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?

18 December 2014

More TV Commercial Fun - 2014

Regular readers of this irregularly published blog know that I love television...

...Commercials.

I'm constantly on the lookout for the various ways manufacturers have of grabbing our attention and getting us interested in their product. One of my favorite ad campaigns was Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" series which they used forever. Even in one of their recent commmercials (which is awesome and uses the song "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities), right at the very end as the Mazda logo comes up you see...ever so briefly...the words "Zoom-Zoom" materialize and then shoot offscreen to the right- a "callback" to their earlier ads.  It happens so fast that it's easy to miss. I like that. 

Zoom-Zoom, Mazda, I'm impressed!





And of course I love the "Most Interesting Man In The World" campaign for Dos Equis beer.  There's even a new version of the commercial.  I love that they keep coming up with new angles on this guy!

In the latest spot, along with the hilarious narration we see the tuxedo-clad MIMITW arriving at a swanky dinner party via dogsled.  Then they cut to archival TV news footage of a much-younger MIMITW saving a fireman from a burning building.  In his other hand is a goldfish bowl (still full of water) which he casually hands to the displaced tenant.  Back to present-day, from his seat in the stands of an operating room theater he advises the surgeon on which scalpel to use.  Finally, switching again back to archival footage we see him diving for pearls - of course he brings up an entire necklace!

I imagine that the producers of this campaign must have a grand time thinking up new things for TMIMITW to do.  It must be incredibly fun working on that team.



And then we come to those ads for Progressive Insurance.  You know, the ones with that perky, "Flo" character.  Say what you will about the ads (and a lot of people dislike them), but the unique campaign just works.  Even the people who don't like the spots remember them and the name of the insurance company.

Over the years, "Flo," played by acress/comedienne Stephanie Courtney has found herself in various situations.  In the new series of spots that began airing around Thanksgiving we got to meet her extremely, uhh, quirky family.  There is her crazy mom Diane ("No dear, we say 'creative,' not crazy, right?"), her mean sister Janice (who has a fashion blog and who is always on her phone), and her brother Todd (who has a child but whose wife is always mysteriously "on vacation").  There is also Flo's nutcase dad Richard, and her grandfather.  All of the parts are brilliantly played by Ms. Courtney.

In this hilarious two-minute spot, we are treated to Flo's family as they get ready to eat Thanksgiving dinner.  Mom has decided to do "Thanksgiving Tapas," meaning that all food is cubed and served on toothpicks (yes, even the Jello).  As preparations go on in the kitchen, Todd walks in and snidely says, "Can we please just go sit in front of the TV and eat like a normal family?"  In the living room, Grandpa is not impressed with the tiny portion of food on his plate.  "What is this, the Great Depression?" he barks before yelling, "Nurse!"  Flo corrects him, "Grandpa, I'm not a nurse."



The beauty of this ad campaign is that they don't beat you up over the head with the product info.  The producers just assume that we're already familiar with Flo and Progressive Insurance.  So while their logo is always visible (especially on Flo's uniform) it is not prominent in any of the spots.

Commercial ad campaigns like the three mentioned above are what keep me watching TV.  I can't wait to see what the ad agencies come up with for the Super Bowl!

03 November 2014

Our Skeptical Society

We’ve become a cynical, skeptical, suspicious culture. We question everything now; we believe little of what we are told, especially if it’s being told by someone in government. Some people actually believe nothing, assuming that every official spokesperson is only engaging in cover-your-ass double-speak in which the Truth is twisted, mangled and camouflaged to the point that it is unrecognizable.

Why is this? I suppose we could trace it back to the suspicions of what the government knew about the impending attack in 1941 by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor that got us (finally!) into World War II. Lingering questions remain: Did President Roosevelt have intelligence that such an attack was planned and he just let it happen? That’s a horrible thought.

Or maybe it’s the result of the revelation about the vastly exaggerated if not fabricated Gulf of Tonkin Incident that got us fully involved in the Viet Nam War. This was the supposed attack on U.S. warships by the “North Vietnamese Navy.” We know now that President Johnson basically lied to the American people and Congress so that he could ramp up the war. And so the country went right along into that unwinnable fiasco. Hey, we seem to love war! (We’ve been denied, and as a nation we seem to want another “good, clear, decisive win” like WWII was. And apparently we won’t stop until we get one!)

Or maybe it was the whole “9/11” thing that got us into this never-ending and equally-unwinnable “WAR ON TERROR!!!!” We were told a certain story by the government about how a dozen or so “Muslim extremist” terrorists commandeered four airliners that fateful day in 2001 and used them for their evil purpose. Anyone who doubts the official story is derogatorily labeled a kook or “conspiracy theorist” nutjob. But many do doubt it…or aspects of it. Were we told the full and complete, truthful story? Personally I do not think so.

And so we come to Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. There on August 9 of this year, an unarmed black kid named Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white policeman. (Although, calling Brown a “kid” is deceptive; he was 6’4” and 300 pounds.) The exact details of the shooting are disputed and controversial. The incident sparked some serious demonstrations and unrest on a scale unseen since the civil rights riots of the 1960’s and ‘70s.

The Ferguson Police Department’s handling of the protests and demonstrations has been controversial and, some would say disproportionate. One of the things the Ferguson P.D. did was to ask the FAA to declare a so-called “no-fly zone” around the city. There is a mechanism in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR’s) which allows this. It is called a “TFR” or Temporary Flight Restriction.

TFR’s are put in place over disasters, natural or man-made. Generally, they exist to keep sight-seers out, which could create an unsafe situation in the air. But restricting access also allows the safe, unimpeded transit and operation of fire-fighting, air ambulance, National Guard or other disaster-relief aircraft. In most cases, a TFR will not exclude aircraft carrying properly accredited members of the news media (the public has a First Amendment right to know, you see). But sometimes even news and media helicopters are kept out. This was the case with the Ferguson TFR.

We learn from a story in today’s Washington Post that the Ferguson P.D. specifically wanted to keep the news copters out…to prevent the media from covering the demonstrations and the P.D.’s handling of them. The TFR that was issued under the specific FAR normally would have kept all aircraft away from Ferguson. But the wording was carefully crafted by the FAA and the Ferguson P.D. to allow other, normal aircraft operation through the area but at the same time keep the pesky news reporters with their cameras out.

Read the story HERE.

The day the TFR was issued, the St. Louis County P.D. said it was not to keep the media out but for “safety” because people were shooting at police helicopters.

There were no incident reports of anyone shooting at police helicopters. (Having said that, it is true that a bullet from a rifle fired into the air might endangered a low-flying helicopter.)

The P.D. announcement was bullshit. The cops merely wanted to keep the news helicopters away. So they lied.

And so we have yet another instance in which it is reported to the American people that public officials lied. Whether or not what they did was justified is beside the point: They lied.

Politicians of the future need not wonder why we don’t believe a word they say.

08 September 2014

The Real Gateway Drug

Now that I’m back in Pensacola and playing Mr. Cab Driver again, I am reminded and astonished anew at how many cab drivers smoke weed. One driver candidly admitted to me that it was rare that he wasn’t stoned when he drove.

I’m not sure this phenomenon is limited to my town. The late, great singer/songwriter, Harry Chapin sang about it in his hit song, “Taxi,” back in 1972. It’s about a guy who wanted to be a pilot – even joined the Air Force – but it didn’t happen for him. So he ends up driving a cab in San Francisco. One rainy night he coincidentally picks up an old high school sweetheart who had wanted to be an actress but married into money and had her plans change as well. The song ends…

And here, she's acting happy
Inside her handsome home
And me, I'm flying in my taxi
Taking tips, and getting stoned
I go flying so high, when I'm stoned.


I think that most pilots do not realize how pervasive weed is in the general population. Being conservative, rule-abiding types, we might drink alcohol but we view illegal drugs with disdain, which is also how we feel about the people who partake of them. So we tend to gravitate toward people like ourselves. Thus, we are often shocked when we learn that a non-aviator acquaintance gets high…regularly gets high.

It’s enlightening to look back and see just how marijuana got lumped in under the category of “Drugs.” It it not synthetic; it grows naturally on the planet. Unlike most other drugs (including most forms of alcohol), nothing further needs to be done to weed: Plant it; pick it; dry it out; smoke it. Just like tobacco. Wacky tabacky. But many countries felt it was such a threat in the 1920s and ‘30s that they decided to make it illegal. The theory was (and still is) that marijuana is a so-called “gateway drug” because it leads users into trying something stronger. No hard empirical data exists to support this, but nowadays it is generally accepted as fact.

So for all intents and purposes marijuana is a narcotic.

But so is alcohol, and so is caffeine and so are hundred of other products we routinely and legally take to make us "feel better."

