Guest Post: V is for Vino

Yet another installment from my favorite ghostwriter.  I have a feeling this one may sound as familiar to you as it did to me.  Enjoy!

We take so much for granted these days. Turn on the switch and you get light, twist the handle and you get hot water, walk into any kitchen and find a corkscrew.

I grew up camping. Partly for the tradition, partly because it makes for a cheap vacation, and partly because it makes you appreciate modern conveniences. When you have to cut the wood and make a fire to heat water so that you can wash your dishes, that becomes a great reminder to turn off the hot water at home when you’re not using it.

Last week, I found myself “camping out” in yet another hotel room. In many ways, hotels aren’t that different from camping. You have a suitcase instead of a backpack, and a microwave instead of a fire; but it’s still a version of “you” with a handful of “your things” in a foreign environment.

I had a full 24 hours off, so for dinner I elected to go buy a can of almonds, some cheese, and a bottle of wine. The one thing I did not have – and did not think to purchase – was a corkscrew.

I should probably set the stage in a little more detail. On this trip, I didn’t have a car. This meant a two-mile walk to the nearest Chevron, which took over an hour and involved two trips across a four-lane highway, which is tantamount to playing “Frogger” but with one’s self as the frog. Therefore, going back to the gas station in hopes that they might have a corkscrew was not an option.

I am a trained aviator. In flight school, they drill in the edict to “use your resources”. But unfortunately, the front desk, the housekeeping staff, and the maintenance department didn’t have one corkscrew between them. And let’s be honest here, you can only ask for a corkscrew so many times before people start offering you 800 numbers.

If you’ve never Google’d the phrase “open a wine bottle without a corkscrew,” I highly recommend it. Mankind is an ingenious – and largely alcoholic – species.

The first option was simplicity itself. I don’t know if it actually works, but apparently if you strike the wine bottle firmly and repeatedly against a wall the sloshing will gradually work the cork out.  Since I was in a hotel room, several hours of slowly and rhythmically pounding a wine bottle against the wall seemed an inconsiderate choice.  Amusing, but inconsiderate.  All those years in Boy Scouts I carried a Swiss Army knife with what I thought was a completely useless corkscrew on it, and now here I am.

Another option involved converting a wire coat hanger into a pair of tiny claws.  I also found detailed instructions on creating a six inch long, ½ inch diameter dowel, and tapping it with a hammer until you drive the cork into the bottle. Then you “up-end” the bottle so the cork will float away from the neck while pouring the entire bottle of wine into the decanter.  But this begs the question: who has – or can fabricate –  a six inch dowel, a hammer, and a decanter; but no cork screw?

I swear I’m not making this up.

There were ideas involving shoe horns, butter knives, and drills, but the one that caught my attention was “the screw method” – pure genius. The individual behind this must have been as desperate as the guy who ate the first lobster.

Now this method assumes you have a Leatherman Multi-Tool, which I do.  In a nutshell you find a screw, twist it into the cork, and use the pliers to pull it out. The hard part is finding the right screw. You obviously need one with a pointy tip and large threads. But in a hotel room you’re only option is to “borrow” a screw from something else, and unfortunately, you don’t know what kind of screw it is until it’s out.

Take the humble outlet cover. No good. Every one of them, it turns out, has a flat end.  And the “screw” that holds the handles onto the dresser drawers? Also a bust – those are actually bolts.  I’d also say that 75% of the screws in the window frame, air conditioner and bed are either decorative, or have that stupid little swale (the window frames in particular) to prevent removal.  The majority of the screws in the phone, TV, and fridge are either plastic, or too short to be worth a shit. And the ceramic bastards that hold the commode to the floor break REALLY easily.  The little gold balls on the lamps aren’t screws at all, they’re nuts. But whatever that metallic thing is that falls off inside the lamp when you remove the nuts sounds a lot like a screw. We’ll never know.  The fire detectors don’t make use of screws at all. They largely use epoxy to hold them to the ceiling.

BUT… If you look under the coffee table, those things are held together with good old wood screws.

Cheers!

Next time I might try tapping it on the wall for a few minutes just to see. If nothing else whomever comes to the door to complain might have a corkscrew.

