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?

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.