Another Photostory Competition

I found another writing competition based on this photo:And here’s my submission – I hope you like it:

FLYING SQUIRREL CARGO

He stirs as the sun dips peacefully below the horizon. His deep, even breathing becomes a yawn, followed closely by a very satisfying, bone-popping stretch. Sighing heavily, he sits back on his hind paws, using the other two to groom his fur. “Another night, another walnut,” he mutters to himself, absently scratching his tail. He grabs an acorn from the pile opposite the hole in his tree, snags his flight bag with another paw, and hurries into the deepening gloom.

“You’re late, Sal!” yells a big red squirrel, heralding his arrival to work.

“Bite me,” replies Sal with a rakish grin. He knows Red just likes to bust his nuts. “Got anything good for me tonight?”

“Nah. You’re still on standby,” Red replies.

Sal drops his flight bag next to a recliner and wordlessly pours himself a mug of the thick, stale, caffeinated swill that passes for coffee in the hangar of the Flying Squirrel Cargo Company. Sipping it with only a slight grimace, he scampers over to the computer to check the weather.

All the METARs, TAFs, and FAs indicate nothing but light winds and clear skies throughout the entire system, relegating Sal to a long night of sitting around. The only way he’ll get to fly tonight is if a regular line pilot has a mechanical.

Sal drops heavily into one of the green recliners in the pilots’ lounge, takes another sip from his cup, and calls to Red, “We playing Hearts tonight?”

It takes a few moments for Red to respond. He is busy informing the ramp squirrels which yellow bin of cargo goes to which aircraft and when all the cargo must be loaded for departure. “Yeah. That and a little Texas Hold’em. Gus still wants a chance to kick your tail after you walloped him yesterday,” Red guffaws.

Sal’s grin doesn’t reach his eyes. He’d rather be flying. Well, he thinks, a little sadly, at least the coffee and card games will help me stay awake. If only I was a flying squirrel! Being nocturnal would make this job so much easier!

His reverie is interrupted by Gus’ arrival. “You on standby tonight again, Sal?”

Sal nods once.

“Good. You’re going to owe me a whole bag of peanuts this time, buddy!” Gus settles onto one of the wooden stools and pulls out the deck with a flourish.

Sal sighs in resignation, pushes himself up from the recliner, and grumbles, “I’m going to need a little more coffee before I skin you, Gus. Deal ’em.”

The night passes slowly, painfully. When dawn finally arrives, Sal waves goodbye to his coworkers and makes his way back to his tree. As he curls up in his cozy nest and prepares for sleep, Sal fervently hopes that he won’t be on standby again tonight. He is rewarded with vivid dreams of exuberant, joyous flight through inky skies sprinkled with stars.

Spam?

I noticed this in my WordPress Spam folder today:

“The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.”

Intending to callously delete this comment, I abruptly paused with my index finger hovering over the left mouse button.  What if this is legitimate feedback?  What if the glaring absence of apostrophes is because the commenter had been moved to point out my whiny, attention-seeking ways on their android phone, but lacked sufficient time to insert proper punctuation?

I realize that I am, indeed, a bit of a publicity whore.  From the beginning, I have spent a lot of time writing about myself and my pet peeves without so much as a infinitesimal thought of what anyone who might come across my blog might enjoy.  I have even “borrowed” the work of others when I was too lazy to post my own thoughts.

At times, however, I did believe I had something amusing, or interesting to say.  Whether this was simple narcissism – as the commenter suggests – or something else, I cannot say.  I imagine everyone believes themselves to be witty, gracious, and a touch philosophical.  I am no exception.  I would even go so far as to say that an author must imagine themselves to be all these things and more, else their foray into the hazardous (to the ego) and mysterious world of writing would end before it even began.

Sighing deeply, I returned to the task at hand and decisively clicked the button.  The self-reflection was fun, but I have to get back to writing.