But let’s not get into the politics of pot. The states of Washington and Colorado have legalized the personal use and sale of marijuana. The tide is turning and more states are surely to follow, like it or not.

Many people misunderstand the effect that weed has on you. It does not put you into a euphoric, catatonic state (like heroin or LSD). Contrary to some claims, weed does not impair your motor skills like alcohol does. Neither does it make you aggressive like alcohol. You never hear about a person going out, getting stoned and then crashing his car on the way home. You never hear of a guy going out, getting stoned and then going home and beating his wife. …Or getting into a fight in a bar. You never hear of Jamaica attacking or invading any other country ("Tomorrow, mon!"). You cannot ingest a fatal overdose of weed in one sitting while listening to your favorite Pink Floyd album.

By itself, weed is “fairly” harmless. (But combined with other intoxicants…that’s another story.) By now, I think most young people understand that weed is not the same as “harder” drugs like crack and meth and coke.

I know more than a few people who smoke but self-regulate their intake. They don’t smoke until they’re zonked-out and unconscious. They merely take a hit or two off a joint to just “take the edge off.” This allows them to go about their day normally. You probably wouldn’t even know they were stoned unless you knew the specific signs to look for – and they vary slightly from person to person. (But if you’re in a taxi in almost any city in this country, chances are good that your driver has smoked weed within the last twenty-four…uhhh, make that twelve hours.)

I am often offered weed. Smoking weed is a social thing…a group-bonding activity. But I always refuse. Here’s why: It’s not that I have any strict aversion to marijuana, or that I think it’s akin to mainlining heroin. It’s simply that I don’t smoke cigarettes – I never have. So smoking weed is incredibly harsh for me. To me, the high you get from pot is not worth the discomfort necessary to ingest it. “Oh, you get used to it,” my pot-smoking friends say. Well…yeah…except that I don’t want to. I’ll take my Rum and Coke, thank you.

Which is why I don’t think that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” But you know what the real gateway drug is? Cigarettes. I’m telling you, it’s a small step from a cigarette to a joint. If you see a teenager who smokes cigarettes, I’d bet you real money that he/she also smokes weed. Anectdotally, everybody I know who smokes weed also smokes cigarettes. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

03 September 2014

Bad Facebooker...Facebookie?

As I’m sure all of us do, I get a lot of Facebook friend-requests. Usually they’re from people who’ve read something I’ve posted in a helicopter forum or on someone else’s wall. Trouble is, many of these requests are from people whose profiles are set to Private. This means that when I click on their name to see who they are I am met with the digital equivalent of a stony silence. Oh sure, we can look at “some” of their pictures, but anything meaningful that might tell you about them is hidden. Yet they want to know all about me. These requests always get ignored.

I do not automatically approve friend-requests – either from strangers or even from people I know. I’m kind of selective in that regard. Then again, even my own brother, Patrick has not approved my friend-request to him, so it works both ways. And I don’t blame him; we’re not close. But it sometimes ticks people off…people who think that because they have met me it entitles them to be friends with me online. It does not. I have 128 Facebook “friends.” I think that is quite enough…maybe too many.

When you “friend” someone on Facebook you are letting them into your world. They can learn things about you that perhaps they should not. And vice-versa. I keep my profile set to Public, mostly because I don’t have anything to hide and I don’t post anything really controversial on Facebook. But still… You’re opening yourself up.

Anyone who is curious about me can click on my name and see whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean I want all my posts and pics and “likes” and tags automatically showing up on their news feeds. On the other hand, I do not want everyone’s random burps and farts cluttering up my news feed. And some people do post waaaaaaaay too much trivial bullshit.

I got a couple of friend-requests the other day and I ignored them as usual. But it got me wondering: How many pending friend-requests did I have? Turns out the number is 107. It may be more, as I’ve actually clicked “Ignore” on some which makes them disappear off the list (I think).

I like Facebook…like the whole worldwide social aspect of it. I like how it can bring people of so many different cultures and locations together. I cannot imagine doing without Facebook just as I cannot imagine doing without a telephone.

But I limit the number of people I call “friends.” I like to meet and get to know people, but I don’t want them all in my house at the same time. So I guess that makes me a bad Facebooker.

20 August 2014

The 2014 Cherry Drying Wrap-up

As many of you know, I live in Florida but spend my summers up in Washington State where I do the odd job of drying cherries by helicopter after it rains.  Thing is, it doesn’t rain much in the interior of Washington State, which makes it a good place to grow cherries.  But when it does rain, the farmers freak-out because too much rain is bad for their crop. (They can always add moisture if needed via irrigation.)   Cherries absorb moisture, and if they absorb too much they’ll split open and be rejected by the packing plant.  We helicopter pilots (and there are dozens of us from Oregon north to the Canadian border) sit around on “stand-by” waiting for it to rain so we can go out and do our thing.

Some years it rains a lot.  This past summer was particularly dry; we hardly flew at all.  Plus it was blisteringly hot – over 100 degrees nearly every day in July.  So we sat around…inside mostly, trying to keep cool.  There was not any relief in the evenings – most days it wouldn’t get below 90 until after nine p.m.!  So much for lazy, evening barbecues.

The season started early, and for some reason it caught us by surprise although it shouldn’t have.  Normally the growers want their stand-by charges to start in mid- to late-June.  This year the spring was unseasonably warm which accelerated the cherry growth.  Thus, when we got some rain in early June the farmers all hit the Panic! button.  It nearly caught us with our pants down.

After that initial spate of flying, the probability of precipitation dropped to zero and stayed that way in the forecast through Christmas.  Oh occasionally a little stray shower would make it’s way across the Cascades and into our orchards.  I flew a little in the middle of June, a little at the 24th of June, and then not again until July 27th.  Can you say, “boring?”  I knew you could.

Then there was The Fire.  Officially it is called The Carlton Complex Fire.  It started on Monday, June 14th near the little town of Carlton which is northwest of us in Brewster.  So far it has consumed over 250,000 acres and more than 300 structures.  It is being called the biggest fire in the history of Washington State!  Although it is pretty much contained (98%), it still burns today, August 20th. Some say that it won't be completely out until the first snowfall.

By Wednesday we knew the fire was serious – the smoke was really heavy.  And since the smoke was right over us, we knew that we were downwind of the fire – not a good place to be.  By Thursday it was approaching the towns of Pateros and Brewster.  We went out to eat at the local Mexican restaurant, and watched the fire come over the hill and down into town.  People were racing around, evacuating the hospital, trying to save homes in its path while we calmly (blithely?) munched on burritos and drank Dos Equis (although I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…).  It was kind of surprising to see.  The area around Brewster is mostly sagebrush and fruit orchards, so we didn’t think it would get as bad as it did.  But it did!

Brewster was spared, but Pateros got hit hard.  Many homes were burned to the ground, including the topless mayor’s.  Power was out because the fire burned the wooden power poles which took down the lines as they fell.  All in all it was pretty hairy.

Fortunately our beloved SweetRiver Bakery was spared.  But the whole town was out of commission for about a week due to the smoke/ash damage and no power.

The Washinton DNR’s (Department of Natural Resources) response to the fire had been…uhh…“late and inadequate” are the only terms that can be kindly used.  They really could have put the fire out while it was still small (all fires start small).  But they did not; their efforts were apparently directed more at containing it, which they could not do because the weather started getting really windy.  One morning we awoke to find that the management of the fire had been taken over by crews from California.  Suddenly we were seeing many more aircraft of all type fighting the fire as well as a more concerted effort on the ground.

The fire threatened the three locations at which we keep our aircraft, but thankfully it never came too close although we did move aircraft out of harm’s way a couple of times just to be safe.  I am assigned to a job at a remote orchard north of Brewster up near the town of Okanogan.  With my helicopter moved to a safer location, I sat in my RV one night watching the fire approaching…cresting and then descending a nearby hill as it made its way down toward “my” orchards.  I stayed up, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  But by morning we saw that the fire stopped at the edge of the orchard, as it usually does.  There’s lots of moisture in those cherry and apple trees.

Then the fire just…sort of…went away.  The winds shifted/died, everything burnable around us had already burned, and we got a little rain.  Suddenly we were out of danger.  But the fire had put a damper on everything, stifled our ability to have “fun” when so many people had lost so much.  You’d be in a restaurant and overhear people talking about their house had burned to the ground and they’d lost everything.  It was heartbreaking. It was not enjoyable. Usually I stick around after the cherries are all picked, but this year as soon as my contract was over I left.

