seeing who can lift off to a hover more smoothly or who can do the smoother set-down. See, with helicopters, you don’t have to yank ‘em and bank ‘em to see who’s best like fixed-wing pilots do. Where it really counts is picking it up and setting it down from a hover, as well as general smoothness and accuracy in flight. It’s a fun sort of young-guy/old-guy competition, less painful than arm-wrestling or basketball, in both of which he can assuredly kick my middle-aged, out-of-shape ass. And it’s silly, really, grown men competing in such a way…showing off for each other. But hey, it’s what we do.

I have approximately…ohhh…maybe six or seven times the amount of flight time Mike does. But this does not mean that I am six times better than he. I’m not six times “safer” than he either. All it means is that I’ve been around longer, seen a few more things and made “a few” more mistakes. I’m more seasoned. We pilots understand this. It is how a “relative” low-timer like Mike can do the exact same job I do with a similar level of proficiency and safety.

I took the controls of his JetRanger, lifted it off just as smoothly as I possibly could, and then flew up the hill to the fuel tank. Mike’s ship flies soooooo nicely, even better than the one I normally fly down in Alabama. Our ships are only a couple of serial numbers apart, but mine has way more time on the airframe than his does, and it shows. At the fuel pad, I came whipping in to the LZ (landing zone), probably making a different approach than Mike would have. Meh- every pilot has different techniques. After tanking up, I lifted off, did what we call a “max performance takeoff” to clear the obstacles and flew back down the hill, hovering in close to his hangar door so we wouldn’t have far to push. Mike was complimentary – but then, I better know how to fly well considering how long I’ve been doing this.

Then it was his turn. We jumped into the Bell 204 and Mike showed me his stuff. As I said, he is very good, very smooth. He laughed gleefully as we turned during the take-off run and heard the rotor producing that iconic, “whop-whop-whop” noise that is so distinctive of the old Huey. I laughed too. Ah, the little things that amuse us…

Up at the fuel tank, he did make a slightly different approach – but not drastically so – than the one I made: Slower, with a more level cabin attitude all the way down to a hover. It was fine – and maybe even “better” in that I tend to come in a little faster, holding some airspeed a little longer, which is one of those (bad) habits you sometimes pick up when you get comfortable/complacent in a particular machine. (In fact, I saw Mike glancing at the airspeed indicator during the approach I made, probably thinking to himself, “Jeez, this guy comes in so hot!”)

The thing about Mike and me is that we really love flying helicopters. We treat it as an art…something to be practiced and maybe never fully perfected. We know we’re good, yeah, but we always try to be better. We know these crazy machines can kill you in a heartbeep, and we respect them for it. But we also enjoy the fact that we both do this…this…flying thing. It creates a special bond between us, as it does between all helicopter pilots. One day he will be as good as me…perhaps one day soon, because my best days as a pilot may very well be behind me, as hard as that is to accept. Hey,we all get old.

Meanwhile, we have fun trying to out-do each other in smoothness and precision.

30 May 2012

Gone From Brewton; Back In Brewster

So last year about this time I embarked on a trip on my Harley Davidson Sportster from Pensacola, Florida to Brewster, Washington to do this cherry-drying, helicopter-flying job. I knew the ride up would be an adventure, and almost got more than I bargained for. Part of I-90 in Montana was closed (closed!) and the 150-mile detour sent me down through the Bighorn National Forest, up over a snow-covered pass, and then over a 20-mile gravel, dozer-tracked road in heavy rain. It was horrible. I barely made it into Butte, Montana suffering from hypothermia. The trip took four whole days. I chronicled, whined and complained about it in this very blog.

This year was decidedly easier. Here’s the short version: We took the car.

No, it wasn’t as exciting, but it was more comfortable. MUCH more comfortable.

Flashback: Brandon and I had stayed in Brewster long after the cherries had been picked. Eventually we had to leave. A friend called and asked if I could be in Dallas quickly to help him evaluate a helicopter he was hoping his boss would buy. So I left my motorcycle in Brewster and took off in a car borrowed from owner of Golden Wings Aviationm  Dave Smith and his wife Joyce. You can make much better time when you don’t have to stop every 120 miles or so for gas as I do on the bike. I kept the car in Florida over the winter. I told them I'd bring it back, and I did.

