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?

15 December 2013

Keeping Track Of Us.

We are in a time when our privacy (and the expectation of it) is dwindling. If you have a computer or cell phone there are a lot of people who can know a lot about you whether you want them to or not.

I find it more than slightly creepy that if I search for something on Google, ads for that very thing will appear on my Facebook or eBay pages. But I guess that’s the “connected” world we live in now: What you do on the internet in one place is monitored by various other entities. Some of is fairly benign – in that marketers want to be able to better target their audience. But some of it is nefarious – as in government snooping which, come on, we know they do. We’ve all heard about the snooping into private lives that the NSA is doing.

On the local level, there was an article in our Pensacola newspaper recently about some new technology the police have and which they’d rather you not know about. Police can do what they call a “tower dump.” This lets them know the identities of all cellphones that have used a certain tower (or number of towers) in a given time period. And if the police know which phone was used, then they also know the number that phone called. And vice-versa. The article did not say, and perhaps cleverly omitted any admission by the police that they can actually monitor cellphone conversations.

But why could/would they not? Cellphones broadcast over public airwaves. As such, the police say that they are legally able to listen in. You don’t have the same right to privacy as you would using your regular old home phone landline; therefore no warrants are necessary. Civil rights organizations obviously do not agree.

Another device that police have is called a “Stingray.” This thing is the size of a suitcase and can emulate a cellphone tower. It tricks all cellphones in reception range to connect to it. (Your cellphone is always “looking” for a cell tower unless you put it in “Airplane” mode.) All the cops need to do is put the Stingray in the trunk of a car and drive into a neighborhood. They will know what the “bad guys” are doing…who they’re calling…and who’s calling them. And they’re probably listening in.

Details of the Stingray and how it works are understandably sketchy. The manufacturer says nothing…refers all inquiries to the law enforcement agencies that operate the device…the same law enforcement agencies that had to sign a confidentiality agreement just to purchase it.

Of course, the police have long had the ability to track you through the GPS feature of your cellphone. As long as it’s in your possession the government can know your whereabouts. It is still unclear whether “they” can track you even if the cellphone is turned off. Also, one federal agent I spoke with said “they” had the ability to turn your cellphone on and off at will. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.

This technology and these abilities trickle down from the federal government, who use and implement them to fight “The War On Terror!” And of course, when fighting TERROR! anything goes. Remember, the American people willingly, gleefully give up their rights when the government says it’s doing something in the interest of their safety and security. …What was it Ben Franklin said about that?

There are probably no practical solutions to the increasing invasion of our privacy. If you use the internet or own a cellphone you are being tracked in some way. You could, I suppose, never get on a computer and not ever keep a cellphone in your possession…but seriously, how could you get anything done in today’s world?

However, more and more things we carry casually and without thinking…credit cards and passports for instance…have chips in them that allow their use to be tracked – they’re called “RFID” or radio frequency identification chips. Mostly these are only readable at close ranges – for now. More and more cars have “transponders” in them that allow vehicle tracking. Some of these devices you’ll know about (e.g. Onstar services and the like)…and some you won’t.

I don’t want to sound like a paranoid, tin-foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, but the implications of this capability to track an individual are equally scary and disturbing. I know that the excuse always is, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to fear.” But I don’t buy that. We always have something to fear when our government is involved; I think they’ve proven to us at this point that they cannot be trusted.

With no small amount of irony I saw that in the same newspaper, on the facing page to the one with the article on police cellphone snooping there was a full-page ad touting free cellphones for senior citizens. It was designed to look not so much like an ad, but a regular news page. And on it was one of those fake news articles with the headline: “U.S. Gov’t urges citizens to carry cellphones.”

Yeah, I’ll bet they do. The better to keep track of all of us.

Wall Street Journal Article on the Stingray

New York Times Article on Cellphone Tracking

12 December 2013

The Fat Guy

For the last three summers I’ve lead a pretty sedentary life – sitting around waiting for it to rain – or, more accurately waiting for it to rain and then stop raining – so I could go fly. For days on end we’d sit around the hangar drinking Pepsi and eating junk food. Our boss was the instigator. He liked to feed us, both at the airport and at restaurants. Often we’d go out for breakfast (he’d buy) and then we’d cook up a big barbecue feast at the hangar for lunch. Or I'd cook up something in the crew house. Oh God, did we eat! And we drank, which you can do when it’s severe-clear with a zero percent chance of rain and forecast to be that way for the next month. Needless to say, the pounds piled on.

But it didn’t just start when I began the cherry-drying thing. I’ve been a working pilot since 1982 (and I wasn’t in all that great shape back then either). It just doesn’t take much effort to sit in the seat of a helicopter and push those little hydraulically-boosted sticks around. And I was never big on exercise. So over the years my weight steadily increased.

I’m 5’9”, and I weighed under 170 when I started with Petroleum Helicopters in 1987. At the end of the 2013 cherry season I weighed just north of 202 pounds. Twenty-five years and just over 30 pounds. Doesn’t sound so bad when you say it like that, does it? Just a pound a year! But goddam, do they add up!

Up in Washington I felt like a whale. In fact, during the summer a couple of us went swimming at this place we liked to go on the Methow River (it’s pronounced met-how, by the way). It was Brandon (who weighs maybe 140 and is built like a toothpick), Mikey (who’s tall and slim) and Alex (who’s tall and husky-but-not-fat)…and me (the fat guy). Camera-phones were out as usual to document the event for posterity and Facebook. When I saw the pics I was so ashamed of the way I look that I made Brandon promise to not put them up. I mean, seriously, I looked terrible. I’m not People Of Walmart.com-obese, but I’m on the way. In any event, I have no energy or stamina anymore. Climbing up onto the helicopters was a chore, and I did not want to look bad in front of the younger pilots. I don't want them to think of me as "the old guy" who can't keep up.

On another level, I don’t mind being bald. But bald and fat? If I ever want to have sex again in my lifetime (and I do), one of those things is going to have to change. Maybe both.

In a lot of ways I look like my dad - no offense, pop. He always had a “beer-belly” for as long as I can remember (except he never went bald). Hey, we were city people not country folk. The most exercise most of us ever got was the walk from the apartment to the car and back, which usually didn’t even involve any stairs.

So this year I vowed that things would be different. Before I left I told the guys in Washington that when I got back next year they would at first think it was Brandon walking in the door. Which may be a bit unrealistic, since Brandon is 30 years younger than me and much better-looking, but still…

I’ve tried diets; we’ve all tried diets. Mostly they don’t work. Here’s why: They’re so restrictive…unreasonably restrictive, I think. You don't stay on them. One diet plan I looked at specified that between breakfast (half-cup of black coffee and half an orange) and lunch (an unsalted celery stalk), if you were feeling “snacky” you could have “ten sunflower seeds.” I was, like, “Really? Screw that!"

So I knew that a “diet” wasn’t going to work. I just had to change how I ate. And how much. Look, this isn’t rocket science: If you want to lose weight you simply have to take in fewer calories than you’re burning. PLUS, you have got to exercise regularly. It’s got to be a combination of the two.

I decided that when I got back home I’d do a couple of things. You can go online and plug your height, weight and age into these calculator programs that’ll tell you how many calories you “need” in a given day. For me it comes out to about 2100. Okay, so I figure that if I keep my calories down to 1500 or less, I should be able to lose weight. Less than 1500 calories a day is easy. It simply means eating better: No more three-big-meals per day; no sodas, and cut way back on the sugar; no McDonalds or fast-food; no junk food; no snacking. It’s do-able.

For exercise, I thought about walking around the block. It’s just under a mile and it’s got a good uphill and downhill to it. Problem is that I don’t like walking. Or jogging. I do like riding a bicycle, so I planned on getting the one in the garage (don't we all have them?) fixed up and road-worthy again.

But when I got back to Pensacola, what should I find in my bedroom but an old-school exercise bike! One of the kids who stayed in my house while I was gone inherited it from his father or something. Instead of selling it or throwing it away he just (ahem) “temporarily” put it in my room, hope you don’t mind. No, I don’t mind! Perfect!

So every day now, I ride the exercise bike and work with my kettlebells. I’m eating better too (and strangely, I don’t miss the Pepsi, which I thought I would). I’m not going to obsessively weigh myself every day – although I know I have lost some weight (down below 200 already). I’m not intending to get “buff” or even skinny. I’m not setting any artificial or target weight…no “before” and “after” pictures. I'm just making a committment to live a healthier lifestyle…to get back down to a good weight…one at which I won’t be huffing and puffing after climbing up on the helicopter…one at which I won’t be so ashamed to have my picture taken with my shirt off on the river or up at Soap Lake. I'm 58 and I don't want to look like this. I don't want to be "the fat guy" anymore.

We’ll see how it goes.

10 December 2013

Taming The Taildragger

I am a pilot. And up until recently I’ve always considered myself a pretty “shit-hot” pilot (as we say) of both airplanes and helicopters. I even have my seaplane rating…and owned one! I mean, I know how to fly, and I've been doing it a long time, which has lead to the assumption that I’m good at it despite the occasional-yet-mounting evidence to the contrary. Sadly I was proven wrong yet again this past fall when I got checked out in an airplane that has a tailwheel instead of a nosewheel.