Guest Post: “Ustedes Me trae de papel”, Uncle Bill…

A dear friend of mine has offered to “ghost write” my U – Z posts for the A to Z Blogging Challenge so that I can take my time to get back into the swing of things. I don’t feel comfortable accepting credit for another’s work, so I decided to present this to you as a guest post. Enjoy!
 

 I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language. Of course, I haven’t wanted it enough to actually do it, I’ve just coasted through the past 15 years saying,“I want to learn a foreign language,” so that I could forestall the actual task of doing it.

I did take one semester of Spanish in college, but that was primarily because the T.A. was incredibly cute. Consequently I paid attention to entirely the wrong things. One thing I do remember is that without “context or need”, learning progresses slowly.

Fast forward 12 years. I find myself in the unlikely position of flying to and from Chihuahua, Mexico on a weekly basis. And when I say “weekly,” I mean that I’m flying down on Monday, staying the week, and flying home on Friday. Chihuahua has become my home away from home.

As the corporate pilot I have little to do in Chihuahua except wait. The best corporate pilot resume I ever saw listed 12,000 hours of flying experience and 36,000 hours of waiting for passengers. At the end of the day, we’re paid for readiness, not productivity. An airline pilot (like a city bus driver) can take the number of miles multiplied by the number passengers and come up with a value that approximates their contribution for that year. But a corporate pilot is valued more like an ambulance driver or EMT. As far as I know, no city out there judges the worth of their rescue-squad by the number of passenger-miles logged in a given year. We’re paid for readiness. Consequently, I find myself with hours and days to pass in Chihuahua, Mexico.

To many people and all-expense paid week in Mexico sounds like the prize of a lifetime, and in Cabo, San Lucas or Belize it might be. But Chihuahua is not a resort town. Chihuahua is a gritty, industrial city in the high desert of the central highlands of north-eastern Mexico. It’s the Allentown, Pennsylvania of Mexico. Working class and working poor side by side in a utilitarian march to produce cement, auto parts, and grain. That said, Chihuahua is also the state capital, and home to most of the history between the U.S. and Mexico.

But for now, my concern is the Hampton Inn, Chihuahua. This could be any Hampton Inn anywhere in the world until you call the front desk. Given that Chihuahua is not a tourist-town, there’s not impetus for the general population to lean English. In other words, I’ve finally found the “context” within which to learn Spanish. And I’m determined.

Now, before I finish, I need to tell you a quick story about my late Uncle Bill. Once back in 1963, he went to Paris on business. He was as determined to learn and speak French as I am determined to learn and speak Spanish. In those days, most European restaurants did not bring a glass of ice water to the table as is now the custom. Uncle Bill thus found himself with the opportunity to practice his French by ordering “oeuf de la glace,”which he thought was “water with ice.”

Unfortunately for Uncle Bill, he’d missed the subtle but important difference between “eau” (which is water) and “oeuf” (which is egg). After several insistent exchanges, the waiter retreated to the kitchen, and 15 minutes later, my uncle received a bowl full of ice with a boiled egg on top. “Oeuf de la glace” instead of “eau de la glace.” His attempt to become a suave and debonair, cross-cultural attaché’… had instead made him that guy.

Now, if you recall, I’m on day number two of my first week-long stay in Chihuahua. The lady responsible for room service is at the door, and I’m confronted with my first attempt to communicate in Spanish.

“No necesito el servicio de cuarto,” I fumble out. This means “I don’t need room service.”

“Si,’” she replies.

“¿Dos botellas de agua?” I add, hoping to get one bottle to use for brushing my teeth and one to use for coffee.

“Si,” she replies and hands me two bottles of water. Victory!

As she starts to push her trolley down the hall, it occurs to me that they give you microwave popcorn at this hotel – which I like – and that I’ve already eaten my one bag. Maybe she has more!

“Un Momento Senoria…” I blurt out.

She stops.

“¿Puedo tener un bolso de…” I can’t remember the name for “popcorn,” most likely because I never bothered to look up “popcorn.”Honestly, when have you ever seen “popcorn” on a “most used list” for foreign language training?

She’s waiting…

I punt, “Papel?” That sounds like popcorn right? Surely she’ll figure it out.

She looks confused.

I start to pantomime the many tiny explosions of popcorn.

She looks more confused.

