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?

08 November 2019

Quid Pro Quo?

Much is made of President Trump violating the so-called “Emoluments Clause”  of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9).  Basically, the president cannot receive any…gift, payment or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers or representatives.

The issue centers around this term, “quid pro quo” that Congress keeps bandying about.  Basically, the Democrats are saying that by asking Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate Burisma Holdings and Vice President Biden’s involvement in it, Trump was seeking to benefit personally in the 2020 election.  

It is generally acknowledged that nations like the U.S. use quid pro quos all the time to get other countries to do what we want.  Lots of nations need money and arms from the U.S.  And we seem to have plenty of both to give.

Strategically, Ukraine is important in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia (which is apparently still our sworn enemy – who knew!).  We need them to side with us and not Vladdy Putin, and so we’ve bent over backwards to help Ukraine financially when we could.  President Obama sent Joe Biden over to facilitate giving Ukraine $1 billion in aid.  President Trump has continue these financial and military contributions from the U.S.

Speaking of a “quid pro quo,” it’s interesting to note that Biden gave one to Ukraine then-President Poroshenko back in 2014: Fire the Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin or you don’t get the $1 billion.  Shokin was either looking too deeply or not enough deeply enough into corruption within the Ukraine government.  Looks to me like the U.S. was meddling in Ukraine politics.

For his part, President Trump is saying that his “quid pro quo” merely amounted to asking (not demanding!) that Ukraine’s president look into “corruption” in general…and that happens to include Joe Biden because he was involved in Ukraine at the time that Ukraine was meddling in the 2016 election.  (The mainstream media keeps the focus on “Russian interference” but apparently Ukraine was doing it as well.)

Men of good will can disagree on issues.  Personally, I think the Democrats have a weak argument, and they’ll have a hard time convincing the American public that President Trump violated his oath of office and committed an impeachable offense as the House votes to impeach him.  Don’t bother to mention the various polls showing that half of all Americans want Trump removed from office.  I think that if nothing else, the 2016 election taught us that polls cannot be trusted.

06 November 2019

Impeachable?

If you went out on the street and asked people if President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, you might very well get a preponderance of “Yes!” responses.  Donald Trump is…let’s not pull any punches…a scumbag.  We all know that.  He does what he wants without much concern for the consequences.  (That’s partly why a lot of people like him.)

But some people – let’s call them “Trump-haters” believe that he is unfit for the office of president, never should have been elected president, and should be removed from office ASAP by any means possible.  This last qualification is a little awkward.  Trump-haters want him gone.  They feel that he’s committed enough impeachable crimes to warrant it.  But the term “impeachable” as they use it is kind of, well, squishy.

Because if you were out on the street and asked people what crimes, exactly President Trump has committed that are impeachable offenses, you’d get a lot of hemming and hawing and foot-shuffling.  The more intelligent respondents might say that he violated the so-called emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution which says you cannot accept any gift, reward or thing of value from a foreign government.  They’ll say that by asking Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, Trump was looking to personally benefit in the 2020 election.  

(Notice though that the Constitution says that a president may not accept any gift, reward or thing of value – it does not say that he can’t solicit such things.  You can ask; you just cannot receive.)

And so we get back to: What exactly has President Trump done to warrant impeachment?  

You cannot impeach a president and have him removed from office simply because he’s a dirtbag and you don’t like him.  You cannot impeach a president because he tweets mean things…or treats people badly, or even because he an egotist and a liar.  It doesn’t work that way.  There has to be a clear impeachable offense…somewhere.  

The American people, however, can impeach a president – sort of.  They can simply not vote for him in the next election.  We have that power!  If the people don’t like Donald Trump, they’ll vote for someone else.  And that form of impeachment might happen in about a year from right now.  But it might not! 

Democrats don’t want to take that chance.  They’ve been talking about impeaching Trump ever since he was sworn in.  Here in November of 2019, Democrats want to make damn sure that Trump is not re-elected next year.  So they’ve…you’ll pardon the pun…trumped-up these charges, claiming that asking President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden violated the emoluments clause.  It’s weak, I know, but Democrats are running out of time!

Despite what some polls indicate, I don’t think that the American people are convinced that President Trump has done impeachable things.  Maybe I’m wrong, but the people I talk to are getting fatigued over these impeachment proceedings.  (And I’m an Uber drive; I talk to a lot of people in any given day.)  Not everybody in the country is rabidly Left or Right.  Moderate people of both parties actually do see it as a “witch hunt” or at least an act of desperation by Democrats who want to overturn the 2016 election.  They’re starting to lose interest.

I have no doubt that the House of Representatives will vote to impeach President Trump.  But remember, impeachment does not mean removal from office.  For that, the Senate has to weigh-in.  And they’ll never…never! vote to impeach/remove.  But even if they did, it would not prevent Trump from running in 2020. He might not be able to run as a Republican, which would be no big deal because he isn’t much of a Republican anyway.  And if he runs as an Independent, he very well might win again.

05 November 2019

Who Sets U.S. Foreign Policy?


So now we know the identity of the infamous whistleblower!  (His name is not important.  It’s been revealed in plenty of other places online if you’re really curious.)  He’s a kid.  He’s 33 now, but all of this dates back to when he was in the Obama administration in 2015.  So he’s being used, in other words thrown to the wolves by the older, more experienced politicians and those of the so-called “deep state” who want to keep their hands clean…at least as clean as possible given that nobody is going to look good when this is all over.

Apparently, the kid works for the CIA, must’ve been some low-level wonk (“intelligence analyst”) probably recruited right out of college, perhaps dreaming he was going to be the next master spy like the fictional Jack Ryan of Tom Clancy novels.  Whatever.

