Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

25 April 2018

Cab Driver Stories: Driving Warren Buffett

People sometimes complain about taxicabs and their aggressive driving. Right after graduating high school, I drove a cab in NYC. And yeah, what you've heard about cabbies in the Big Apple is true: Most of us did drive pretty crazily, even me. However here in Pensacola, I'm not quite so aggressive. But neither do I drive like a little old lady.

As opposed to most other drivers on the road, we cab drivers are out there trying to make a living. We're not just joyriding around for fun. If we're on a trip we need to get our passengers to their destination. If we're empty, we're trying to get back to where the trips are (e.g. the mall, airport or the Navy base). Either way, we don't like to waste time because as we all know, time is money. So if I cut you off a little closer than you'd like, don't take it personally; it's just business. Obviously, some cab drivers get too aggressive. I've noticed that the more desperate for money the cab driver is, the crazier he'll drive.

Working three days a week, I drive between 2,500 and 3,000 miles per month, all of it in the city. So far I haven't had any wrecks or gotten any tickets, but I've come pretty close. When you drive for a living, you have to refine defensive driving into a fine art. You literally cannot be defensive enough; there's no such thing. And I thought flying helicopters required a lot of concentration! My buddy, Terry and I often compare stories of close-calls we've had due to the stupid things people do.

Still, though we are out there trying to make a living, there's no excuse for being rude or driving recklessly. But we do get impatient with drivers who aren't really paying attention to what they're doing. Oh, and we see that a lot! At nearly every red light now, the first driver in line won't take off right away when the light turns green – at least not until he finally notices that the light has changed and puts his phone down. Cell phone use at red lights is rampant. It's annoying. But I learned a long time ago that it's not my job to teach people how to drive. So I just shake my head and motor on.

The majority of drivers – especially guys – think that they are an “above-average” driver. Obviously half of them are wrong – must be wrong. Not everyone can be above-average, and trust me, not everyone is. There are a lot of really bad drivers out there. It's almost as if people, upon passing their road test forgot everything in the DMV driver's manual – if they ever knew it to begin with. Nevertheless, every guy will tell you that he's among the best. And he believes it! Sadly, the evidence is to the contrary.

Guys tend to believe that in addition to the space around their vehicle, they also own the space directly ahead of them out to a certain distance (and that distance varies). Violate that space and you'll be treated to horn-blowing and angry finger-gesturing. I just ignore it the way I ignore it when someone does it to me. I don't let my ego get involved with my driving.

Sometimes guys will just be toodling down the boulevard slowly in the left lane, blocking traffic. Once you find a hole and go around them, now they suddenly speed up! This happens...all...the...time.  It's bizarre. It's as if there is a subconscious, neurotic need in guys to not be passed...like it's an insult to their manhood.

My own aggressive tendencies reveal themselves when I drive a non-taxi. I'll find myself having to consciously tone it down a little and not be “driving like an idiot” as my dad would angrily say. He used to get really pissed at bad drivers.

And like I said, it's not that I drive super-aggressively in the cab. I mean, the passengers don't want to be scared or banged around. It's not an amusement park thrill-ride. You have to drive smoothly. But there's a way of being aggressive, safe and smooth. It's sort of like the difference between the kind of experience you'd get on a short sightseeing helicopter ride at a county fair and the one the pilots would provide to a Mr. Warren Buffett. The passengers at the fair don't mind a little bit of “rock 'n roll” (in fact they might expect it), but such flying would get Mr. Buffett's pilots fired on the spot and possibly shot.

Similarly, the military kids don't mind a little aggressive driving, especially when it's late and they have to be back by curfew. Plus, they drive that way themselves – they're teenagers after all. But then I'll take a trip off the airport and have to remind myself to drive like it's Mr. Buffett in the back.

18 April 2018

Cab Driver Stories: Good Hands

There are approximately 4,000 students in the NATTC (Naval Air Technical Training Command) here on NAS Pensacola. Virtually all of them want to be off the base on the weekend. Very few of them have cars. Some make the long walk off base to catch an Uber. But the vast majority of them rely on taxis, of which there is a veritable fleet of independents like myself who cater to the military and eschew the civilian market.

When liberty is called and they're allowed to leave base, they're not supposed to go out alone. They check-out with “libo-buddies” and they stick together until they check back in. So they come to the taxi queue in groups of between two and six, which is the maximum that most van-cabs can seat.