It’s still summer down here in Florida, with daily temperatures in the mid-90s.  I walked out of my house the other day and was suddenly hit by the heavy, humid air.  So different than the dry 100-degree heat of interior Washington.  Different, but…I don’t know…comfortable in an inexplicable way. Familiar, maybe.   And I thought to myself, “Gee, it’s good to be home!” I've done four summers up in Washington; I'm not sure whether there will be a fifth season for me.

Above is a shot of downtown Brewster on July 17th, 2014 as we'd just come out of the restaurant. The fire is coming down the hills just north of town. We're starting to think, "Hmm, maybe this fire is more serious than we thought?" How or why it didn't burn right into the town is beyond me.



The shot above is of the fuel truck at my LZ (landing zone) near Okanogan. The fire had come down the hill in the background and is right at the edge of the orchard (covered in the white bird netting). With the naked eye you could clearly see flames in the sagebrush but they did not show up in the shot.


Fire is a curious thing. See here how it burned the sagebrush right up to one post of the sign for the Alta Lake Campground near Pateros. But if that leg of the sign happened to be part of your house...the house would probably be gone.

16 August 2014

Hugger

I am, I have to admit, a hugger. It is not my nature to be. I was raised in a family that was not especially physically demonstrative. Not that my parents were cold and/or distant; they just weren’t the huggy/kissy kind. The preferred show of affection was a swift slap on the back of your head. And so I grew up to be just a little awkward with affectionate human contact. It is what it is. But somewhere along the line it changed. I hug people now. It sometimes makes my friends uncomfortable. Oh well.

As a pilot for so many years, I’ve seen more than my share of people who’ve died. It happens unexpectedly, obviously. You never assume that people are going to crash and die. But they do. One day they’re here; next day they’re not. Boom – gone, just like that.

Crashing is one thing.  But people depart suddenly in other ways too.  When I was with Petroleum Helicopters (PHI), I spent a lot of my time with the company contracted to oil companies and flying ships that were based offshore. I worked a week-on / week-off schedule. On Friday morning, a mechanic and I would grab our helicopter at a shore base and leave, staying offshore for our seven-day “hitch.” We usually wouldn’t return to the base until Thursday evening when we’d leave for our seven-day “break.”

For four years the mechanic assigned to me was a guy named Jim Kedziora. We started out, both new to the company, assigned to Tenneco Oil, which was eventually absorbed into Chevron. When I transferred over to Shell Oil, Jim came with me. We both lived in Pensacola, Florida and were friends off the job as well. In fact, we were the closest of friends. We were both single, and we both rode motorcycles. Jim also had a bike and we took many great road- and camping trips together. Life was good. …At least for me.

We in our little circle of friends knew that Jim was depressed. He was taking Lithium to help him deal with his mood swings, and it helped. Sadly, we did not know the depths of Jim’s depression. And all of us were stunned when he committed suicide just shy of his twenty-sixth birthday. None of us saw it coming. In fact, that break week was totally unremarkable. There was no hint that anything was amiss with Jim.

As you can probably imagine, you go through a lot of shit when someone so close to you commits suicide. There are questions that can never be adequately answered, yet you ask them anyway. They gnaw at you: Why did he do this? Could I have seen this coming? Why didn’t I see this coming? Could I have prevented it? Could I have been a better friend? On and on and on, it never ends.

Our little circle of friends disintegrated. Just being with each other was painful. Jim’s girlfriend, Darlene was devastated and went through her own hell. Chuck (a coworker with whom Jim had been living) sold his house and moved away…as did PHI pilot Greg and his wife Thelia. I moved away too, although I stayed in the Pensacola area.

It took me about a year to get over it, to be honest - to get to the point where I stopped beating myself up for not being more attentive and sensitive. If there was something positive to come out of Jim’s death, it was that it made me appreciate people more. And so I hug them. You can communicate a lot of things with a hug – more than the words can convey. I hug my friends even if I know we'll see each other "soon," in case I’m never going to see them again. Morbid, I know. But people are important and I never, ever again want to feel like I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye and tell people how I feel.

The suicide death this past week of Robin Willliams brought all of these memories back, opened old wounds. I guess you never completely get over something like that.  It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years now since Jim's death. The time has sped by.

Jim in happier times offshore on the Shell Oil platform on which we worked. He's wearing a t-shirt he got at an Oyster Bar in Key West during one of our epic motorcycle trips.


A much-younger (and slimmer) me and Jim in front of N5001P, a Bell 206B

12 August 2014

Weight Loss...and Gain

When I left for Washington State this past May I weighed 180 pounds, down from 203. I held a futile hope that I wouldn’t gain “too much” back while doing my summer job, which consists of me sitting around doing nothing but overeating during my on-duty time and drinking to excess while off-duty.

When I got home the other day I weighed-in at 197. Clearly there is work to do.

And so it’s back on the “diet” and by that I mean cutting out the red meat and fried foods and keeping my total calorie intake to 1,500 or less. It’s not all that difficult; I did it before. It’s just hard to do up in Washington where the boss likes to take everyone out and buy them breakfast and/or lunch. Restaurants rarely have really healthy choices. Plus, while I was up there I was living in an RV which had limited cooking facilities. The inclination to overeat is tremendous.

Losing weight must be a combination of diet and exercise, we all know that. And I wasn’t exercising at all up in Washington. So it’ll be back onto the exercise bike and working with the kettlebells. I know I’ll never be buff, but I’d like to get down to a weight where I won’t be embarrassed to have my picture taken in a bathing suit. I stopped in Atlanta to visit my friend Matt on my way home from Washington last week. We went kayaking. We took the usual camera on a rock with the timer set selfie of us in the river. I made him promise not to post the photos though because I look so…well there’s no other word for it…fat.

Maybe I better keep the total calories down to 1,000 or less…

21 June 2014

The Mayor's Boobs

I shouldn’t write about this, but I won’t mention any names, not even of the town we were in. So maybe nobody will know.

We were in this joint, see, a hangout that is a real, honest-to-God dive bar. Scuzzy. A place that even the Hell’s Angels would pass up because just peeing in the bathroom is so disgusting. Ugh. I mean, I’m not really too picky when it comes to where I pee, but seriously, I’d rather pee outside at this place. And I often do.

Anyway, it was crowded – so crowded that the bartender started running out of liquors you’d assume every bar would have plenty of, especially on a busy weekend. And you do not want to drink draft beer – God only knows what’s growing in those taps that haven't been cleaned since the Nixon administration. So bottled beer it is. Nevertheless, the crowd was in a raucous good mood and was having a grand ol’ time. Okay, let’s not sugarcoat it: We were all drunk. But hey, it was a bar not a friggin’ church.

It was getting late. Someone exhorted a nice-looking woman near me into lifting her shirt and displaying the goods…and she obliged!

Turns out it was the mayor.

That’s right, the mayor. Hey, now there’s a politician who knows how to give the constituents what they want. Finally! She happened to be facing right at me when this happened. It was impressive…err, they were impressive. Err, whatever. Oddly, nobody seemed all that shocked/appalled/disturbed/upset.

I’m certainly no prude, but at that point I figured that it was probably a good time for Bob to head for the house. Not that I don’t like a good party, but things were kind of getting out of hand, so to speak. We didn’t have to worry about the cops arriving; there isn’t even a local P.D. in this particular town. But you know…you gotta draw a line somewhere. I’d seen enough. Literally. And it was late. Or early, depending on what you call 3 a.m. I rounded up some others who’d also had enough. We had a long drive home. Luckily I wasn’t driving. Unluckily, the guy who was driving was only slightly less drunk than I was. Thankfully there’s nobody else on these roads at that hour of the night/morning. Seriously, I don’t think we saw one other car on the way home. This really is the Middle of Nowhereville.

Next day there was the requisite, ”Oh man, you should’ve stayed!” from my friends who did. Not only did the mayor flash her tits a second time (cementing her reelection, I’m certain), but she did it with another, similarly well-endowed woman who didn't want to feel left out and joined in the fun. Two pair. Dammit! I wondered if the other woman was running for political office too. I would've liked to have checked out her...umm...qualifications. There were reportedly even more tawdry shenanigans after we left involving two local boys in the strangely tolerant crowd, but since this is a family blog I’ll spare you the sordid rumors. Let’s just say I’m glad we left when we did.

Just when I think that nothing exciting or unusual ever happens to me… But the summer is still young! I can’t wait to see what other things are yet to be revealed.

11 May 2014

Friends

As I’ve often reported in these pages, I am blessed with the best friends money can buy. No seriously, I have great friends…better friends than I deserve. I could list each of them, and the kind and generous things they’ve done for me over the years, but it would take a blogpost the size of a certain Tolstoy novel. So I’ll tell you about the most recent.