In 2015 the CIA assigned him to the National Security Council (NSC) in the Obama administration working for Susan Rice.  He also worked for Vice President Joe Biden on Ukraine policy issues.  He was “held over” into the Trump administration and handled the “Ukraine desk” (whatever that is) at the NSC, and was eventually brought into the White House until his anti-Trump sentiments were revealed – which we can surmise made him persona non grata.  He has moved back to CIA headquarters…but not before meeting with Senator Adam Schiff (who heads the House Intelligence Committee) and agreeing to become The Whistleblower.  

Since this young man only claims to have second-hand knowledge about the phone call President Trump had with Ukraine President Zelensky, it stands to reason that the source of this second-hand information was U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who actually did listen in on the phone call and who says he had serious misgivings about what President Trump was doing because it…and this is what everybody says…it would jeopardize national security!!  That’s the catch-all, right?  If you make such a claim, who would…or could…prove you wrong?  Who could even question your motives?  I think it’s safe to assume that Col. Vindman and our young whistleblower must’ve talked.

But what Lt. Col. Vindman seems to overlook or conveniently forget is that it is THE PRESIDENT who sets our foreign policy…not Congress, not the Joint Chiefs, not the media, and certainly not U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonels, no matter how well-meaning.  We don’t have to (and won’t) question Lt. Col. Vindman’s patriotism or character.  But we can definitely say that he is off-base here in his testimony.  To him I would say “Sir, just let the president handle foreign policy; after all, he is your Commander In Chief.”

30 October 2019

President Trump: Genius or Idiot?


So President Trump recently announced that he would be pulling our troops out of Syria, leaving those brave Kurds (insurgents who have no actual country) on their own.  Oh how people in the U.S. lost their minds!  Everybody had an opinion on What Would Happen Next!  The crux of many people’s complaint was that this would lead to a regeneration of ISIS.

Two weeks later…

Trump: We found and killed the head of ISIS.

Everybody: Oh no!  This will SURELY lead to a regeneration of ISIS!  His number two man will take over!

Two days later…

Trump: Oh, and we killed the number two ISIS guy as well.

After the first guy, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the guy who they say actually started ISIS) was killed, President Trump made a speech and very graphically described how Baghdadi died – which was not as a hero or martyr, but as a cowardly dog, using three of his children as a shield and then blowing himself (and them) up with a bomb that he just coincidentally and conveniently happened to be, you know, wearing.  (It’s what all the well-dressed Muslim extremist/terrorists are wearing this Fall!)

Trump’s very clear message was: "America Is Back: Do not screw with us."  The Obama era of conciliation and kowtowing to Muslims is OVER.  Mess with us and we’ll sic the dogs of war on you.  Literally, as in this case.

Trump lulled everyone into a false sense of security, making everyone think he was a big dummy for pulling out of Syria.  Then he pulled out the Big Stick and killed Baghdadi as a parting shot.  And you know that whole scheme was planned out well in advance.  I mean, come one…putting together an “Op” like the one to get Baghdadi (and his Number Two man) must’ve taken a LOT of planning and coordination.

And so President Trump is either a tactical genius or a blithering idiot.  You decide.

22 October 2019

Throwing Good Money After Bad?

One last thing on politics before I stop...

Apparently, it is common for those in government to use foreign countries to enrich themselves.  As the Trump-Ukraine debacle unfolds, we discover how money flows out of the country only to flow back in as "commissions" or "consulting fees" to those who set up the deals.  I am not even surprised by this.

I read an article on the Daily Caller website that listed all of the companies Hunter Biden formed with his buddy, Devon Archer.  It was quite complicated.  Together, they were working for foreign companies in both China and Ukraine.  The amount of money these two jokers amassed in various fees may never be tallied and known.

What is interesting to me is that there are absolute, undeniable financial ties between China and Ukraine.  I ask myself, "Why would China be interested in business in Ukraine?"  I suspect it's so people can keep money moving around so much that others lose track of it.

And no, I don't think these activities are limited to the Biden boy and Devon Archer.  What were the nationalities of the biggest foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation?  By their own admission: Ukraine.  Not Great Britain or any other source you might imagine.  Ukraine.


What's so goddam special about Ukraine?  And what does the "humanitarian" Clinton Foundation do for the people of Ukraine?

It's clear, at least to me, that the phony-baloney "consulting" jobs (like those give to Hunter Biden - and others), and "donations" by foreign nationals to organizations like the Clinton Foundation...it's all just a means of obtaining access.  

And maybe that's just how global politics works.  "We'll make sure your country gets $1 billion in aid, but you hire my people as 'consultants' and 'advisors' at $50,000 per month.  Got it?"  Money flows out; money flows in; the economic world keeps turning.  Unless there's some big scandal, nobody (surely not the American public) is any the wiser.

Vice President Bigmouth Joe Biden bragged...bragged! that he and President Obama were all set to withhold $1.8 billion in aid to Ukraine unless a particular General Prosecutor was fired and replaced.  Sure enough, the deed was done.  As was the loan.

My question: What happened to all that money?  I mean, we know that "some" of it came back into the U.S. in the form of consulting fees, bogus agency fees and kickbacks, but where did the rest go?  Does nobody care that the U.S. can simply give away a billion dollars or so to help the economy of some shithole ex-Russian country just so they don't side with Vladdy Putin?  Is this why our national debt is so high?  How much more money do we give away every year to other nations?  

And why do we keep doing it?

15 October 2019

These Nutsy-Cuckoo Times

This is not a political blog, and I'm sure you do not come here for political discussion.  The reason I don’t like talking politics is twofold.  For one thing, I know very little about the subject.  Secondly, I don’t really care all that much.  But please indulge me for a moment while I comment on the shitstorm that our society is currently weathering, won't you? I promise I'll be brief, and then we'll be back to talking about flying and motorcycles.