This year, another pilot would be driving up with me. The plan was to pick him up in Atlanta and then head northwest. And that’s pretty much how it worked. We left Atlanta around 4:00 on Tuesday afternoon. I don’t like driving at night, so we stopped early each day. But we started early too. The Trip Planner said it would be 2,626 miles if we went through Kansas to Denver, which we did. We got into Brewster right at 2:00 on Friday afternoon.

The mode of transportation this time was a 1998 Buick LeSabre four door with the 3800 V-6 (one of the finest engines GM has ever made) and 138,000 miles. We motored along in stately, quiet comfort, averaging 30 mpg. People often make fun of these huge “land yachts” that we Americans are so fond of. But I’ll tell ya, if you have a lot of miles to cover, a big ol’ American car is a pretty decent way to do it.

Our route took us up to Chattanooga and then Nashville, Tennessee, St. and then on to Louis, Missouri and then Kansas City. I’ve been across the country many times, but had never driven through Kansas. Can’t say that anymore. And it’s just like they say: Flat. We hit Denver, Colorado, then went north through Wyoming to Butte, Montana and Spokane, Washington where we jumped off the Interstate and took back roads the last 120 miles or so to Brewster, which has somehow eluded being hooked into President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. We got rained on a bit in Wyoming, and snowed on a bit in Montana, but really we didn’t worry at all about the weather.

It’s great being back in Brewster! I’ve renewed all the old acquaintances…with aircraft and people, and even reconnected with my long-neglected Sportster, which didn’t for some reason seem as happy to see me as I was to see it. On the other hand, Mikey was as happy to see me as I was to see him. It’s great to be together again. I know that might sound weird, but we’re really close. It’s like we’re a team. It was he who got me into this mess in the first place.

So let the fun begin! There should also be plenty of stories to share this summer.

17 May 2012

Paranoia in the Post-9/11 World

The terrorists won. Plain and simple, they won. They turned the entire U.S. society into a terrified bunch of pussies, so afraid of our own shadow that we willingly accept all sorts of intrusions of our privacy…all in the name of SECURITY! It’s really pathetic.

There is a blogger – his name is Joe Sharkey. He’s been writing for a while on travel for various publications such as the New York Times. In 2006 he was aboard a new business jet being delivered from the factory in South America when it collided with an airliner in mid-air. Everyone aboard the airliner died; the business jet made a safe landing. While I severely disagree with Sharkey’s conclusions about that accident, he is an entertaining writer when it comes to air travel. And he writes a lot about the ridiculous TSA.

Sharkey’s current blogpost deals with his visit to the World Trade Center memorial in New York City. Of course he ran smack-dab into the type of security we normally see at airports, train stations and cruise ship terminals.  Apparently pictures of the WTC memorial are verboten!  After noticing that he'd taken some, the cops took his camera and deleted ALL the pictures on it, then dropped it and broke it. Read the post HERE. I will quote some of his salient points.

I wanted to tell the hump who ordered me around at the metal detector, Listen, Skippy, you are aware, are you not, that this place has already been blown up? That there is nothing left to destroy? That the threat to American freedoms is from the likes of you in your quasi-military blue uniform and your Guatemala militia manners? The terrorists have moved on. There is no opportunity at this place now.

Doesn’t matter, does it? THEY’LL COME BACK AND ATTACK IT AGAIN! So visitors to the memorial have to remove their belts as they go through the metal detectors. And of course, NO PICTURES! We wouldn’t want anyone taking away anything but memories from the place, which Sharkey notes is not a memorial to people who suffered through that terrible day in 2001.  He says:

No, we have a memorial at the World Trade Center site, the site of such courage and resolve when the enemy was real, and the memorial is to fear. And to the growing security state. And in a very sad way, it is a pathetic tribute to the murderers who sought on 9/11 to make that hideous statement about the vulnerability of America.

…Which is the price we pay for living in a so-called “free society.” Up until 9/11/01 we did not live in a police state. Perhaps the memories of Nazi Germany in WWII were still fresh – or at least still alive - in people’s minds. We cherished our freedom. But those who lived through WWII are mostly gone now. And in their place is a different bunch of scaredy-cats who will gladly trade freedom and privacy for security and the illusion of safety.

