Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekend Musings

Hello from a cloudy and surprisingly rainy Dallas. After 38 straight days of sunshine, we actually got a pretty nice storm last night (notice, once again the rain came at night.)  Booming thunder... driving rain... and all at 3:30 in the morning. Absolutely perfect... still nothing like waking up to the sounds of a storm. I slept content the rest of the night.

Not much on the agenda for this weekend. Today's the day we try out the new weekend editor. He should do well... great writer. That also means I mostly have the weekend off, although I'll still be on Sunday. Due to the new guy's schedule -- he can't work Sundays -- we're going to try something new, that should benefit everyone: My sked will be Sunday-Thursday, same as Pete's, which means he and I can hash out the podcast script together (I crib a lot of site content from this script). This also means the 20+ stories I do per day will post sooner on the site... with about 15 for the next day, and room for 5 or so in Real-Time. My mornings will then be more open... with the majority of my workload in the afternoon. I can live with that.

More importantly... I will now have two REAL days off... albeit Friday and Saturday (which has its advantages... Friday evenings are now free of job obligations). So, a victory.

Spent the morning paying bills. As always, it feels good to write PAID on bills and stuff them in the Tax drawer... I guess that comes from the post-Fresno days when I stuffed bills into a drawer WITHOUT paying them. I also celebrated the complete payoff of one of the January medical bills by buying a Dell DJ Ditty MP3 player... I figure it will come in handy on the upcoming airline flights next month -- SEA for Arlington July 5-9, and OSH July 24-30. (At least these flights aren't on Northwest...) I'm listening to Billy Joel's "12 Gardens" concert album as I write this.

Next up on the agenda... didn't I say three paragraphs ago there WASN'T an agenda this weekend? -- is housecleaning. With the warm, dry (for Texas) weather has come the closest thing to a bug infestation I've ever seen here. I killed my first cockroach this week -- a Texas-sized one, ugh -- the first one I'd ever seen here in almost two years. As this apartment is by no means a dump, I chalk it up as a (hopefully) rare, weather-related event. Lots of what look like potato bugs have found their crawly ways inside, too.

Tomorrow morning brings another filming mission with Monk, this one in Fort Worth. We haven't filmed in two weeks... and hopefully, we'll get it off without being rained out. Now that I think about it, we've shot a lot of footage under cloudy skies... which looks pretty good, as far as cinematography, but I'm hoping we can get some more "sunny" footage in, too, before the project is done. We're talking about heading to Austin to film, when Monk's wife goes down there for her massage therapy exam in September... that'll probably be the wrap to the project.

Let's see, what else... still fiddling with the digital camera, as you can see by the pics of the model plane I shot this morning. I'll probably head to Addison this afternoon (if I'm feeling adventurous, I may bike there) to try and catch the B-17G "Liberty Belle" that flew into Cavanaugh this week. It's been VERY cool, hearing and seeing a B-17 fly over the apartment... and while I'll see several of them next month at Oshkosh, it's especially cool having one so close, outside the airshow environment.

Not much else to write about... unless you want to hear about taking the GA to get its oil changed this week. So I'll wrap up for now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

East By Northwest

Phew. Nothin' like being on four airline flights in less than 48 hours to get your hackles -- and, evidently, your blood pressure -- up.

This weekend was an enlightening one. The ANN senior staff -- read, pretty much ALL ANN staff -- got together in Charlotte, NC for a powwow before Oshkosh. We have A LOT of neat stuff planned for the air show (which will also mark one year since I cast my lot with this crazy band of yokels... and I say that with affection) including expanded Aero-cast (podcast) segments. We've also tripled the number of staffers for this year... which means I will be doing less "on the field" duties, and more "in the office" editing and posting. I understand why the decision was made... but it will also suck that I'll mostly be in the office.

The good news is, my individual workload will be more clearly defined... and we've also built in time off for everyone to just go out and enjoy the show. THAT is a good thing... it will give me a chance to enjoy the Biggest Airshow On Earth, without necessarily Having To Write About It. (Although I probably still will.)

While the meetings went well -- and, from what I could see, Charlotte seems to be a nice town, with A LOT of trees -- the trip out there and back, well, sucked wind. I don't inherently dislike airline travel... but after writing about the travails of several major carriers these past several months, including bankrupt carriers like Delta and Northwest, I admit (here) some prejudice against operations that, in all honesty, have already proven to be incompetently managed and ill-suited to the needs of travelers. Which means I carry a chip on my shoulder in regards to both of those carriers... especially Northwest.

If only there had been enough room for said chip on the flights out to Charlotte Friday night... but there was little room for ANYTHING on the CRJ-200s Northwest sees fit to employ on those routes. These aircraft, to be blunt, are total shitcans: 50 passenger max, in a 2+2 seating configuration that gives passengers NO elbow room, and little legroom.

Oh, and to drive home the point that these 30-year-old Canadian planes are NOT designed with ergonomic considerations in mind, there's a large heating duct that runs along the lower cabin walls on both sides. Which means if you're stuck at a window seat, you have to bend your outer leg inward in order to rest that foot on the floor. Which means you can spend an entire flight sitting crosslegged, with little room to adjust.