As I've said, we call them “the kids” because they seem so very, very young. And they are – most of them are basically just beyond high school age, and that's how a lot of them act: like rambunctious teenagers; they can be rowdy. This is not a bad thing, at least not for me. Their enthusiasm and lust-for-life is as infectious as it is entertaining. The stern-parent side of me might want to say, “You kids settle down or I'm gonna turn this cab around!” The still-a-teenager side of me says, “Party on, guys!” As long as they're well-behaved when we pass through the main gate, I don't care what they do in the cab. (Oh, and the military girls can be just as rowdy, if not more so than military boys.)

Since they always travel in pairs or groups, I get to witness some peculiar group dynamics.  After seven years of carting these fine young examples of American youth around, I've made some observations: some surprising, some not. 

Primarily they are, to a man, extremely proud of joining the military and serving their country.  They all have an admirable sense of duty and purpose and patriotism. They love this country. In addition, they are all incredibly close; their comradeship and dedication to each other is inspiring. They have a level of platonic intimacy that is quite startling when you first observe it. It's odd to hear straight guys profess love for each other, which we hear often (and not always when they're drunk). Each of these guys would absolutely lay down his or her life for the other, which is a profound thing.

The Marines are funny though. As close as they are, the Marines are all so incredibly competitive. They're always “one-upping” each other. If one guy says that the pickup truck he had in high school had 500 horsepower, the next guy will say his had 600 horsepower. By the time we get to the mall I'll be convinced that they all drove "monster" trucks to school, won every drag race, and out-ran the police every weekend.

The most bizarre example of this need to top each other was when I heard a Marine say that he got pinkeye in boot camp (apparently a non-uncommon malady). Another Marine quickly added, “Well I got pinkeye in both eyes!”

It's hard not to laugh sometimes.

Sometimes they talk to me, but just as often they're off in their own little worlds. I try not to eavesdrop, but really you can't avoid it. I had a car full of Marines coming back from the beach one day.  The conversation among them was loud and I really wasn't involved when I overheard, “Oh, you'd jump on a nuclear grenade for me, but you won't take a shower with me?” (I'm not sure of the context, because I only caught that snippet of that conversation. But I am certain it wasn't said in a sexual way.) The other Marines all laughed – not about taking a shower together (I guess that happens sometimes?), but because of the description: not just any grenade, “a nuclear grenade.”

Sometimes I just shake my head.

All cabdrivers have “regulars” – customers who ride with them more or less exclusively. We make sure they get rides when they need them, especially on a late weekend night when the cabs are all booked and they need to be back by curfew.  And we give our regulars good discounts. We get to know these kids...know where they're from and a little about their lives. Older drivers, like my friend Terry and myself...we unavoidably get to feeling somewhat paternal about them.

There is a group of Navy kids I carry around a lot. Age-wise, they are all over twenty-one (some only by a month or two), and they like to drink. Oh boy, do they like to drink! They are extremely close friends – you can just tell. Each one is a strong personality in his own right. They are all prototypical alpha males, let's face it. But there is one who is their ringleader: the one they call “Scott.”

Scott always sits up front. He is loud, boisterous, obnoxious (in a funny, good way), and he's usually drunk. He instantly takes command of the taxi – mostly the conversation but especially the music, which he likes LOUD. He's not a big, tough, macho kind of guy, although like all of them he can be. But he is the life of their party. This charismatic man-boy just dominates.  Oddly, the others defer to him in a not-so-subtle way. Scott is the alpha-alpha male, and they know it.  He is just a natural leader. He's the kind of guy (we all know the type) who walks into a room and owns the place.

My friend Terry and I feel honored to transport these “kids” around. We tell them that they made a wise and smart decision to join the military...that they are embarking on the greatest adventure of their lives, and that no one knows what's in store for them once they leave Pensacola, only that it will be awesome and they better enjoy it!

When their time here is done and we finally, and sadly, drop them off at the airport on their way to their next duty station, neither Terry nor I know where these guys and gals will ultimately end up. Some surely will be deployed to some of the “hot spots” in which we are currently embroiled. We always wish them well, we thank them for their service, and we earnestly hope that they'll never have to see the kind of situations for which they are all trained and ready. It's comforting to know that our country is defended by such fine young men and women.  Don't worry: We're in good hands.

If we only had such faith in our civilian leadership.

