Who Am I?

My photo
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?

22 May 2019

Exciting, Glamorous Jobs?

It's funny.  I don't like telling my Uber passengers that I'm a semi-retired helicopter pilot.  They nearly always get the wrong idea.  They think that flying helicopters must be an exciting and glamorous job.  They couldn't be more wrong.

We professional pilots work very, very hard to keep the job from being exciting or thrilling.  We like it to be very predictable and dull.  One of my mentors used to say, "No surprises.  When I'm flying I want no surprises."  And that is exactly right.  Surprises that get the heart pumping and adrenaline flowing can only mean that you're in a near-death experience.  Typically, helicopter pilots are not adrenaline-junkies.  Most of us are just the opposite.

And so we sit there as we fly along, monitoring all systems, keeping everything right in the center of "normal."  This applies whether you're out in the Gulf of Mexico flying from oil platform to oil platform, or hovering over cherry trees for hours on end.  If it's exciting then you're doing something wrong...or at very least you're not doing things right.  

And yes, flying certainly is "fun," I won't deny that.  The views are often spectacular beyond description.  We get to see the planet from a perspective that few other mortals can experience.  And that is truly special.  But there are other things that make flying fun too.

When lifting off from the ground up into a hover, some pilots are content to allow the helicopter to lurch into the air like drunken sailor might get up from the bar floor after being cold-cocked for saying the wrong thing to the wrong guy's girlfriend.  However, there is great pleasure to be had in getting the ship to lift off smoothly, so it seems to the passengers that the earth just falls gently away from the aircraft.  It takes practice and finesse on the controls.  

When I dry cherries I make an effort to follow this particular row at this exact altitude and this precise speed, watching the effect that my downwash is having on the trees and making sure that I'm shaking/blowing every one.  

And so the pleasure...the fun, if you will...that you get from flying is often the result of doing it as well and precisely as you can.

People don't believe me when I tell them that driving for Uber is the most-fun job I've ever had.  I quickly add that it's not the most highly-paying job...that should be obvious...but it truly is an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable job.  I mean, what guy doesn't love getting paid to drive around?

There is a constant stream of new people getting in the car all the time.  (And a fair number of repeat-riders as well!)  You have to like people, of course.  Doing ride-share might be miserable if you don't.  Fortunately I do.  

Just as with being a taxi driver, I'm a kind of ambassador of the Pensacola area.  I truly love living here, and it's fun to communicate that and share my experiences with new visitors to the area...or compare notes with other locals.

But while taxi passengers were kind of guarded and sometimes standoffish, assuming that I was just another guy who couldn't do anything but be a cabdriver, Uber passengers look at me differently.  It's subtle but it's there.  There's a higher level of comfort and informality between ride-share passenger and driver.

When I take people out to Pensacola Beach, there is a point when you get to the top of the Bob Sikes Bridge.  Suddenly you are presented with a beautiful, sweeping panorama of the barrier island and sparkling Gulf of Mexico beyond. Most of the time I'll spread my arms wide, smile and say, "THIS...is why I live here!"  Nobody argues with me.  I do love living where people come on vacation.





I know I've written about this before...about how much I love this Uber job.  But I do.  It's like this job was created just for me.  I don't know how long it will last.  Heck, self-driving cars might actually be right around the corner and they'll put me out of work.  Who knows?  But I'll enjoy it until I cannot do it anymore.  

Flying was great, but ride-sharing is better.  Believe it or not.

16 May 2019

Can Uber Survive?

For seven years I drove a taxi here in Pensacola, Florida. When Uber came on the scene, it was apparent to me that it was a taxi service disguised as something else.  Uber was using various weasely excuses to get around the traditional licensing of taxicabs that many (but not all) municipalities have in place.  Once the camel got his nose under the tent, there was no stopping it.  Now Uber is everywhere.  I saw the handwriting on the wall and made the Big Switch last May - a year ago, come to think of it!

As a company, Uber has never been profitable.  It loses billions of dollars each year.  Yet investors threw money at it like crazy, allowing the company to grow on a worldwide scale.  And, sure enough, one of the reasons people use Uber is because it works everywhere.  One app: every city.  What's not to love?

Well...investors do love profitability.  And it must have been with a certain amount of trepidation of senior management when they took Uber public this month (May 2019).  Because now, instead of just being answerable to a relatively few investment capitalists, there will be another layer of management to deal with: Stockholders.  And stockholders are notoriously fickle and single-minded (read: profit-oriented).

Uber came out of the box strong during the IPO, but the stock price dropped and dropped in the first week.  I'm certain it's because of fear and skepticism on the part of would-be investors.  To wit: Can Uber ever be profitable?  Can it even survive?

Uber has stated that their future profitability depends on self-driving cars (SDC's).  And they've hinted very strongly that SDC's are right around the corner.  They're not.  Merely saying something with conviction about some future event does not make it so.  Sure, the technology has made great advances, but there's still a long way to go, and many issues to be solved before SDC's become a reality in your town.  And even then they won't be introduced country-wide.  Maybe they won't even be introduced first in the litigious U.S.!  Would you get into an autonomous vehicle/taxi right now?  I wouldn't.

But if Uber can take the driver (and what they pay him/her) out of the picture, then that's 40% more revenue for them.  That's the theory, anyway.  Who actually knows what additional, unpredicted costs there might be in terms of...oh...insurance, for one thing?  If a driverless car gets into an accident and fare-paying people inside of it are injured, who pays?  The reliability in heavy-duty commercial use of these new SDC's is unproven.  It's a safe bet that passengers will treat an SDC Uber like they do a current taxi, maybe worse.