Snow Day at the Airport

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to pass a few moments of my hectic day contemplating the falling snow and daydreaming.  It was almost magical, watching as the crystalline drops drifted and fluttered determinedly past my window to coalesce into a unbroken alabaster desert on the far side of the glass.  Until the plows buried the foot of my driveway.  Again.

Before my snow removal work was increased tenfold by the city snowplows, I recalled a few random experiences where snow and aviation collided.  I remembered how, ages ago, when I eked out a living as a flight instructor, I was able to make earn more money clearing the runways with the owner’s decrepit, underpowered pickup truck rigged with an oversize plow blade and minimal heat than the way below poverty level income guaranteed me 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 tee-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 a visit from maintenance.  The second was also parked in the hangar, which, as it turned out, could not be opened as the door had been blocked by drifting snow.  The third aircraft was almost completely buried outside on the ramp, with only a single propeller blade protruding from its cold shroud.

Dispatch insisted that I wait to see if the airport would open and I and my fellow pilots could simultaneously fly the single usable but trapped Baron to complete our routes.  We decided to pass the time with a snowball fight on the ramp.  After about 6 hours of goofing off in the snow with hourly calls to Dispatch begging to be allowed to go home, they finally relented and let me – and only me – go home an hour before my shift would have ended anyway.  It took 3 guys to push my car, encased in 6 hours of snowfall, out of its parking spot and out into the deserted street.

Ah…good times.   At least I’ll get a chance to go sledding tomorrow.

2011 Wrap Up

A little more than a year ago, I timidly wandered into the Blogosphere hoping for nothing more than a creative outlet.  To my surprise, I have gained so much more than that.  I have no words for the depth of the gratitude I feel for the support, encouragement, and friendship I have received from so many.  I am overwhelmed.  Thank you.

I’ve heard that you can’t move forward without looking back, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to share one of my favorite posts from each month with you.  I hope all of your years to come are filled with joy, adventure and love.  Thank you for sharing my journey with me!

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

STFD (Shut the Front Door!)

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had to be reminded countless times to shut the door.  The consequences of failing to properly shut the door are serious.  Since the door was invented (by Ugg Cavewoman who needed to be alone and wanted something to slam in order to get that point across) many a foolish human has been utterly devastated by a door left ajar.

See the difference?

You may be letting the heat out or, perhaps, air conditioning the Earth.  You may be letting in mosquitoes which will suck your blood while you sleep and then breed millions of additional microscopic vampires in order to desiccate your comatose body in a single night. Or even more heinous, if you do not heed door-shutting warnings, you just may end up naked at work.  This last example is what ultimately cured me of my lax door closing habits.

The first aircraft I flew as a freight pilot was a Beech Baron.  In order to enter this aircraft, you must climb up on the wing on the right hand side.  Once inside, the door must then be latched from the inside in two places before you scoot over to the left seat to get down to business.  If the top, deceptively unimportant-looking latch is not closed correctly, the door will pop open during a critical phase of flight and not even Hercules will be able to close it again while in the air.

"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly...

The first time I discovered this Baron door anomaly, I was departing Midway airport on my way to St. Louis.  It was a beautiful, bright, sunny afternoon and the door became decidedly un-shut immediately after takeoff.  The air pressure was such that my hat, which was innocently perched on the co-pilot’s seat,  instantaneously vacated the aircraft.

Cursing my door closing lapse, I turned on the autopilot only to find that closing this door again while in flight was not going to happen.  Ever.  Not wanting to listen to the wind howl my failure while the cold nibbled my extremities all the way to St. Louis, I requested and received a clearance through a small uncontrolled field, landed, shut the door and took off again to continue my flight.

The next leg of my route from St. Louis to Peoria was uneventful except for the mild sting of the loss of my hat.  But, alas, I did not learn my lesson.   This time when the door popped open on takeoff out of Peoria, my jacket was martyred.  I barely managed to sweep my approach plates, which were all cozy underneath my ill-fated jacket, onto the floor to safety.