11 April 2018

Getting Organized

I'm ecstatic. Not just figuratively ecstatic, but literally ecstatic too. In fact I'm beyond ecstatic: I'm overjoyed. The reason, you ask? Well I finally did it – I finally broke down and bought myself a three-box rolling tool chest. I cannot tell you what a relief this is.

The new box

I have worked on cars and motorcycles all my life. And over the years I've acquired a bunch of tools. But I never had an organized place to keep them, so they ended up in plastic totes and tool bags. This was mostly because when I'd go to the junkyard I'd need to bring certain tools. The totes just kept getting fuller and fuller. Oh, and heavier, by the way.

My garage was a holy mess, with tools all over the place. “Where'd I put my power drill?” God only knows. And he's not telling. This kicker was just recently when my friend Jacob was over. We were doing...something...and we needed a Torx bit. (A Torx bit is a star-shaped tool that manufacturers favor in place of Phillips head screws. They come in various sizes from very small to very big.) I was certain that I had said Torx bit, and I did, but it took forever to find it. And let's not talk about all the motorcycle parts I've collected over the years...

I have two old motorcycles that I'm going to restore, and I need workspace...that is, space that's not covered with various loose sockets and crap.

With my nomadic lifestyle I never really had a garage to work in. Now I do. And even though I've lived in this joint for seven years, it's never truly felt like home – mostly because I spend about half the year up in Washington State. But now that that's over, and now that I'm finally buying this house, I want to...how you say...settle down. Remodeling the bathrooms? That can wait – I need a workshop!

I've been looking for a tool box for a while. The stuff that was advertised on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace was just junk. After a fruitless search, I decided to shift gears. Sears had a three-box thirteen-drawer tool chest bundle on sale for not a lot of money. But I was hesitant, thinking: Do I really need thirteen drawers? I went, I looked, I bought. I got it home and put it together. And guess what? Those thirteen drawers are filling up awfully fast! I may need another, supplemental box.

Now, is my garage suddenly well-organized? Oh, hell no. But we're on the right track. It's a very small thing, I know, but it's amazing how satisfying it is to put your tools away where they're supposed to be...where you'll be able to find them again when you need them. Now if I could just do something about all these motorcycle parts!

04 April 2018

Southern Living

There are things about living in the south that northerners might find peculiar.  For one thing, we do say, Y'all.  It is a perfectly fine contraction of the words "you" and "all." But yankees seem to find it amusing. When I go back up and visit my family, if I say y'all they look at me funny.

If you walk into a restaurant down here, the waitress will hand you a menu and before you can even sit down she will ask you what you'd like to drink?  You can merely say sweet or unsweet.  You don't have to say anything else.  She will bring you a glass of your specified iced tea - which we drink year-round down here, by the way. Restaurants always have it on hand. Iced tea usually comes in huge, bladder-busting tumblers which they will gladly keep filled as often as you like.

Sometimes the sweet tea at a particular restaurant is known to be way too sugary/syrupy and I'll ask for half-and-half.  They always know what I mean.  I've never been asked for clarification, even at the Chow Tyme buffet restaurant with the Chinese waitresses.

And while we're at it, you can call a waitress hon' down here and she won't be offended.  But you only call someone "Missy" if you're angry or displeased.

When I was growing up we always said grace before every meal at home.  We thanked God or the food we were about to eat.  I still do it now.  In the South it is not unusual to say grace before eating in a restaurant, something that's pretty much unthinkable up north.  Down here, sometimes a group of diners will bow their heads and say it silently and individually, but just as often it is said aloud. Nobody makes a big deal about it, and nobody else stares or makes fun.  Nobody ridicules.  People are not ashamed of their faith down here. Nor should they be.

We stop for funeral processions out of respect down here.  No matter which direction the procession is going, everyone just..stops...and lets it go by. Ironically, on the other hand people down here do not always stop, pull over for or get out of the way of emergency vehicles with lights and sireens.  It's quite bizarre.

I grew up in New York City, and I was skeptical that I would enjoy living in the South. New Yorkers generally consider everyone else in the country (with a few exceptions) to be uneducated, unsophisticated boobs.  But in the course of the thirty years that I've been living down here I have become quite comfortable, and have adapted nicely to the slower pace of life.  Yeah, people might be less-sophisticated down here, but not everyone has to be William F. Buckley.

Just don't screw up my breakfast order!  "Missy, I said I wanted cheese grits with these eggs!  And bring me some more unsweet while you're at it, willya hon?"