Sunday, May 29, 2011


Wanna hear something depressing? This is what you have to do to get paid to fly:

If you are applying for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category and single engine class rating, you must log at least 250 hours of flight time as a pilot (of which 50 hours, or in accordance with FAA Part 142, a maximum of 100 hours may have been accomplished in an approved flight simulator or approved flight training device that represents a single engine airplane) that consists of at least:
  1. 100 hours in powered aircraft, of which 50 hours must be in airplanes.
  2. 100 hours of pilot in command flight time, which includes at least 50 hours in airplanes and 50 hours in cross-country flight in airplanes.
  3. 20 hours of training on the areas of operation as listed for this rating, that includes at least 10 hours of instrument training, of which at least 5 hours must be in a single engine airplane, 10 hours of training in an airplane that has a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller, or is turbine-powered, one cross-country flight of at least 2 hours in a single engine airplane in day VFR conditions, consisting of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure, one cross-country flight of at least 2 hours in a single engine airplane in night VFR conditions, consisting of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure.
  4. 10 hours of solo flight in a single engine airplane, including one cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance and as specified, and 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower. (Source:
I've got some good news for you folks in the audience who have been anxiously following my every pilot-related move: I have surpassed 250 flight-hours.

Thanks to my private pilot's license, I've also got most of the rest of this rigmarole done. I've done two-hour cross-countries of 100 nautical miles; I've got ten hours of instrument time, and five hours of night-flight; even the requisite ten takeoffs and ten landings. (Actually, scratch that; I didn't do them at an airport with an operating control tower, so I'm going to have to fly over to Victorville some evening and get that done.)

In fact, I think all I have left is that long cross-country flight of 300 nautical miles. Zowie. I've never flown that far before. That'll get me from here to Las Vegas, easy. Some people even fly to Arizona (from here) for their long cross-countries. It'll be a bit scary (not to mention expensive) but fun.

This is big, people. I'm this close ("this" being equal to the distance between my forefinger and thumb, held very close together) to being a commercial pilot. All I need is moolah. I must save up for a three-hour flight. Plus JM-1 needs to teach me the commercial maneuvers and give me my official checkride prep. I estimate all this will cost me about $500-$600 dollars. I don't really have that right now, seeing as I just dropped $325 on new transmission lines for my Jeep because I was going 45 on a dirt road and didn't really see that huge bump until it was too late. Darn.

You get the idea. It'll be a while. But it won't be long. I'm almost there. I can't express to you how excited I am. A few more hoops to hurdle and I'll be a card-carrying single-engine commercial pilot.

Thought you'd like to know...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

shoot to thrill

If you want to witness miracles with any kind of regularity, don't go to a church. Go to a sports game.

(Yes, that's blasphemy. It is also true.)

The sports world is
full of miracles. Maybe the fan favorite makes a game-winning three-point shot as the last buzzer sounds. Or your favorite team, the literal definition of downtrodden, participates in what some have called the greatest game in NFL history...and wins. The dying first baseman calls himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" in his farewell address to the fans.

It's enough to make anyone a believer.

And yet, I've never experienced one of these miracles for myself. Heck, I didn't even start seriously following a major sports team until recently, and even then, soccer and football (or, as I shall refer to them henceforth in this post, football and gridiron) are my only interests. Two or three seasons of gridiron games aren't enough to witness a miracle (especially when your team is San Diego; don't get me started).

Football (soccer), however...well, it deluged me with miracles from the very first. On my last day in England, two such miracles happened within minutes of each other.

So there I was. England. June 2010. Back in Newcastle after parting with Jeff in Edinburgh. There were a couple of big games coming up, which my English host Adam, his girlfriend Elaine, their friend Jay, and yours truly made sure to watch: England vs. Slovenia and U.S.A. vs. Algeria.

I need to give you the landscape first. As I mentioned previously, Slovenia had given the U.S. a disappointing draw a few days ago, and Algeria had handed England an even more humiliating 0-0. Now matters were switched. The U.S. would be taking on Algeria and England would have to pierce Slovenia. I was dreading the U.S. game all the more now that I knew the Algerian modus operandi: forget scoring, just block the opposing team. The ploy had proven horrendously effective. How would the American boys oppose it? My Geordie friends were feeling the same unease. They had seen how wicked the Slovenians were at blocking the ball. We were all big bundles of nerves. These were the last games before the Round of 16. If either England or the U.S. lost, they would not advance. That'd be it for us. We'd be dead, finished, out of the running. Everything came down to these two games.