After coming back around to land and shut the damn door, I took off again for Milwaukee.  Somehow, the next air traffic controller not only knew of my  clothes-depleting shame, but he was also highly amused by the whole situation.  He wanted to chat about it.  Over the radio.  For the world to hear.  Lucky me.  Now everyone was placing bets on whether I’d have any clothes left at all by the end of my shift.

Yet despite my abject humiliation, these misadventures may have saved my life.

A few months after learning my lesson the hard way, I was flying from Milwaukee to Midway with a co-pilot who was about to have a harsher lesson than my own.  We were in an aircraft that was equipped with a single “throw over” control yoke and he was using it to fly from the right seat.  When the top latch of the door opened while in cruise flight, I knew that as soon as he put the gear down, the rest of the door was going to follow suit.  However, while I was prepared for this outcome, my co-pilot was not.  And when the door opened, the wind dried out his contacts, effectively blinding him.

Panicked, he tried to throw the control yoke back over to my side so that I could take over the flight.  This, we found, is not possible in the air.  In that instant, I decided our only recourse was for us to work together.  I operated the rudder pedals and managed the power while talking him through the control yoke inputs he needed to make in order to get us safely on the ground.  Had I not already had my own humbling shut-the-door lesson seared into my being, this flight may not have had such a happy ending.

In posting this blog, my deepest wish is for you to learn from my mistakes instead of having to experience the folly of improper door closing for yourself.  Doors left ajar can only lead to suffering.  Please, stfd!

A Blast from My Past

In the midst of the unmitigated craziness that has been my life lately, I once again find it impossible not to sweep away the dust from my neglected little blog to share a snippet of humor that I found in the eye of the storm this past weekend.

Are you talking to ME?

If you don’t already know, I have a 8-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.   My business frequently requires that I leave them in the care of my parents who live nearby and love their role as grandparents with an almost maniacal glee.  They willfully spoil my children with ice cream, Popsicles and whatever else their tiny hearts desire and then chastise me for the lack of vegetables in their diet.  There has never been a time that I have not reminded myself, upon retrieving my cranky, sugar-crazed, overtired sweetlings that what happens at Mutti’s house, stays at Mutti’s house.  This past weekend, however, my lovely daughter managed to transmogrify into Pele, the fiery Hawaiian Goddess of  Volcanos, much to my parents’ horror.

I finished up at work and was enroute to the meeting place previously agreed upon with my parents to take possession of my children.  Since I was running a little bit early, I called ahead to let them know that they could leave whenever they were ready.  The first inkling of trouble was the terse response, “We’re working on it.  We’ll be there at 5:30, like we said before.”

Not five minutes following this exchange, I received a 30 second call in which my mother asked for advice on getting my daughter dressed (she had been swimming) while my daughter screamed incoherently in the background.  That call inspired me to take pity on my parents and simply drive to their house to pick the children up instead.  The relief in my mother’s voice was palpable.

When I arrived, my pants-less, red-faced, tear-streaked 3-year-old screamed, “NO! NO, MOMMY! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO MOMMY’S HOUSE!”  I’m quite sure she could have been heard in space.  When my mom stood up to greet me, my daughter screeched, “NO MUTTI! YOU SIT HERE!” and my mother promptly sat down like a mistreated animal.

Stifling a giggle, I decided I should visit the restroom before tackling this train wreck.  My little half-naked dictatoress followed me into the bathroom and flatly and loudly forbade that use the facilities in any way, shape or form.  My obstinate disobedience elicited an immediate escalation of preschool hysterics.  Shortly after relieving myself, I tried to calm her by kneeling to converse on her level and in my most soothing voice explaining that I understood that she’s feeling very frustrated right now.  Her instantaneous and explosive retort was “I AM NOT FRUSTRATED!

I AM NOT FRUSTRATED!

At this time, I decided that enough was enough.  While wiping away tears of mirth, I stuffed my daughter into some pants, manhandled her wiggling, caterwauling, 35 pounds of indignant fury into her car seat and bid my beleaguered parents “adieu.”  Her bellows of rage subdued after about 30 minutes into a pleasant conversation I was having with my son, who was also pointedly ignoring her.