The differences are noteworthy. Although both types of airplanes are pretty much exactly the same in terms of how they fly, the skill needed to land the damn tailwheel airplane is what sets it apart and makes the FAA require that pilots get a separate “tailwheel” sign-off from an instructor before flying them.

Let me explain. Here is my nemesis, the Aeronca Champ.

As you can see, the landing gear of a tail-dragger is pretty far forward – at the very front of the wings right near the firewall where the engine attaches to the fuselage. This is great if you need a lot of clearance for the propeller – like say if you’re operating from so-called “unimproved” airstrips out in the bush, away from smooth and/or paved runways. But in order for the airplane to sit on its tail this means that the main wheels are forward of the longitudinal center of gravity.

So when you come in for a landing a teensy bit too fast and touch down a little too hard on the main wheels only, physics forces the tail of the airplane downward - sometimes faster than you can react. When this happens, the wings go to a higher angle of attack with respect to the relative wind from the front…which generates more lift…which pulls the airplane back up into the air. This is bad. The pilot’s natural instinct is to push forward on the elevator control (sometimes a yoke but often a stick) which forces the plane back to earth. The main wheels hit again, and again the tail goes down, increasing the angle of attack of the wings… Without the proper corrective action, things usually go from bad to worse, with the airplane “crow-hopping” down the runway until something breaks (usually the landing gear).

Also, because the center of gravity is behind the main gear, there is a strong tendency for the plane to “weathervane” into a crosswind or simply “not go straight” on the ground. It’s like trying to throw an arrow tail first. It just doesn’t want to go that way; the heavy end always wants to lead. And if the wind isn’t blowing directly down the runway, or even if it’s light-but-gusty, it messes with you big time.

The “trick” is to come in at an exact airspeed, altitude and nose pitch attitude. You want everything just right, so that you’re mere inches off the runway in a “three-point” attitude, holding the plane there, keeping it from touching down until the speed has bled off sufficiently that the wing isn’t generating any more lift. As the wings give up, the airplane settles softly and gently onto all three wheels. Supposedly. In theory. It sounds simple, but it often is not.

With Dave Sr. in the back seat, he and I went ‘round and ‘round the traffic pattern at the Brewster airport, with him coaching me and announcing all my mistakes – which were plentiful. I have a lot of time in airplanes, but almost all of them are bigger and faster than the Champ, and none of it recent. It’s hard to readjust to flying an airplane so slowly. The wing of any airplane will “stall” (stop producing lift) if you get it too slow, but this Champ had an almost helicopter-like ability to hover. The wings have a lot of lift.

The helicopter pilot in me likes to make steep approaches compared to airplanes, just because they’re safer for reasons too complicated to go into here. To me, the angle of an airplane’s normal glidepath just seems painfully, almost unbearably shallow.

So usually I’d come in way too fast and way too steep. I had a hard time nailing that exact nose attitude needed to stop the descent inches above the runway without clunking right onto it or alternatively ballooning back up in the air.

I did finally “get it” and Dave signed me off, but it was not the piece o’cake checkout I egotistically assumed it would be. It was both challenging and fun. But I’d be lying if I said that at times it wasn’t actually work.

07 December 2013

Road Warriors

One more post about my trip home, if you'll indulge me.

My friend Mike who lives in Seattle had gone to Wisconsin to visit family. He was about to return westbound just as I was leaving Brewster, WA to go south. Turned out that we got on the road at exactly the same time, around one o'clock, my time; just after noon, his time. His drive was only two days, a little shorter than mine. As we do, we kept each other company on the phone as we droned along on the Interstate, going our separate ways together.

My plan was to drive until midnight or one a.m. or so, then find a rest area to stop in and get four or five hours of sleep. It's not that I'm cheap, but what's the point of stopping in a motel if you're only going to be there for a couple of hours? I had the seats out of my van. And with a thick, cold-weather sleeping bag rolled out to lie on, a big quilt and a couple of pillows, I had a warm, comfortable place to catch some shut-eye when the time came.

Mike had said he was also going to drive until midnight and then crash for "...two and a half hours." He said he didn't need much sleep. Plus, he wasn't driving a van and would have to recline his driver's seat of his rental SUV and sleep in it.

By midnight I was done - couldn't keep my eyes open. I hadn't gone as far as I'd hoped, but I know better than to force it. A sign saying “Rest Area” beckoned. I pulled in, climbed in the back and snuggled into my makeshift bed.

Rest areas are cool out west. The cops don't bother you if you pull in to sleep for a while. At this particular rest area, someone had even raised their pop-up trailer and was sleeping in it. I don't know how well that would go over down here in the south, but I'd bet they frown on it. "Find a Walmart!" they'd probably say.

Next thing I knew my alarm was going off and it was five a.m. Feeling good, I got back on the road, cruise-control set at 79. I thought about calling Mike to see how he was doing - but no need. As if on cue my phone rang. It was him. “Wakey, wakey!”

Mike said he also stopped around the same time I did. And instead of sleeping for just the intended couple of hours, he slept until five a.m. as well. He would drive another ten hours before getting home to his own bed. I would drive for another five days.

What a crazy life we lead.

03 December 2013

November 2013: The Voyage Home

Well I promised you pictures, didn't I? I guess I better get to it.

My cross-country trips from Pensacola, Florida to Washington State and back are usually pretty balls-to-the-walls affairs. I get in the car and go, driving as far as I can in a day so I can make the 2,700 miles as quickly as possible.

But this year I planned on taking the long way home. It was mid-November by the time I left Brewster, and I didn't want to take the usual route which would have had me stair-stepping my way down. The new route had me going down through California all the way to Los Angeles where I'd catch Interstate 10 eastbound. Since I was taking the "scenic route" I asked my friend Gene to come along with me. He'd never even been west of the Mississippi River, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to see the country. I picked him up in San Francisco and we meandered from there.

All the pictures are "clickable" if you'd like to see them in a larger format.

Typical postcard shot of downtown San Francisco from a park called Twin Peaks, from which you had commanding views of both the bay side and the Pacific side. It was pretty nice until the two large buses full of tourists showed up.

And here's your faithful, well-fed reporter, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. It was a beautifully clear day, but windy as hell and pretty chilly, hence the denim jacket and hoodie. What was it Mark Twain supposedly said (but didn't), "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Yeah, like that.

Driving around, we literally stumbled upon the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. This was the epicenter of the hippy movement back in the 1960s. George Harrison made a pilgrimage to the area once, unannounced. Of the experience he said, "I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs..." Heh. The hippy kids, it seems, are long gone. I wondered if even their spirit remains? Unfortunately we didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Here's Gene at the Golden Gate Bridge. I think he's actually posing for someone else's picture. Over here, Gene!

Going down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) I had to stop at the Bixby Bridge. It was made famous in the 1970 TV movie (and subsequent series) "Then Came Bronson." After the suicide of a close friend, a San Francisco newspaper reporter turned societal dropout takes off on his motorcycle (a Harley Sportster, what else?) to..."see what's out there." In the opening credits of every episode, there's an aerial shot of Bronson as he crosses the fog-shrouded Bixby Bridge as he starts his adventure. In the shot above, Gene is taking a Facebook "profile shot" of a seemingly happy young couple.

Everyone owes it to themself to rent a convertible and make a trek up or down the PCH at least once. I assumed that we'd have to stop "a couple of times" for photo-ops. That couple turned into a dozen or more. Every time you come around a curve you go, "STOP! I gotta get a picture of this!" At least I did. "Awesome" is the only word. I can't even count how many pictures we took like this. I'd post them, but you just have to go see for yourself. I mean it: GO!

Just north of San Luis Obispo we stopped on a beach right at sunset. With colors like these, how could you NOT take a picture? I will say this: The scenery in California is spectacular. I fully understand why everyone wants to live there. Trouble is, most of them already do. From San Francisco south, the crowds and traffic were horrendous.

Next morning we made it down to Santa Barbara before the road turned inland. Nice beach, eh? Not as nice as those we have in Pensacola...but hey, I'm a little prejudiced.

We didn't really want to get stuck driving around Los Angeles, so we made a bee-line for the observatory at Griffith Park. There, we had a great, sweeping view of the city (well, a lot of it anyway - L.A. is huge).

And of course you *have* to take a picture of the Hollywood sign, right?

From L.A. we finally started heading east, ending up in, well, you can see.

If you ever go to Vegas (and I don't suggest you do), you have to see the Fremont Street Experience. Basically they took the old downtown area and completely covered it with a four-block long arch of video screens. Then, at the top of every hour after sunset, all of the casinos and shops "go dark" and a 20-minute sound/movie presentation is shown. It's very psychedelic. And it's a WHOLE LOT more enjoyable if you're drunk or stoned (although this time I was neither). Those hippy kids from Haight-Ashbury should've moved here. They'd love it. It is pretty incredible. It almost makes Las Vegas (where they'd charge you for the air you breathe if they could figure out how) a place you'd actually want to visit.