And what other fees will municipalities levy against the company for having their cars, roaming the streets while searching for fares, circulating aimlessly in already-clogged downtown areas?  Here's the thing about a commuter's car: He drives it into the city, parks it, and it's OFF THE STREET during the workday.  An autonomous ride-share vehicle drives itself into the city, drops off its passenger and then will still be in the mix of traffic, adding to the congestion instead of reducing it!  And instead of twenty or thirty or forty people on a city bus, these same people will be divided up into four- five- or six-passenger (presumably electric) Uber cars?  This is supposedly better?  Maybe, maybe not.

So there are a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of unknowns.  We've only addressed a couple.  With driverless cars, Uber assumes that their cost of operation will go down.  But I don't think that is assured.

Here in Pensacola, Florida, Yellow Cab has come up with this thing called Z-Trip.  It's a hybrid taxi/ride-share service.  You can use it just like a regular old taxi: Call Dispatch and they'll send you a car.  OR, you can have your credit card information on-file with them and use Z-Trip as you would an Uber.  Either way, they charge the going taxi rate here in Pensacola which is $2.25 per mile, which is higher than Uber and Lyft at the moment.  Yellow Cab is transitioning all of their traditionally colored taxis to the new Z-Trip branding.

Right now, Z-Trip is only available in certain U.S. cities.  And it's not global, of course.  But if anything can eat into the ride-share market, it could be Z-Trip...if it can be rolled out and available nationwide.

01 May 2019

Renouncing Christianity

Christian evangelist, Franklin Graham (son of famous preacher, Billy Graham) has touched off something of an internet firestorm by criticizing presidential hopeful and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who is gay. It started on Twitter, naturally. I was blissfully unaware of Graham's comments, but of course they spilled over into real life when the mainstream media picked up on them.

In a series of "tweets," what Graham said was this:
Presidential candidate & South Bend Mayor @PeteButtigieg is right—God doesn’t have a political party. But God does have commandments, laws & standards He gives us to live by. God doesn’t change. His Word is the same yesterday, today & forever.

Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women.

The core of the Christian faith is believing and following Jesus Christ, who God sent to be the Savior of the world—to save us from sin, to save us from hell, to save us from eternal damnation.


Graham's comments leave me deeply troubled. I mean, I get it, Christians are supposed to live in accordance to the Bible. And the Bible (both Old Testament and New) decry homosexuality...call it a sin in no uncertain terms.

But where does that leave homosexuals? The fact is, homosexuals exist. They're not pretending to be gay; they just are. Do Christians like Graham believe that a person's sexuality is a choice...that they can switch it off at will? If so, I'd like to ask Franklin Graham if he believes his own sexuality was/is a choice. Did he choose to be straight? Why should it be any different for gay people?

This is a problem. Because as a gay man who always considered himself to be a Christian, I find myself at odds with the Bible. It is a dilemma that I can no longer reconcile or ignore. This is because I don't believe that we can pick and choose which parts of Scripture we want to obey and follow, and which ones we ignore. You either believe all of it, or none of it.

And so I feel less and less like a Christian every day. But I still believe in a Creator (and let's call this Creator, "God" for the sake of simplicity). I believe that God made me and loves me and wants to see me again when this particular chapter in my existence is over. And He feels the same about you. I don't think He really cares whether we like guys or girls, or whether we eat pork or shellfish (or any of the other silly prohibitions in the Old Testament).

Maybe it's time that I renounced traditional Christianity. Because if Franklin Graham's version of Christianity won't have me...won't allow me to be me, then why should I call myself one? I can still model my life after that of Christ. In most respects, anyway. Then again...by the time Christ died he was thirty-three years old and still single. Should we not even raise a suspicious eyebrow and ask why?  Guys like Graham and his ilk are quick to point out that according to the Bible, marriage is between a man and a woman, period!  Why then did Christ never marry?  How come he never had a family and became the paragon of biblical virtue that Christians often hold up as the standard?

21 April 2019

HELI-EXPO 2019

Back in early March of this year I was in my Jetta, steaming along at a high rate of speed on northbound I-85 through Alabama.  I was getting better than 38 mpg, headed for Georgia. Above and somewhat behind me, my friend Nate was aboard a north-eastbound Delta Airlines jet out of New Orleans. Further west, my buddy Brandon had left the left coast and was streaking across the sky eastbound in an American Airlines 767.

We three were converging on Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Nate would arrive first. I’d pick him up and then he and I would go check into the Airbnb house we’d rented to make sure it was satisfactory. It was. Then we’d go back to the airport and fetch B-boy. We did.

The purpose of the trip was for us to attend an annual event called Heli-Expo, which is a convention put on by the Helicopter Association International. And it is the show to go rub elbows with the big shots of the helicopter industry.

Initially it seemed implausible that Brandon, Nate and I would all be free on this particular week. But the stars aligned and both of them got the time off. I, of course, can take time off as I please, being the self-employed man of leisure with the easy-going boss.

The annual HAI convention is always a big deal. They’ve been holding them since the organization was formed in 1948. I’ve wanted to go to Heli-Expo for a long time. But it’s usually held inconveniently far away from me, either in California, Dallas, or somewhere down in South Florida - too far for me to drive.  On the other hand, Atlanta is only a five-hour drive. This year I had no excuse.

Had I gone alone I could have stayed with my buddy Matt, which would’ve been nice. But he has a teenage son. I couldn’t inflict the three of us on him during a work and school week. So we did the Airbnb thing.