My parents were staunch democrats.  They preached that the Democratic Party was for the working man, while the Republicans were for Big Business.  I didn’t think it through back then (what teenager ever thinks anything through?), but without big (and small) businesses there wouldn’t be any need for working men.  So it’s a symbiotic relationship, to be sure.

As a nascent union organizer in the 1990’s, I came to see that if we squeezed every last dime out of the company, we very well might find ourselves out of work.  Somehow, the contract we were negotiating had to be good for us and good for the company. 

So this whole current Ukraine Affair just leaves me disgusted.  OF COURSE, Joe Biden got his son Hunter appointed to the Board of Directors of Burisma Holdings (the largest natural gas company in Ukraine).  Of course, he did!  And Biden wasn’t being totally honest when he said that he and Hunter never discussed Burisma.  Bullshit!  (Pardon my French.)  Hunter, who knew nothing about the natural gas industry, slid into a cushy, do-nothing job that netted him a pretty nice salary.  Nepotism?  Sure.  Unethical?  Oh yeah.  Illegal?  Maaayyyybee…but maybe not.

And then President Trump, in a now-famous phone call, asked the current president of Ukraine to look into this Biden/Burisma deal.  And then everything blew up.

I love the “everybody knows” theory.  Everybody knows that what Trump did was an impeachable offense.  Everybody, from the man on the street to some top people in government say that what President Trump did was wrong.  And maybe it was!  But was it illegal?  Was it an impeachable offense?  Hmm.  Maaayyyybeee.  “Everybody” may know the answer to that.  Me?  I don’t know.  Nor do I care.

I have three brilliant sisters. One is an archeologist and two are attorneys. Over the years, I have learned a lot from all three. Just oneof the things I’ve learned is that when it comes to the law, NOTHING is ever cut-and-dried. NOTHING is ever totally black-or-white. The 1995 O.J. Simpson trial surely taught us that. If you were alive and watching TV back then, you know as well as I do that O.J. got away with murder.
The people who hate the president and want him removed from office make their case very passionately. Trump is a bad man who’s gotta go! But Trump supporters are just as passionate in their defense of the manThis is not a political blog, and you probably do not come here for political discussion. The reason I don’t like talking politics is twofold. For one thing, I know very little about the subject. Secondly, I don’t really care all that much.

My parents were staunch democrats. They preached that the Democratic Party was for the working man, while the Republicans were for Big Business. I didn’t think it through back then (what teenager ever thinks anything through?), but without big businesses there wouldn’t be any need for working men. So it’s a symbiotic relationship, to be sure.

As a nascent union organizer in the 1990’s, I came to see that if we squeezed every last dime out of the company, we very well might find ourselves out of work. Somehow, the contract we were negotiating had to be good for us and good for the company.

So this whole current Ukraine Affair just leaves me disgusted. OF COURSE, Joe Biden got his son Hunter appointed to the Board of Directors of Burisma Holdings (the largest natural gas company in Ukraine). Of course, he did! And Biden wasn’t being totally honest when he said that he and Hunter never discussed Burisma. Bullshit! (Pardon my French.) Hunter, who knew nothing about the natural gas industry, slid into a cushy, do-nothing job that netted him a pretty nice salary. Nepotism? Sure. Unethical? Oh yeah. Illegal? Maaayyyybee…

And then President Trump, in a now-famous phone call, asked the now-president of Ukraine to look into this Biden/Burisma deal. And then everything blew up.

I love the “everybody knows” theory. Everybody knows that what Trump did was an impeachable offense. Everybody, from the man on the street to the top people in government say that what President Trump did was wrong. And maybe it was! But was it illegal? Was it an impeachable offense? Hmm. Maaayyyybeee. “Everybody” may know the answer to that. Me? I don’t know. Nor do I care.

I have three brilliant sisters. One is an archeologist and two are attorneys. Over the years, I have learned a lot from all three. One thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to the law, NOTHING is ever cut-and-dried. NOTHING is ever totally black-or-white.

The people who hate the president and want him removed from office make their case very passionately. Trump is a bad man who’s gotta go! But Trump supporters are just as passionate in their defense of the man. Best president ever!

And again, ol’ Bob is caught in the middle, not knowing what to think, and feeling guilty for not having an opinion.

But here’s what I do think. We do not live in a strict democracy. The U.S. is a democratic republic. We elect people to run the country for us, because most of us: a) don’t want to; and b) are uniquely unqualified to do so. I’m more “b” than “a” but truth be told I go both ways there.

The trouble is that we don’t let our leaders do their jobs. We scrutinize, criticize and second-guess every damn decision they make. The end result is that we have an entire electorate that is afraid of saying or doing ANYTHING because they know they’ll get a ton of negative feedback or at least cause a Twitterstorm with which they’ll have to deal.

The only politician with any guts is Beto O’Rourke. He came out out and actually said it out loud: The left wants to confiscate our guns. Heh. I admire his honesty, but good luck getting ANY conservative to vote for you, Beto! You might as well quit the race now and not waste any more of your time or money.

Look, I say: If President Trump is doing a really bad job, then the American people will not vote for him in 2020. No, I don’t think he’ll destroy the country…or our democracy in the meantime. The republic has withstood some pretty crappy presidents; I doubt Trump is even the worst.

President Trump is…different. He’s different than any other president we’ve ever had. He says and does things that are simply…there is no other word for it…crazy. Other politicians hate him, but Trump connects with the American people on a level that is hard to explain or understand. His supporters overlook so much crap that it’s really hard to fathom.

The most insane and ironic thing I’ve heard from the Democrats was, ”We have to impeach Trump to keep him from getting re-elected.” If that doesn’t tell you something about these nutsy-cuckoo times we’re living in, I don’t know what else would.
Best president ever!