This is EXACTLY the kind of weather I was trying to avoid. We'd caught up with Winter Storm Boreas, which we were trying to stay behind. Drat the luck. The low ceilings, low visibility and snow were so bad that we bypassed the Grand Canyon and decided to turn south on Interstate 17 to let the storm get further ahead of us, hoping in vain to find warmer weather. It was not to be; although we found clearer skies, aside from L.A. the temps never got up above the 40's for the entire trip, even back in Pensacola!

On our way southbound, my friend Matt suggested that we visit Montezuma's Castle National Monument. So we did. It was right on Interstate 17. It's this old, preserved Indian dwelling from the years 1100 to 1300, originally (and incorrectly) thought to be inhabited by Montezuma's people but who were actually a tribe called Sinagua. It was interesting that whoever occupied it built it so high up on that cliff. The only access was via a series of ladders. The dioramas and illustrations showed the Indians living a relatively pleasant, well-equipped life on the edge. Gene and I wondered how they got their furniture and stuff up there. Everybody likes a challenge, I guess.

In Casa Grande, AZ I was tasked to find a collection of 70 or so Sikorsky S-55s that belong to a company that thinks they're going to rebuild, modify, "improve" them and market them as a current, modern aircraft. It's a pipe dream, unfortunately. Nobody wants to fly in 60 year-old helicopters anymore. Further, agencies like the Forest Service don't want to use a 60 year-old helicopter, no matter how much lipstick you put on it. Yet the eccentric owner of the company holds onto these engine-less, transmission-less hulks, refusing to sell any of them to companies that still do have a viable use for them...like, ohhhhh, a certain company up in Washington State that uses them to dry cherries, perhaps?

After Phoenix (actually, since leaving Los Angeles) the scenery was like this. The desert is great...if you like that sort of thing...but it's kind of, well, monotonous. This was pretty much our view all the way to Houston, Texas where we finally caught up with W.S. Boreas. From there is was rain, rain and more rain all the way back to Pensacola.

It took me/us 4,000 miles over the course of six nights to get home. Cross-country road trips are wonderful. We're lucky to live in such a big country with such diverse topography and things to see/do. It's been a long time since I'd done a trip that wasn't one of those, banzai-let's-get-there-quick! fiascos. This one was far more enjoyable. Everyone ought to do it! And I hope you one day get the chance.

27 November 2013

Making God Laugh

I had a plan. Don’t I always have a plan? I would leave Brewster for Florida in no great rush, stopping and seeing friends along the way. The plan was to be home by Thanksgiving. This one went about as well as the rest. I almost didn't make it.

Because it was so late in the year, I did not want to leave Washington and go eastbound over the Rockies on the way back to Florida. No thank you! My van doesn’t have snow tires and I wanted nothing to do with winter weather. But I didn’t have many choices.

For a number of reasons, I finally left Brewster, headed south on November 20th. My friend Gene was flying up to San Francisco. The plan was to pick him up there, and then he’d ride with me and share the driving on the way back to Pensacola. We'd head south all the way to L.A. and catch Interstate 10 eastbound. It was "the long way" home, yeah, but eminently more preferable to me than driving in snow. Heh.

The first part worked okay - the picking up Gene part. We got to see a little of San Francisco before taking off. The original plan was to head straight down Interstate 5 for Los Angeles. If we were lucky, we could hit the Griffith Observatory before sunset. There, we could get a good view of the City of Angels before beating feet east to our overnight destination: Barstow, California.


A little winter storm named Boreas had beached-in at Southern California and was wreaking havoc as it trundled eastbound across the whole country. L.A. was rainy and miserable. So instead of heading directly south, we decided to take our time and mosey down CA Rt 1, otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Gene had never been west of the Mississippi River. And I mean, if you’re in California you really shouldn’t miss the PCH. We didn’t, and it was spectacular as always. We made it as far as San Luis Obispo Friday night.

Saturday morning, still in great weather, we did the rest of the PCH, but cut off at Ventura and headed inland. Griffith Park was jam-packed, but we expected that. The view from the Observatory was incredible. We tried to figure out what else we wanted to see in L.A. but couldn’t come up with anything, so we struck out eastbound for Las Vegas, where we spent the night at the Downtown Grand Hotel-Casino, walking distance from the Fremont Street Experience, which I wanted to see again. It was raining in Vegas when we got there, but it cleared up entirely overnight.

The plan after Vegas was to see the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, heading east on I-40 we’d caught up to Boreas again, and it was snowing heavily by the time we got to the exit that would’ve taken us up to the Canyon. Better to leave that destination for a clear day. Instead of continuing eastbound to Albuquerque, we diverted south from Flagstaff on I-17. There’s a helicopter boneyard in Casa Grande that I wanted to see. We spent Sunday night there.

In beautiful (but still chilly) weather now, we struck out on I-10 on Monday morning, headed for Kerrville, TX. At a rest area in Arizona, a guy came up to us and asked if we were from Pensacola? He’d seen our Florida license plate (which says "Escambia County" at the bottom) and said he was from there too. Now living in Gulfport, Mississippi, he was on his way home after a visit to Los Angeles. While talking he mentioned that he’d intended to take I-40 across but decided to drop down to I-10 because of the storm. Gene and I looked at each other and chuckled. “That’s exactly what we’re doing,” I said. Small world.

Kerrville to San Antonio was okay, but we caught up with Boreas yet again in Houston. It was raining pretty good, and I knew it would be like that the rest of the way home. Since it was only midday on Tuesday, and Gene and I debated as to whether we should drive straight through to home or short-stop in Lafayette or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the end, we just drove, and got home to Pensacola at ten p.m. As always, it's good to be home.

Coming east across the Rockies and stair-stepping down to the Gulf Coast is usually three overnights and about 2,700 miles or so depending on the actual route and depending on how much of a hurry I’m in. The way Gene and I did it ended up taking 4,000 miles over the course of six nights.

I’m often reminded of something I learned a long time ago: “You want to hear God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”

07 November 2013

Stirring Up Trouble On Facebook

After putting up the post below about stirring up trouble on that helicopter forum board, my friend, fellow blogger and current PHI pilot, Hal Johnson put a link to it up on his Facebook page. Ever throw gasoline on a fire? Yeah, it was like that.

Let me just say this: Atheists seem to be an unhappy, grumpy-borderline-angry, intolerant bunch who are easily offended. They usually claim to take the intellectual high road by saying that they are the ones using their brains and we people of faith are not. They also appear to have reading comprehension problems or something – because many of them misinterpreted or misunderstood what I wrote.

For the record, my premise is this: Anyone who has such complete faith that there is no Creator…in other words a person who cannot even entertain the mere possibility that there is a Creator…should not have a pilot’s license. My position is that if you cannot open your mind to the possibility that we humans might have been created, then your thinking is defective…narrow-minded…limited.

After Hal posted the link to my blog, atheists leapt to each other’s defense. They said that I was suggesting that people who didn’t believe in God should have their FAA medical certificates revoked. (I did not.) They said that I was insisting that people believe the same thing I do. (I don’t.) They said I was pushing Christianity. (Again, I wasn’t.)

Naturally enough, some atheists claimed that I wasn’t a very good Christian, as if they were qualified to judge! I thought that was both funny and ironic. Such idiots.

Some atheists went to great pains to assure me that “atheism” takes in many viewpoints, and that some of them even allow for the possibility of a creator. Yes, I know that. However those people who do allow for the possibility of a Creator call themselves agnostic. My personal issue is with people who define themselves as “Atheist: No God; Cannot Be A God.”

And apparently atheists believe that the only alternative to their way of thinking is Chrisianity and the God of the Christian Bible. I heard this many times. One guy even called teaching Christianity to children, “…emotional child abuse.” Atheists have a real hatred for Christianity.

Yet there are over 4,000 religions on the planet, and not all of them are Christian. Not all of them are monotheist either, but that’s beside the point. Because I wasn’t then and am not now “pushing” any particular religion. In reality, I don’t care what you believe. If you choose to not believe in a Creator/God, fine! But to completely deny that one could exist? BZZZZT! Wrong answer, babe.

Some people went to great pains to demonstrate that they have no faith. One mental midget…and there really is no other way to describe him…claimed to not have any faith in himself as a pilot. He said that he was FAA-certified, and it was his experience and skill that kept him from having an accident; no faith in his abilities was necessary! (I’m not sure his passengers would want to know that little tidbit! Because they surely have faith in his abilities!) This guy also claimed to not have any faith in his mechanic; that he would “check his work” and of course preflight diligently.

I asked this genius if he himself was an FAA-certified mechanic? Because how else would a PILOT know whether a mechanic had done his job properly? How arrogant and pompous is that?! I asked him if he followed his mechanic around with the Maintenance Manual, ensuring that all of the mechanic’s work was done properly and safely? I asked about work the mechanic did that the pilot could not see (e.g. overhauls and such)? How do we pilots know that the mechanics do this work properly? Answer: We don’t. We take it on trust…which comes from FAITH…that the work was done well.

One moron postulated that the “primordial soup” could be a creator, since we all supposedly spawned from it, and so therefore an inanimate object could be our Creator. (Do people really believe such bullshit?) The next logical question is: Okay, who or what created the primordial soup?