The convention was held in the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta. The place is huge. The convention occupied two ginormous exhibition halls. As you’d expect, there were helicopters and vendors galore.

While Heli-Expo used to be the place that airframe manufacturers would unveil their new designs, things at that end of the spectrum have stagnated. There really wasn’t much new. But technology-wise, the advances in navigation, systems-monitoring, and other ancillary equipment (e.g. camera mounts, hoists, fire-fighting buckets) have made tremendous advances.

No longer do the helicopter builders make major sales announcements or unveil new designs, along with rosy projections of overall growth in the near future. Things were much more subdued as sales in most non-airline segments of aviation have been fairly flat.


Ironically, it was reported that this was the "biggest" Heli-Expo show ever. Perhaps they meant it in terms of size of the arena.  Because then I don’t doubt it – I nearly walked my dang feet off. In dress shoes. Man, my dogs were barking! I had been warned, and had I had been smarter I would’ve worn more comfortable shoes. Even though David Letterman pioneered the suit-and-tennis-shoes look (which never really caught on), I just could not “rock it” as the kids say. However, there were people who did!  I'll know next time. 

Honestly, the show was not for me. I’m nearly retired now – I’m not looking to buy anything for our fleet of elderly helicopters in Washington, nor am I looking for a job. I did see and meet up with some people I’ve known over the years, which was nice. But talking with them on Facebook has been okay too.

The boys, Brandon and Nate, who are much younger than I, drank a lot and stayed out late, partying with their friends, old and new. Me, I’m way past those kind of shenanigans. So I turned in early every night, leaving them to Uber back to the house.  It's funny to think about how much I used to drink.  There was a time when those boys would've had trouble keeping up with me.

Never mind the helicopters; on any given trip, you know I’m all about the food. One night we met up with my buddy Matt and his wife Alisha, who took us to a really great Peruvian(!) restaurant called The Freakin’ Incan. Those Peruvians really do know how to cook some tasty meat! We were all sticking our forks in each other’s plates. Next night we went to a German restaurant in town called Der Biergarten, where the sauerbraten was wonderful and they serve their beer in quart-size steins. For me, those were the highlights of the trip.

Although the show ended Thursday afternoon, we stayed over until Friday. The plan was to do some sightseeing before the boys flew out in the afternoon. But they got something of a (ahem) late start that morning and were really in no shape to wander around some dumb aquarium for a couple of hours, much less take the tour of the CNN Center or Coca-Cola headquarters.

We went out to lunch, and then I dropped them back off at the airport before heading southbound back to Florida. We helicopter pilots get scattered to the winds as we pursue our various jobs around the country.  It was great seeing Brandon and Nate again, and doing it in conjunction with the helicopter convention was as good an excuse as any.

10 April 2019

A Bad Uber Passenger

There’s a blogger by the name of Matt Hauger who writes about technology…mostly computers and cell phones. I know, I know…join the club. It’s why I stay away from technology on this blog. There are already a gazillion guys who write about it…and it changes too fast to keep up unless you’re a real techno-geek who lives and breathes the stuff. And that ain’t me.

In October of 2017 Matt made a post about his Uber experience. Somehow that blogpost made its way to me the other day. I don’t know how things like this work. We are overwhelmed with information from so many sources. It’s hard to remember where one tidbit of info came from.

Anyway, Matt’s blogpost was about how he is apparently a bad Uber passenger. The realization came to him when an Uber driver asked him why he had such a low passenger rating? Matt was shocked and doubly unaware that not only was his rating only 4.33, but that such a rating is considered bad by us drivers. Very bad. 

It’s true: My cut-off is 4.5. It indicates a "problem passenger."  If I were ever offered a trip to pickup a passenger with a 4.33 rating, I’d decline it. No sense in asking for trouble. We are not required to accept all trips, nor are we penalized for not accepting trips.

With his powers of rationalization in high-gear, Matt went on to opine that his low rating was probably due to a couple of things. First of all, he admits that he doesn’t tip Uber drivers in cash and felt as if they were taking it out on him for that. This is nonsense. Most people do not tip in cash. Who carries cash anymore? Not me.

If we get tips, they’re usually added to the fare on the app after the fact, after we complete the trip and rate the passenger. We have no way of knowing whether or not a passenger adds a tip on the app. Tips do not show up immediately; sometimes we get notified a day or two later. So we cannot (and do not) penalize someone for not tipping us in cash.

Secondly, Matt Hauger thought that drivers down-rated him because he himself didn’t often give five-star ratings. He thought a four-star was perfectly fine. (It isn’t.) Matt says, ”It’s at least possible that my past drivers noticed when I gave them less than five stars; they might have marked me down in revenge.”

Nope! We rate you before you rate us. We cannot even accept another trip until we rate the last passenger.  And with Uber, once we rate a passenger we cannot go back in and change it. (With Lyft we can.)


The way it actually works is this: When we get to the destination, an end-trip screen pops up. It asks us to swipe- right if we’ve completed the trip. Once we do that it brings up the “Rate Passenger” screen. If we simply swipe-right it automatically gives the passenger five-stars. You can rate somebody with less than five-stars but if you do, Uber asks you to provide a reason. It’s time-consuming.  Unless the passenger was a real shit-bag I just give them five stars. And if we do down-rate someone, they will not know right away. Uber delays delivering that bit of bad news.

Similarly, as drivers we can never tell who gives us what ratings. Anything less than five-stars deliberately won’t show up right away. Like tips, it can be the next day before a driver discovers that he’s been down-rated. Uber does this so we don’t retaliate against a rider.