I add the over-exaggerated grin of a clown, somehow hoping that “overt happiness” will somehow convey “popcorn.” I try again, this time with grin, handgestures, and a few small jumps in the air. I add, “Puedo tener unbolso de papel?” followed by numerous small popping sounds with my mouth. Pop. Pop. Pop

Suddenly, her eyes widen. The moment of comprehension – we’ve communicated! I’m very happy. She turns and runs down the hall. She’s yelling to a co-worker, “Papel del armario… Papel del armario!!”

I can’t imagine why the request for popcorn is so urgent, but I’m pleased that I was able to communicate my desires. A minute later she comes rushing back with… six rolls of toilet paper and a look that says “you poor man”.

I’m now that guy.

Instantly, I realize that I’ve managed to get the words for “popcorn” and “paper” mixed up. All I can see is Uncle Bill’s bowl of ice with an egg on top. As I recall the hand-gestures, the little jumps, and the enormous grin, I am mortified. I don’t dare try to fix it now. All I can do is take the arm-full of toilet paper, and offer “Gracias” with a look of relief. What must she think is going on in that room?

Part of me chooses to believe that Uncle Bill is looking down on me, smiling. Part of me knows the room-service staff is shaking their heads and smiling at me (while they laugh uncontrollably).

And so the family tradition continues, “The crazy American wants what?!” Every trip since then, that one particular room service lady always gives me a look that can only be described as a knowing glance. (eye roll)

——

Epilogue: Its two months later, my Spanish is better. I’m again trying to sally-forth with confidence. Today we arrived very early, so early that our rooms were not ready yet, so we retreated to the Applebees across the street for breakfast to pass the time. I ordered eggs, beans, and tortillas and my partner ordered French toast.

After the food arrived, I wanted to ask for a bottle of Tabasco. I know that “salsa” means “sauce,” that “caliente” means “hot,” and that in Spanish the modifier precedes the noun- instead or “Red Truck” you have “Truck, Red”. So in my most confident tone possible I asked: “Tiene salsa Caliente?”.

To which the waiter replied: “…que’? “

I repeated my request until he relented.

Several minutes later, I was presented with a bowl of ketchup that had been heated nearly to boiling in the microwave. It turns out that in Spanish, “hot, spicy” and “hot, temperature” have entirely different nouns. (“The crazy American wants what?!” Uncle Bill, where are you!?)

My partner looked up from his French toast; “This is like the popcorn thing, isn’t it?”

I raised the bowl of hot ketchup, “Cheers”.

S is for Snow

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This slacker looks familiar…

There were occasions during my flying career where snow and aviation collided.

Ages ago, when I eked out a living as a flight instructor, I was able to earn more money clearing the runways with the owner’s decrepit, underpowered, pickup truck rigged with an oversized plow blade and minimal heat, than the way-below-poverty-level income guaranteed to me for actually teaching.

Once, to save money, the owner decided to dig out his airport himself and it turned into an unpaid, compulsory, two week “vacation” for me.  That’s how long it took him to get the airport unburied without assistance.  I think it was his way of cutting costs, but it seems to me that it would have been better to have at least a minimal revenue stream during those two weeks.  After all, even though he didn’t have to pay any of his staff, he still had utilities and other fixed expenses.  Either way, I was stuck at home eating Ramen Noodles.  Some vacation.  I didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt.

Things changed significantly when I worked as a freight dog, though.  I actually did have one snow day during my 5 years of employment.  I was flying a route out of Midway airport that started around 4:00 p.m. and ended at midnight.  I arrived on time, despite the fact that the airport was closed and no one was going anywhere, to find the first of our 3 Beech Barons in the hangar awaiting some TLC from maintenance.  The second was also parked in the hangar, which, as it turned out, could not be opened because the door had been sealed shut by drifting snow.  The third aircraft was almost completely buried outside on the ramp, with only a single propeller blade protruding from its frozen shroud.

Dispatch insisted that I wait to see if the airport would open.  I believe their plan was for me and my colleagues to simultaneously fly the single usable – but trapped – Baron to complete our routes.  Instead, we passed the time engaged in a snowball warfare on the ramp. After about six hours of goofing off, not including my numerous calls to Dispatch begging them to give up the ghost and let me go home, coffee breaks, and time spent checking the weather radar, they finally relented and let me – and only me – go home an hour before my shift would have ended anyway.