One other nitwit took me to task for referring to the Creator/God as “Him,” a male gender with a capital H. Aha! That meant I must have been referring to the Christian God. I explained that I do so merely out of respect, since whatever or whoever created us must therefore be bigger and more powerful than us. Our Creator cannot possibly have a gender…nor can it be in human form. Our Creator could easily be a “She,” or a “He,” or an “It.” I say, “Him” out of lazy convenience. Big deal.

Seems to me that, based on the responses on Hal’s Facebook page, atheists are not as bright as they claim to be.

Me? I have no idea how the universe was created – I only have faith that it was. Could I be wrong? Sure! Maybe there’s no Creator. But allowing for this does not make me an agnostic, as one pinhead suggested.

Many of the atheists demanded that I justify my position…or modify/alter it to suit their worldview. Hey, I didn’t ask for a discussion on the subject. I didn’t say, “What do you guys think about this!” I say what I say and if you don’t like it, well, tough. Get your own opinion-blog.

I am hard on atheists, yes, because I believe their position to be untenable and illogical. I mean, who knows if we were created or not? But why rule it out? Seems dumb.

Some people “unfriended” Hal because of the posts on his Facebook page. Some blocked me, meaning that my posts were rendered invisible to them - and theirs to me. These are people who claim to be so open-minded, remember. I hope Hal doesn't post a link to this blogpiece - he got into enough trouble with the last one, and I hate to see people lose friends...even Facebook "friends" over something so silly.

But here's the deal. I stand by my simple view: If you cannot open your mind and allow for the fact that we might have been created, then you shouldn’t be allowed to have an FAA medical certificate because there’s something wrong with your thinking. I would say that I’m sorry if you are offended by that remark, but I’m really not.

02 November 2013

Five Years

If you had told me five years ago that I would be living for six months out of the year up in Washington State (the Pacific Northwest!), flying 60 year-old helicopters in the summer and working as a cropduster loader-boy/gofer the rest of the time…well, I might not have dismissed it out of hand as impossible! but I would have been very skeptical at least.

Five years ago I was happily ensconced in a “good” job, flying a Bell 206 JetRanger for a rich guy. The job had not yet turned sour. The boss had not yet required me to go up to the headquarters just to hang around during the week even when we had no flights scheduled (not that I had any other official duties). The boss had not yet begun to resent the amount of money he was paying me for the little amount of flying we were actually doing. The boss had not yet begun dreaming up “other” tasks for me to do to keep me busy and justify the “enormous” amount of money he thought he was paying me (he wasn’t).

And anyway, the thought of leaving Florida would have been incredible. I love Florida! I especially love that part of Florida where I live: The part that has not been overrun and spoiled by development, where you can still find a secluded stretch of beach to lay out and get some sun and watch the Navy jets and helicopters fly over, even in the dead of summer.

So, yeah.

But here I am, at the beginning of November, 2013, still in Washington – have been since May. The hot, clear and dry days of summer are but a memory. Every day is “cold” now. There’s ice on the windshield every morning; you have to let the car warm up a bit before driving off, and you always have to wear a sweater, even indoors. It gets briefly up into the low 60’s every day, but often the days are steel-gray and bitingly cold. It’s the humidity, I guess. And the days are getting short.

Alternatively the days are sparklingly clear…beautiful! But cold. And it’s not even winter...yet. No snow...yet. But it’s coming, and I want to be gone from here before that happens – no offense to anyone who lives here permanently.

Granted, the locals don’t consider it cold, but to this guy…this guy whose blood has been thinned by over twenty-five years of (albeit sub-tropical) Florida sun…it’s friggin’ cold. One of the guys gave me a coat that he’d grown out of, which spared me the expense of going and buying one of my own, something I’d rather avoid.

We were working hard during September and October, getting the helicopters inspected, worked-on and then put away in a hangar, which involved taking the rotor blades off. Plus there was a bunch of other miscellaneous work to be done.

But now that’s pretty much finished and it’s nearly time to go. They’re already asking me when I can be back. My flippant answer is, “When the snow’s all gone.” Which is not really flippant; it’s what’s going to happen. I’m thinking middle of April. Could I live up here full-time? You know, I probably could. And sooner or later I probably will. As much as I love Florida, I really love it up here too. And I never would have predicted that five years ago.

28 October 2013

Stirring Up Trouble On The Internet

I post on a couple of helicopter websites that have discussion forums. I generally post under my own name, or I make it clear in my profile who I am. Either way, I do not hide my identity. …Sometimes I probably should.

A month or so ago I made a post in one forum in which I’ve been known to expound on the always-controversial topic of helicopter pilots and faith. In the most recent post, I opined that the FAA should deny pilot medical certificates to those applicants who claim to be staunch atheists and who do not even allow for the possibility that a Creator exists. I said it demonstrated a defect in that person’s thinking. I left the post alone and did not check in on that board for a couple of days.

You can imagine the, um, storm that generated. When I did look back at it I saw that the thread had grown to nine pages! Most of it was the usual atheist rant against Christianity. It seems that many atheists are in a blind rage over Christianity. They reject all religion and with it the possibility that a Creator/God exists, which seems very illogical and narrow-minded to me. After all, Christianity is not the only alternative to atheism; there’s something like 11,000 religions in the world.

The atheist will tell you that only he uses his brain. He will tell you that he only believes in what Science! has proven…things that he can touch, feel, measure and quantify. On the other hand, the atheist will claim that the person of faith believes in “flying spaghetti monsters” or in some “invisible giant friend.” Both of these things misrepresent faith to a degree that is very disappointing to me. It’s as if atheists don’t understand faith at all.

As pilots, we go by certain books, and the rules published in them. First and foremost is the aircraft flight manual, given to us by the manufacturer and which tells us how to operate the helicopter in a safe manner. Second are the Federal Aviation Regulations, which come from the FAA and tell how we must operate the aircraft with respect to other aircraft and people. Third, we often are bound by a General Operations Manual, which is given to us by our employer and defines the way in which we will use the aircraft to conduct the business of the employer.

The trouble is, no book can encompass every single situation in which we pilots sometimes find ourselves. Sometimes we have to “make it up as we go along,” to get creative and come up with something that hasn’t been written in any book. Sometimes we have to rely on experience, intuition, or merely a gut feeling. In other words, we have to think “outside the box.”

Ironically the atheist, by claiming that he does not believe anything that cannot be scientifically proven, is telling the world that he cannot think outside the box…that his thinking is limited. Not the kind of pilot I want working for me!

I always challenge atheist to prove to me that love exists. Love is something we take on faith; we have no other choice. If we can have faith in love, then why not other thins? Well of course we do have faith in many things; for instance I have faith that my mechanic will do his job diligently to keep me safe.

I also ask the atheist where he/she gets hope from? My faith tells me that things can get better tomorrow, and so I can hope that they will be. But as I’ve said many times, hope without faith is merely wishful thinking. And I prefer to base my life on more than just wishful thinking.

The atheists choose to not address these topics.

My controversial posts in helicopter forums usually generate an amount of private conversation. Sometimes it’s verbal, with people I work with, but most often is in the form of emails and “instant messages.” This time, the back-and-forth I had with atheists was typically interesting. People do not like to be challenged on their beliefs!

But what I’ve found is that – if you press them - even those who claim to be the most-staunch Gnostic-atheists will allow that they might be wrong…that a Creator might exist. My follow-up question is always, “So why not describe yourself as agnostic then?” An agnostic disbelieves in God but does not deny His existence.

Calling yourself an atheist sends a very clear and definite message to the world. You’re raising one hand in the air, extending your index finger and saying, “I know best! I know that there is no possibility that God exists!” Which is just silly. Nobody knows for certain.

Atheists ask me if I know for certain that a Creator/God does exist? I say that nobody knows for certain, but that my observations and my brain and my faith tell me that universe was deliberately created…and for that to happen there had to be a Creator. I see nothing wrong with that logic, and I stop right there. I do not let myself get drawn into ridiculous and pointless arguments about religion, especially Christianity.

Look, I really don’t care what you believe. If you don’t believe in God, that’s fine. But please don’t try to tell me that God definitely does not exist. Because I think you’re wrong to assume so. (Remember, science once thought the world was flat.) I think that ruling out even the possibility of a Creator is horribly narrow-minded. And although my assertion that the FAA should deny pilot medical certificates to atheist pilots was only made half-jokingly, it’s not far from what I really think.

The thread in my most recent post on that helicopter forum got up to fifteen pages, with 284 replies and 5,500 views. Not bad, and way above what the average post on that forum generates. I have to admit that it’s fun to stir up a little controversy now and then.

02 October 2013

You Want Flies With That?

The city of Brewster, Washington is in the middle of cherry and apple orchards. During picking season, when the fruit is ripe and the pickers are up on their ladders doing their thing, a lot of fruit (e.g. rejects, ones that get dropped) ends up on the ground. Where it rots. Rotting fruit attracts flies. And so, at certain times of the year, the city of Brewster, Washington is overrun by all types of flying pests. Fruit flies, “regular” flies…you name it - although this year the mosquitoes didn't seem so bad. It’s not like some of the third-world countries you see on TV commercials, but they do get pesky. The guy with the fly-swatter concession stand does a booming business.