I’ve mentioned my friend Mike Nehring before. I met him in Pensacola nearly ten years ago when he was just starting out in this crazy field of helicopter flying. We hit it off right away and have been friends ever since. We’re a lot alike. We are both sons of pilots, and so we both have inherited some innate talent for this line of work. He is an extremely knowledgeable and gifted pilot whose skills are right up there with the best of us. It was Mike who turned me on to this cherry-drying stuff in Washington State, which was new to me even though I’ve been involved in aviation forever.

Mike has worked his way into a fine job with a company in Olympia, Washington which is just south of Seattle. He’s doing what we call “Utility” work: Hauling external-loads (stuff strung under the helicopter on a steel cable); fighting fires; and stringing powerlines. Yes, it’s riskier than most “normal” flying, and the pay is obviously better.

Instead of driving from Florida to Washington this year, I’d decided to fly up, leaving Pensacola on Thursday, May 8th, connecting through Dallas, TX and Seattle, WA and arriving into the town of Wenatchee, WA which is about an hour-and-a-half south of Brewster. One of my company guys would come and take me the rest of the way.

But without hesitation, Mikey said, “I’ll pick you up!” It was out of his way, but he was driving over to Spokane anyway where on Friday he’d be catching a flight back to Minnesota to visit family. If he picked me up on Thursday afternoon, he could overnight with me in Brewster and then head to Spokane the next morning. Perfect!

Then we saw that I’d have a four-hour layover in Seattle, close to where he lived. The logical thing was for him to pick me up there and for me to "miss" the little commuter flight to Wenatchee (hey, twist my arm!). At least, that was the plan. Then God got involved.

There were tornadic thunderstorms through the center of Texas all day long causing delayed flights and misconnections like you wouldn't believe. My inbound flight to DFW got diverted into Shreveport, LA for a while to wait it out and get fuel. Of course I missed my flight to SEA even though it left late. My new flight's departure time from DFW kept getting pushed back later and later. The bottom line was that I would not be arriving into Seattle until sometime around 9:30 pm. Which meant Mikey and I wouldn’t get into Brewster until around 2:00 am. I called and gave him the bad news. “You might as well take off and head for Spokane,” I said. “No need to wait around for me and ruin your trip.”

“I’ve already switched my flight to Saturday,”
Mike said.

I was flabbergasted...shocked...touched. Why would he do something so unselfish without letting me know first...you know, without giving me the opportunity to tell him no. But he's like that. He likes doing things for other people, and I'm fortunate to be one of those other people.

As it turned out, Mike did pick me up in Seattle, and between one thing and another we finally got to Brewster around 3:00 am. On the way over he talked; I slept most of the way.

I pity people who angrily claim to not need any friends. Because it’s not true. We all need friends, and of equal importance we all need to be friends to others. In my life I’ve known some terrific people whose friendships have been invaluable to me...people who’ve done things for me which I’ll never be able to repay, if you could even put a monetary value on their actions, which most often you can't.

I say that I have the best friends in the world. I should probably tell them that more often.

06 May 2014

Switching Hats Again

And just like that, the Great Cab-driving Adventure of 2014 is over. I turned in the cab today. On Thursday morning I leave for Washington State. Flying up this time, and yes I know I've previously promised that I will NEVER fly again on the airlines. But to be honest, I just wasn't keenly looking forward to another 3,000-mile drive. A younger me would not have hesitated; this me just wasn't feeling it.

This will be my fourth season as a cherry-drying pilot. I'm excited about returning to the Pacific Northwest...seeing all my friends again who are now becoming "old friends." Mikey, the son I never had, is already up there, living and working full-time for an operator in Olympia. He's already eagerly planning escapades and shenanigans, most of which are sure to involve alcohol abuse (hopefully mild). Weather forecasters are predicting a dryer-than-usual summer, so who knows how much flying we'll do.

Our company sort of committed to a local club of glider pilots that we'd use our plane to tow their planes aloft this summer, and I sort of got nominated to be the tow-pilot, although I'm not sure how or why I agreed to such a thing...perhaps it was in the heat of some of the aforementioned alcohol abuse. Glider-towing is hardly exciting work. But it is different from helicopter flying and I do like exploring other aviation avenues.

I know I promised you some cab-driving stories, which have been woefully lacking. I really do enjoy driving a taxi here in Pensacola, where the majority of my business comes from the military. It makes me so happy that I don't drive a cab in a city full of...well, ordinary civilians.

Nobody has gotten sick in the cab so far, although other drivers have not been so fortunate. I try to not stay out too late on weekends. Just after midnight, people are still happy-drunk but not yet plastered. However when it gets past two a.m. you see the real drunks come out...the ones who've been drinking since eight p.m. and are now hammered. I try to take my last trip around two and then head to the house.

The other night while cruising downtown I picked up a couple of foreign military helicopter pilots (Jordanian, I think) who were stationed at Ft. Rucker, Alabama undergoing some training. They'd come down to Pensacola for a fun weekend. I'd driven one of them before, and he recognized me. They were drunk and horny, two qualities of passengers that make me very uneasy. Again, like last time the one who'd ridden with me before asked that I take him and his buddy to a strip club. It was a little after two a.m. and it had been a relatively slow night. Over the radio I heard driver after driver going "10-7" (out of service). I was fixing to knock off as well.

The strip club I took them to was kind of remote - not walking distance from anywhere. They worried about getting a taxi back to their motel and wondered if I would be working for another couple of hours? "Fat chance," I thought to myself, but assured them...promised them that someone would be available to pick them up. But I wasn't sure of that at all. As I drove home, even more drivers called it quits, leaving only one or two still in service. I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, so I didn't hear whether they got picked up or not by our company. If they didn't...well, fortunately I'll be gone for the next few months and won't have to see them again if they come down for another fun weekend of scamming babes in Pensacola, Florida.

Mikey's going to pick me up on Thursday afternoon when my flight lands in Wenatchee, WA. He'll probably already have a bottle of rum, a bottle of Coke, a bag of ice and some red Solo cups. If not, the liquor store is right on the way out of town.

I have a feeling it's going to be another crazy summer. And I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it!

24 April 2014

Jumping To Conclusions

Misconceptions: We’re all guilty of them, especially when it comes to other people.

I carry a lot of passengers in my taxi, and as a student of human nature I've learned to "read" them. However, I do jump to some conclusions about people. I don’t like it when I’m wrong. And sometimes I don’t like it when I’m right.

I carry a lot of military kids in my cab. The Naval Aviation Technical Training Center (NATTC), based at Naval Air Station Pensacola (NASP) has over 4,000 young U.S. Navy and Marine Corps students in attendance at any given time. Many of them are under 21, and very few of them are allowed to have cars, and so they depend on taxis to get around. Over 90% of my business comes from the navy base.

Getting a tattoo is a time-honored tradition in the military. Lately, the government is putting more and more restrictions on tattoos, but nevertheless the desire for “ink” is strong and I transport a lot of young sailors and Marines to the various (and numerous) tattoo parlors in the Pensacola area.

Recently, three young ladies got in the cab at the navy base. …Three Marine women, all in their smart-looking Class C uniforms which the Marines are required to wear when they go off base here. …Three clean-cut, wholesome, conservative-looking, nice young women hopped in the cab at Foxtrot barracks.

“So…which tattoo shop can I take you ladies to today?”
I said in my jokingly sarcastic way.

“Monster Ink!”
was the excited reply. All three of them had appointments to get tattoos.

Well shut my mouth.

I hate it when I’m wrong.

Then a couple of days later I got a call from a woman whom I’d carried before and who lived way out west of town. Her daughter was at home and needed to go to the Cordova Mall. The woman could not drive her. A pickup time was arranged.

When I got there, the daughter (who is white) and a boy (who is black) got in the van. They were very young…sixteen...maybe. I couldn’t tell whether they were boyfriend and girlfriend. You never know. It might be racist of me for even mentioning it, but there is a trend today for white girls to go out with black guys. You almost never see the reverse: a black girl with a white boy. It just doesn’t happen. For obvious reasons, I suppose. (And if you have to ask…don’t.)

The ride to the mall took over a half-hour, so I had time to assess the young couple in the back. These kids were a puzzle. For one thing, the girl spent almost the entire time on her cellphone. Secondly, they weren’t holding hands, nor did they seem at all affectionate. They didn’t even seem very friendly to one another. In fact, there was a palpable air of tension between them. I got the distinct impression that the boy didn't even want to be there. Then it dawned on me. “Ahh, she’s pregnant!” I smugly thought to myself. That’s what sixteen year-old white trash girls do down here – they get pregnant by the first boy who pretends to be in love with them just so he can get laid.

