Sunday, December 28, 2008

On Being Away and Single

Sure, it's hard for guys with families to be away on the holidays, but it's too easy to lose sight of the fact that being away is difficult for single folks, too.

In the last several years, the average age of our pilot staff--now at about 660 pilots--has gone down a bunch. Ten years ago, the guy or gal holding the median spot on the seniority list had about ten years with the company. Now, that person has just a bit over three years with the company. PHI employs the most twenty-something pilots than since the years following the Vietnam War.

For a single guy or gal, being away from home, in a way, must be even harder than for a married guy. I feel connected to my home through my wife and son. I talk to them every day, and it gives me comfort to know that they'll be waiting for me when I go home.

Often, our single pilots have no one waiting at home, not even a dog or cat. (The critters don't like going without food for a week or two.) Their social networks are usually comprised of other single people, and often, contact with them ceases when the pilot is away. Being single as an offshore helicopter pilot carries its own burdens.

That's why I was happy to learn that my friend and coworker Eugene, who also had to work on Christmas Day, got a pleasant surprise from his girlfriend Ivy: she flew in from California to spend Christmas with him. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Eugene and Ivy

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone. Just so you'll know, Dylan is bummed that I won't be home today, but his sorrow is greatly mitigated by knowing that he'll have another Christmas day when I get home, and thus, more presents.

As for me, I'm simply thankful for all of the blessings in my life.

May your day be wonderful. If you're gonna have some eggnog, have one for me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bouncing Back

I decided at the end of the workday yesterday to drive to the West Bank area of New Orleans to buy groceries and stuff. It takes a bit over an hour to drive up there from PHI's Boothville, Louisiana base. I spent that hour in one damn sour mood. I always get the blues for a while when the short days of winter impose themselves, and the thought of being away from Rhonda and Dylan come Christmas Day didn't help.

I'd planned to grab a sandwich for dinner before going on to a supermarket, but I instead decided to treat myself to a "real" dinner at an Italian restaurant. I sat down with Chad Waterbury's new book and tried to avoid giving off the aura of a shaved sasquatch with hemorrhoids and a toothache.

Several tables over, four couples sat together. One of them had a baby girl, maybe a year old. Everyone was fawning over the little one, taking turns holding her. She was smiling and giggling and eating up being made to feel so special. It made me smile.

Later, the hostess seated a couple who appeared to be well into their seventies. They sat at a table big enough for six. They chose to sit together, on the same side of the table. They held hands while they waited for their food. It made me smile.

I drove back to Boothville in a much better mood.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sketchy Attendance

I may not be posting much for a bit. My laptop is belly-up. Friendly advice: if you must drop your laptop, try to avoid doing so while it's running.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Remembering Calvin & Hobbes

For seventeen years, my employer had a helicopter base at the Santa Barbara airport, less than an hour from where I was born and raised. I was lucky enough to work out of there for those seventeen years.

One day in the mid-eighties, I stepped out of the ops building for some air. I spotted a woman and a little boy, perhaps three years old, on the other side of the fence. They were watching one of our helicopters land to the parking ramp.

The passengers, eleven men who'd just spent a week offshore on an oil platform, disembarked and walked across the ramp. I walked to the gate, and told the woman and son that they could enter the ramp area. They did. Then the little guy saw his dad, a mountain of a guy with a big grin on his face. The little boy sprinted to his dad, joy pouring from him. Dad scooped him up, covered him with kisses, and held him close.

It hit me with a wallop. It was such a beautiful scene that it hurt. Tears welled in my eyes, and I walked away from the group to watch from afar.

I'd always enjoyed the company of friends' kids, but I was utterly convinced that I never wanted to become a father. I harbored all those standard "state of the world" reasons, yeah, but what it really came down to was a fear of loss: becoming a father seemed tantamount to putting your heart out there and daring the world to stomp on it. I just didn't think I could handle the risk that came with loving someone that much.

Coincidently or not, I discovered Calvin & Hobbes that Sunday in the newspaper funnies. I never read the funnies, but at the prompting of my friend and coworker Roger, I read the strip about the six-year-old boy and his imaginary, or not so imaginary, friend. Thus began my love affair with Calvin and his tiger. That little comic strip reawakened my appreciation for the magic of childhood, and planted the seeds of doubt in my mind and heart as to the "I don't want to be a father" thing.

Calvin & Hobbes had a ten year run, ending in 1995. I still miss it. I almost never look at the funnies anymore, unless it's with my son.

My son Dylan was born in 2000. Sometimes he reminds me of Calvin. He'll be getting a Calvin & Hobbes book for Christmas.

Sometimes I still wonder if I've put my heart out there and dared the world to stomp on it.

But that's okay. Give joy a chance, and most of the time, it'll thump the crap out of fear.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cool Helicopter Photos

Some folks have an eye for photography. They don't just take pictures; they create art via a camera lens. My friend and occasional flying partner Eugene Chua is a guy blessed with such an eye. He's also a damn fine pilot, and a fun guy to have around the workplace.

So, he's a talented photographer, a damn fine pilot, and a fun guy to boot. Eugene obviously has more than his fair share of attributes, and that's starting to irritate the heck out of me.

The photos above are taken in a Sikorsky S-76C++. It carries two pilots, up to twelve passengers, and cruises at up to 170 miles per hour. It's the mainstay of PHI's offshore fleet.

You should really check out more of Eugene's photography on his website.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Hard Times Come Again No More

If you liked listening to Alison Krause sing "Slumber My Darling" on the Appalachian Journey performance, you'll likely enjoy James Taylor singing Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More," also from the Appalachian Journey broadcast.