I'd blame this on the fact the CRJs are regional jets... were it not for the fact that Brazil's Embraer sells RJs, too, that offer the same pax-carrying capabilities and equal (or better) efficiency for carriers -- while also offering something approaching comfort. Wisely, Embraer decided to forgo cabin width for length, which means a 1+2 seating configuration that offers just enough extra room to make the flights livable. Case in point, I flew an American Eagle E-145 last year, nonstop, to Milwaukee for Oshkosh. Three-and-a-half hours, on the right window seat (which meant I had someone sitting right next to me) with nary a cramp at the end of the flight. In comparison, by the time I landed in Memphis after 55 minutes Friday, my right leg wasn't speaking to me... and I STILL had one more miserable CRJ flight to go.

Things were slightly better for the flight out of Charlotte -- I was on one of Northwest's ancient DC-9s. Northwest operates the largest fleet of these Forest Lawn-aged airplanes around -- 148 of them, at last count, the newest of which was built while Reagan was still president and coherent. Age is not necessarily a bad thing with airframes, so long as they are maintained (the window I was seated next too had "6/2005" etched on it, so the plane had been in for heavy-line maintenance fairly recently)... but efficiency is, and these ancient "Mad Dogs" (named for McDonnell-Douglas, the company formed after McDonnell bought out Douglas Aircraft, original maker of the DC-9, in the early 80s) use equally ancient, loud, smoky, fuel-guzzling engines. Northwest can barely afford to fuel its own planes... but it can't afford to buy newer planes, either (the DC-10 trijets the carrier still flies transatlantic are even older than the DC-9s)

On the positive side, the DC-9 was A LOT more comfortable than the CRJs, and the flight to Detroit was something approaching enjoyable. Yes, I said Detroit -- a flight from Charlotte, NC to Dallas, TX was routed through Detroit-Wayne County Metro, in Michigan. It's Northwest's largest hub (Memphis is another, much smaller one) and, due to the realities of the hub-and-spoke routing system employed by most domestic airlines, meant I travelled nearly 1,300  miles for a trip that, point-to-point, is just over 800 miles.

Fortunately, I didn't have to actually SEE Detroit -- instead, we came in over Lake Erie, which was really cool and very pretty in the late afternoon light (woe is me that I left my camera in my bag, stuffed in an overhead bin five rows ahead of me). And, surprisingly, from what I saw of DTW, it's a very nice airport. Very clean, modern... very unlike it's host city.

Notice I haven't really said anything to justify my dislike for Northwest so far, however. OK, let me interject here what I saw on my four flights on this beleaguered carrier: baggage handlers throwing bags -- literally -- onto the ground while unloading another RJ in MEM; flight attendants, still haggling with NWA over their new, payroll-gouging contract with the bankrupt carrier, that acted like they worked for a bankrupt airline, and gave no smiles and little assistance to speak of on all four flights; and three out of four planes weren't just unkempt -- they were truly filthy, inside and out.

(A passenger seated behind me on the DFW-MEM run -- in the CRJ -- summed it up perfectly: "Welcome to Yokum Air." To which, snarkely, I added "We're bankrupt, and we show it. And if you'll look off to your left, you'll see a beautiful Continental 737 that you could have chosen to fly instead. Thank you for flying Northwest Airlines.. but may we ask why?")

The exception to most of those issues -- except for the grumbling FAs -- was the last leg of the flight, back home to DFW, in a fairly new and clean Airbus A319. Before that flight, I'd never been on an Airbus plane -- just Boeings, and various McDonnell-Douglas planes -- but I'd heard Airbus planes, as a rule, offers slightly wider cabins than their American counterparts (Airbus is a consortium between France's EADS and Britain's BAE Systems.)

They do. Whereas my shoulder rubs the wall when seated at the window of a 737 -- be it for Southwest, American, United, or AirTran -- I actually had about an inch of space between the seat and the wall on the A319. That made the plane feel positively cushy, although legroom was pretty tight. The trip home was by far the best flight of all of them. It was also the most scenic -- I got to see several other airliners sharing the skies with us (including an AirTran 737 that passed above us at 39,000 feet -- an RVSM-approved 1,000 feet higher than us. We even got bumped slightly by its wake turbulence.)

It wasn't all brickbats for Northwest, though -- they did manage to do a few things right, too. Three out of four flights were right on time, or early (the Airbus was delayed by 30 minutes for a maintenance issue) and Northwest has hit on a good thing by offering a snack box for $3. While I still feel you should at least get a bag of peanuts or pretzels when riding on a commercial flight, I will say that for $3, you do get a full meal... albeit one of snack food. Still, all the five food groups are covered -- raisins, meat, cheese, crackers, and... um.. Oreos. Yeah, those are the five.

Other news... Monday's appointment went OK, all is well.. except my blood pressure shot up since my last visit. Not sure why... weight is probably the reason, or added stress. Hmm... can I blame Northwest for that? 