Having said that, I’ve been given some less-than-five-star ratings. I can usually figure out who gave them to me because I work part-time, and I do few trips in any given day (usually only half-a-dozen or so). A driver in a busier city would never know who gave him the low rating.

So it’s not that Matt doesn’t tip, and it’s not that he doesn’t routinely give five-star ratings. What could it be…what could it be? Leave it to ol’ Matt to get to the crux of the problem. Early in his blogpost, he wonders of the drivers, ”Why didn’t they like me? Was I oblivious to my own obnoxiousness? Did I have a subpar personality?”

Bingo!

I don’t know what the particular reason is that Uber drivers rate Matt so poorly, but I’m sure he earned it. It’s something. It could be his breath…it could be his attitude, or general demeanor. As I mentioned, I give most people five-stars…but not everyone! Sometimes we are not even aware of how we’re coming off to others.

Hauger’s solution is to be the perfect Uber passenger: To tip every driver and to rate every driver five-stars. But that just subverts the system and renders it meaningless. Look, you’re paying for this service, right? If the ride was fine…if the car was clean, the driver showed up in a timely manner, was pleasant, didn’t get lost and got you to the destination safely, then give him five-stars. But if there were…umm..."issues," then rate accordingly. That’s how it works. Or how it’s supposed to work.

Nobody is perfect. Not me. And not Matt Hauger.

You can read his blogpost HERE.

03 April 2019

I Wish I Smoked Pot

I recently went to a music festival called the Suwannee Spring Reunion. It was held in a big place called The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park (and campground) in the woods along the river immortalized by Stephen Foster* in north Florida. It was one of those events with multiple stages and acts spread out over three days.

The type of music played was “country”…but not mainstream Country. There were Bluegrass artists like the up-and-coming Billy Strings, non-mainstream Country artists like Marty Stuart, and a band called Donna The Buffalo that plays “Americana” music.

Americana is a hybrid genre. It’s weird. Wikipedia says that it’s, “…an amalgram of American music formed by the confluence of shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States, specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel and other external influences.”

So…a little of everything. Needless to say, radio stations don’t play a lot of Americana music.

Fronted by Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins, Donna The Buffalo has been around since 1990. I only discovered them in 2000. They write and play wonderful songs. I’ve wanted to see them in concert ever since.

As it turned out, the three bands I really wanted to see (the aforementioned three) were all playing on Saturday. So I hopped in the Jetta and took off eastbound on I-10. I'd booked a motel room near to the venue.

Like all of these events, there were vendors galore. You know the type: Gypsies that live on the road, going from festival to festival. Lots of jewelry…polished stones made into necklaces and things. Some good stuff, some crap. What is up with hippies and tie-dyed clothing? Is that still a thing? Evidently so. And oh man, the overpriced food! Luckily, the park has a pretty good diner-type restaurant right on the premises with food that was better and cheaper than the vendor trucks.

The first band I wanted to see (Billy Strings) went on at 3:30. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives went on at 8:00 pm, and Donna The Buffalo went on at 10:30. There were really no places to sit and chill, and so I spent a lot of time walking and standing around. Kinda hard on this old man’s feet. But it was well worth it - the music was awesome!

I love live music to begin with, and each band just blew me away. I don’t know why this type of music affects me so deeply. I was never exposed to Country music as a kid growing up in New York City. But no matter how Bluegrass found me, this music speaks directly to my soul, much more powerfully than rock and roll ever did.

One big takeaway from the festival was that I wished I smoked pot. Being in aviation all my life, I’ve stayed away from drugs. Okay, I admit that I briefly got high in my teenage years. But honestly, nowadays I detest even the smell of marijuana. And of course at the music festival you could not escape the wafting aroma of weed permeating the air.

And that’s when it hit me: I might have enjoyed the music a whole lot more if I’d been stoned. You might disagree, especially if you’ve never been high. But I can remember being…what, fifteen?...and laying on my bed, headphones on, listening to Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” (the long version) while stoned out of my mind. It. Was. Incredible. Nowadays, every time I hear that song it takes me right back to that time in 1970.

Damn, if I hadn’t decided on a career in aviation, who knows how big a pot-head I’d be right now! I stopped smoking right after that time when I was fifteen but had I not, it might have made a huge difference in how I enjoyed a concert nearly fifty years later.

*The Steven Foster song we familiarly know as "Swanee River" was written in 1851 and was originally called "Old Folks At Home."  Since 1935 it has been - and still is - the state song of Florida.

27 March 2019

Dirty Politics

I've always wondered just how dirty politics really is?  I mean, we're adults...we all understand that any politician will sling mud and use dirty tricks on his or her opponent, but just how far will some people go? How low will they sink to get that mud?

During the 2016 debates, Hillary Clinton made a BIG DEAL about how Donald Trump might not accept the results of the election if he lost.  And then...when she lost she didn't accept the results of the election! Many people acted as though Trump did not actually win - since she garnered more of the actual popular vote (we are a democracy after all, aren't we?) - and therefore his presidency was illegitimate.  To hell with that Electoral College!  That thing is obsolete anyway and we need to get rid of it!

Hmm.

Democrats then made another BIG DEAL about this so-called "collusion" between Trump and "The Russians" (with whom we are not at war, by the way), making some vague claim about how he convinced those Russians to somehow rig the election so that he won, so he could put up a Trump Tower in Moscow's Red Square. 