For those of us who’ve grown up in cities, flies are a nasty nuisance. We most frequently associate them with steaming piles of dogpoop or dead stuff – not a pleasant visual, to be sure. But out here in farm country, there aren’t a whole lot of dogs per acre. Or cows or other livestock for that matter. So the flies are just…there…there for the fruit. You cannot avoid them. You get used to them.

The first year that I was here, I went into the local supermarket, in which resides a Subway sandwich shop. With two big sliding doors in the building, there was no way to keep the flies out. As I was standing there waiting to give them my order, flies were buzzing around the back of the counter where other customers’ subs were waiting to be dressed. There was a family ahead of me in line…tourists probably but in any case out-of-towners. The father was aghast that flies were landing and crawling around on the food his family would soon be eating. He didn’t say anything to the clerks, but I could tell he was disgusted and not pleased.

It sounds gross, I know: Flies crawling over your food? Yuck! And sure enough, it is disgusting at first. But like I say, for better or for worse, you get used to it. I look at it this way – whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I should be pretty damn strong by now.

15 September 2013

Home For The Holidays?

The Columbia River between Pateros and Chelan, Washington. The dark part is a little canal that runs between a railroad track and the road.

As long-time, long-suffering readers of this blog know, in the summertime I travel up from Florida to Washington State to fly a helicopter that hovers over cherry trees after it rains. I usually come up prior to June 1st to help get things ready. By the end of July or slightly into August the cherries are all picked and there’s no need for us, so we pilots beat feet back to our regular lives, families, and jobs.

The company I fly for provides a decent salary, plus food and lodging. It’s not a bad deal, but then again once the farmers put us “on contract” we’re basically on continuous duty for the next forty-five days: We have to be ready to fly any time it rains. We can’t be goofing off over in Seattle. There are no spare pilots, so there are no days off. Hey, that’s the deal.

The good news is that it doesn’t rain much up here. The interior of Washington State is fairly dry and there are some pretty good rivers for irrigation, making it a great place to grow things like apples and cherries. So even though we’re kind of captive and on constant standby, we can have all kinds of fun – as long as we keep a close eye on the weather and don’t stray too far. Since we all have smartphones with apps that show weather radar, this is not hard to do.

This was an average year, as cherry-drying goes. I flew about thirty hours for the grower to which I was assigned, the same one I’ve been on since I got here three years ago. I like them; they like me. It’s a two-ship contract at a remote location north of town. The other pilot and I live in separate RV’s. We are handled on a daily basis by the farm manager, Joel. When he needs us to fly, we fly – simple as that. Otherwise, we run pretty autonomously which is how I like it.

When the cherries were all picked and our contracts were over, some of the pilots did leave. But Brandon, Chris and I hung around because…well, Chris lives pretty close, and Brandon and I just had nothing else to do. And it’s beautiful up here! Brandon set about to have the most fun possible (which is what he does). I just kept going to the airport every day to help out. Eventually the boss said he’d just put me back on the payroll.

There’s so much to do! The outfit I fly for operates eight helicopters and two airplanes, and they don’t just stick the things back in the hangar at the end of the season. There are always maintenance tasks that have to be performed. In addition there were two engine-changes to do on two separate helicopters (not exactly a simple procedure). We’ve also bought some other helicopters that have to be retrieved. Two are in Montana, there’s one each in New Jersey and New York City, and there’s one in Idaho. I’ve already been to Idaho once to get the parts associated with that aircraft; this coming week we go back to get the rest.

The boss and I get to the airport around 0730 to plan our day. Most of the time there’s plenty to keep us busy. But sometimes our biggest task is figuring out where we’re going for lunch. I feel a little guilty when I’m getting paid and not doing anything, so I try to at least look busy. I sweep, I clean up the place, I mow the lawn…stuff that nobody else wants to do and won’t get done by itself.

Me, washing N955TC before she goes into the hangar for maintenance/inspection

As I mention again and again, this part of Washington State is unbelievably gorgeous. There is a strong urge to move up here full-time. The deal-breaker of course is the snow. I can take the cold, just not the snow. My parents moved from California back to New York City when I was four years old, so I had to deal with winter snow just about all my life until I was 32 and finally moved south. Enough was enough.

I was hoping to get out of Washington and head back to Florida before the first snowfall, but now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. But Thanksgiving! I’m definitely going to be home by Thanksgiving.

I hope.

17 July 2013

My Very Last Blogpost....on the Trayvon Martin shooting

Astonishingly, Neighborhood Watch guy George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Well knock me over with a feather! I’m just gobsmacked.

Look, here’s the thing about George Zimmerman: He was innocent…of murder. Lots of people wanted…dearly, dearly wanted him to be guilty of…”something.” ...Like that screeching British idiot who’s filling in for John Stewart on Comedy Central. What a friggin’ moron. Stephen Colbert too. Bleeding-heart liberals who’d already made up their minds on the case, and by God no jury was going to convince them otherwise!

What Colbert, the guy who’s filling in for Stewart, and many like them do not understand is that the State of Florida charged Zimmerman with murder for a reason…that reason being that they knew they could not win. Remember, the cops didn’t want to charge Zimmerman at all in the first place! They could see it was simple self-defense…no “stand your ground” needed. Neighborhood Watch guy, doing what Neighborhood Watch guys do, gets into an altercation with another man. This other man ends up knocking Neighborhood Watch guy to the ground and starts bashing his head against the pavement. Neighborhood Watch guy pulls his LEGAL pistol and shoots. Self-defense. End of story.

But no, Florida’s governor told the State Attorney Angela Martin to charge Zimmerman. And charge she did! With murder. If the state had gone after Zimmerman for a lesser charge, they would have looked weak and soft in the eyes of the black community, which we all know is vehemently anti-racist. And what if the state couldn’t even prove manslaughter? What then? Come on, they knew they did not have a strong case. Better to go for the gold, and charge Zimmerman with a crime they knew they couldn’t prove. Either way, they still looked good. “Hey black people, we tried!”

Also, people still believe that Zimmerman hunted down…chased down Trayvon Martin and shot him in cold blood. Nothing could be FURTHER from the truth. As soon as Zimmerman got out of his vehicle, Martin took off at a high rate of speed. “He’s running,” Zimmerman says on the tape. “He’s gone.” But Martin doubled back. And that’s when the fatal confrontation happened – NOT when Zimmerman got out of his truck.

And another thing: It's not against the law to be a racist or for a citizen to do racial profiling. It's not nice, and we might not like it, but it doesn't automatically make you guilty of murder if you kill someone.

Here’s yet another thing…and possibly the most bizarre thing about this whole case. Many people want Zimmerman to be guilty because if he’d been black instead of Hispanic he would have been found guilty. In other words, if the shoe was on the other foot (or the gun was in the other hand), the black guy would’ve been convicted and not set free, and on the basis of that, Zimmerman should have been found guilty. THIS MAKES NO SENSE. In this case the justice system worked correctly. Why hold it against the guy who was found innocent? Ohhhhhh, that’s right! Because a lot of people already had their minds made up that Zimmerman was guilty!

Only George Zimmerman knows what really went down that night (other than Trayvon Martin). Nobody denies that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. He’ll have to live with that for the rest of his life.

My takeaway from all of this is simple: In Florida, be careful about with whom you pick a fight. They might very well have a gun. Normal citizens are allowed to own guns in Florida. If you have a big, big problem with this, then do not live in Florida. There are plenty of other states in which only the criminals have guns. Feel free to pick one and move there!

11 July 2013

Technology Troubles: The Cell Phone

One thing about being up here in central Washington State is that I’m rather isolated from civilization. The other pilot (my friend Brandon) and I spend our days at our landing zone (“LZ”) where we babysit our helicopters and wait for rain. This LZ is…well, if you can imagine the middle of nowhere, this is close.

Washington is an incredible state – strikingly, surprisingly beautiful. The trouble is, nobody lives in the middle. Either they live on the coast, like over in Seattle…or they live on the east side in Spokane. I’m “near” the town of Okanogan, which is kind of in the middle. Actually I'm up the hill between Okanogan and Twisp.

Brandon and I are living in RV’s provided by our employer and hooked up to connections provided by the farmer to whom we’re contracted. Internet service is not provided with these hookups. We rely on our phones for contact with the outside world…like watching the weather radar.

In choosing a cell phone carrier a year and a half ago I looked at both AT&T and Verizon’s coverage maps. Both are a little vague in this area, but both depicted 4G service. I went with Verizon and an Android phone because I’m not one of those annoying Apple converts. It was a Big Mistake, as my annoying iPhone-owning friends are quick to point out. Where I’m at here, Verizon actually has only 3G service no matter what it says on their coverage map. Sometimes it shows 3G with two little gray “up and down” arrows underneath that should be red and green but aren’t. Sometimes it’ll show 3G with a little capital “D” underneath, whatever that means. Often it just shows Zero-G.

Note to Verizon: Your service sucks. Your company sucks too, as do all of your employees, and their ancestors back to time immemorial, and all their future children. Everyone associated with your crappy company sucks.