Halfway to the mall the boy’s cellphone rings. He has a short conversation with someone I take to be a male friend and who I gather wants to get together and do something. A question is posed, but I cannot hear it. “I can’t," the boy replies in a disappointed tone. "I have a doctor’s appointment,” he says. Then he hangs up. Hmm. “I” have a doctor’s appointment? Not “we” have a doctor’s appointment? Could I have read this whole situation wrong? Perhaps. And so being nosy, I ask if they want to be dropped off anywhere specific “at the mall,” which coincidentally is right next to Sacred Heart Hospital and a bunch of medical clinics in the surrounding area. But they say no, the main entrance is fine.

We finally get to the mall and the kids get out. As she does, the girl drops a folder on the floor right behind and between the two front seats. I reach down to pick it up and hand it to her. On the front is a label with her name on it and…wait for it…the logo for the obstetrics clinic at the hospital. Aha! Okay, then. A fifteen or sixteen year-old girl, pregnant by a guy she's probably not all that fond of to begin with.

I hate it when I’m right.

22 April 2014

MH370: Gone Pecan (and yes, those words do rhyme)

I often get asked, "Bob, as an aviation expert slash cab driver, do you think they'll ever find the missing Malaysian airliner?" And I always reply, "Nope! Not a chance.” People do seem astonished that a big plane like that could just...you know...vanish into thin air (or thick water, if you believe the Malaysian government). We wonder, "Aren't there devices onboard the plane (like the passengers' personal cell phones) that could be tracked by...something...or someone…GPS, hello? Hmm. Good question. I don't know.

Here's what I think: Globally, the number of aircraft in the air at any given time is staggering. Nevertheless, I think the U.S. government does indeed have a way of tracking everything that is in the sky. Maybe there aren't people watching computer screens of global aviation activity 24/7 and monitoring every flight...but then again, who knows, maybe there are. In any event, I believe we *do* have the capability of tracking everything that's in the air. Don’t ask me the specifics of how, but come on…let’s not be na├»ve about what our government is or isn’t capable of doing. Edward Snowden, anyone? It’s 2014: The technology is obviously there.

But just as obviously the U.S. would want to keep the knowledge of this capability quiet. Why should ol’ Vladdy Putin know that we can in real time track every Aeroflot flight that takes off and crashes?

Furthermore, when MH370 disappeared I believe that the U.S. government reviewed its data of that area at that time. We probably knew there was no hope of survivors. Eventually, after waiting to see whether the Malaysians or Australians would figure it out on their own (which they obviously did not), the U.S government did...discreetly...tell the Malaysians where the plane went down. (Don’t you think it was strange that the Malaysian government suddenly had a very specific area they were focusing on and they never said why?)

We told them. We probably didn’t tell them how we knew; we probably just sent our ambassador to meet with the King of Malaysia, showed him a map and said, “Hey look, Yer Highness, it went down right here. We know this. I can’t tell you how we know this or I’d have to kill you. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how you’re going to explain to the world how a 500 mph jet with no transponder overflew your country and didn’t send your defense forces into a tizzy.”

So the plane is a gone pecan. The extended, frantic, desperate search was in vain after a day or two of, “You know…umm…err…we’re not exactly sure *where* it went after the transponder got shut off.” I doubt they’ll ever find it…or more importantly find out why it crashed, which is what we really want to know, right?

09 April 2014

My Real Life

Already it is nearly time to take off the cab driver hat and put on the helicopter pilot baseball cap. I can't believe the time has gone by so fast; it seems like I just got "home." Which calls into question where "home" really is. I spent six months up in Washington State last year - half the year. I don't intend to stay up there that long this summer, but then I didn't intend to stay up there that long last summer. I like it up there. And it's starting to feel like home. A fella could get used to living in that part of the country...if it just didn't get so dad-blamed cold in the winter.

I greatly look forward to getting back up to Brewster. We always have a really great crowd of people that I get to hang around with...pilots and what we sneeringly call "non-aviators" alike. Yeah, sometimes we pilots get to feeling full of ourselves - especially when we get full of alcoholic beverages. Then the rest of the world becomes not us. It's bad, I know.

Of course I'm bringing my guitar. Last year, I brought mine and my friend Brandon brought his. Turned out that one of our other pilots, Lauren could also play! (Plus she sings terrifically too!) And so did copilot Chris. Danny (one of the owners - who also plays) brought out his two guitars, a gorgeous vintage Fender Stratocaster and an acoustic. All of us had a fine time jamming in the hangar (which has great sound as you can imagine). And let me tell you, there is nothing...NOTHING more fun than making music with your friends.

Since then I've gotten marginally better at playing and I've learned a whole bunch of new songs (although I do not have a good singing voice). Maybe I'll even put up a YouTube video like the awesome one my friend Hal Johnson did. Oh you didn't see it? It's incredible - gives me chills. Watch! Sings and plays pretty good for a dang ol' helicopter pilot, doesn't he? I doubt I could top this.



I quite like my dual life. But it is getting hard to know at this point which is my "real" life and which one is the one I go to just to play. Maybe some day I'll figure it out.




29 March 2014

Cab Driver - Therapist

Whenever a bartender flags you down you know things are going to be bad. Either a too-drunk patron had them call for a cab, or they’re throwing somebody out because they’re too drunk.

Like bartenders, hairdressers, priests and legitimate therapists, we cabbies are often called upon to dispense advice. Why on earth people would presume that I would have any words of wisdom for them is beyond my meager powers of comprehension. I’m a goddam cab driver fer cryin’ out loud.

With that in mind, I’m cruising up Palafox Street in downtown Pensacola last night when a guy hails me outside of the Helen Back bar. He gives me the, “Wait one,” hand gesture and goes back inside. That’s when I spot his t-shirt with the “Helen Back” logo. I think to myself, “Just drive away, Bob, just drive away.” But no.

Subsequently he comes back, and he’s just about carrying this little blond woman. Skinny thing, tiny…late 20’s or early 30’s. He plops her unceremoniously in my front seat and wordlessly shuts the door. Uh-oh. She immediately turns to me and says, “I am NOT going to get sick in your car.” Then she gives me an address that’s not too far away. Hardly reassured, I drive off. I keep a blue plastic pail (the kind kids play with on the beach) within quick reach in the event the drunks I carry have any accidents.

Before we get far, she’s sobbing. Against my better judgment, I ask her what’s wrong? She doesn’t answer, just alternates between sobbing and mumbling incoherently. And she seems vaguely pissed at me for some reason, saying that I don’t really care about her. Which I don’t, to be honest. Ten minutes from now she’ll be out of my cab and out of my life.

As we motor toward her house she suddenly sits straight up and angrily informs me I’m going the wrong way. “I guess that’s your plan, huh…to charge me as much as you can?” One has to be careful when insulting a cab driver. We’re likely to pull over and kick your drunken ass out. There is no law that says I must get people to their destination. Anyway, she quickly realizes her mistake, but does not apologize.

Finally she starts making sense. Between her sobs I learn that she’s all alone in the world. Her husband left her, she’s estranged from her son, they don’t talk to her…she has no family, and all of her “best friends” have turned out to be not friends at all but merely coworkers. All alone. And…of course…she misses her dead father terribly; he died thirteen years ago, she says.

We get to her house. The fare is eight dollars. “Can you please just show me some compassion?” she verily demands. “Can you please just say SOMETHING to me…give me SOME advice?”

Hey toots, I'm just some fuckin' guy, you know? But okay, you axed for it. I start off as gently as I can, kind of knowing how this conversation is going to go. “Ma’am, it’s been my experience that if you have a relationship with God, you’ll never be alone in life…you’ll never be lonely. No matter what happens, God is always with you.”

Before the words are even out of my mouth, I hear the tongue-cluck and the sigh. I knew they were coming. “Oh, I don’t have a relationship with God,” she spits. “I have a relationship with pantheism.” I don’t have time to ask her to explain because she quickly adds, “I tried the God-thing.”

The God-thing. I’m tempted to ask, “How’s that working out for ya?” but I don’t. She starts fumbling around, pretending to look for her purse. I decide that it’s time to help her out of the car, whether she actually gives me any money or not. But she finds the purse, pulls ten crumpled dollars out and makes a big show of dumping them on the floor between the seats.

“Thanks for nothing,"
she hisses as she walks away.

I feel sorry for people like her…people so wrapped up in themselves and their own misery and self-pity that they drive others away. From the very brief glimpse I got of this young woman’s life, I completely understand why she’s all alone and bitter. I get back in my cab, shake my head and I drive away too.

19 March 2014

Risks We Elect To Take

So here we are, a week and a half after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and there is still no sign of it. The plane just vanished. Speculation runs rampant, especially on the all-news TV channels. Most of it is just inane-bordering-on-stupid. I can’t even watch CNN anymore.