The government and the news media have been obsessed with this collusion...while the rest of the country grew tired of it and yawned and lost interest and went back to binge-watching "Game of Thrones." Most of us adults know that the Russians have been meddling in our elections since....ohhhh, forever. And we've been meddling in theirs for a similar length of time, maybe longer. That's global politics for you. 

And then, Robert Mueller's big, expensive, eagerly-awaited, two-year investigation found...(drumroll)...no criminal collusion! I suspect that Washington D.C. insiders have known for some time what the results of the report were going to be. I'm not that naïve.

In a move most bizarre, the Democrats (and their pawns in the media) shriek...yes, shriek that even though the Special Prosecutor found no collusion, that doesn't mean Trump isn't guilty of...something! They'll figure out just what and let us know soon. Their focus is that even if there wasn't "collusion," Trump and his staff committed heinous, impeachable acts.

There is so much hatred toward President Trump.  Some politicians seem to have devoted their entire career to getting Trump removed from office that it causes one to wonder: Shouldn't these people be doing their jobs?

It gets worse. Now we have the strangest turn of events yet. Depending on which websites you pay attention to, reports suggest that it was Hillary and the Democrats who actually colluded with the Russians in a failed attempt to smear Trump, steal the election and give her the win.  Could this be??

Let's look at all of the major players: Who appointed James Comey as head of the FBI?  Who appointed James Clapper as National Intelligence Director?  Who appointed John Brennan head of the CIA?  Who appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?  Right: Obama.  

In texts between the infamous FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, Ms. Page mentioned that Obama wanted to be kept advised.  What is not clear is exactly of what President Obama wanted to be advised.  What is clear is that Obama was "in the loop" of the plan to corrupt the election and ensure that Trump did not win.  Some democracy we have here...  

I'm not sure that I can wrap my mind around the idea that people could be so diabolical and mean. Is power really that important? Evidently so. And Hillary really, really wanted that power. That much is obvious. I mean, come on...

And so if the reports about where the real collusion was happening are true, then we're talking about dirty politics on a level of which we've never imagined. At least, I never imagined that politics could be so sleazy. Would Hillary, the Clinton Foundation, the DNC and President Obama stoop so low? 

Sadly, I'm betting they would.

22 March 2019

Women In Aviation

Recently, a couple of male buddies and I ran into a mutual female friend who also happens to be a helicopter pilot.  I won't say who she is or where she works, only that she is what we call a "line pilot" for a charter company.  She casually mentioned that she'd been given a job offer by a corporation that operates big, fancy executive helicopters.  It was a step up in every respect...a plum job that any pilot would love to have.  My buddies and I looked at each other and exchanged a knowing glance.

It's been a frequent topic of conversation among us that women pilots get special advantages and opportunities.  A female pilot will often get selected for a job even if she is less-qualified than a male competitor.  To some male pilots, it seems like reverse discrimination.  And here was yet another example.

It is often said that there are too few women pilots.  And it's true, aviation has traditionally been a white-male-dominated industry, just as...ohh, nursing has traditionally been a female-dominated field.  Things are what they are: Women are simply not drawn to aviation in great numbers.


It's not that there is any conscious effort to keep them out - just the opposite, actually.  But honestly, a lot of flying jobs (especially in helicopters) are just not suitable for your young daughters due to the rough conditions or the out-of-the-way places in which we have to work.  

This does not mean that women cannot become helicopter pilots and do well in aviation.  It's just that they choose not to.  Or when they do become line pilots they aspire to "bigger and better" things - which invariably means a move out of the cockpit.  The end result is fewer female pilots.

In an effort to make aviation more accessible to women, employers often seek out female pilots, giving them preference as opposed to hiring another white guy.  The people who run companies (guys, usually) generally like women and enjoy having them around.  The truth is that as I said, even if a white guy has better qualifications on paper, the woman will get the job.  Hey, that's the world we live in now.  It's all about diversity, baby!  Forced diversity if necessary.

A prime example of this is the company I work for up in Washington State.  Every year I am tasked with hiring the pilots for our cherry-drying operation.  Every year, my boss asks if I've gotten any resumes from female pilots.  He always encourages me to give special attention to any females who apply - to put their resumes on the top of the pile.  It might be a little sexist, yeah, but at the end of the day, what's the harm?  He's likes women and is trying to give them an opportunity.  

Would it be better if he said, "No women this year, Bob.  Just hire guys."  Because in truth, it's tough for a female to come up and live in a crew house with a bunch of burping, farting, crude male pilots.  We do not have separate quarters for women.  It's somewhat easier if we just have an all-male crew.  

For instance, with guys, if you have to pee, you just land, hop out and take care of it.  We men see each other pee (from behind!) in public restrooms all the time - no big deal.  But with women around it's not exactly appropriate.  I don't even want to risk the possibility that a woman might see my tiny, shriveled up little penis.  I mean, I have my dignity!  If women need to pee, they have to go find a bathroom - and bathrooms are usually not readily accessible to flight lines that have to be flat and clear of obstructions.  

And believe it or not, it may sound silly but the need to pee becomes quite important in a helicopter pilot's life.  These things vibrate our insides like crazy!  The Wall Street Heliport in New York City sits on a pier that juts out into the East River.  A friend of mine got in trouble once when he landed, hurriedly shut down, got out and peed over the side into the river.  Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

When I flew for that rich guy in Alabama a few years ago, we'd be out on a trip, say. For the return flight, he and his buddies would often show up back at the helicopter after having had "a few" adult beverages.  Invariably on the flight home one or all four of them would have to (ahem) "use the facilities."  So I'd find some place to land (a farmer's field or some clear area) and let them out.  Sometimes I would join them...just because one should never waste the opportunity, if you know what I mean.  More than once, as we were lifting off again, here would come the farmer in his pickup truck, wondering what the hell that helicopter was doing landing on his property. We never stuck around to explain.