Here’s a thought: We still live in a (mostly) open, free society. As much as the government tries to pretend that they can protect us from “terrorist” acts, it cannot. Some lunatic(s) will strike again…somewhere, sometime and in some method of their choosing. It will come as a surprise and shock. And there will be those who will ask in horrified indignation: HOW DID WE LET THIS HAPPEN?!

As if there’s really any way we can stop it.

14 May 2012

The President and Gay Marriage

I’m not all that political, and I generally stay away from political issues in this blog.  To me, both parties are equally bad.  They both blame each other for the State Of Things.  But if you think about it, nothing ever gets done when either party holds a majority.  Nothing ever changes.  If McCain had gotten elected instead of Obama, we'd likely be in EXACTLY the same shape today: The economy would be just as bad, gas prices would be just as high.  We don't live in an economic vacuum here in the U.S. 

So although I don't get all riled-up over politics, sometimes I just can’t help but commenting on certain bits of lunacy we have to deal with.

For instance, President Obama’s recent announcement that he is now for gay marriage. It caused quite the stir in the media, even moving to tears the very gay and very vocal Andrew Sullivan, he the well-known author and former editor of The New Republic Magazine and now owner of a blog called "The Dish" where he apparently posted about this issue according to Yahoo News.

I’m not sure it’s a tear-worthy announcement. Because to me…hey, call me cynical…Obama’s sudden change-of-heart seems…ohhhh, I don’t know…fake? Contrived? Manipulative?

President Obama knows he’s still got the black vote in the admittedly tight 2012 presidential contest.  But even with the black vote he could lose to Romney...especially if Romney were more, you know, Republican - which could happen I suppose as we move closer to the election.  And the gay vote?  Well, Mitt Romney, staunch Mormon that he is, absolutely, positively will not “come out” in favor of gay marriage. No friggin’ way.  So there's also no way that any gay person in this universe will vote for Romney.

Let's just say I’m more than a little suspicious of Obama’s epiphany.

But seriously, why is this even an issue?  Our government is supposed to be free from religious influence, right? I mean, it’s right there in the First Amendment. And that being the case, why should anyone’s religious views hold sway in any governmental matter? In other words, I don’t care what it says in your Bible, or by your pastor, or by your God. (In fact, I’m not at all convinced that God ever “spoke” to anyone at any time, ever in the history of this planet.) My Bible or your Bible or your Koran or Book of Voodoo or whatever is not what guides our lawmakers. Or shouldn’t be.

Look, it’s simple: If two consenting adult humans wish to be “married” in a strictly civil and legal sense, why can’t they be? Why do we have to bring religion into the deal? If the two people are not asking to be married in a church but rather in City Hall, what’s the damn problem?  Don't we have more important things to concern ourselves with?

And no, it does not put us on a slippery slope. No, we are not going to have to allow men to marry sheep, or dogs, or inanimate objects…or robots…or children. I said “two consenting ADULT HUMANS.” Why would anyone have a problem with that? I sure don’t.

Having said all that, hey, it’s great that Obama now feels the same way. I’m not exactly moved to tears by the announcement, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Still, it strikes me as more than a little bit phony given the timing. But like I said, maybe that’s just my terminal skepticism and cynicism kicking in.

10 May 2012

Blogging/Social Media

I don't blog much anymore.  Most of my attention is focused on Facebook.  And so the things that might warrant a whole fleshed-out blogpost get condensed into short Status Updates.  I didn't even realize you could make longer, blog-type Status Updates until I started reading the ones posted by former-Monkee Mike Nesmith.  You should read this guy's stuff!  It's great.  (And thanks to Hal Johnson for turning me on to "Nez's" FB page.)

I'm conflicted as to how long blogposts should be.  Some people make them as long as magazine articles (see "A Different Perspective," a blog about UFO's by prolific author, Kevin Randle).  On the other hand, I try to keep each blogpost to 700 words or so...you know, the length of one of those editor's columns in the front of a magazine.  That's about the limit of my own attention span.  But sometimes they do run on.  I wish I could write short-and-to-the-point but I just can't. 

