Thursday, March 29, 2007

About a Strike

It was the first strike by helicopter pilots in the United States.

The strike started September 20th, so I've been home for over six months now. No driving to the airport to catch a flight to New Orleans from my northern California home. No drive from New Orleans Airport to Morgan City, Houma, or Fourchon to start the work hitch. No Friday morning "be careful out there" meetings. No checking the weather, flight precautions, NOTAMS, warning areas, offshore fuel status, or IFR alternates. No weight and balance calculations. No passenger briefings. No wolfing down lunch between flights. No long days in the cockpit.

No sunrises over the swamp wilderness south of Morgan City. No viewing of wildlife--swamp and sea--from above. No joking around with fellow employees, heliport crews, and dispatchers. No Community coffee (an acquired taste). No gatherings with fellow pilots for dinner now and then.

Oh yeah, and no paycheck.

To tell the truth, I really didn't enjoy that first couple of months off so much. It was great to be with my wife and little boy, yeah, but after twenty-seven years with the same employer, the uncertainty of what the future would bring was a damper. But eventually, I woke up and realized that the extra time with my family was something to treasure, and that I may never again have the chance to cook breakfast for my son every day.

That part being on strike has been wonderful. Being with my wife and little boy everyday, without the break in togetherness that came with the two-week-on, two-week-off schedule, well, it's been a gift. The uncertainly and financial hardship notwithstanding, it's been a gift I'm thankful for. Oh yeah.

My stint as a full-time house husband/Mr. Mom will soon end. In a few days, I fly off to Louisiana for my "return to work" interview.

I've given a lot of thought to whether I wanted to continue flying for a living, since flying for a living usually means being away. When I'm away, I miss my family far more than I've missed flying these last few months. Yet, flying still has me by the ass. It's still in my blood, as much as I want to deny its hold. It's part of what I am, despite how, over the years, I've resisted being defined by what I do.

Assuming my employer hasn't put me on their list of "undesirables," I'll soon begin life in the Away-Dad Nation again. I want to focus on what a gift this stretch as a full-time husband and dad has been. I really do. But right now, I just feel sad. It's more than just a change in routine, y'see. It's like the end of a little life.

Damn, I'm gonna miss that life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Meandering in Search of Blog Meat: Mystery Airships, Global Warming, and Liberals vs. Conservatives

Last night, I watched a History Channel program about "Texas' Roswell," the town of Aurora. That got me thinking about something I'd heard about, decades ago, from one of my military flight instructors, the "mystery airship" happenings of the late 1800's.

I found the mystery airship stuff interesting, so I thought I'd write a blog entry about it. (A tidbit: eyewitnesses claimed to have spoken to crewmembers of the airships, who told the eyewitnesses on the ground that they were from the Lost Tribes of Israel.) But then, I happened upon a piece dealing with the supposed supposed UFO crash in Aurora by Kevin Randle. Scanning the rest of Kevin's blog, I came upon a recent entry titled, "Global Warming on Mars?"

Now, usually I leave politics and religion alone, whether in writing or a personal conversation. (On the rare occasion I do get on a soapbox, it usually concerns the War on Drugs.) Too many folks take those subjects personally to allow fertile ground for real discussion nowadays. Still, global warming is something many of us think about, and few folks dispute that it's happening. The dispute lies with the cause.

Randle's blog prompted me to Google for a scientist he mentioned in his piece, one Habibullo Abdussamatov (try that one after about three beers), head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia. In a National Geographic article, Abdussamatov maintains that global warming is due not so much to greenhouse gases spewed by humans as by an increase in solar activity. As evidence, he points to data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions, which revealed that the ice caps near Mars' south pole had been been shrinking for three summers in a row. The sun has caused global warming on Earth and Mars, he asserts. He also predicts that we'll see global cooling in the next fifteen to twenty years as a result of declining "solar irradiance."

Many other scientists feel that Abdussamatov is full of poo-poo. That's hardly surprising. We're in an age where the liberals vs. conservatives stage is less a matter of ideological battle than the verbal and written equivalent of tribal warfare. Even the scientific community gets sucked into the trap of focusing on who is right rather than what is right.

I found myself thinking about Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey. They were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and were known for verbally savaging each other on the Senate floor. They were also close friends, close enough that they often poked good-natured fun at each other. Goldwater once said of Humphrey, "Hubert Humphrey talks so fast that listening to him is like trying to read Playboy while your wife turns the pages." After their heated political debates, they would often retire to chambers, pour a couple of glasses of whiskey, and hammer out an agreement they could both live with. Just imagine.