Physiological needs aside, some female pilots try hard to fit in.  They feel they have to be "one of the guys."  Truth is, we guys don't want women to be guys.  We like women to be women.   But we don't want women to act like women in the cockpit.

Uh-oh - we don't want women pilots to act like women??  Boy, them's fighting words, Bob!  To understand that statement we have to acknowledge that men and women are different.  There is such a thing as masculinity and femininity.  In our less-PC past we used to call women "the gentler sex" because they generally are.  

When straight people see gay relationships (either two men or two women), they often assume that one of the partners occupies the man role while the other fills the woman role.  Because that's how many people view conventional relationships.  We see both as being necessary on some level - that they compliment each other, whether that necessity is absolutely true or not.

Traditionally women are more tender, more emotional... more mothering.  They're softer in all the right places.  Physically, women are usually weaker than men, with less upper-body strength.  Their thought processes and approach to problem-solving are different.  You may argue with any of those points if you wish.  But to do so denies humanity; men and women are simply different.  We're made that way on purpose.  I think this planet would be a horrible place if there were only one gender.

But then we get into the stereotypical concept of what a pilot is: a tough, macho, take-charge, unafraid (not to say fearless), stoic, decisive kind of...well...guy.  That's simply the image of a pilot that's been projected from the beginning of aviation.  

The reality is that we pilots are the way we are because the task often requires those qualities and attributes.  You just won't find many (any?) stereotypical openly-gay, mincing, effeminate male hairdressers-turned-pilots.  When you take the controls of an aircraft, you must be in command, and there can be no question of that.  

Not saying that pilots have to act all tough and macho.  Far from it.  It's not an act; it's a requirement.  When the hydraulics fail or something happens that requires action RIGHT FRIGGIN' NOW! then you better be on your game, son.  It's preferable, but we helicopter pilots don't always have the luxury of being able to sit back and analyze problems before acting.  Some reactions have to be instinctive and immediate.

Let's face it, even Amelia Earhart was not the most feminine of ladies.  Similarly, Kate Mulgrew's portrayal of Captain Janeway on television's "Star Trek: Voyager" was very...err...mannish in that she was as tough and decisive as you'd expect a Star Fleet captain to be - a female Captain Kirk, if you will.

Any prejudice that women pilots feel usually comes not from the bosses but from male counterparts who know...know!...that the female pilot they work with today with will be getting a better job somewhere else tomorrow.  And so one can understand if the male pilot is a little snippy, or "has an attitude."  It might not be overt, but it's there...a sort of dismissiveness that says, "Meh, what do I care?  You won't be around here for very long anyway."  Any female pilot who denies that this is the case is not being truthful.

Some women these days want to be the equal of men.  I get that - they don't want to be treated like second-class citizens.  They want equal pay for their work despite the fact that they're typically not as career-oriented as men in that they'll give more importance to family issues - they're the ones who take care of the kids, etc.  And of course women are the ones who get pregnant and have kids in the first place.  

Is it fair that corporations pay more money to workaholic men who compromise their family lives and spend too much time at work than to a woman who has different priorities and may have to take maternity leave sometime in the coming year?  We'll leave that for people smarter than me to figure out.

Fact is, not every woman can do every job that a man can do.  For just one example, we do not expect that every woman would be capable of being one of those NYC firefighters that had to trudge up the stairs of the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 with all their equipment on their back.  I would not ask either of my three sisters to do that job, nor would I expect that they'd want to.

The long and the short of it is: There are no systemic barriers to women pursuing a career as a professional pilot.  The reason there are so few women in aviation though is because so few want to be there, not because they can't be.  And no clever marketing scheme is likely to change that.

12 March 2019

The Kool Kids Klub

I don’t know why I’m feeling so grumpy lately. Things are going so well in my life! But more and more I’m feeling like some crabby old man who complains about everything. Speaking of which…

What is this, the 1950's? I’ve linked a story HERE about a University of California freshman who recently died from an alcohol overdose during an apparent hazing ritual. His distraught father said, "We have discovered the horrifying truth about fraternity hazing."

Really? So YOU have just made this incredible scientific discovery, eh pops? Whoa, alert the media!

To the father I would say: What, have you been asleep or living under a rock for the last...ohhhh, thirty years as fraternity hazing stories (and the deaths associated with them) have become more and more prevalent?

Look, I'm sorry this guy lost his kid, really. No parent should have to go through that. But sending your child off to college, especially to join a fraternity and without warning him of the dangers and temptations that he or she WILL surely face is simply being negligent - not doing YOUR DUTY as a parent.

How's about telling your child, "Hey man, we all want to belong...to fit in...to be The Man (as in, “You da man!”)…to feel like we're part of the Kool Kids Klub. That’s natural. And some people will do anything to achieve those goals...they'll even die for them! Don't do that. Be smart. Those idiots in the frat are not your friends. They will happily stand by and let you kill yourself if you want to. Hell, they might even encourage it and cheer you on! Later, after your body has been taken away they will disavow any knowledge of or responsibility for your demise. They’ll say that it was your choice. And their lives will go on."

That is what I’d tell my kid.

11 March 2019

Flying And The Risk of Death

I've seen some stupid headlines in my day. But this one from The Daily Beast takes the cake: "A Plane Crash That Should Never Have Happened."