More than that, I'm not at all sure what a blog should be.  They're typically not news - they're not replacing newspapers as our primary source of information.  Sometimes they're just full of bullshit opinions by anonymous so-and-so's.  They might be interesting at first, but without knowing who the writer is, their internet scribblings get old.  At least to me. 

"Real" writers like George Will, Kathleen Parker, and (until recently) the Pensacola News Journal's Carl Wernicke all have published bios and bodies of work that let the reader know who they are - and more importantly why their opinions are worth reading.  It is why the blogs I read regularly are ones where the author puts his/her own name and picture on it.  But a blogger who's not even proud enough of his work to put his name on it...  Ehhh, why should I care?  Why should anyone?

Unless the blog is just "creative writing."  I don't mind reading fiction once in a while.  Fiction can be anonymous.  Who cares?  The aforementioned Keven Randle has written dozens of books; mostly using his own name, but many of them are fiction stories published under a different name.  Which is fine.  However, for authoritative writing and authenticity and respect, I want accountability.  You probably do too.  If you're going to take my opinions seriously then you should know who I am.  The good and bad thing about the internet is that it gives every genius and idiot a voice to be heard.  Figuring out who is who is the tough part. 

I suspect that soon this blog will eventually migrate over to Facebook where it'll force me to be more concise.  Plus, it's easier to upload pictures with a post.  And I'd reach more people.  My blog only generates about 50-60 "hits" per day.  But I've got 100 Facebook "friends" who would be subjected to my rantings whether they liked to or not.  On the other hand, I do get a lot of people coming to the blog from Google searches. You'd be surprised at how many people type in "Sportster girl's bike" on Google and come to THIS story about just that subject.

We'll see.  Maybe I'll keep writing these bullshit little stories, if for no other reason than it gives me an outlet to get stuff down on the record so I can look back one day and go, "Ohhhhhh yeah, I remember that."

03 May 2012

Packing Up and Heading North

I’m counting the days down now until I leave to back up to Brewster, Washington to do that cherry-drying thing again for the summer. I’m kind of excited, as you can imagine. The chance to be a part of that gang and fly those old Sikorsky helicopters again is great; it’s like a three-month vacation from life. Mikey is already up there, preparing the two ships that his boss owns. I’m sure that as soon as I arrive we’ll take up residence again in the SweetRiver Bakery, sitting in the open backyard/patio that overlooks the lake, drinking lots of local wine and eating too much pizza. And maybe if we drink enough good wine we’ll even sing a little bad karaoke, as if there was any other kind.

But honestly – I hate to admit this – what I’m really looking forward to is jumping on the bike at the end of the season and riding it home. Ironically, I may be looking forward to that more than the summer of flying itself. I miss riding…miss my Sportster. Jacob was/is looking to sell his Honda motorcycle recently and I was half-tempted to buy it just to- a) keep it in the family, so to speak, and b) give me something to ride in the meantime. Hey, I may own a Harley but I’m not prejudiced; I’ll ride anything.

I’ve been dreaming a lot about the route I’ll take home – planning it in my head. The Grand Canyon is high on the hit list. Vegas, not so much. And there are people I want to visit/meet – like a pilot friend/helicopter owner (and frequent blog commenter) Russell in Texas who I’ve been wanting to meet for years now. Well this is the year!

A southerly route is called for this time – don’t want a repeat of last year’s freezing foray through Bighorn National Forest. I shudder very time I think back on that part of the trip up to Brewster. It was so crazy/cold/dangerous/stupid. Just horrible. Instead, I’d like to head down into California to Hal Johnson’s place, and then scoot down the coast (the PCH!) to L.A. and then head west to see Joshua Tree National Park, and the Joshua Tree Inn where musician and fellow Sportster rider* Gram Parsons used to hang out and eventually died. But it just might be too far out of the way, unfortunately. We’ll have to see.
Either way, it promises to be a fun summer. And this time, unlike last time I know what I’m coming back to. I’ll have a job waiting for me. Yes, it’s the same job I’ve already tried to quit once (unsuccessfully). But things are different now – different as in “better.” As long as I don’t crash the motorcycle and break my arm again, everything will be cool.

(*Well, at least he sat on one for a photograph.  In truth, he doesn't look too comfortable on it.)