Unfortunately, they were being played at the same time. The U.S. would face Algeria in Pretoria, South Africa, and England would play Slovenia in Port Elizabeth. This being England, and me being outnumbered three to one, it was the England game we watched. In between observing, I anxiously watched the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen for news of my fellow Americans.

The games were awful. It seemed as though neither side could gain ground. Twenty-two minutes went by as the valiant English offense battered away at the stubborn Slovenes. Before long, Gerrard, Rooney and Terry were bathed in sweat in the muggy South African air, and yet the scoreboard remained at nil.

Then it happened. Glorious relief. Jermain Defoe, a substitute striker, received a cross from Milner and bopped it into the Slovene goal with his shin. Yes. England was ahead. My heart soared for St. George's cross.
The game went back and forth from there on out. Six minutes later, Milner and Defoe tried the same trick again but couldn't pull it off. It was so quiet that the announcers could hear the England fans quietly singing. After a few close goal attempts, the Slovenes were beaten back. The English ran down the clock as best they could while I chewed my nails, my eyes clinging to the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen. After 93 minutes there was still no score in the USA-Algeria game.

The English game ended. "God Save the Queen" rang 'round
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. In Adam's mum's living room, there was jubilation. Adam and Jay were raucous, clinking cans of Carlson beer and rehashing the match in every detail. But they were good and sympathetic chaps. They patted my back, kept the TV on, and waited for news of my team.

And it happened again.

"News from Pretoria, the U.S. has scored against Algeria—"

The living room exploded. Adam, Jay and I leaped into the air, arms clasped about each other, yelling at the top of our lungs, the very air thundering with joy. Adam's mum stood there and grinned as the three of us worked off our overflowing emotions. The euphoria wouldn't let up. We'd been twice-blessed: each country had gone up against a seemingly unbeatable opponent, scored, and qualified for the next round. England had shut out Slovenia and the U.S. had beat down Algeria. Both teams were moving on to the Round of 16. In that golden afternoon, it was the best of all possible worlds.

And yet all good things must come to an end. The TV had hardly been turned off. The grins had not yet vanished from our faces. And yet the taxi was pulling up outside. It was time for me to collect my bags, ride with Adam to the train station, head to London, and spend a final 12 hours in that city before my flight to America the following morning. So it goes.

I said a heartfelt goodbye to Adam's mum and Elaine, threw my gear into the cab, and left. Adam and I soon found ourselves at the station. There was time enough for one more beer beforehand. Adam and I reaffirmed our friendship over a tall glass of suds, match recaps playing on every TV screen, travelers bustling past us. We chatted of this and that, loftily tossing around the possibility of another visit. That, I think, was the most bittersweet moment of them all. It was finally hitting me. I was leaving England. Who knew how long it would be before I saw all my crazy Geordie friends again?

The clock moved too quickly, as usual. I exchanged one last manly hug with Adam, shook his hand, hefted my knapsack over my shoulder, climbed on the train, and sat down. I gazed over the stained brick buildings of old Newcastle, the futuristic domes and bridges, the lush green trees and rolling hills. I stared into the gathering dusk and let out a hefty sigh. In that sigh were all the worries, dangers, adventures and joys I'd experienced during the past fortnight. (Two weeks! Lord! Had it only been two weeks?)

It didn't feel like quite enough. So I sighed again.

It helped ease the pain a little.

Adam and his lovely mum. Don't she rock that hat?

Friday, May 27, 2011

recommended reading

Yes, I'm still alive. And boy, have I got some stories to tell you.

But first let me tell you about the stories I read while I was gone.

First, I've finished Moby-Dick.

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.

One-hundred and thirty-five days have passed in this fourth and ultimately successful attempt. I started January 5th. I concluded May 20th. I resisted, a hundred times, the temptation to forge ahead and finish early. Some days, I admit, I read retroactively, making up for days I missed...or intentionally slacked off. (Hey, with my week devoted to the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and my weekends reserved for my lovely girlfriend, Herman Melville takes a distant third.) I marked my schedule clearly on my World War II airplanes calendar (I'm a complete sucker for vintage warbirds), and read diligently on a near-daily basis. And it's done. I've finished. I've conquered it. I've done something that a satisfyingly large amount of people have never done: read Moby-Dick from cover-to-cover.