Note to self: Switch to some other carrier…ANY other carrier when this contract is up in six months. I’ll go with one of those pay-as-you-go phones, I don’t care.

But even when we do have 3G service, using a phone for internet is not all that great. Some websites either do not have a mobile app, or just don’t run well on that tiny screen (compared to my laptop). In the beginning I was able to “tether” my computer to my phone and get online properly. But boy did that cause problems!

My phone had been acting up anyway. (Which friggin’ phone on this planet lasts as long as the two-year contract they make you sign?) In addition to that, right after I got up here, tethering my computer to the phone caused the battery to overhead and quickly die and not accept a charge. It would hover around 9% capacity, allowing me one short phone call or a very brief text message exchange before dying again. Disconnected from the charger, it would die immediately.

I'm ashamed to admit how dependant some of us (e.g. me) have become on our phones. We really feel crippled and isolated when the phone is dead. A simple 20-minute drive to the Walmart in Omak becomes a panic-inducing stress test: "What if the car breaks down along the way? What WILL I do?? I don't even know anyone's phone numbers anymore - they're stored in my broken damn phone!" Which is both true and sad.

Using Brandon’s iPhone (which doesn’t have this battery overheating problem) I went online to a discussion forum and found out that, yep, my Samsung “Piece of Shit” model is prone to this very type of thing. (And other maladies as well – can you say “Rush a product to market?” I knew you could.). Have you tried to buy a cellphone battery locally? You cannot. You have to buy them online. It’s quite a racket.

I found my battery on eBay and ordered it. In the process I had to change my shipping address from Florida to Washington. Okay, no big deal there, I expected that. With that change made I hit “pay” and sure enough my PayPal account popped up. I hit “pay” again and got a nice message that said, “Congratulations! Your purchase will be shipped to…” my address in Florida. D’OH! It seems that when making a purchase on eBay, you have to change your shipping address on BOTH eBay and PayPal. Which is quite a lot of bullshit to go through just to buy a damn phone battery.

Anyway, right away I emailed the seller, asking him to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ship the battery to my Washington address. No response. Couple of days later my friend, Gene who’s staying in my house while I’m gone messaged me on Facebook: “Hey, a package came for you.” So I said, “Screw it” and just ordered a whole ‘nother phone from eBay (yes, the same crappy Android – at least it was cheaper than buying Verizon’s expensive insurance). This time I made sure that all the shipping address fields were correct.

So now I’ve got my “new” phone, and a “new” battery, but I’m still saddled with Verizon’s crappy service. Sometimes you can’t win. At least I'm reconnected with the outside world.

04 July 2013

2013: The Summer Of Bob

Boy-oh-boy, does time fly! I apologize for not keeping this thing more up-to-date.

I left Pensacola during the first week of June, headed for my usual summer gig flying helicopters up here in Washington State. I came solo this time, in my own car. Stopped in to see my friend Taylor Rohde who's flying tours around Mt. Rushmore for a company called Black Hills Aerial Adventures.

I like doing sightseeing rides like those. For most passengers it is their first time in a helicopter - which let's be honest is pretty awesome! And most tour operations are at places that are pretty visually dramatic. So as the pilot you have this incredible opportunity to give the passenger(s) a literally magical experience they'll never forget.

One of my first jobs as a commercial pilot was flying tourists around New York City back in 1984. I'll tell you, that job never got old; I loved it. In fact, it is the one job I would go back and do in a heartbeep. The look on the faces of the passengers as they got out of the machine at the end of the ride was priceless.

Nowadays, I hover over wet cherry trees, and the cherries don't seem to appreciate my efforts very much.

I'm back up at my same spot, living in the same RV, flying my same ship, working for the same grower as the past two seasons. This year however, I'm paired with my good friend Brandon Arago, who is one of the most incredible pilots (and people) I've ever had the pleasure to work with. This kid has more talent in the fingernail of one pinky than I've got in my whole body. At the controls, he makes me look sloppy and rough and careless...and that's when I'm trying to be good!

We had some really rainy days right in the middle of the June. The orchard owners thought there'd be a late start due to the chilly, elongated Spring and so had held off on starting our "stand-by" contracts. But the rains came and panic ensued: We were all put on contract at about the same time as last year. There was a mad scramble to get ships and equipment into place all at once.

I walked through one of "our" orchards this morning. The cherries are not quite ready to be picked yet. Soon, though. We'll probably work through the end of July and I'll go back to Pensacola sometime in August...maybe...I've got plans of stopping in and seeing friends on the way home, one of which is west of here over on the coast.

15 June 2013

2013 Cherry Drying Season Start

Everyone has been complaining about the late start to the 2013 cherry season here in the Brewster, Washington area. The weather has been very moderate (and beautiful!): absolutely clear and comfortable (70’s) during the day and downright chilly at night – a far cry from the heat we’d usually expect up here by now. Some farmers are hedging their bets, gambling that they might not need to be dried at all. Heh. If they wait too long to put us on contract they may find that our ships are committed to others who know better.

The contract I’m assigned to normally begins in the middle of June. We supply one helicopter for the first two weeks, then a second ship joins the fun and we both dry until all the cherries are picked.

This year, the orchard owner said that the contract for the first ship would begin around June 20th. Other growers were saying the same thing. So there was not the usual pressure to get things ready – and you wouldn’t believe the amount of logistics that goes into fielding seven helicopters working out of four locations. There are fuel trucks and service trailers (for oil, grease, tools, etc.) and RV’s that have to be positioned. The landing zones (LZ’s) have to be prepped (mowed) and tie downs for the aircraft hammered into the ground.

Suddenly it rained the other day – big storm came blowing through! And just as suddenly, all the farmers who’d been putting us off went into Panic Mode, ringing our phone off the hook. The orchard owner I’m assigned to called up after lunch and said, “How soon can you be here?” This did not take us by surprise. We had already positioned “my” motorhome and a fuel truck at the orchard (where the owner has graciously installed hookups for power, water and sewer).

When the rain stopped and the wind finally died down I climbed into the same ship I’ve been flying for the previous two seasons, N955TC and headed out. With me was my friend Brandon, who spent the past two seasons with us as a trainee and who will be a Command Pilot this year on the second ship with me. Brandon was taking the opportunity to get familiar with "my" fields, which will soon be "his" fields too, which he'd not previously worked. We ended up drying until it was so dark we could barely see to land back in our LZ. Hey, it gets dark in these orchards!

So I’m ensconced in my RV at the LZ, looking at nothing but clear skies for the next several days. Orchard owner: happy; his cherries are looking good. My boss: not so happy if we don’t fly; we obviously make more money when we do. Brandon: not so happy as well; he’d appreciate some more flight time. But me? I'm happy! ...Happy to sit here with nothing to do and get paid for it. In fact, that is one thing that I do really, really well. Brandon and I both brought our guitars up, and so this year the hope is that I arrive as a helicopter pilot and depart as Eric Clapton. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

12 June 2013

Back In Washington State

Faithful readers of this blog know that I spend my summers in Washington State flying helicopters for a company that dries cherries after it rains. Only it hardly ever rains up here. If you’ve never been east of the Cascade Mountains, you might never know that the interior of Washington is so desert-like and dry, but it is. The landscape along the Okanogan and Columbia River valleys is stunningly beautiful and I marvel at it as I drive and fly around. It changes constantly depending on the time of day.

I got up here late in the first week of June. The season is starting late this year – seems everyone in the country is having a late Spring. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon as I write this, and the temperature in the town of Okanogan is only 71 degrees – very pleasant! - although the nights have been downright cold. We’re not exactly sure what this means: Will the season run long? Some cherries look bright red and ready to pick; others are nowhere near ready. The farmers are hedging their bets and not putting us on stand-by just yet. Normally they’d all be getting antsy and nervous by now.

We’ll be having seven helicopters doing drying this year: Four piston engine versions of the venerable Sikorsky S-55 and three turbine conversions (in which the old piston engine has been replaced by a modern jet engine). As an enticement to get me to come back this year (which was “iffy” to be honest), the boss called and offered me one of the turbines. They’re smoother and quieter and arguably more reliable than the old piston engines. But the fact is I like those old radial engines; makes me feel like I’m flying a bomber from WWII. And I’ve got enough “turbine time” anyway. So part of my compensation package this year was that I would have the same helicopter I've flown for the past two seasons.

We have a really great group of pilots this year, perhaps the best group we’ve had in my three seasons. Some older, more experienced guys (like me), and some young kids who are eager to learn. We all get along really well and I’m looking forward to a fun, safe season…if it ever starts.

More stories and pictures to come!

31 May 2013

Splitting Hairs

Let’s face it, at my current age a haircut is not the traumatic event it used to be. For one thing, I’m not as vain as I used to be, so if the haircut isn’t “just right” it’s no big deal. Even the best haircut only looks good for about a week, and who wants to get their haircut every damn week?

And then there’s the fact that there’s not much I can do with what’s left of my hair. The bald-on-top-long-in-the-back deal looks horrible, as does the bald-on-top-with-ponytail. Good Lord. And no, I’m not completely bald on top, but close enough at this stage. So I just have the barber cut it really short – not a buzzcut but short enough that I don’t have to part it or mess with it when I get out of the shower; just towel-dry-and-go.