01 May 2012

NPR And Reality

Lately, I’ve been listening to NPR a lot. I began listening with the assumption that it’s fairly objective and less biased than the mainstream media. But the more I listen the less sure of that I am. Our local NPR station (WUWF-FM 88.1) airs a program called “Here and Now.” It originates from station WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate and it is hosted by a woman named Robin Young. On Monday’s show, she had on a guest, a black man named Rich Benjamin who is an author and “Op-Ed Contributor” to the New York Times newspaper.

Mr. Benjamin’s seemingly unbiased assertion is that “racism” did not kill Trayvon Martin, but that the "bunker mentality" of these gated communities was actually responsible. But we’ll get to that particular piece of bullshit in a bit. Early in the interview, Mr. Benjamin voiced his own bias toward George Zimmerman. Benjamin stated:

“In 2005 I was mugged by a black teenager…an armed black teenager. In my wildest dreams I could not imagine having shot that black teenager.”

What? Look, I don’t know about you or anyone else on the planet, but if I’m confronted by an armed person of any age or race and I'm in fear for my life, I absolutely, positively can imagine shooting said person. Absolutely. I’ll tell you what: You threaten my life with a gun while I’m carrying mine and if I get the opportunity I’ll shoot you dead and sleep like a baby later that night. Does this make me a racist or a vigilante or a killer? I don’t think so! It makes me a guy who refuses to lie down and be a victim, as is apparently acceptable to Mr. Benjamin.

We have an absolute right…and more than that, a responsibility to defend ourselves. And if “defending ourselves” means taking the life of another…well…you know, I don’t have a problem (moral, spiritual or legal) with that. Really. And it is astounding to me to hear a man…supposedly a man…who would accept the fact that he might be killed and yet who cannot even imagine in his “wildest dreams” shooting an armed man who’s threatening him with a gun. I’m, err, gobsmacked. I guess to Mr. Benjamin it is okay that his armed mugger will simply prance off to go mug, and possibly kill someone else. Yeah, way to go - good plan, Benjamin! What a friggin’ moron.

Benjamin goes on to talk about the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“…Now here George Zimmerman is, having shot an unarmed black teenager who never confronted him in the first place. It was George Zimmerman who initiated the first contact.”

WHOA, big fella! Radio host, Robin Young lets that piece of fictional bullshit go unchallenged. If you actually take the time and make the effort to listen to the 911 call that Zimmerman placed to the police, you would know that he first mentions that the person he’s watching (Trayvon Martin) is walking around the subdivision aimlessly, “just looking” at things…at night, in the rain…which Zimmerman considers suspicious given the number of burglaries/robberies in the area.

Zimmerman reports that the suspect begins looking/staring at him, but then begins walking away. Zimmerman gets out of his truck and follows on foot, which the police dispatcher advises against. But Zimmerman quickly reports that he’s lost sight of (Martin), opining that he’s heading for the back gate of the subdivision. He finishes the 911 call by coordinating with the dispatcher as to where he and the police officer will meet up. Zimmerman hangs up. Subsequent to that, Martin returns and they get into a confrontation that results in Martin’s death.

But it is absolutely wrong to say that Zimmerman “initiated” the first confrontation, because it is not on record. We simply do not know who confronted whom. Maybe it was Martin who came back, confronted Zimmerman and said, “Excuse me good sir, may I inquire as to the reason you seem to be following me? Is it that you intend to nick me box of Skittles?” I can easily see that happening. Zimmerman obviously did make it clear to both the police dispatcher (and to Martin) that he was watching/following the guy, but nothing more. According to what Zimmerman said on the 911 call, Martin ran and went out of sight.

People make a lot of assumptions about this case…STILL! People evidently have not listened to the 911 call Zimmerman made. Nor have they read any of the statements given by other residents of the “gated” subdivision (about which a big deal is being made). If they had, they would know that there is a WHOLE LOT OF STUFF that is either unknown or that has been misrepresented in the media.

NPR host Robin Young did a poor job of letting her guest come off like an authority and make statements which have not been established as fact.

I have been accused of prejudice in this case. I have been accused of “coming down on” the side of the "white" Zimmerman over the dead black kid. But that’s not correct. All I’m interested in is the truth.

Oh, and NPR? It’s just as full of shit as the “mainstream” media. Maybe more so.

NPR article HERE

You can listen to the entire interview HERE