Friday, July 21, 2006

Life's Been Good To Me (So Far)

I should be working right now. I have literally 7,000 words to write in readying sponsor "thank you" messages to run starting Sunday night, thanking them for ponying up the bucks it takes to send 15 people -- myself included -- up to Oshkosh for the week. That, in addition to posting the site... and posting ahead, so nothing is missed while myself and others are on airplanes these next few days... and assorted other OSH-related projects I've been assigned. It's been a fun week... and I have to run to the airport in three hours.

Again, I should be doing it all as I sit here, writing this instead... but here's why I'm not.

I just got back from having lunch with a good friend of mine, Sebastian. I first met him in the summer of 2002, while I was working at DMC. As a lot of you know, that job is pretty much responsible for introducing me to flying... as that August, the company sent me up to Farmington, NM to cover a ground route. I rode in one of DMC's clapped-out Cessna 310s to get there and back -- N591DM. Sebastian was the pilot.

It was Sebastian who introduced me to flying... who first let me take the controls of an airplane (and who then proceeded to show me what a C310 could do -- "you don't have to be so ginger on the controls... see?" he asked, before kicking the plane into a 50 degree bank). I didn't realize how hooked I was, until later, after I'd been back on the ground for awhile... and realized that boy, do I want to be able to do all that myself.

That flight was the proverbial butterfly in China, that kicks up a hurricane in Tampa. A friend of Sebastian's, John, had just gotten his instructor's rating... and was looking for students. John was my first flight instructor, I was his first student, and his training has stuck with me to this day... and will be there for the days to come. He took me through my first solo flight... and would have led me to my checkride, had we both not moved from ABQ a short time after -- him and his wife to Florida, and me, of course, to Dallas.

My flights with John in N9566H, N12341, and... later.... N62507 reinforced my initial interest in flight. Yeah, I could learn to fly a plane... it really isn't that hard... and it didn't really faze me to do it. I was (and am still) easily spooked in the air -- turbulence is an entirely new experience in a small plane, versus an airliner -- but I know enough to realize it isn't a serious threat to my safety. And I've learned when to stay on the ground, when my gut tells me not to takeoff. Of course, that lesson was learned after I had already taken off... but John's training allowed me to salvage the experience, and do so safely.

More important than all of that, though, is that John also showed me how much fun flying... and all things airplanes, really... can be. John never failed to let me know how much fun HE was having on our flights, as well, even as he was doing less and less of the flying as my training progressed. His smile was as big as mine on the morning I first soloed... July 24, 2004. Two years ago, this coming Monday.

And wow... what a trip these past two years have been. My old job relocated me from Albuquerque... and actually set me up pretty well to start another phase in life in Dallas. Working at AG indirectly contributed to my continued pursuit of flight... as well as my job now, with ANN. It's been a weird, wonderful, scary trip... all of it.

"This has been a weird year," I told Sebastian over pancakes at IHOP this morning. "It started out bad, finding out I had cancer. And yet here I am now, seven months later... talking about planes with you (Sebastian is now a First Officer for America West, flying right seat on 737-300s as a reserve pilot. He and his wife also became parents for the first time last month -- so he's living something close to his ideal life, too) lamenting I have to catch a commercial ride in six hours to go to Oshkosh. I feel fine, things are going well... and I'm loving every minute of it."

I then smiled, as I took quick stock on my life today... and I realized, really, that I've got it pretty damn good. A dream job. Bills paid. A comfortable, contented existence, that is just interesting enough to keep me on my toes. Not a whole lot of drama.

"Funny thing," I told Sebastian. "These last few years, I wouldn't want to change a thing. Even cancer. If that's the price to be paid for all this... then OK. Even if I get sick again... which I shouldn't... but if I do, then... well, not OK, but I know I've still be pretty lucky."

And I really mean that. It's a feeling that's been building in me for awhile now, that I finally put into words this morning at breakfast. God, Grandpa Darmody, Tina, Mandy... whoever is up there listening to this... I think I get it now.

And while I can't begin to define what "it" is... yeah. "It's" there. So... thank you, God, Fate, and everybody. I'm doing OK... for possibly the first time ever in my life

Sunday, July 9, 2006

The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful

Well, the last entry was done at an airport, and so it shall be with this one. As I type this, I'm heading into my fourth hour at SeaTac, with another hour and a half or so to go. Fortunately, I've had plenty to do... post the site for Monday, grab a light lunch (I've lost five pounds on this trip!!) and do some planespotting. I've deliberately resisted taking the book I've been reading -- "A Salty Piece of Land", by Jimmy Buffett -- so I can save it for the plane ride home.

