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?

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?”


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.