Personally, I knew almost immediately that it did not crash at the point where it disappeared from radar. When searchers went to that location and found no wreckage I smelled a rat. Big airplanes like the Boeing 777 leave evidence behind when they crash. Something would’ve been on the water. But it wasn’t. Ergo, airplane not there; airplane somewhere else.

Where? Somebody knows, and somebody isn’t telling. I read today that Thailand’s government admitted that their military radar tracked the jet. Thai officials sort of disingenuously claimed that they never said anything about this because…get this…nobody asked. Yeah, right.

Big jets like the 777 do not just evaporate into thin air. It went somewhere, and it either landed or crash-landed. My sneaking suspicion is that it went somewhere and landed, and if it is still flyable it is now in the possession of some group. And my other sneaking suspicion is that the assigned flight crew did it…”stole” it…aviation’s version of “The Hunt For Red October.” Why? Who knows. It’s the stuff of adventure novels for sure. And it’s going to make a great movie.

The other aviation incident that made national news this week was the crash of a TV news helicopter in Seattle. It was apparently taking off from a rooftop helipad when something happened and it crashed onto the street below. Both people in the helicopter were killed, and one man on the ground was seriously injured.

Immediately after a bad accident like that, I knew there’d be a lot of speculation, just like with the 777 disappearance, especially on the internet. People want to immediately know what happened: What caused the helicopter to crash? This of course is impossible to know. Nevertheless, self-proclaimed “experts” are always throwing out their theories as fast as their pudgy little fingers can type them. Maybe it makes them feel better to be looked at as an authority by others. Older pilots like me refuse to even make an educated guess as to what would cause such a crash – because there are too many things that can go wrong with a helicopter operating from such a pad.

These two events hammer home the point to all of us that aviation is still a potentially dangerous endeavor. Nothing is perfectly safe, no matter how hard we try to make them so. Airline travel is “fairly” safe to be sure, but there is always an element of risk that cannot be denied or ignored or wished away. And the fact that there are X-number of successful airline flights all over the planet ever day does not lessen the associated risks one little bit.

Helicopter flying is perceived by some as “dangerous” but really it is not. I could not have survived over 30 years of flying these contraptions if they were dangerous. More than that, I wouldn’t have done it. I mean, come on, I’m no fool. I understand that helicopter flying is riskier than staying in your nice, safe apartment or house all day. But I work very hard at keeping the risks as low as possible when I’m flying.

The other night I was driving my taxi on a four-lane, divided highway. A confused (drunk?) driver pulled out from a side road right into my lane going the opposite direction. Head-on and coming fast! I confess that my initial thought was, “I wonder if my airbag is gonna work?” I yanked the wheel to the side and managed to get my car into the next lane just as the other car same zooming by, accelerating hard as he went the wrong way, looking for a place to get back on the proper side of the highway. We missed each other, but hoo-man! It was close enough that I got that metallic taste in my mouth that you get when you’ve had a really close call.

I chucked to myself, “And they say FLYING is dangerous??”


27 February 2014

Cab Driver

After I got out of high school in New York City, I drove a taxi for a short time. This was before the TV series, “Taxi." Even so, lots had been written about cabbies in the Big Apple (which wasn't even called that yet). They are kind of a legend unto themselves. And…I don’t know…I wanted to see if any of it was true. So I got my “hack license” and found a company that would hire me. It was not difficult.

I didn’t do it for very long and really have no interesting stories to tell. I never got robbed, never got hijacked, nobody ever jumped in and said, “Follow that car!” and nobody ever had sex in the back of my cab as far as I knew. I did sometimes get propositioned. I never did take anyone up on it. All in all, from what I remember it was a routine and mundane, unglamorous job.

Flash forward a bit to the time I found myself flying helicopters out in the Gulf of Mexico. We “Gomers” often referred to ourselves as glorified taxi drivers…because that’s really what we were. (In fact, until fairly recently the FAA referred to a company that did that type of work as an “Air Taxi” (wording which has since been changed to “Commercial Operator”). We air taxi pilots picked people up here, and took them to there. It too was a routine and mundane, unglamorous job. The only difference was the fact that my helicopter taxi flew instead of drove.

After over 30 years as a pilot I’m nearly retired now. No more full-time flying for me. I have my little summer gig, the cherry-drying thing up in Washington State. The job usually requires three months of my time – although last year I stayed up there for six full months. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary when I return to Pensacola. The cherry-drying gig pays pretty well, but I still need to do something to keep busy and make a little money the rest of the year. But don’t want to take a full-time job…and seriously, who would hire a guy who could only work from November until May? (And before you ask: No, there is no part-time work for helicopter pilots here in Pensacola.)

So instead of being a Walmart greeter I decided to lease and drive a taxi. It’s strange – it’s like a return to my roots, although admittedly driving a cab here in Pensacola is a lot different from driving one in New York City.

Oddly enough, I may have found the one job for which I’m particularly well-suited. I mean, what guy doesn’t love to drive? And get paid for it? Sweet! Plus, I get to meet tons of people. Yet I only have to interact with them for short periods of time; our trips are generally 20 – 30 minutes or less in length. Much of the time I am the first contact visitors have with this area, which I love. It makes us taxi drivers something of ambassadors for Pensacola.

And so a new chapter opens up and once again I find myself in yet another routine and mundane, unglamorous job: Cab Driver. But it is interesting, and has already provided me with plenty of stories. I’ll share some of them with you in this space.


12 February 2014

More Commercial Fun, 2014

As you all know by now, I hate television but absolutely love television commercials that are done really well. Off the top of my head I can recall a number of specific ads, some from years ago for products: Like (of course!) the more recent, “The Most Interesting Man In The World” ad campaign for Dos Equis beer.

Or how about the dark, moody commercial from ten years ago! for the VW Cabriolet that showed four young kids cruising around one romantic, summer night in their VW convertible to the tune of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.” I still love that spot - probably one of the best commercials ever made!

Or the brilliant “Adventureland” commercial for Little Friskies cat food that showed us what possibly goes through a cat’s mind during the day? Instead of using someone else’s song, the producers went ahead and wrote their own song specifically for the commercial. …And not just a short jingle – a whole song! Awesome!

Or the commercial for GE and the one for Saab automobiles that both used Donovan’s wonderful song, “Catch The Wind” (Sadly, the Saab commercial seems to have disappeared from the internet.)

I look forward to the Super Bowl every year because I know we’ll get to see some really creative commercials. Advertisers know that there is only a short time to grasp the viewers’ attention. Many of us use the breaks in programming to get up and do other things. Devices have been designed that allow us to eliminate having to watch commercials completely. So there has to be a reason to stay and watch them.

Most television commercials are vapid and stupid, barely tolerable. But sometimes…sometimes a company will push the boundaries, break “out of the box,” and do something unpredictable. They’ll spend the extra money and hire truly creative people who’ll produce little 60-second masterpieces of advertising art. Commercials are at their very best when you not only remember the ad itself but the product it is promoting. Like those mentioned above.

Two new commercials recently caught my attention. They are strikingly good. The first is one for Chrysler cars. Last year, Chrysler used (in)famous Detroit hip-hop artist Eminem. This year, they’ve snagged Bob Dylan of all people, talking about things that make us “American,” as opposed to, say, the Canadians or Mexicans who also could (but don’t) claim the title.

Dylan’s little poetic paean is accompanied by a subtle instrumental bed of his wonderful song, “Things Have Changed,” and some iconic photographic images (like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and the “Rosie The Riveter” poster from WWII). The ad evokes all of the good things about this country and our rich cultural heritage. Yeah, it takes a few…um, liberties. It implies that Americans invented both the automobile and the interstate highway, which we did not. We merely perfected and made them our own.

And okay, so maybe American cars aren’t perfect. But that’s not the point, nor is it the point of the commercial. The point is that we have a lot to be proud of. We are a unique, diverse culture that’s had a long love affair with the automobile and the open road. Dylan growls, “Yeah. Detroit made cars, and cars made America.” The commercial celebrates that heritage, instilling pride and patriotism. In the voice-over portion Dylan says, “Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone…” Then they cut to a shot of Dylan in a pool hall, backed by a line of what are obviously UAW workers. He leans toward the camera and declares, “WE will build your car.” Damn!

For me, it works. It’s inspiring. It shows us that if you can look past your cynicism and disillusionment, for all the faults this country has, it’s still a great place to live and work. Thank you, Chrysler, for reminding us that “America” is not finished, and we should all be proud to live here.