It took three guys to push my car, snugly encased in six hours of relentless snowfall, out of its parking spot and into the deserted street, but it was worth it.  That hour of snow-related freedom was immensely better than the two weeks I suffered through as a flight instructor.  Mostly because there was no Ramen involved.

K is for Ker-SPLAT!

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Not the Learjet I flew, but the danger zones remain the same.

I can occasionally be a bit clumsy when I’m around airplanes. Not so much when I’m in them, just when I’m around them. I have walked into the (very sharp!) stall warning vane attached to the nose of a Learjet which resulted in a nasty bruise. I have closed the top hatch of the entry door on my own head (and you didn’t think it was possible!) and nearly gave myself a concussion. I have tripped down the stairs while exiting. You get the idea. But my most memorable tumble happened on a cold, winter night, right before departing St. Paul, Minnesota.

I was flying a Cessna 310. It’s a light, twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft which the pilot enters by stepping up on the wing to reach the door. While the ramp crew unloaded and reloaded my aircraft, I took the opportunity to hang out in the building’s warm lobby, use the facilities, check the weather, and get myself a cup of coffee for the next leg of my route.

I had only been doing this route for a few weeks, and I was completely full of myself. Looking back, it’s a miracle I could even fit my big head through the 310’s door. The opportunity was ripe for kismet to knock me down a peg or two. Which, of course, it did.

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Yep. I totally fell off of one of those things.

I grabbed my steaming, hot beverage, secured its lid, and headed out to my aircraft with a sprightly bounce in my step. As soon as I got both feet up on the wing, I slipped and tumbled off, my coffee flying in a graceful arc before plummeting back to Earth to completely coat me in liquid slightly cooler than lava as I lay dazed and flat on my back on the tarmac.

It must have been hilarious – mostly because the only damage I suffered was to my immense ego – but I didn’t stick around to find out. I slunk up into the cockpit with my tail between my legs and pretended the whole thing never happened. It’s possible that no one even saw it happen, or it’s possible that the incident was captured on film and one of the ramp guys won a bazillion dollars on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”  I don’t think I want to know.

H is for Hedonism

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Where people think pilots stay.

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Where pilots really stay.

It seems to me that many people are under the false impression that pilots lead a life of luxury. While that is certainly true in some circumstances – I’m talking about you, Travolta! – in most cases, it is sadly, not.

There are many different types of pilots, but a majority fall into one of four general categories: limo driver (corporate), taxi driver (charter), bus driver (airline), and truck driver (cargo). Now, don’t get me wrong, there are also a plethora of other occupations available for qualified aviators: air ambulance, sightseeing tours, flight instructor, stunt pilots, aerial photography, and the list goes on. But, be honest, when you conjure up an image in your mind of a generic “pilot,” the older, white-haired, Caucasian male, dressed in airline blues with four stripes on each shoulder that you spotted checking into the same 4-star hotel in which you were lucky to score a room eight months ago, is what you imagine.

I have only had experience in two of the four major categories: cargo and charter. The only thing remotely hedonistic about freight operations is the opportunity to sit in the gorgeous, yellow and black, ’67 Shelby Cobra that one of the mechanics is restoring and brought in to show off – and only after a lot of begging on my part, I might add.

Charter is a whole different story. I have taken clients to some amazing places – Nassau, Bahamas; Veracruz, Mexico; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Marco Island, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada – and enjoyed every second of the spectacular accommodations afforded us lowly pilots on those trips by spending a majority of my time lounging by the pool with a cocktail. Oh, fine, several cocktails.

But those trips were few and far between. Most of our clients traveled for business, which meant I spent more time ensconced at Signature Flight Support at Teterboro Airport twiddling my thumbs than on any beach ever. I had a 13 on /5 off schedule, and I was on call for those 13 days – I could be sent anywhere, at any time of day or night, for any length of time – and had to be able to arrive at the airport for duty in an hour. Once I arrived, I had the potential to be on duty for the next 14 hours, which could pose a problem if I were called in at 10:00 at night.  It rarely happened, but it was not outside the realm of possibility. All in all, not a schedule that is conducive a healthy lifestyle, let alone one of luxury.  Stable family life?  What’s that?