After a cloudy and rainy start (which I loved, but sadly dragged the show down) the Arlington air show lived up to its billing by the weekend. On Friday the clouds lifted, the skies turned from blue to gray and, low and behold, the sun came out (I think my order of events there is slightly off, scientifically.) Pilots and crowds alike responded, too... with the pattern full of aircraft all day, and the empty spaces along the field disappearing rapidly under a sea of RVs, Cessnas, Seabees, Pipers... there were a LOT of planes there.

Arlington is no Oshkosh... which was perfect in this case. As we were heading home Saturday, Jim turned and asked me "so, do you now know why we (meaning ANN staffers) love this show so much?"

"Because it's where you can recharge your batteries and reconnect with why we love to fly, before Oshkosh," I replied.


No news is made at Arlington. No new planes were introduced while we were there, no really cool new products were unveiled. Instead, I got to talk to a lot of pilots, most of them from the Pacific Northwest (hard to believe) and immerse myself in airplanes. I got to fly a plane, a new Zodiac CH601light sport plane... which doesn't look like much on the ground, but is an amazingly stable aircraft in the air (much more so than the StingSport I flew at Lakeland in April) that's also a joy to toss around with abandon -- which meant I also got to take in the Puget Sound area from 1000 feet AGL. It was religious.

I figured coming up here that I'd fall in love with northwestern Washington, and I was right. Mountains + trees + ocean = everything Rob likes in a landscape. Yeah, the rain would grow tiring after a while (so does sunlight in ABQ, for that matter.) And traffic was truly awful -- worse than Dallas, despite having fewer cars overall on the road. It's also a million miles from everyone I care about.

But maybe later... yeah, I can see eventually settling down here, or down south around Portland (another city I love.) I love it.

But it helps when the weather is nice.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Terminal Overload

Well, here I sit inside DFW's marvelous new Terminal D, the international terminal, for a flight to... Seattle. Washington state has apparently seceded from the union while we weren't looking. Smart move, I think.

Even after the protestations of a full 1/4 of my regular readers -- Monk -- I have still been unable to post anything here for awhile. Things have been VERY hectic in the last few weeks, as ANN gears up for our coverage of the Arlington Fly-In (where I'm heading now) and, later this month, Oshkosh. I have seven distinct projects in my "to-do" pile right now, and that's in addition to posting the site, oh, pretty much EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN DAY. More on that in a minute.

I must begin the tales of my current exploits, though, with the story of how I somehow managed to order two computers from Dell. As is the case with a lot of situations like this -- and most nuclear families -- only one of them was planned. As the old Dimension 2200 was starting to slow down just a little with the added workload it's had to perform these past seven months (not bad at all for a computer I ordered from work, back in ABQ, with no prior knowledge of How These Things Worked) I decided to splurge on a new E510 with megamemory and an updated graphics card.

This had nothing at all to do with wanting an uprated machine for Flight Simulator... nothing at all. It's all for work, really... as far as the IRS knows.

ANYWAY, after building several machines online, I finally ordered my new $1600 computer. It arrived promptly, and set up was a breeze. All was well... until I decided to order new ink cartridges for my (old) printer, which I'd forgotten to do.

Somehow... and even Dell doesn't know how this happened... one of the machines I "built" -- and then erased -- got put onto the printer cartridge order. It wasn't there when I clicked "send order," I swear.

Of course, all this happened on a Saturday -- when customer service, such as it is, couldn't access the order or do a damn thing about it... so first thing Monday morning, there it was in my email... "We'll debit your account for $17XX.XX NOW and send your NEW Dell Computer -- you lucky guy! -- in 3-5 days. We're already building it, even!!"

Or something like that. The exact specifics (redundant, I know) elude me, as I was back on the phone to India to rip some poor haj a new one.

Finally, after about an hour of linguistic loop-the-loops, the order was cancelled... but not before sapping my bank account AGAIN. Fortunately... and search me how this happened... the balked transaction did not mess anything up financially for me. No checks at all cleared during the 48 hours it took for Dell to give me my money back. Good news.

Other news... I mentioned earlier that I'm pretty much posting every single day for ANN again. That's because our most recent Weekend Editor sacrifice -- er, new hire -- managed to talk himself right out of a job within two weeks, by attempting to set policy before his time. I understood and supported the decision... while fighting back tears. I'm also pretty sure my hair is even grayer now than it was before.

So... does anyone reading this want a part-time job? My boss isn't THAT bad, I swear... just ignore the whole "tried to base jump from the WTC and, oh yeah, pretended to be a doctor in the 70s" thing.

Wow... typing this only took about 15 minutes. I still have another hour-and-a-half to go before my flight... I swear I'll post again sooner than last time... like, say, 14 days from now instead of the 20 last time.

Don't hurt me, Monk!