And again, ol’ Bob is caught in the middle, not knowing what to think, and feeling kind of guilty for not having an opinion.

But here’s what I think.  We do not live in a strict democracy.  The U.S. is a democratic republic.  We elect people to run the country for us, because most of us: a) don’t want to; and b) are uniquely unqualified to do so.  I’m more “b” than “a” but truth be told I go both ways there.

The trouble is that we don’t let our leaders do their jobs.  We scrutinize, criticize and second-guess every damn decision they make.  The end result is that we have an entire electorate that is afraid of saying or doing ANYTHING because they know they’ll get a ton of negative feedback or at least cause a Twitterstorm with which they’ll have to deal.  Except our president - he seems to be playing by a completely different set of rules.

The only politician with any guts is Beto O’Rourke.  He came right out and actually said it out loud: The left wants to confiscate our guns.  Heh.  I admire his honesty, but good luck getting ANY conservative to vote for you, Beto!  You might as well quit the race now and not waste any more of your time or money.

Look, I say: If President Trump is doing a really bad job, then the American people will not vote for him in 2020.  No, I don’t think he’ll destroy the country…or our democracy in the meantime.  In my life I've seen eleven presidents.  The republic has withstood some pretty crappy ones; I doubt Trump is even the worst.

President Trump is…different.  He’s different than any other president we’ve ever had.  He says and does things that are simply…there is no other word for it…crazy.  Other politicians hate him, but Trump connects with the American people on a level that is hard to explain or understand.  His supporters overlook so much crap that it’s really hard to believe.

The most insane and ironic thing I’ve heard from the Democrats was, ”We have to impeach Trump to keep him from getting re-elected.”  If that doesn’t tell you something about these nutsy-cuckoo times we’re living in, I don’t know what else would.

07 October 2019

Wacky Automotive News, Part II

If I were to say the word, “Porsche,” your natural response would probably be, “911.” It is the iconic German sportscar, and has been since its introduction in 1963. It is sexy and fast, and many a teenage boy has lusted over it, dreaming about the day they might someday own one. Yes, including me.

Over the years, Porsche has built its reputation on high-performance. Their racing cars are legendary. Their street cars have always been powered by a sophisticated six-cylinder engine that traces its roots all the way back to the Volkswagen engine from which it was spawned. Today’s modern Porsche engines are highly advanced, of course, eons beyond their predecessors.

But things change.  As we look for a way to replace the internal combustion engine, everybody is scrambling to design and produce totally electric vehicles. 

In 1996, General Motors tried with their funny-looking EV-1. That didn’t work out for reasons that are both unclear and controversial. All of the EV-1’s were recalled and (supposedly) destroyed. After that, electric car progress was slow, hampered by battery technology that wasn’t improving as fast as people hoped.

In 2012, along came Tesla with the Model S, which is all-electric.  A boutique manufacturer of high-end vehicles, Tesla was seen as the “anti-GM.” Happily, the Model S was a pretty good design right off the bat. Battery life and the resultant range-before-charging were decent. But the scarcity of charging stations limited Tesla’s market to places like Los Angeles…bigger cities.

With Tesla’s success, we knew it would only be a matter of time until the major automakers woke up and joined the fray. In 2016, GM got back in the game with a model called the Bolt. Other automakers have committed to producing electric vehicles – including Volkswagen, which promises us a new version of the Microbus, which will be all-electric. (Tree-hugging hippies all over the world should rejoice.)

So along comes Porsche. They recently introduced an all-electric model called the Taycan (Turkish for “young, lively horse”). It is a low-slung, four-door car, unmistakably Porsche and is as drop-dead beautiful as you’d expect.


Porsche is bringing out two versions: the Taycan Turbo, and the Taycan Turbo S.

Say…what? Turbo?

When applied to a motor vehicle, the word “turbo” generally…usually means turbocharged. A turbocharger is a device fitted to a conventional internal-combustion engine to increase its power. The turbo uses hot exhaust gases to spin a tiny turbine wheel. This in turn spins another tiny turbine wheel, and this one is in the intake stream. This pressurizes the intake fuel/air mixture, which results in more power. You can take a little, weak engine, stick a turbocharger on it and make it have the power of a big engine. It’s like magic!

Confusingly, “turbo” can also be short for “turbine-powered” – usually an aircraft powered by turboshaft (i.e. “jet”) engines connected to a propeller. For instance, take the general aviation twin-engine airplane called the Aero Commander series. Over the years, various models of the plane have been powered by both piston and turboshaft engines. Externally, they look nearly identical to the untrained observer. The Commanders with the turboshaft engines are called “Turbo-Commanders.”  Which they shouldn't be.

The problem is that turbine-powered and turbocharged aircraft are very different and use vastly different fuel. A turbine engine uses jet fuel and cannot run on “avgas.” A turbocharged piston engine uses regular aviation gasoline (“avgas”) and cannot run on jet fuel. When landing to refuel, Aero Commander pilots have to be ever diligent that the refueling company puts in the right kind. It’s easy to make a mistake!  Accidents have happened.  (It is rumored that the historic B-17 that crashed recently in Connecticut may have been fueled with jet fuel.)

Sorry, I didn’t mean to go off on such a technical tangent just to explain the meaning of the word, “turbo” and how it is usually applied.

Okay, so the automotive world is laughing at Porsche for calling their all-electric car a “turbo” when it is clearly not turbocharged.

But Porsche is being clever. Very, very clever. The word turbo by itself has entered our general lexicon. It’s analogous to “hyper.” Like, ”Man, it’s hot in here. Put that air conditioner on turbo!” Or, "Man, my girlfriend was turbo angry with me for forgetting her birthday.” You get the idea. And yes, I’ve heard both of those expressions.