Sunday, June 4, 2006


Things have been pretty good for me lately. After some trying times last month, the ANN situation (more accurately, the ANN boss) has settled down, and things have returned to normal. I've been doing some pretty good writing lately, too, if I say so myself... on the site, and in the book ("That Which Will Never Be Finished" is now the working title, instead of "The Sum Of All Things") -- pretty much everywhere but here. I'm feeling pretty good, too -- I'm getting out on the bike more, nearly every morning (nothing quite like riding around just before the sun comes up, when the streets are fairly quiet) and the scale says I'm doing OK -- not great, but making progress. Good deal.

In fact, things are about as routine around here as they can be... so of course, last Thursday fate decided to throw me something of a curveball. I mean... you don't really expect to turn the page in the morning paper and see the smiling face of your first girlfriend, ya know? But there she was -- I'm pretty sure -- staring back at me from a Dillards ad.

Once the initial shock wore off -- more of a dumbfounded "is that who I think it is?" reaction -- it wasn't very surprising. She had been in a state beauty pageant back in 2000, after all, and had talked about modelling back in the days I knew her... which, my God, was 12 years ago.
"I was there when you shone as bright as Bethlehem from afar...
and I was there when you were young and strong and perverted
And everything that makes a young man a star... and you were a star"---Chantal Kreviazuk
You know how guys are about their first girlfriends (by now, my family and close friends are likely saying the same thing... "God, here he goes again.) Guys never forget them... Lord knows, I haven't. In fact, it is safe to say I've thought about her, at least in passing, almost every day since we broke up 12 years ago.  I view that as a sign of respect... which I really didn't have for her during the time we dated.

I thought of her as I was leaving Fresno -- and another relationship -- in 1998. I thought of her briefly as I turned base-to-final for the second time during my first solo flight in Belen. And for some reason, my mind flashed to her first... and received some comfort from the thought... when the radiologist told me back in January I had TC. That was probably because she once talked of becoming an oncologist, as a friend and classmate of hers had died from leukemia.

That's only one of the things I still remember about her. Her birthday is December 2nd. She has two brothers -- one adopted, who I once took to a car show in Albuquerque -- and a mother she didn't see very often and, frankly, didn't like very much. Her mom had divorced her dad, who had been in the Navy, a few years before I met her. She knew sign language... and loved unicorns. Her middle name is Elizabeth... the only middle name I still remember of any woman I've ever dated.

She was such a sweet, caring, unassuming person... and the only person, man or woman, I've ever known who not once displayed any hint of a hidden agenda. She wanted to be cared for, and loved, and that was pretty much it. She was also beautiful, to boot... the perfect first girlfriend.

And I dumped her... and I did so cruelly, calling her and her family names to boot. I was an arrogant asshole -- likely why I tend to have a short fuse with others like that today -- who thought since he'd managed to score a home run at his first time at the plate, surely he could do better in the future.

Admittedly, that's the "kicking myself" version of that tale -- it would be more realistic to point out that most people NEVER stay with their first loves, as by definition they aren't the lasting ones. And it is cliche that most people have a better appreciation for their first loves looking back, than they did at the time... once they have some life-experience under their belts.

Standing here today, in the emotional aftermaths of the relationships that came after... that's an understatement.
I was there... c'mon, tell me I wasn't worth sticking it out for
I was there, and I know I was worth it
'cause if I wasn't worth it that makes me worse off than you are
After the end in 1994, I saw her intermittently over the next several years. She came into the restaurant I later worked at -- owned by a mutual friend -- with a friend of hers from work. She later came in with her new boyfriend. I suffered through it... although by that time I had also dated other girls.

The last time I saw her was in March 2002. I was working at DMC -- just promoted to Shift Manager -- and had to do a new once-a-week pickup at a bank I hadn't been able to put on a regular route yet. So, I did it, not thinking anything of it other than I've been working nonstop for the past 12 hours, and I really want to go home, take a much-needed shower, and crash.

So, of course, when I walked into the bank, my eyes went immediately to an office that had her name on the door. Nah, couldn't be... I thought.... but just to be safe I turned away, pretending to be interested in a home-equity brochure...


She was wearing a white dress, black belt, looking for all the world like a professional career woman... which made me very aware of my courier-service attire, and my current lot in life. We traded awkward small talk for a few minutes, and I remember next to nothing about our brief conversation... except, wow, she was still with the guy she'd brought into the restaurant eight years before.

Not married, though.

I left the bank feeling... embarrassed, for many reasons.

Things, of course, are better for me today... like, A LOT better. Even the recent brush with cancer can't change that. I'm living a pretty nice life... albeit single... but I'm blessed with a lot. The bills are paid, the car runs (never a certainty with GM) and the roof over my head doesn't leak. I'm now living my life with purpose and direction, something I didn't have on that Friday afternoon in March 2002. That would start five months later, when I flew to Farmington on N591DM.

I can't help but wish she could see me now, though... ya know? I'd love to have that conversation with her -- "So, what's happened with you in the past dozen years?"

But that would rile things up, things that are best left in the past, I'm sure. Fairly sure... reasonably sure.
And now it's all around me, all around me... I'm surrounded
And now it's all around me, all around me
You surround me like a circle.