The other commercial that really caught my eye was one for Heinekin. The beer producer has run a series of bizarre ads that border on action films. Their latest is this film that begins with a castaway climbing a rope to board a cruise ship underway on the high seas. Once on deck, the “castaway” progresses through a series of various and wacky antics (from doing the limbo to ballroom dancing – you just have to see it) – under the stern glare of ship’s captain. Although it is ostensibly the same guy throughout, they clearly used more than one actor for all of the stunts. At the very end, a beautiful woman asks the captain who the man is. The captain replies with great suspicion, “That can’t be just one man.” Then they cut away to reveal all of the actors who portrayed the character in the various bits.

During the three-minute commercial, clickable links appear that allow you to see the hilarious, short (one-minute) casting sessions for the various roles. If you were to watch all of them you’d be sitting at your computer screen for over 45-minutes…which is what Heinekin wants, of course.

The spot is ingenious because it’s so compelling to watch. And as you do, you'll say to yourself, “They put all this energy and time and money into a commercial for beer?!” Yes, yes they did! Hey, works for me!



There are other noteworthy commercials, of course. You undoubtedly have your favorites. And I’d love to hear about the ones that you think are memorable or entertaining or worthwhile. Because although I don’t like cats, don’t drink Heinekin and probably wouldn’t buy a Chrysler, I appreciate it when some company puts effort into getting me to watch an ad for their product. Sadly, most don’t even try. Kudos to the ones that do!


26 January 2014

Sum Ting Wong With TV News

I woke up laughing this morning. One of the last things I read last night before going to bed was that Southwest Airlines has terminated the captain of that Boeing 737 that landed nose-first at LaGuardia Airport in New York City back in July of 2013. Apparently the copilot was making the approach, but the captain took over when the aircraft was only 400 feet in the air. SWA says it was a violation of its policy for the captain to do something like that.

Well I woke up thinking about that crash, and my thoughts drifted to the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 that crash-landed at the San Francisco International Airport also in July of last year.

You remember the Asiana crash: It was the one in which the local San Francisco TV station KTVU erroneously and hilariously put out the names of the flight crew as: Captain Sum Ting Wong along with crewmembers, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow. The KTVU female newscaster read them with the gravitas you’d expect of a professional delivering a tragic news story. She said that the names came directly from the NTSB. If you’d like to see and hear it again, click HERE.

The NTSB quickly issued a correction, giving the somewhat weak excuse that they were put out by a “summer intern.”

Regardless of how the names were generated and released, it says much about the current state of television news that the station had to rush them on the air. Nobody, from the assistant who called the NTSB to the line producer to the person who typed them into the teleprompter to the air personality herself had the sense to read them and go, “Uhhhhh…this doesn’t sound right - let’s double-check this.” In fact, the station later apologized and gave an even weaker excuse than the NTSB’s: They admitted that no one actually read the names out loud. Really? Are they trying to make us believe that no one could have read those names and not realized that they were bogus? Come on…

Alright, all of this is old news. What struck me as funny this morning was that *if* the NTSB’s story is true, then the “intern” who purportedly perpetrated this hoax must still be laughing about it as well. I’ll bet he wakes up every morning laughing his ass off. For he not only manipulated a television station, but he created a minor international incident, as the Koreans were highly and understandably insulted.

What was the pedal-to-the-metal rush to release the names of the crew? It’s not hard to imagine a news producer at a TV station yelling at his staff to get as much information on an event as possible and get it on the air, NOW!...before the competition can get it out, of course. But could not somebody have said, “Whoa- hang on a tick!” Nope! Not in this day and age. Which is why I have such disdain for the media…all media.

Ho lee fuk, there is sum ting wong with TV news, all right! Every time they do something like this I just laugh and laugh.

21 January 2014

The Diet

A while back I wrote about my “diet” in a post titled, "The Fat Guy." I don’t like calling it a diet because, well, it’s not – at least not in a formalized way. Diets are great, but people who announce they’ve started one sometimes have to admit later than it didn’t work and they gained the weight back. Me, I just decided that I needed to lose weight.

When I got home from Washington at Thanksgiving my weight was 202 pounds. But I felt heavier than that. I felt awful- no energy and no stamina. Worse, I looked like a lard-ass. I’ve been wearing pants with a 34” waist for a while, but up in Washington this past summer I had to buy new ones with a 36” waist. And even they were tight. Yikes.

So I decided to do something about it. I cut out sodas and alcohol and junk food, and kept my daily caloric intake to less than 1,500. And I started exercising. Instead of draconian cuts in food types, I just tried to use some common sense on portion size, and being more careful about combining foods that don’t play well together. (Have the steak and vegetable, but lose the baked potato with butter and sour cream.) I have not completely cut out coffee…leave me one vice, willya? And I still allow myself an occasional glass of wine or beer, although the days of “going out drinking every weekend” are over. As they should be for an old guy with an old guy’s metabolism.

I don't walk around hungry, which is strange, because I thought I would. However this new lifestyle takes some discipline. With a pocket full of dollar bills, if I pass by a vending machine it’s awfully hard to not impulsively grab something yummy. But then I think about last summer and how we all just sat around drinking Pepsi and eating Twinkies…and I know that I never want to return to those days. So I walk away. I think…I hope…that I’ve changed my eating habits permanently.

I have not been weighing myself every day. For one thing, I don’t want to obsess about it, and I know that weight fluctuates up and down to a degree. No need freaking myself out if I gain a pound instead of lose one. What I was looking for was a trend.

And I’m happy to see that my weight is finally down in the 180’s…the upper 180’s to be sure, but solidly enough in the 180’s that I can report it with confidence. That’s a loss of fifteen pounds since Thanksgiving. The initial target is to get down into the 170’s. That’d be great. Beyond that, I’m not sure…not sure I’ll ever get down to 150 again…or even if I could. That might take a real diet.

I still don't look any different...at least I can't see any difference in the mirror yet. But I’m back in my 34” waist pants! And even they are loose enough that I need a belt with them. Is 32” a possibility? Maybe so! Hopefully the downward trend will continue.

15 January 2014

Motorcyclist? Nope, Motorcycle-less!

I sold the Sportster. I know, I know…my pride and joy. And I really did like that bike. But it was not the Sportster for me. So I will get another one: The one I really want.

The Harley Davidson Sportster model was introduced in 1957. Since then the bike has stayed pretty much the same, although it has undergone evolutionary changes and improvements. In other words, it still has a V-twin engine, and general overall look of the bike has stayed fairly consistent. Below are some photos of Sportsters. The first is a 1958 model (a fairly ratty '58 at that). The second one is a pretty nice 1968 model. The third one is my red 1986. God, I loved that bike. Finally, it's my blue 2005. You'll see that they all retain the same design elements: bare-bones motorcycle with the staggered-dual exhaust pipes, and a small "peanut" gas tank. (I replaced my front fender with a chrome one, and dear Lord, I wish I had spoke wheels! Next time...next time...)





Over the years, Harley changed the cylinders from cast iron to aluminum alloy. They also added another gear to the four-speed transmission. And they substituted a belt for the final drive chain. That’s about it. At some point they made the gas tank bigger, keeping the same iconic shape but increasing the capacity from 2.2 gallons to 3.3. However over the years the bike has gotten heavier. My 2005 model weighs about 50 pounds more than my 1986. And yes, the rider can tell.

The basic V-twin configuration of the engine doesn’t just lend itself to vibration, it guarantees it! It’s complicated to explain, but it has to do with how it’s difficult to get an even firing order from an engine with two cylinders spaced 45 degrees apart. (Ninety or 180 degrees would be better.) Thus, Sportsters have always vibrated a lot, especially on the highway.

Newer ones (from 2004-on) have engines that are rubber-mounted which quells the vibrations to a degree. But there’s only so much you can do; on the Interstate the thing still pounds like a jackhammer. I’ve taken both of my Sportsters on long trips. Even I’ll admit that Interstate travel is not their forte.

But let’s be fair – the Sportster was designed before the Interstate Highway System was built. On curvy back-roads and secondary roads at 60 mph, all Sportsters are sweet-running machines. You have a lot of highway riding to do? There are bigger, better bikes for that. For me, the Sportster is the best all-around motorcycle.

Although I loved my 2005 Sportster, I actually wanted one of the earlier models – one of the lighter ones. So I decided to sell this one. It was a tough decision, but I’ve found that I’m not riding it as much as I’d like. So I put it on eBay and Craigslist. The response was immediate.

The first person to come look at it was a woman about my age. She’d been a rider a long time ago and was looking to get back into it. But she was a short, skinny little thing, and had trouble putting both feet on the ground while sitting on it. (Harley does make a model they call the Sportster “Low” which is designed for shorter people.) In talking with her, I got the impression that my bike was not the one for her. Although she tried to give me a deposit, I declined to take it. Honestly I just did not want to sell it to her. I told her to go home, think about it overnight and call me the next day.