So Porsche appropriated the word “turbo” and applied it to their Taycan, even though the car does not have a conventional gas engine and is definitely not turbocharged. Heh. But it conveys the idea that the car is fast, no? You’ve got to give the marketing guys at Porsche credit. I think it’s both hilarious and smart.

I still want one - maybe even more!

30 September 2019

Wacky Automotive News

I like to call myself a “car guy.” I’ve always liked cars…worked on them, etc. But I admit that as time goes on it’s harder and harder to keep up on all of the new vehicles that get introduced.

My friend Matt (who actually is a car guy) asked me what I thought of the new, mid-engine Chevy Corvette, and I kind of drew a blank. Yes, I’d certainly seen pictures of it and the specifications, and I’d read all of the breathless descriptions of it in the car magazines. But I really had no opinion on it. I’ve never really been “into” Corvettes. Maybe I’m not such a car guy after all.  Ah, well.

The Really Big News of the automotive world in the last couple of weeks is that Volkswagen is…wait for it :::drumroll::: changing their iconic logo! Everybody knows the “VW” logo, right? It’s been staring at us from the front of Microbuses, Golfs and Jettas since forever. It’s gone through a couple of very minor permutations over the years, but has always stayed basically the same. Oh, and none of the other evolutions of the logo garnered any attention from the press.

Now, here in 2019, for some reason Volkswagen decided that they needed to update the logo. Accordingly, they made a big announcement. The obviously-bored automotive press, seized on this news and reported it with a seriousness befitting the death of General Motors (should that ever happen).

Here’s the old one.


And here’s the new one.  



Not much difference, you say?  True.  But look more closely and sharp-eyed readers will see that the space between the "V" and the "W" is larger on the new logo.  And there is a space at the bottom of the "legs" of the "W" and the surrounding circle.  Completely different!  Volkswagen says that the old, three-dimensional logo was not computer friendly, whatever that means.

I guess that for Germans, radical change comes a little bit at a time.  Baby steps, Wolfgang, baby steps.

23 September 2019

Getting Emotionally Attached To A Car


Before I talk much about Matt and my trip from Washington to his home in Atlanta, Georgia, I have to tell you a little bit about my car. For the last ten years or so I’ve driven minivans that were converted into taxis. But last year I ditched the cabs and switched over to Uber. Doing so allowed me to use a “regular” car, i.e. one with no taxi branding. It didn't have to be a van, either.  Ah, but which one to choose?

I wanted something with good gas mileage. I was getting killed with my last van (a Dodge Caravan) which averaged 14-15 mpg in city driving. A lot of Uber drivers use the Toyota Prius hybrid. They’re fairly inexpensive to buy, they get great gas mileage and they’re very cheap to operate. For me though, I’m just not a fan. I think the Prius looks funky, which you can read as "ugly." 

My sister once had a succession of Toyota Avalons. They were beautiful cars! For one thing, they’re huge – you can easily fit six people inside. And the sweet 3.0 liter V-6 engine powering the thing runs like a friggin' sewing machine. To me, the Avalon is at least as good a car as a Lexus, without the Lexus' high price. Or so I thought.

Turns out that Avalons hold their value pretty well. Even older ones are not cheap. And not only that, they get horrible gas mileage in the city! To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

Then I thought about diesels. I’ve always liked the Volkswagen Jetta, and I thought if I could find a nice one with a diesel it would be just the ticket. So I started looking around. Coincidentally, my local Pensacola dealer had a fire-engine red Jetta station wagon in stock. But they wanted a lot of money for it. Red cars must command higher prices.

But over in Mobile, Alabama there was a VW dealer that had a couple of diesel Jetta sedans for sale – both at very attractive prices. Out of curiosity, my buddy Terry and I drove over in my van. A little later that day I drove off in a used silver VW diesel Jetta.

A word about Volkswagen diesels…

Yes, Volkswagen got caught cheating on the U.S. emissions test. It is not as serious as you might imagine. The details are very complicated – much too complicated to go into on this blog - but you can read all about it HERE. The upshot is that VW wasn't completely disabling the emission control systems of their cars.  They just had to fool the sensors into thinking that the vehicle's nitrogen-oxide emissions were a little lower than they actually were. 

Nitrogen-oxide emissions are the ones that create the black soot that diesels used to be known for.  The U.S. has the most-stringent nitrogen-oxide standards of any country in the world.  But VW diesels couldn't quite meet them.  So the clever German engineers at VW programmed the car's computer to recognize when emission-testing gear was hooked up.  Then it would adjust the fuel-air mixture accordingly to temporarily get the right readings.  When the test gear was removed, the car reverted to its regular ways.  

But even so, it's not like the VW's were rolling coal as the drivers of modified diesel pickup trucks like to say when their trucks are laying down a thick cloud of black smoke under acceleration.  Modern diesel trucks and cars (and VW's) have been pretty smoke-free for years as limits got tighter and tighter.

Once it was discovered that VW cheated, they had to fix the cars…fix them or buy ‘em back if that’s what the owner wanted. VW ended up buying back a shit-ton of cars. They fixed those and then re-sold them in their dealerships. Needless to say, anyone who’d ever heard of the “dieselgate” scandal stayed far away from a Volkswagen diesel.  The stigma was real, man.

To get rid of the cars, VW offered an incredible warranty. As a “certified pre-owned” used car, my 2012 Jetta TDI came with a two-year, unlimited mileage bumper-to-bumper warranty plus an extended warranty on the engine and transmission.  Hey, it was enough to sell me!

I love this car!  Some people like Volkwagens, some don’t. I happen to really like them…especially this one and the way it drives. I don’t know what it is, but German cars just drive…differently…than other makes. They’re quirky, for sure, but they have a distinctive and solid feel on the road.