Feel free to bask in my awesomeness.

Two important literary objectives completed in one stroke: I've (a) added another classic novel to my "have-read" list, and (b) found out how much different the Gregory Peck movie is from Melville's original vision.

It's a lot different, as it turns out.

Disinterested types and dilettantes may wish to read ahead to my actual review of Moby-Dick. I am about to embark upon an axiomatic rant about the omnipresent ineptitude of the film industry in adequately, faithfully translating fiction from the printed page to the silver screen.

Ready? Here we go:

I'm going to list two suggestions for the Hollywood producers here. If followed, they will ensure that the writer's original vision is left intact, the debilitating cancer of adaptation decay will not blight the project, and the resultant film will not be a total, blatant, festering pile of shit.

Item One: Quit cutting out the supporting characters. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises are the worst offenders. I understand that the series have an insane amount of minor characters and not all of them could make it into the films. But some of these guys had really important roles: Tom Bombadil was the deux ex machina responsible for saving the hobbits from the Barrow-wights, and giving them the daggers they used in battle; the Potter films eliminated the character of Peeves the Poltergeist, who, though by no means a driving force behind the plot, nonetheless serves as a catalyst for many pivotal events.

The 1956 film adaptation of Moby-Dick (starring Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart and Orson Welles) is likewise guilty. Some rather vital characters were cut out of the screenplay. The most notable of these is Fedallah, Ahab's Parsee harpooneer. His mere presence on the ship causes unease among the crew, for Fedallah seems more demon than human: he sleeps standing up, stares unblinkingly, and speaks in a low hiss. I'm no book critic, but as near as I can tell, Fedallah's character represents the dark side of ambition, the ruthlessness and bestiality that inhabits the mind bent on revenge, the evil core of the human soul that will cross any boundary, commit any sin, destroy any foe to accomplish a goal.

Predictably, he is the first of Ahab's crew to die. Well, unless you count the poor sap who fell overboard in the typhoon in the middle of the book.

Fedallah's a central figure to the plot, theme and deeper meaning. And just as importantly, he adds color and variety to the cast. Why cut him out? Surely the film could've snuck him in somewhere (like maybe the prow of Ahab's boat?).

A great many other characters had their roles drastically reduced, or downright mutated. Stubb, the second mate, lightens the mood of every somber scene in the novel. In the movie he basically smokes and grinds out one-liners in whatever faux New England dialect Harry Andrews thought would fit the bill. Third mate Flask's role is almost nonexistent. Starbuck's Big Dilemma is a mere afterthought. Perth, the blacksmith, who spends most of the book toadying about the ship acting like Ahab's page, is rendered down to a shadow. The film consists of Ahab acting all portentous and crazy and vengeful, Starbuck vacillating between conspiracy and cowardice, Stubb and Flask being wiseacres, Queequeg a friggin' mystic, and Ishmael blissfully ignorant of everything until the very end.

Me no like.

Item Two: Let's talk this out. The dialogue was written the way it was for a reason. Quit mucking it up, switching it around, slashing and burning it, Hollywood. I'm sickened by how much of Melville's wordage didn't make it into the film's script. Dialogue which provided important characterization and foreshadowing was excised. Most of Ahab's soliloquies, which sinisterly document his descent into utter madness, were either drastically shortened or eliminated. And description...oh, Melville's description. It makes the book. He can take an ordinary situation (or an extraordinary one) and describe it so poetically and so realistically that I feel like my head has been dipped into a bucket of paint and used to smear the scene onto canvas.

Who do I blame for this? Ray Bradbury. The novelist. Yeah, him. He was the screenwriter. I know, right? The guy who wrote Fahrenheit 451 is responsible for the truncated, hollow imitation of Moby-Dick which appears on TCM every month or two. Seems Bradbury isn't that good at channeling Melville. But I suppose I should thank him, really. It could've been a lot worse. He actually did a pretty good job, all things considered. Did you ever hear about the 2010 remake?

Oh well. I guess I'll get on with the review.

(I wrote that in big white letters so you could find it quickly if you decided to skip the rant.)

