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?

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!