The Jetta is a little tight for five people (I maybe should’ve bought the slightly-larger Passat), but it has an absolutely huge trunk. People comment on that all the time. They also think it’s way newer than it is – VW really hasn’t changed the Jetta much over the years. I had mine in for service recently, and the loaner car was a 2019 Jetta. It really looked, felt and drove a lot like my own - with the exception of the gas mileage, which was worse than my diesel.

In town, my TDI averages about 30 mpg. Not great, but it’s been a really hot summer and I’ve been doing a lot of sitting and idling with the a/c on, which is hell on gas mileage. But out on the highway the Jetta routinely turns in 40 mpg, sometimes more. On a long trip I can plan on 40. It’s amazing. And the turbo-diesel engine makes the car so much fun to drive! On the Interstate, just push the gas pedal down and the thing literally surges powerfully ahead – no downshifting, no screaming engine, no drama. It just goes!  It's fun.

Even though I'm a "car guy," it has been a long time since I was excited about or even emotionally attached to a damn car. But I really love this VW Jetta. I plan to drive the wheels off it and then sell it and find another diesel Jetta with lower mileage.

10 September 2019

Sand Dunes, Sea Oats, and Salty Dogs


Terry and I are very different.  Perhaps it is those differences that make us such good friends.  I mentioned in a previous post that while he and I were out on an early-morning motorcycle ride along the beach, we stopped to take some pictures of our bikes. Terry, overcome with the beauty of our surroundings began composing a poem. In my post I sort of scoffed that I'm not much for poetry. But I do respect it, I suppose.

The road Terry and I were riding on is a little barrier island that connects Pensacola and Navarre Beaches. It is home to Gulf Islands National Seashore. Aside from a few parking lots, it's a pretty remote and desolate area, devoid of development. There's little traffic. It kind of has the feel of an undiscovered no-man's-land.

Now, I'm generally not a romantic, introspective or sensitive guy. I guess I'm too jaded to be really wowed by anything anymore. But! Hang on... I will admit that sometimes you just have to stop and smell the sea oats, to coin a phrase. And if you do...if you just stop, and take a moment to stare out over the Gulf of Mexico, take in the clean, fresh salt air and listen to the waves lapping gently at the water's edge, you cannot help but be moved by the incredible beauty and tranquility of the place. Even a crusty old guy like me can appreciate that. As awesome as the experience was, it did not, however, inspire me to wax poetic.

Terry, on the other hand...well, like I say, we're different.  I mentioned that he had started to compose a poem on the side of the road there.  Later on, he posted the finished version on his Facebook page.


Sand Dunes, Sea Oats, and Salty Dogs
                             by Terry May

Sometimes I wanna go somewhere that's nowhere,
A place without a name,
Where the sky is bluer,
The water is clearer,
And the sun dances on the surface
Like a million sparkling diamonds,
Enough to make giddy girl giggle,
Don't dare to ask me where,
I'll tell you a Pirate's riddle,
It's not on Pensacola Beach or Navarre,
It's somewhere in the middle,
That's exactly where you are,
Somewhere on the National Seashore,
Don't blink or you will go too far!

09 September 2019

Total Recall

Oh, I’m glad I’m not a writer. My friend Terry actually is a writer. He’s got a book that’s out now called, “The Broken Earth.” It’s a historical novel, set in the time right after the end of the Civil War.

Being old (semi-)retired guys, Terry and I have a lot of free time. So we go out to eat a lot – breakfasts and lunches, mostly. When the weather is nice, we'll hop on our motorcycles early and ride off to someplace interesting for breakfast. And last Thursday we did just that.

Since we live in diametrically opposite ends of our little coastal city, we met up in downtown Pensacola just after sunrise. From there we rode out to the beach, and then eastbound on Route 399 which connects Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.

Rte 399 is a stunningly beautiful road that traverses the thin, fragile barrier island of sugar-white sand and sea oats. There used to be tall dunes on either side, hindering the view of the Gulf of Mexico, but Hurricanes Erin, Opal and Ivan respectively blew the dunes away. Now, drivers and motorcycle riders have a clear view of the water for the entire ride. Along the way, we stopped at various points to take some pictures of our bikes in the soft morning sun.

At one such photo-op, Terry began waxing poetic, as he's sometimes inspired to do. ”The sun is sparkling on the water…like…the diamonds on a little girl’s…something…” And that’s when I walked away to let him compose his poem in peace. I am not a fan of poetry. I am definitely…and defiantly not a poet.

At breakfast in a restaurant called Juana’s Pagoda on the water in Navarre Beach, Terry regaled me, as he usually does, with stories of his youth. He has an uncanny ability to remember intricate details of every person he’s ever met, all the way back to his elementary school days and maybe as early as the womb. He knows stuff like his late father’s birthday, as well as the day and date that he died. When he was a taxi- and then later an Uber driver, he would remember all of the details of the lives of every passenger he carried. It’s a unique – and quite bizarre – trait.

Sometimes, when we’re together, Terry will bring up stories from his past – events that happened, or people that he knew. Just being someplace can trigger odd memories for him, which he recalls with surprising clarity.

I am often astounded and amazed, and more than a little impressed at Terry’s ability to remember these kinds of things. But then it dawns on me: He’s a writer. He needs to remember these things because those very details are what allow him to flesh-out the backgrounds of the characters in the books he writes.

Me, I’d have to make it all up. I don’t remember shit. And moreover, I don’t want to. As soon as my passengers are out of my car, they’re gone from my consciousness. I don't remember which day of the week my dad died - hell, I don't even remember what year he died.  I’d never make a good cop; my powers of observation and retention are poor.