Oh, wow, really? Really? 

Shouldn't all plane crashes "never have happened?" Or are there some that should have? Or some that were totally unavoidable.

It's dumb. It's so dumb that it literally makes me shake my head in wonder. 

The Daily Beast story refers to the accident in October of 2018 of a new model of Boeing's legendary 737 called the "Max-8."  The plane was operated by an outfit called Lion Air.  It crashed after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia.  

The focus of the accident investigation now appears to center on a stability-augmentation device that Boeing discretely added to the flight control system to help with some aerodynamic, err, "issues" discovered during the new model's pre-certification flight-testing.  And that stability-augmentation system malfunctioned in some way.  Apparently there is some talk now that if the Lion Air pilots knew of this new system and how to handle its various failure modes, then the crash would not have happened.

Maybe.  Nothing is certain.

Well...one thing is certain.  Look, people. NOTHING is perfect. Certainly not air travel. Not airplanes nor the pilots that fly them. We all must face this irrefutable fact: If you go up in an airplane you might die. Chances are you won't, but you might. 

It may come as some surprise, but airplanes fly "up there" in the sky, where the environment is subject to the whim of Mother Nature...where there are storms and lightning and wind and turbulence...sometimes all at once and sometimes in extremes. 

There is no guarantee that every flight will be smooth as silk. You might die. Wrap your head around that next time you book your ticket.  Don't want to deal with that kind of risk?  Great.  Drive.  You don't care about those risks? Good. Now stow your gear in the overhead bin, sit down and keep quiet. And don't complain next time some captain makes three attempts to land before going somewhere else. And don't complain to me when you hit "unforecast" turbulence in flight and you get hurt because you didn't have your seatbelt on.

Read the Daily Beast story HERE

27 February 2019

The Complication of Coffee

I used to be able to walk into a convenience store, pour myself a cup of coffee, grab a Danish and the newspaper and then be outta there in no time.  It was why we called them convenience stores in the first place.  Not anymore, oh no.  Now getting a lousy cup of coffee is a process.

Now they have these automated coffee machines.  On a touch-screen you have to select from a variety of beans, which are housed in plastic bins on top (above eye level, which will become relevant later).  Then you have to tell it what size cup you have.  Finally you have to tell it whether to leave room for milk in the cup.  It's a lot of fussy button-pushing.  Holy cow, when did getting a cup of lousy coffee become so time-consuming!  I’ve seen befuddled people, cup in hand, staring at the machines, trying to figure out what they need to do.  

This is not progress.  This is merely overcomplication of a simple task for the convenience of the clerks, so they don’t have to spend their time making sure the coffee pots are full.  Except…at the last Circle-K I went into, the bin up on top labeled “House Blend” was empty, something I didn’t notice until after it started making me a cup of slightly brown hot water.

Convenience stores have gotten kind of silly lately, offering a half-dozen different flavors of coffee.  And I'm, like, who cares?  Just brew a pot of regular and a pot of decaf.  And keep 'em full.  Boom - done.  

Like all curmudgeons, I long for the old days...a simpler time...you know, a week or so ago when you didn’t need to be a computer programmer just to get a cup of regular coffee.  You want some fancy blend?  Go to Starbucks.  Now get outta my way, I'm in a goddamn hurry.

It's Chili!


My parents had six kids.  We were not rich, but neither were we on welfare, which back then (1960's) was thought of as something to be ashamed of, not proud.  Both mom and dad worked full-time, and yet somehow we always had a hot meal to eat every night.  All of us kids would dutifully sit in front of the television, “staying out of the way” while mom prepared supper.  Our grocery bill must have been incredible.  Back then there were virtually no pre-packaged or prepared foods.  Mom made everything from scratch.  Looking back on it, she was quite amazing.

The deal was: she cooked; we cleaned up afterward.  There was no getting around or out of it.  We did not have a dishwasher back then.  Well, that’s not correct, mom had six dishwashers.

Very, very occasionally dad would make supper.  And by that I mean, he’d make chili, which was about the only thing he knew how to make.  In my memory it was fantastic – best chili I ever ate!  In reality it was pretty standard, nothing fancy.  Nevertheless, I grew into adulthood loving chili.  It always reminds me of the nights when dad “cooked.”

Dad’s chili recipe called for it being served over rice.  I later learned that people did not usually do this.  I realized that he was using it as an extender, making the chili go further given their tight food budget.   I serve chili over rice to this day.  And, not to brag, but I make the best chili!

Actually, my friend Matt came up with a really simple recipe that I've adopted.  He starts off with the usual ingredients (easy on the onions though), but he adds a can of Bush’s Country Style baked beans.  The molasses and brown sugar give the chili a sweetness which is not ordinarily there.  It’s wonderful!  But now, all these years later, Matt has a new, more complicated chili recipe and he says he doesn't remember making it the “old” way – the way I still do.

Look, there are a million different ways of making chili.  That’s what I love about it.  And I love all kinds of chili…even Wendy’s!  Everyone will tell you that their particular recipe is the best.  People will tell you that you have to soak and cook raw beans – really starting from scratch.  Nonsense, I say!  I don’t want to spend all day cooking chili.  And while it may sound like heresy to a southerner, I think you can use canned beans and they’re perfectly fine.  We’re not talking gourmet food here – it’s chili!