But the next day I had another appointment scheduled. This guy used to ride as well. On the phone he told me that he would buy it, period. He came to the house on a Thursday with cash, took one look at it and bought it. He didn’t have a trailer, so I volunteered to deliver it to his house.

In his 40’s, this guy had a full disability from the Army. He said he didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk again, much less ride. But now he could, and he wanted a Sportster! I didn’t ask about the particulars. To be honest, he seemed a little PTSD to me (which he eventually sort of admitted to). But hey, maybe the motorcycle was therapy for him? Who knows. He gave me what I was asking for the bike, and I agreed to deliver it on Saturday.

The day was perfect for a ride: One of those crystal clear NW Florida days…just cool enough for the leather jacket and full-face helmet (hey, it is January here). The bike ran flawlessly. It took about forty-five minutes to get to his house, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to take it for one last spin. I’d like to say I was overcome with remorse at selling the bike…but I wasn’t. It’s not that I disliked the bike – oh no! But it just wasn’t the “perfect” Sportster for me. And that’s the beauty of owning a motorcycle that they’ve been making since the 1950’s: You can find the exact model you want.

Footnote: Oh, and I'm not exactly motorcycle-less. I still have two Kawasaki Z-1's in the garage which I promise to get around to restoring...soon. Here is a picture of a *much* younger me (on the right, with the Z-1R I still have) and my friend Mark Leuthner when we took a trip through the Smokey Mountains back in...could it be?...1990 or so.


Here's a better shot of it...

08 January 2014

Mysterious Ways

I was at the motorcycle dealership yesterday buying some parts for the bike. Sometimes the Harley employees have a condescending attitude toward the diminutive Sportster. It’s just not manly enough for them. They call it a "girl's bike." They don’t consider it a “real” Harley, blah blah blah. For that you have to ride one of their “Big Twins.” Mostly we Sportster owners just grin and bear it, and vow to never buy anything but the absolute essentials from the "stealership" (as they are often called by Harley riders).

But John, the guy at the H-D parts counter yesterday was a Sportster fan like me. He owns two of them: one new and one older model. He also owns other bikes as well, as do I. Needless to say we got into a long conversation. Ironically, it was not primarily about motorcycles.

I told John that I do a lot of traveling on my bike. He mentioned a long trip he’d done at the beginning of last summer.

There is a famous road for motorcyclists in Deals Gap, North Carolina. Officially it is Highway 129, but everyone calls it the “Tail of the Dragon.” If you can envision how curvy such a road might be you’ll understand why motorcyclists love it so. Unfortunately, YouTube has more than a few videos of instances in which over-exuberant riders miscalculated their riding ability. It is a fact of life that every guy believes he is the best driver/rider/pilot on the face of the earth. The well-chronicled crashes have convinced me to stay well away from the road, even though it's sort of mandatory for all motorcyclists to ride it eventually.

John told me that this past summer he and his wife went to Deals Gap. Along with them was their 19 year-old daughter who also rides and was on her own bike. John was in the lead. As they came around one curve, John felt and heard a bang. When he looked in his mirror he did not see his daughter anymore. Pulling over, he discovered that she had hit another motorcyclist head-on. While her (and the other rider’s) injuries were serious, both lived. Both bikes were totaled.

I winced as I listened to the story. Like pilots, motorcyclists don’t like hearing descriptions of bad crashes – it’s not the way I wanted to start my day. I told John that I hoped his daughter recovered and would ride again. That’s when the story took a strange turn.

“She had been in college studying the ‘hospitality industry,’ because it was easy,”
John said, and the look on his face said that he abided with it but perhaps felt she wasn’t living up to her potential. “But after the accident she realized that she was tougher than she thought. She changed colleges and majors and is now studying engineering, which was always her dream.”

Now that’s good news! We love hearing about life-changing events that work out for the better. But there was more.

John went on, “She had planned on a trip to El Salvador this past summer…a missionary trip with our church. But I had a very bad feeling about it…very bad. I wanted to stop her…but…what can you do? I prayed and prayed about it, but I just knew that if she went something bad was going to happen to her. Then the accident happened and she couldn’t go.” He told that last part with a curious look on his face…a look of wry bemusement.

I saw where he was going. “So…maybe the accident wasn’t such a bad thing in the long run?” I offered. “Do you think that, as bad as it was, it might have prevented something even more horrible from happening to her?”

“Exactly.”


Hmm. For sure, seeing your daughter involved in a motorcycle accident has got to be horrible for any parent to experience. But I can think of worse things.

The daughter healed, the bike has been replaced. Life goes on. Was there some sort of divine intervention going on with the daughter? It cannot be proven, but you couldn’t tell John otherwise.

I know it’s a trite expression, but the Lord really does work in mysterious ways.


03 January 2014

New Year's Eve 2013

I hadn't even planned on going out on NYE; I didn't feel like partying, plus it being amateur night and all. But my friend Matt was in town, and the three glasses of wine that I had during dinner at the Bonefish Grill put me in a better mood (great chain - never had a bad meal there). So what the hey. Matt's wife, Alisha wisely decided not to join us and stayed in after eating.

First we went to a club in downtown Pensacola called Vinyl, which usually books fairly good acts. Usually. But there was one of those electronic banner signs inside above the bar and the scrolling message read: "Coming Soon - Queensryche!" Oh boy! I wondered which band they might have lined-up after that, Ratt? The Scorpions?

No Queensryche tonight though. The place was strangely empty. On stage was an '80s cover-band (Motley Crue, Poison, etc.) that wasn't half-bad. But they weren't half-good either. The lead singer had that high, screechy Vince Neil-type of voice that brought me right back to the 1980's and reminded me why I don't want to be there anymore.

They were soon replaced by a band of Guns N' Roses impersonators. Only, the lead singer seemed to be channeling the later "Fat Axl" Rose and not the skinny-druggie-just-starting-out Axl. And we are absolutely certain that the drummer was wearing a wig.


Why does it seem that up close, guys in these cover-bands always look so...flabby? Ick. Hey, we want our rock stars to be lean...and angry...and young. Instead, we get paunchy guys in their late-20's who've been trying to make a living singing other people's songs and eating way too much McDonalds instead of spending their time being strung out on cocaine and writing songs like, "Welcome To The Jungle."

The crowd was pathetically small. At one point during the faux-GNR set I counted a mere 25 people in the place. Twenty of them (mostly girls) were lined up at the stage, acting if they were seeing the real Guns N' Roses.

Matt met up with two of his friends. Both were guys in their 30's who were recently divorced. I talked with one of them: a big, tall dude named Jamie. He said that after twelve years of marriage and two kids, his wife decided one day that their marriage was over. Boom-done, just like that. No warning. That was less than a year ago. It threw him for quite a loop. Privately, I wondered how he could not have seen it coming? But guys can be pretty obtuse and clueless. And I guess this guy was too. In any event, he still seemed pretty adrift and I felt badly for him.

So our little New Year's Eve party wasn't exactly the rollicking, fun-fest we might have imagined. It certainly wasn't Times Square in New York City. Then again, having grown up in NYC I've been to Times Square on New Year's Eve, standing right smack-dab in the middle of that big crowd. And I had to pee. So I don't mind dinky Pensacola, Florida.

Then we met up with another guy, George, who was a childhood friend of Matt's who'd also come in from out of town. Both Matt and he are originally from Pensacola, and they'd met through their church. This guy, George, had sort of "fallen away" from the church as he'd gotten older, but his father was still big into it. George suggested that we depart and go say hi to his brother who was a bartender at a nearby club called Cabaret. I asked, "Is he gay?" because that's the kind of club the Cabaret is. George assured me that his brother was most definitely not. "He's an ex-Marine!" Well we get to the club and...ummm...hey, you can't be absolutely sure of anything...but...I'd say there are some issues in that family that aren't being talked about. None of my business, of course...

Afterward we wandered around some more, hitting some of the other clubs. It was a blur - by that time I was pretty drunk. Luckily I wasn't driving. On the other hand, Matt was driving and all night long he'd been matching me drink for drink. By the time we called it quits, it was nearly three a.m. - and we still had to drive the Jamie home. (If you held a gun to my head I could not tell you where he lived.) While we all had a good time, the night reminded me of a couple of things - mostly why I don't do stuff like that anymore. I remember thinking, "Gee, I used to be a part of this scene. Now I feel apart from this scene - like some alien observer."

So...I hope your New Year's Eve was fun...and pain-free. Ours was. But do it again soon? Ehhhh, I don't know. I think I'm good for another year...at least.