Police Officer (showing me two pictures: one, a mugshot of a man and the other, a security camera picture of a man with a gun getting out of my Uber in a bank parking lot): ”Mr. Barbanes, is this the man you dropped off at the Hancock Bank on Airport Road at 2:53 yesterday afternoon…the man that robbed that bank?”

Me: ”Uhhh, durrrrr…could be…”

Terry would know the man’s life story…where he grew up, who his parents were, how many brothers and sisters he had, that he had a mole on the back of his neck, what he’s doing in Pensacola, and what he plans to do with the money.

So not only would I not make a good policeman, I’ll never be a good novelist, either.

Terry, on the other hand, has that gift of being able to jot stuff down in his mind and file it away for future use. Thus, he’ll be able to populate his books with interesting people and their unique personalities. You know how movie or book critics sometimes complain that, ”The characters were not well-developed.” Well, Terry won’t ever have to hear that said about his work.

02 September 2019

Road Trip!!

I drove my car up to Washington State this past May for my usual summer job. The company would fly me up, but I like driving. Plus, it was planned that my friend Matt would fly up at the end of the season and road-trip back with me. We figured we’d hit some “bucket list” places on the way. We brainstormed a bit and finally came up with a rough idea of our route. We had a plan but left room for flexibility.

I’ve always wanted to visit Olympic National Park in the very northwest corner of the country. That, and the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park were two in my “must-see” category. Matt wanted to do Mt. Rainier and Crater Lake. And we both wanted to see Mt. Rushmore.

I picked Matt up in Seattle on Thursday night. We got an early start on Friday morning, and quickly realized that if we had any sort of schedule at all, it was going out the window. What with the requisite “photo-op” stops (and me needing to stop so frequently to pee), we weren’t making much time. Instead of cruising through Olympic National Park (first on our list), we ended up spending much more time than we’d planned. This kind of screwed up our whole timetable.

We discovered that we wanted to linger at places longer than we anticipated. Ultimately, we had to scratch a couple of things off our list. But we added a few others.

Road trips are cool. But sharing a car during the day and a hotel room at night with someone for a week can be awkward and stressful. You get to know a lot about the other person – maybe more than you ever wanted to know. It’s very easy to get on one another’s nerves. So it helps when your traveling companion is someone you get along and enjoy being with.

Matt and I have known each other for a long time now, and we get along great. Looking back, I don’t believe he and I have ever had an actual argument. Disagreement, yes; argument, no. I don’t know why that is, come to think of it.

Over the years, we’ve done more than a few road trips together. The first time was back in the late 1990’s when I delivered an airplane – a tiny, two-seat Cessna 150 - from Pensacola, Florida to Flint, Michigan. Since then we’ve been on many flying, camping, canoeing, hiking and road trips. He is an avid mountain biker, and is always suggesting that I buy a bike and ride with him – but I have to draw the line somewhere. With me on a bicycle, the vertical weight distribution would be all wrong.

Anyway, we left Seattle, Washington on Friday morning, and got back to his place in Atlanta on Thursday evening. It was an awesome, fun trip! I’ll describe some of it in the next few installments here – with pictures!

26 August 2019

Minding Your Business, Part II

Remember the story in July of 2018 about the guy here in Florida who confronted a woman about parking in a handicapped spot at a convenience store and then shot her boyfriend when he came outside? I wrote about it HERE.

On Friday August 23, 2019, the man, Michael Drejka was convicted of manslaughter of Markeis McGlockton. He has yet to be sentenced, so the story is not over.

There are plenty of lessons here. Let’s deal focus on three:

First and foremost is that if you lay your hands on another man in anger, you might just end up dead. McGlockton acted violently – there is no disputing that. The surveillance video clearly shows him instigating the physical confrontation. For that, he paid with his life.  I'm guessing it wasn't the first time that McGlockton acted violently.  Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

Right or wrong, justified or not, dying is always a possibility when you start a conversation with violence. No matter what Drejka did that day, McGlockton could have just called Drejka a bad name, gotten in his car and driven away. But he did not.

Second Lesson:  If someone physically attacks you, you don’t get to kill them! I’m sure things in that parking lot happened pretty quickly for Drejka, and he may very well have felt threatened with bodily harm by a man who was obviously quite younger and bigger than he was (but who was not brandishing a weapon at that point).  So did Drejka have a reasonable, genuine fear that his life was in danger? Ehhhh, the jury did not think so. You certainly can get your ass kicked. (Some people deserve it!) But that doesn’t give you, the ass-kickee permission to kill the ass-kicker.

Third Lesson: The media sucks.  Most stories that I've read, including THIS one from Reuters erroneously state that this case was a study in Florida's so-called "Stand Your Ground" law.  The reality is that Drejka's attorneys went for simple self-defense and did not invoke "Stand Your Ground."  But the media has an agenda that apparently has nothing to do with the truth.

Okay, anyway, Drejka was found guilty and he will be sentenced at some later date.  He may face some jail time, or he might not. This is Florida, after all. But whatever sentence is handed down, it most likely won’t be Life Without Parole. Eventually, he’ll go on with his life. McGlockton is still dead.  I wouldn't want to be either of those two guys.

There are no winners here.

19 August 2019

A Delicate Matter

I am back in Florida, having spent the last 90 days in Washington State drying cherries with helicopters. It’s nice to be back in my own house, sleeping in my own bed, eating my own food and getting back on my usual (ahem) routines. More about that later…

It was a relatively uneventful season…except for one crash that happened on a training flight before I got there. The ship was a write-off but the pilots were okay. The new-hire, an older guy is faking a back injury so he won’t have to fly anymore, I guess. Had I done a better job of researching him, I probably wouldn’t have hired him. But we were really hard-up for pilots this year, and so I took a chance. Next year will probably be worse as there is a real shortage of qualified helicopter pilots out there.