I had been using one of these styling shops like Fantastic Sam’s or Cuts By Us, but the results were not always satisfactory. The cutters they seem to attract either girls with little experience who only know *one* particular men’s haircut (the one they learned in school), or gay guys who are too chit-chatty and therefore take too long to do a relatively simple job. Just cut my damn hair the way I ask you to, alright? If I say, “Don’t touch my sideburns,” I mean DON’T TOUCH MY FUCKING SIDEBURNS! I don’t know why, but many/most barbers (male and female) like to trim your sideburns up to above the top of the ear. Just leave them be, okay? I like looking like Elvis!

Another thing, my hairline in the back is goofy. It’s actually in the shape of an “m.” But a lot of haircutters obsessively want to force a straight collar hairline on me, which means it often ends up halfway up the back of my head! “Just taper it to a point in the back,” I always instruct them. Most of them either never hear it or totally disregard me.

Anyway, there is this old-fashioned barbershop in town: Four chairs, bunch of old guys sitting around reading the newspaper and watching Fox News while waiting for their turn. First time I went in there a relatively young guy cut my hair. Did a pretty good job, too, even though he ignored my “Just put a #8 guard on your clipper and mow away!” request.

So I went back there yesterday for my “Summer In Washington” haircut which I’m hoping will last me until August when I come back to Pensacola. The owner, an old guy who I believe was cutting hair in Nazareth around the time of Jesus’ birth, beckoned me to his chair. He said nothing…nothing to me after my initial greeting when I walked in the door. Just wrapped me up and went to work, never asking me how I wanted it cut. I wondered: Could he read my mind?

As soon as I sat down, one of the old guy’s regular customers walked in. There were two other barbers that were open, but this old dude wanted my barber. I figured I was in for the bum’s rush.

As he began cutting my hair, I noticed that he had some sort of palsy, perhaps the onset of Parkinsons. I kept thinking about a horrible line I once read in CAR AND DRIVER magazine. They were describing how convertibles are hard to keep from flexing because they have no roof structure. The author of the story called the latest version of the Ford Thunderbird, “the Katherine Hepburn of convertibles.” He later apologized. But that’s what I was thinking yesterday, that mine was the Katherine Hepburn of barbers. I wondered how this was going to turn out? I was worried for my ears.

When he got to the back I warned him about my hairline: He complied. On the sides, I cautioned him about my sideburns: No problemo. And I’m thinking, “I wonder what he has in store for the top?” Well I needn’t have wondered. Without so much as touching the few strands on the top of my head, he whipped the sheet (or whatever they call that thing) off me and I was done. Out the door…next! Quickest. Haircut. Ever. He didn’t even spin me around so I could see the back.

“That’s it?” says I, a little surprised.
“That’s it,” says he, adding. “Ten bucks.”
I forked over the ten and for the first time in my life did not tip my barber.

Mind you, I’m not unhappy with the haircut. It’s just not as short as I’d prefer, especially on top. But maybe I got off lucky with Shaky McFlakey there.

I often ponder the question of when to quit flying. One day in the hopefully-distant future I’ll be too old to fly safely…or maybe too old to inspire the necessary confidence in my passengers that I can handle things safely. Legally I can continue as long as I can pass a flight physical and 24-month checkride. Practically is another matter. It’s like driving: When are you too old? When you find that no one wants to ride with you?

I think it was time for this barber to quit. Only, he owned the shop and I’d bet that none of his employees had the heart to tell him his hands weren’t in it anymore.

24 May 2013

Nearly Retired

I’ve actually been trying to quit flying since the late 1990’s. I’d been flying commercially since 1982...had been with Petroleum Helicopters Inc. since 1987 and was really “done” with the whole flying for a living thing. In 2001 at age 45 I finally did quit, with no real plan for what I was going to do with the rest of my life other than “not flying.”

That didn’t work out so well. You see, flying gets in your blood. It's hard to walk away. Sometimes you just have accept your fate...that you're destined to do something whether you want to or not. And with me, that "something" appears to be flying.

Shortly after leaving PHI, a guy called me up who just happened to be starting up the production line of the FH1100 helicopter, a model from the 1970’s that he felt was still viable if it were modernized it a little. And he happened to be doing this in a town right near Pensacola. Did I want to come to work for him? Did I! (You can go back to the very beginning of this blog for that story.)

Unfortunately, we just never could get someone to give us a “launch order” for ten...oh, maybe five helicopters. That’s all we needed to start the production line again. Five lousy orders for new ones. Five years later we were running out of steam.

Ironically we did get an order from one guy for two refurbished FH1100’s. One of the ships would stay here in Florida and the other was slated to go down to Honduras. At the very last minute, the pilot who was to fly the Honduras ship bailed, and I slid into that job. (Again, my exploits were chronicled in these pages.)

After the gig in Honduras ended, I came back to the states determined that I was done with helicopters. There had to be more to life, I thought.

I hadn’t been back for two weeks when my former Honduras boss called and said a friend of his here in the Pensacola area was looking to buy a helicopter – would I help him find one? I said I would, but my intention was to find him a pilot to fly it as well – someone other than me. However as fate would have it I not only found him a good ship but like a dummy I agreed to stick around and fly it. That was in 2007.

By late 2010 I’d had enough. I really, really, really didn’t want to be a full-time helicopter pilot anymore. I stuck it out for nearly four years. Finally, due to certain, um, circumstances (long story) I ended up leaving. The boss was incredulous; it was not a good time to be quitting any job. “You’re quitting?!” Yeahhhh, I just don’t want to fly for you anymore – sorry!

Once I was free of full-time employment my friends Scott and Mikey began urging me to come up to Washington to do some cherry-drying.  Read about that HERE.

And so indeed I did. I called up Golden Wings Aviation and…long story short…I’ll soon be going back up to Washington State for my third season of cherry-drying.

I’m not a full-time pilot anymore, so that’s good. Part-time is good. On certain helicopter internet discussion forums I call myself “nearly retired.” Perhaps one day I will be fully retired for sure.

But it’s not likely.

26 April 2013

Thoughts On The Boston Bombing

There’s been a lot of stupidity that’s come out of this bombing at the Boston Marathon. The way the various media outlets were falling all over themselves in a desperate, frantic effort to be "first" with the "facts" was pretty friggin' hilarious. Makes people like me just turn the TV off.

I think most of us are pretty sick and tired of the media’s overwhelming coverage of this event. They’re acting as if it’s a national tragedy, which it isn’t. Tragedy? Yes. But as tragedies go, the scale of this one was pretty small. Even if these amateurish boys planned on “bombing” Times Square in New York City, the “bombs” they were using were pretty ineffectual. Yeah, they hurt a bunch of people, but let’s remember that only three were killed in Boston. Yet the nation cried as if it was a fully-loaded 747 crashing. Into an orphanage. Which was built on an old Indian burial grounds.

What troubles me more than the media overhyping this story is the reaction of some Americans. I keep hearing people say that the surviving boy (if not all Muslims) should be the object of horrible violence. It’s really quite disturbing. Even another blogger said this:

I don’t care about the Miranda rights issue, either. The guy purposely set off two bombs that killed or maimed fellow Americans. He might have information that would prevent future attacks and save lives. As far as I’m concerned, he gave up his rights when he committed an act of terror against Americans. While I respect the ACLU, I wish they’d just realize that this goes beyond an American citizen’s rights. An act of terrorism is a game-changer.

This particular blogger happens to be a helicopter pilot so I’d expect more from her. But she is also an avowed atheist so I guess we have to forgive her incredible lack of compassion (and possibly intelligence). But what is unforgivable is her stance that our Constitution/Bill of Rights should arbitrarily not apply to people, even American citizens. It is a position that is as astonishing as it is chilling.

Look, we are a nation of laws. It’s what separates us from other, uncivilized nations. Either we have a Constitution or we don’t. We cannot suspend it when we feel like it, because to do so would render it invalid. Bomber-boy is entitled to every protection under our Constitution, no matter what his crime was. We should expect nothing less.

Finally, there is a cynical side to me that just won’t quit. Isn’t it funny how the nation’s focus suddenly shifted from “gun control” to “Boston bombing?” I had to scroll waaaaay down my Yahoo News feed today to find even one story about gun control. Sometimes I wonder if this wasn’t intentional. Yeah, I know, “Take off your tin-foil hat, Bob. Governments never do anything like that to their own people!”

But there are a lot of things about this Boston bombing that seem kind of…strange. Like, did you notice how easily Americans submitted to martial law? Did you notice that nobody really objected to military troops being used in the hunt for the bombers? In the future, all the government has to do is utter the word, ”Terrorism!" and Americans will cower and let them do anything.

We have become a nation of fearful, paranoid, vindictive people since 9/11/2001. We are afraid of our own shadows now. We will gladly give up our rights to ensure our “safety.” We will gladly give up the rights of others, too. And by God, when somebody harms us we don't just want justice, we want revenge!

You know what? I’m not sure that I like the country the United States of America is turning into.