So, don’t envy those “hedonistic pilots” enjoying a Porterhouse and a glass of Chianti at the Baleen Restaurant in the Naples LaPlaya Beach Resort. Tomorrow, they will most likely be at Teterboro Airport scavenging the smelly cheese left over from the catering they picked up for the passengers five hours ago. Yep, they’ll be living the dream, all right.

F is for Feds

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A ramp check by an official FAA representative is one of the few things that universally gives a lot of pilots the heebie-jeebies. It’s essentially an pop quiz while you’re working that can happen anywhere, anytime you are on the ground, and can have some repercussions damaging to your career if you are caught doing things you really aught not to be doing.

However, a visit from a Fed was never something that bothered me in the least. While I may have “explored the capabilities” of my aircraft during my years flying freight, I was always very conscientious about my paperwork (weight and balance, flight plans, weather briefings, etc.), had no issues refusing to fly an aircraft that was mechanically unsound, and I was always friendly and accommodating while simultaneously neglecting to volunteer any information that the inspector had not specifically requested. I understood that, like me, they had a job to do, and they weren’t happy about having to do it at 2:00 in the morning any more than I was happy to be checked. It is also quite possible that, for once, being a female in aviation was an advantage.

When an inspector is performing check on the ramp at our main hub, it was common for us to hear the warning “Blue Light” relayed over the company frequency. Where that codeword came from, I have no idea. One rainy night, upon hearing this, the guy I was flying with practically went into spasms checking and rechecking his paperwork, verifying the cargo was properly secured, making sure he had his own identification in his wallet. Then, as soon as we parked and the engines were shut down, he bolted from the plane like his eyeballs were floating and his pants were loaded with fire-breathing ants, leaving me to finish up the paperwork and deal with the Fed.

This is how this particular ramp check proceeded:

  • The inspector respectfully waited until the cargo was clear before he entered the jet and introduced himself.

  • I asked to see his Form 110A, just so that he knew I was familiar with at least the one Federal Aviation Regulation that required he show identification.

  • Once we were both satisfied that we were who we said we were, he said, “That guy sure tore out of here fast. Is he the captain?”

  • When I confirmed that it was, indeed, the captain that left the aircraft so quickly, he laughed and said, “Well, you pass. If you’ve got an umbrella, I’d appreciate it if you would let me share it on the way into the building.”

 Easiest ramp check ever.

The Blogging A to Z Challenge: An Unsanctioned Imitation – Day 1: A is for Attitude

A.D. Duling’s first post from the 2013 April Blogging A to Z Challenge was delivered to my inbox yesterday and it got the rusty wheels in my head whirring. I need a blog-cation. Between writing my eSeries fiction for BigWorldNetwork.com and the upcoming summer of focused insanity slinging smoothies for my Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies business, I have a lot on my plate. I need to get organized. But, I’ve recently met some wonderful writers and readers and was even able to con a few into following my blog. The last thing I want to do is to take a hiatus and leave my new friends dangling without a dose of TotallyTawn for a whole month. That’s a sure way to allow any kind of relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to cultivate to wither and die.

When I first began blogging, I had no idea where to begin, so I decided to work my way through the alphabet and see how it went. With the serendipitous timing A.D. Duling’s first post of the Blogging A to Z Challenge, I’ve decided to drag those posts from the TotallyTawn blog attic, dust them off, and share them with those of you who have just joined me so that I can concentrate on getting caught up on my work. Viola! The TotallyTawn Blogging A to Z Unsanctioned Imitation is born!

For April 1, 2012, please enjoy my (slightly revised) post “A is for Attitude”:

This is something I know quite a bit about, since I’ve been accused of everything from having a good attitude, a bad attitude, and/or simply a lot of ‘tude. From a flight perspective, attitude is the orientation of the craft about it’s center of mass. In a way, it’s a measurement of equilibrium. I think a person’s attitude is the same – a measurement of equilibrium. If you have a bad attitude, events seem to never go your way. But if you have a good attitude, things just seem to click into place without any real effort on your part.

So, how do we keep a good attitude? It’s just like flying a plane (or driving a car, or riding a bike): you keep an eye on it and when you see it going off course, you fix it right away with a small adjustment to keep it from deviating even more. And that small adjustment can be anything. Try it. Take a look in the mirror, make the goofiest face you can think of at yourself, and smile. If that doesn’t give your attitude a bump in the right direction, have a nice glass of wine and call me in the morning.