In the U.S., we live in a time of polarized views and rigid "thinking," folks. Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh ain't helping.

It's all so discouraging. I was going to write a following post about the mystery airships, but right now, I want a beer.

(Oh yeah: I ripped-off Lou Schuler for the "blog meat" term.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Exile to the Shuffle/One Heck of a Senior Discount

In Lou Schuler’s blog this morning, he made mention of a Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. That album has long been one of my favorite Stones albums, and according to the Wikepedia article linked on Lou’s blog, it’s widely considered the best Rolling Stones album ever recorded. What I didn’t know was that the album was recorded while Keith Richards was becoming mired in heroin addiction. And, the entire recording process, it seems, was marked by friction and uncertainty. A fair portion of Exile on Main Street was recorded at Richards’ villa in France, and during the sessions, a rift grew between Richards and Mick Jagger. Keith, it seems, along with hangers-on such as Gram Parsons, preferred to approach the sessions as an excuse for a prolonged drug orgy, while Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts stayed relatively clear-headed. (Gram Parsons, who's widely considered the father of "country rock," would soon die at the age of twenty-six, felled by his own perennial overindulgence.)

It’s amazing those guys stayed together through the seventies. Hell, it’s amazing they’re all still alive. (Of course, founding member Brian Jones isn’t. He died in his swimming pool in July, 1969.)

I was ready, after making my morning blog cruise, to head off for the gym, but now I feel compelled to load Exile on Main Street onto my shuffle.


If you're hosting a party, and some guests are staying too long, what do you do? Here's what: put on Pat Boone's CD In a Metal Mood. Nothing clears out a room faster than Pat Boone singing Deep Purple, Metallica, and AC/DC covers. (Although Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing Off comes close.)


If you're an older guy living in Germany, here’s something to cheer you up. According to a Reuters article, a brothel in Germany is offering a sizeable discount for patrons over the age of 66. The brothel tried a test run of sorts by offering half-price services to seniors one day a week. The test run ended up being so successful that the brothel extended its “Senior Afternoon” offer to every afternoon, every day. Proof of age is required.

My guess is that the “if a cat can scratch it” test won’t be accepted for proof of age.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Life in the Country, the Draw of the City

We were lucky to find the place we live, really. We bought it in ’94, during a buyer’s market in Shasta County. It was what we were looking for, with a rustic yet comfortable log-sided house, privacy, wildlife, and space for our planned-for purchase of llamas. (Rhonda and I have long been enthusiastic fans of backcountry camping, but an auto accident years ago made carrying a backpack a non-option for Rhonda. That’s where the llamas came in.)

We probably couldn’t afford to buy our own place now, since the Redding area has “happened.” (Damn Sunset magazine.) And, I love it here, with the creek, the wildlife, and the overall appeal of living in nature.

Everything comes with a price, though. Our “price” is inconvenience. If we need something from a hardware or grocery store, it gobbles an hour and a half of the day, minimum. There’s no high-speed internet access here; I rejoice if the dial-up speed exceeds 28.8. I love the setting we live in, but sometimes I miss life in town, with its opportunities for a spur-of-the-moment dash for a cup of coffee or to browse through books.

We do a lot of consolidating when it comes to running errands.

And then there’s Dylan. He’s six going on seven now. Driving him to school is no big burden, since his school is close to Rhonda’s office. He’s not really interested in organized sports as of now (I think he’s interested in sports, but not the organized), but that could change. I’ve worried a lot about him growing up in quasi-isolation as compared to living in town.

I’ve lately thought about talking to Rhonda about moving into town. But then, Dylan said something that brought it all back into focus.

We were walking around the property, looking for an imaginary grizzly bear that had been stalking the llamas. After Dylan had his fill of his fantasy world (he dispatched the grizzly with a Bowie knife), we took a break to feed the chickens and llamas. When we got to the llamas, Dylan, as usual, grabbed a handful of hay to hand-feed Benny. (I’m not sure if Benny is Dylan’s favorite llama of the five we have, but Dylan is definitely Benny’s favorite human.) We cleaned out the water containers, filled up the hay feeder, then walked to a little rise in the llama’s area. From the rise, there’s a clear view of Shasta Bally peak, towering over the town of Redding.

“Daddy?” “Yeah, Punkin’?” He looked at me. “I love living here.” He went back to gazing at Shasta Bally. He looked so serious, so wrapped up in the moment. “Me too, Punkin’,” I said, with a little catch in my throat.

Move from here? What the hell was I thinking?