19 April 2013

Criticizing Other Writers

I don’t like to criticize other writers. It’s like one pilot looking at another and saying, “I’m better than him.” This may be true but nevertheless should only be thought to oneself and never spoken aloud. I’m not the world’s best pilot, and God knows I’m not the greatest writer in history either. However I am a “published author” in that I have made money from my words, though I hasten to admit they were only magazine articles and not full-fledged books or self-published “novellas” or anything. But I don’t make any money from the crap you’re reading here. So while it’s easy to snipe at another writer, it’s not really fair.

One of my friends recommended a book on his Facebook page. Said book was in turn recommended to him by one of his friends. My friend put his own recommendation up before actually reading the book. I was skeptical about this, and said so in a Comment. This started a lengthy, funny/snarky back-and-forth thread on his FB page which oddly enough included the author of the aforementioned book!

The author seemed funny on Facebook and the synopsis of the story on Amazon was compelling. The two customer reviews of the book were positively glowing. So on a whim, I bought the book, and then downloaded the Kindle reader app to my phone. The book is actually a “novella,” which is something that is too long to be called “a short story” but is not long enough to be called “a book.” A kind of in-between thing that author Stephen King called, “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.” Whatever that is. Kind of like my posts here, I guess. In any event I figured the book wasn’t going to be “War And Peace.” I read it with great expectations.

Cut to the chase: I did not like this book. The author used a number of amateurish techniques, one of which was to use two narrators. The main one was herself, in the first-person. But there was also another one. From the start there were passages that were “spoken” by some unidentified entity with a third-person perspective. I initially wondered if it was the female protagonist’s cat? Dog? But no, it couldn’t be, and it turned out not to be. It was very confusing.

The book also jumped a lot between timeframes. The main character in the book was relating in the present tense about thinking back on the night she was going to get pregnant. She was sitting by a window looking out the window at the rain and thinking back to an earlier time when they were having a Father’s Day barbecue in the backyard and... Good God, flashback within flashback! What timeframe are we in? Now it wasn’t just “very” confusing; it was totally confusing.

Okay, I know enough about writing to understand that it’s not so much about being technically, grammatically correct all the time. It’s about the story, right? If the story is compelling enough, then we can overlook amateurish (let’s be kind and say “non-conventional”) writing styles. This woman most certainly did have a unique writing style. And she is desperately in need of an editor.

Unfortunately, the overly-romanticized story in the novella we’re talking about here was not really all that interesting to me. It concerned a young woman who got pregnant by her “love-of-my-life/soulmate” boyfriend of a different race. Ultimately the woman lost the child prior to its birth. The boyfriend didn’t stick around long either, we’re told in a postscript. The "other" narrator (along with the author's first-person account) turned out to be her unborn baby, speaking and intellectualizing as a fully-grown adult.

No doubt, losing a child to a miscarriage is a horrible, traumatic experience for any woman and it obviously was to the author of this novella too. But the way she told the story was so incredibly complicated and cloying that it just lost me. In the end I “got it,” but I wasn’t sure it was worth the trouble. In the end I said, “Damn. Glad that’s over!” On the other hand, the FB friend who recommended the book to me (eventually) read it and loved and was very moved by it. So there ya go.

Back in another lifetime when I was a disk jockey, the radio station owner always urged the air-staff to never let the listener in on the technicalities of what we were doing. For instance, if something went wrong…say a commercial failed to start on cue due to faulty equipment or maybe a record miscued or the needle skipped we were to just move on smoothly and not explain it. Radio is “theatre of the mind” and if you break the barrier between listener and programmer it destroys the magic of what you are trying to create. At least that’s one theory.

And so it is with the relationship between writing and reading. Unless you’re taking a course in creative writing, or unless you’re a professional editor, then you should probably just read a story for the story. If it’s good enough, then you get the message and walk away happy. But a writer should not let the writing itself interfere with the story.

And ultimately I think that’s what happened with this novella. The story wasn’t all that strong and the writer’s style definitely turned me off. As I said, I don’t like criticizing other writers, but there are some bad ones out there. After reading this poorly-written book, it was a little troubling to realize that, hey, maybe I'm one of them. Hmm, maybe I’m not as good a pilot as I think I am either!

25 March 2013

Commenting On Guns

Cynthia Tucker is another one of these smug, liberal, black columnists whose sophomoric ranting regularly appears in our local Pensacola newspaper. Her columns are usually extremely one-sided and racist, perhaps even more so than the other smug, liberal, black columnists like the aforementioned Dewayne Wickham who think they're better or smarter than me and you. I must point out that Cynthia Tucker has won a Pulitzer Prize. For...are you ready?...Commentary. That’s right, commentary. Which…and I know you’re going to say that I’m the one being horribly racist…but it just goes to show you how smug, liberal, black writers can leverage their blackness into awards if they know how to write well. Society is still so impressed with educated black people that they hand them Pulitzer Prizes just for...you know...commentating.  Hey, where's my Pulitzer?!

Recently Cynthia Tucker weighed-in on the issue of guns. She is, naturally enough, against them. She, like many other of her misinformed, misguided ilk, blames the weapon…the “assault rifle”…i.e. the AR-15 on recent killings. She wants it banned. And she wants high-capacity magazines banned as well.

But they won’t be banned, she notes, because politicians are afraid of the NRA (National Rifle Association). She seems to think that when it comes to their position on the issue of guns, politicians listen only to the NRA. This is a huge and irrational oversimplification. I suppose it never occurred to Ms. Tucker that politicians also listen to their constituents?

And this is the trouble with liberal newspaper columnists: They simply cannot conceive of a society that tolerates guns. It is beyond their comprehension that some of us do not see guns as evil…that some of us believe we have enough gun laws right now, thank you very much. No, in Ms. Tucker’s world, everyone acknowledges that guns are bad and would not mind seeing them restricted and/or (in the case of DiFi) eliminated completely. Poor misguided Ms. Tucker!

Ms. Tucker correctly notes that gun restrictions are no cure-all for society’s ills. But then she goes off the rails. “But banning at least some assault-type weapons and the high-capacity magazines that feed them would be a step in the right direction. Why can't we take that step?”

Whoa. What? Who said that it would be a step in the right direction?? Where does she get that from? Hey sweetie, maybe we can’t "take that step” because it doesn’t make sense?

Then Ms. Tucker gets further “out there.” In talking about the last ban on so-called “assault weapons” (i.e. “the Clinton-era ban”), she says, “But many law enforcement officials nevertheless supported it, declaring that it helped. It didn't end gun violence or stop mass murders or prevent suicides (which account for two-thirds of gun deaths in this country). But it prevented some killings. Isn't that worthwhile?”

Hmm, Tucker declares definitively that the Clinton-era ban “…prevented some killings.” Oh yeah? Prove that one to me. Prove it! Prove that some killings did not happen because of “the Clinton-era ban.” Only a true idiot…and I say this with all due respect…but only a true friggin’ IDIOT would make a claim that such-and-such did not happen…and further, that such-and-such did not happen because such-and-such did happen. "Dog didn't bite man today!  New law prohibiting dog bites is responsible.  No film at eleven."

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Research Council both ended up concluding that the Clinton-era ban had a negligible or indeterminate effect on killings. So for Ms. Tucker to say such a thing is a downright falsehood if not a bold-faced lie. It is wishful thinking taken to an extreme.

Of the Clinton-era ban Ms. Tucker goes on to state, “The civilized world did not come to an end during those 10 years; the Second Amendment was not besmirched.”  Uhh, yes it was. And anyway, if that was the case, if that ban on “assault weapons” was so great, why then was it allowed to expire? Maybe because it was ineffective?

Before closing her column, Ms. Tucker throws one more dig at the NRA and the politicians she thinks are afraid of it. “Yet, the vociferous -- nay, deranged -- leadership of the NRA has persuaded Congress that an assault-weapons ban is akin to totalitarianism.”

Deranged? No, sweetie, the NRA leadership is not deranged. It represents its members…people like me and the millions of others like me who happen to not think like people like you. You, Ms. Tucker, obviously do not like guns. I do. I don’t see anything wrong with people owning guns, and I appreciate our Founding Fathers for putting on paper and into law that we American citizens have a RIGHT to own them…a RIGHT which shall not be infringed.

It boils down to this: Ms. Tucker sees only the rare, random tragedies like Newtown, Connecticut and the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting and thinks guns are awful and ought to be outlawed. The old, “If it prevents just one killing it’ll all be worthwhile!” justification.

Me, I see the bigger picture. I see an armed America as a strong America. I see my ability to defend myself as sacrosanct. I see a government that fears…and should fear…an armed citizenry. Finally – and not for nuthin’ - I see the leaders of other nations (China, hello?) who look at the number of guns in this country and go, “Ehhhhh, let’s not invade the U.S.” (We know that Japan considered invading the U.S. during WWII; they wisely decided against it due in part to the number of guns owned by us.)

It bothers me that uninformed people like Cynthia Tucker are held in some position of honor for their thinking simply because they’ve won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. She clearly has no objectivity when it comes to guns and failed miserably to do even the slightest bit of research on the subject. Now that is a sad commentary.

You can read Ms. Tucker's latest column HERE.