My mother couldn’t muster up the courage to call me until the next day, but when she did, she related this little gem:  “Now you know what you were like at that age.  Except, you used to hold your breath until you passed out.  It only scared me until I realized you’d start breathing again once you were unconscious.”

Thanks, mom.  I guess your curse worked.

Names Have Been Changed to Protect my Crazy Friends

I recently received a nudge from a friend who wanted to know when I would publish a new post.  He actually enjoys reading my work.  No accounting for taste, I suppose.  Or maybe he’s just hoping I’ll write about him.  Either way, I aim to please.

As you may know, back in the day I flew cargo for a living.  During my first week as a Learjet copilot, I had the experience of a lifetime, all thanks to Avril Lavigne (I told you names would be changed to protect my crazy friends).

I had completed a two week Learjet training course, passed the required checkrides and been flying the line as a copilot for about a week when I had the opportunity to fly a few legs of my route with Avril.  The first two legs of the trip were completely uneventful despite the fact that I couldn’t keep up with what needed to be done and Avril was essentially flying solo.  It was on the third leg of this trip that things got interesting.  I know I’ve said in the past that whatever happens in the plane stays in the plane, but I think in this case suitable precautions have been taken and a small portion of the story needs to be told.

While cruising at an altitude of FL430 (43,000 feet above sea level where you can practically see the curvature of the Earth), Avril asks me to calculate the distance from the airport that we should begin our descent.  Our company standard operating procedures suggest a rather aggressive 2 to 1 descent profile which basically meant that doubling the cruising flight level would give you a distance to start your descent.  When you’re flying a planeload of cancelled checks at 2 a.m., you don’t normally have to fly through the same hoops to which an airliner going into O’Hare at 6 p.m. would be subjected.  So, when I doubled 43 and added a little padding to come up with 90 nautical miles from the airport, Avril agreed with my conclusion.

“But,” he said, “we’re going to do things a little differently tonight.”

Avril had been a freight dog jet jockey for a long time, and since he flew the same route most nights, he was practically on a first name basis with the controllers working that evening.  Each time we were handed off into another controller’s airspace, Avril would ask if we could maintain our cruising altitude for just a little while longer.  Each time, the request was granted, probably because the controllers were just as curious as I was how we were going to pull this off.

Finally, at 43 miles from our destination, Avril calmly keys the microphone and requests a descent, with a languorous smile for me.  His wish is ATC’s command and he pulls the power back to idle and begins our 1 to 1 descent with a happy little chuckle.  I may have heard the controllers taking bets on our success before the transmission cut out, but I can’t be sure.

My duties at this point include completing the appropriate checklists and monitoring communications while Capt. Lavigne is completely focused on our altimeter winding down at a rate in excess of 6,000 feet per minute.  When I checked on with the tower controller, we were cleared to land straight in after he asked, “Are you going to make it?”

“Of course we’re going to make it!” I replied indignantly and without hesitation.  After all, it’s highly unprofessional to sound wishy-washy over the radio, no matter what happens to be going on in the aircraft.  Then, with a questioning glance at Avril, I said, “We’re going to make it, right?”  In response, I think he actually giggled like a teenage girl.

It was the most beautiful approach and landing I had ever witnessed.  We descended from 43,000 feet to sea level and touched down in the landing zone without ever having to move our power from idle or maneuver to bleed off excess airspeed.  It was exhilarating.  It was glorious.  And I loved every second of it.

And I think there may have been more than a few grizzled old air traffic controllers who thought they had seen everything that went home shaking their heads and just a little richer that night.

Thank you, Avril Lavigne, my crazy friend, for a one in a million experience that I will never forget.  Thank you for reading and encouraging me to continue to write.  It means a lot.  And I hope this post brings a smile to your lips that mirrors the one you brought to mine that night.