Other than that, we had a pretty good year, flying-wise. No records were set but the boss seemed happy.

The deal the company makes with pilots is this: Housing and food is provided in addition to a daily pay rate. We don’t specify how much food we’ll provide, but I assure prospective employees that nobody ever goes hungry at our outfit. The boss loves to eat, and he really likes it when we all eat together as a group.  So he takes us out a lot.

At the beginning of the season the boss and I go down to Costco in Wenatchee and load up on food for the crew houses that the pilots can prepare themselves. In addition, we all go out to Taco Tuesday, and of course Steak Night at The Club Sports Bar in Okanogan, which we love. Friday or Saturday nights will see us having pizza at The Bakery in Pateros. I usually cook a big meal once or twice a week, and we’ll do a cookout/barbecue as well. Then there are the random breakfasts and lunches at Smallwoods (which we also love). As I said, no one goes hungry.

Every morning I would meet the boss at 0700 for coffee and to discuss what we wanted to accomplish that day. Invariably, he would proffer a piece of pie (apple, naturally – they don’t make pies from the cherries they grow around Brewster). Coffee and pie for breakfast?! Not what anyone would call a good and healthy meal. But it would be impolite and disrespectful to refuse. So I did not. I did, however, decline the two big scoops of vanilla ice cream which the boss usually added to his own pie. 

In the beginning, the boss would get eight slices out of a normal store-bought pie. That morphed into four slices. It got ridiculous. (But if you’ve ever eaten pie from Cyrus O’Leary in Spokane, you’d understand our indulgence. They are AWESOME!)

One upshot of all this overeating was that I ballooned up to 210 pounds. I look and feel awful. It’s going to take some serious dieting and exercise to get back down to 180 pounds…if I even can at my age.

Another effect of our crazy diets in Washington is more…well…awkward to talk about. It’s a delicate matter. I spoke with the other pilots about this and they all concurred. To be blunt: Our poop schedules got all screwed-up. We were all pooping like crazy! Much more often than usual.

I am fortunate that here in Florida, I eat pretty healthy and don’t eat a whole lot. My diet is such that I burn off most of the food I eat during the day…if you know what I mean. I try to keep my total caloric intake down below 1,800, and preferably below 1,500 if I can. This means that there is not a lot of, um, byproduct. Once in the morning, and I’m good for the next 24-hours.

But up in Washington…I didn’t count, but we all must’ve been taking in 3,000 or 4,000 calories a day, maybe more. Just breakfast at Smallwoods alone could account for most of that! Portion control? Hah! Plus, none of us were exercising all that much. Consequently, we all had to adjust to having our days interrupted by inconvenient visits to the bathroom more often than usual.  (I know, I know...first-world problems, eh?)

But as I said, now I am back at home and eating more sensibly. Yes, I can already tell the difference. It’s a giant relief - in more ways than one.

I didn’t really want to go up to Washington this summer, and I don’t want to go back next summer but I think I’m going to have to. (It’s a long story.) Next summer will make a total of ten years that I’ve been going up to Brewster. So we shall see. This year was a lot of fun – we had a really great crew.  It makes it hard to quit. But ten years of doing anything is enough, no?

19 June 2019

Unbelievably...Back In Washington

You may now roll your collective eyes and sigh...

I may have mentioned in this blog a time or two that every year since 2011 I’ve been coming up from Florida to Washington State for my summer job with a helicopter company that does cherry-drying. Every year I say that it’ll be my last. And then every year I come back. Last year I was quite positive that I was done here.

And yet here I am, writing this at our headquarters in Brewster, Washington. Sheesh.

I’m not flying anymore. When I quit Petroleum Helicopters in 2001, I vowed that I was done with flying. I’d hit 10,000 hours of flight experience, which is a nice milestone and was sort of my goal when I started flying for money back in 1982.

But I’m not a good quitter, apparently. After leaving PHI, I took a succession of “temporary” (or so I thought) jobs, culminating in the one where I flew a Bell JetRanger for that rich guy in Alabama. That ended in 2010, and when I quit that job I said I was DONE! Then one of my friends called and told me about this cherry drying outfit that used the helicopters my dad flew in the Korean War.

But finally, I’ve had enough. I still love getting my hands on the controls of a helicopter, but my heart is just not in it anymore. I ride along with the new pilots, checking them out in the Sikorsky S-55 model that we use and showing them how we go about doing the job. But that’s about it. Now, I come up to Washington mainly to help my boss and his son get all of the equipment ready for the season. I stay for only two months (instead of as many as six!) and then beat feet back to Florida as soon as all the cherries are picked.

It’s fun up here, and that’s the trouble. It’s what keeps me coming back each season. But honestly (and I hate to admit this), I’d much rather be down in Florida with my motorcycle-riding buddies, taking trips and going to the beach while the weather is good. I mean, I live where people go on vacation! As I said, I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to stop flying for a living since 2001!

As great as Pensacola is, it’s certainly not Miami. We’re sub-tropical. And although our northwest part of Florida doesn’t get all that cold in the winter, it can be chilly (a high of 60 degrees for a couple of hours) and the November-December days at that latitude are short: Sunset can be as early as 4:30. Makes it tough to get in any meaningful trips if you don’t like riding at night, which I don’t. So we have to take advantage of the good weather in the summer.

Aaaaaaanyway, we’ve been having a pretty good season here in Washington, all things considered. The weather has been beautiful: clear and warm, but so far at least not blisteringly hot. (That’s coming next month.) The growers all seem to be having a good season; that is, good for them but bad for my boss who would prefer we were flying more. Perhaps the growers will get their cherries all picked early…(wishful thinking, I know) and I'll be out of here by the end of July.

It seems that I write this – or something similar – every year. I suppose I’ll be writing it again next year too.