Okay, here’s how I do it:

1 pound of ground meat (or 1.2 pounds of ground turkey)

1 can of dark red kidney beans, drained

1 can of Bush’s Country Style baked beans, drained

1 can of “no-meat” chili (I use Wolf Brand, but any brand is good)

2 cans of diced tomatoes (not petit diced!), drained

1 can of Rotel tomatoes and chopped green chilis (optional)

1 cup chopped onion

1 bag of Success Rice

First I put the beans, chili, tomatoes and half of the raw onions in a big pot and start them simmering.  Put the rice in a separate saucepan and let it boil while you’re cooking the meat.

Next I brown the meat/turkey.  I start with vegetable oil in the skilled and sauté the rest of the chopped onion until cooked.  Then add the meat, W-sauce, salt and pepper, garlic powder and a generous shower of Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning (you almost can’t use too much of it).  Drain and then add it to the big pot. 

Done!

I like to let my chili sit on the stove for a while, but you could serve it right away if you had to.  Quick and easy.  And soooooo good!  It'll feed five or six hungry people.  I guarantee that people will be scarfing it down.  It’s the one dish I make where there are usually no leftovers.

The thing about my recipe is that you can alter it to your particular taste.  Use more or less seasoning…more meat or less meat…sometimes I leave the raw onion out completely although I do like the slight crunch it gives the final product.  You could sauté real garlic along with the onions before you cook the meat.  I don't - garlic powder is fine.  My friend Terry adds a can of corn to his chili.  Corn!  Not me, thanks.

Sometimes I put in the can of Rotel, sometimes not depending on whether the crowd likes spicy food.  Me, I love chili when it’s really spicy but not everyone does.  Sometimes I’ll add a third can of beans – light red kidneys.  I don’t often use beans that are branded as “chili beans” for some reason.  If I want the chili to be “soupy” then I won’t drain the diced tomatoes and beans so thoroughly.  I do like it soupy though, but not quite as much as Wendy’s (which appears to be made from leftover, unsold hamburgers).

I always cook up a batch of white rice to go with the chili.  There’s the requisite shredded cheddar for a topping (I eschew chopped onion), and of course you have to serve chili with Fritos! 

That’s it.  Plain, simple, chili.  Good, crowd-pleasing comfort food.  I’d love to hear how you make chili!  I’m always interested in doing it differently, even if I do default to my tried-and-true, fail-safe recipe most of the time.

I don’t remember exactly how my dad made his chili.  I regret now that I never asked.  I was so oblivious as a...well, I still am.  I only remember that it was great and we loved it.  Whether my way of making chili now is similar to his is not really important.  No matter what the recipe, chili always triggers some wonderful childhood memories.

23 February 2019

Getting Your News Fast and First


Remember the gay, Black actor who got attacked on the street in Chicago in the middle of the night by two white men who put a noose around his neck, beat him up and shouted "This is MAGA country!!"

Yeaaahhhhh, I don't remember that either. Because it didn't happen. I thought the mainstream media would be better at sniffing out what we used to call a "publicity stunt."  Apparently not.

Jussie Smollett, the gay, Black actor we're talking about here was not the victim of a racial attack. Apparently it was staged. Jussie's two friends/accomplices were picked up at the airport on their way out of the country. They admitted everything to the cops.  

These days, we are so hell-bent on finding victims and telling their stories that we've lost all objectivity.  In this time of racial strife, Jussie's lurid tale made a good story!  Even if it wasn't...you know...true.  But never mind that.  Really, at the end of the day, when it comes to reporting the news, isn't it more important to get the story out fast and first? 

13 February 2019

Mr. Skeptic or Mr. Cynic?

People…especially young people have become so gullible these days.  It used to be said that if you read it in the newspaper then it must be true.  The modern equivalent of that is, ”I saw it online so it must be true."

A recent example of this was a video of a little single-engine airplane that suffers an inflight wing failure.  You’ve probably seen it.  During its aerobatic routine, the plane pulls up and the right wing suddenly snaps clean off!  After momentarily losing control, the skillful pilot manages to somehow land, apparently unscathed.  


It looks so convincingly real that many non-pilots believe that it actually happened. (Spoiler alert: It did not.)  The video is a masterpiece of editing.  The camera is shaky as you would expect it to be, and the image goes in and out of focus the way a lot of camera phones do these days.  But it’s totally fake.  It’s a very stark reminder that images can be manipulated and we must not ever take them at face value until they are proven true.

In the case of this famous airplane video, when you look a little closer, there are glaring inconsistencies between the radio-control model and the real airplane on which it was based.  
After right the wing breaks off, the airplane rolls to the left.  Whaaaaat?  This is a dead-giveaway that it's fake.  Think about the physics.  With only the left wing still attached and producing lift, the airplane would roll to the right.
In fact, the airplane would roll uncontrollably to the right and, unable to sustain controlled flight it would crash unceremoniously (and fatally) into the ground.  There would be no saving it.  But people believe what they want to believe.  Strong is the urge to think that such a thing could happen.  ”Hey, it did happen…I saw the video of it on YouTube!"  
(If you're interested, HERE is a pretty good (and short) analysis video done by an aviation website called Avweb.)

I often have to resist the urge to debunk things like this for impressionable young people.  But I don’t want to always be the spoilsport…the negative, jaded, seen-it-all guy who rolls his eyes with that, ”What are you, stupid?” expression on his face.

And so most of the time I just bite my tongue and let the believers believe.  Sometimes I’ll add a word of caution that things might not always be what they seem, but I usually leave it at that unless the offense is especially egregious.  People need to discover things on their own – you know, find out for themselves what’s real and what’s not.  And they will, I trust.  The world is already chock-full of skeptics and cynics.  I don’t have to add to that mix…as much as I sometimes want to.