Let's talk about description. It was one of Melville's greatest strengths. His style may be heavy, his plot meandering, his diction chock full of arcana, but Melville's powers of description were second to none. Not only could he capture a scene in vivid detail and florid prose, but he had the unique ability to encapsulate the vagaries of human perception. And he encapsulated them perfectly. In the course of documenting his avatar Ishmael's ongoing assessment of Ahab's madness, Moby-Dick's ferocity, and whaling life in general, Melville constantly captured the most vague and nebulous mental impression out of thin air, gave it form and substance, and presented it to the reader clearly and irrefutably. This had an extraordinary effect on me as I read. Melville would write one or two assertive, graphic sentences, compelling some inchoate analogy or amorphous opinion to condense in my brain; and lo and behold, in the very next breath Melville would come out with that very same analogy or opinion, made whole and healthy and credible, ten times better than I could've said it myself. It instilled in me the belief that, while Melville likes digressions even more than Jules Verne, he can still write a damn good story—but most importantly, an approachable story.

The other thing that made the book so enjoyable was the author's wit. Melville was a lighthearted writer, even when discussing such dark and doughty matters as death, vengeance, hate, and insanity. He punctuated these topics with a whimsical comment about puffy clouds or blue skies or puppies. But he seldom joked. When the rare joke did show up, it caught me off guard, so much so that I found myself second-guessing my interpretation of it and dismissing it. Take this gem from Chapter 53, page 255, in which Melville hotly defends whaling as the noblest of the seafaring professions.

Why is it that all Merchant-seamen, and also all Pirates and Man-of-War's men, and Slave-ship sailors, cherish such a scornful feeling towards Whale-ships; that is a question it would be hard to answer [sic]. Because, in the case of pirates, I say, I should like to know whether that profession of theirs has any peculiar glory about it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation, indeed; but only at the gallows. And besides, when a man is elevated in that odd fashion, he has no proper foundation for his superior altitude. Hence, I conclude, that in boasting himself to be high lifted above a whaleman, in that assertion a pirate has no solid basis to stand on.
I didn't even catch that the first time around. Pirates have a "lofty" attitude toward whalemen because they get hung far above 'em. And of course pirates, when in that "elevated position," have no foundation under them. The hangman has yanked the lever and the trapdoor has fallen out. Nice double entendre, Herman. And "superior altitude" is a nice pun on "superior attitude" (though I suspect Melville didn't intend it that way).

So, to summarize, I found Moby-Dick a challenging (and on occasion, wearying) read, but nonetheless rewarding, entertaining and stimulating. The adventure is high and swashbuckling, whenever Melville takes a break from teaching American Whaling 101. The morals are tangible, pragmatic and provocative. The characters are lifelike and endearing, and the whale suitably anonymous. Melville, thankfully, refrains from anthropomorphizing his antagonist, and leaves him to be what he is: a wild animal, a nonsentient entity, and Mother Nature's savage representative. The book is more than worthy to be classified as a "Great American Novel" and has earned its position in the cadre of literary classics...especially since it was reviled after its inception.

To summarize the summary, Moby-Dick: good book.

You won't believe this, but I've completed (not started, completed) two other works in the meantime: At the Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Night by Elie Wiesel. I sort of cheated with Burroughs, though: I started working on him before I finished with Melville. (I'll have to go out and buy Melville some flowers later and apologize.) But both new books are done, and I must needs review them. This review has gone on so long, though, that I think I'll let it slide until next time.

So stay tuned, and keep your nose in.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

cocktail review no. 54 - Tidal Wave

If the Zombie made you feel like one of the undead, this drink will make you feel like you've been hit by a—

Well, figure it out for yourself.

Spring is here, and summer's right around the corner. It's finally getting warm here in the desert (seriously, I thought it'd be cool and windy forever). In light of this fact, I reckon I'll start reviewing more tropical drinks. Something for you schmucks to sip while you sit on your back porches (or in your Sky Bus, if you're the Pollinatrix).
  • 1 ounce light rum
  • ½ ounce dark rum
  • ½ ounce gin
  • ½ ounce vodka
  • ½ ounce tequila 
  • 2 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon grenadine
  • 1 cup crushed ice
Pour all of the ingredients into a blender. Blend well and pour into a collins glass. (The Bartender's Bible adds "Stand well away from drinker!")

How's that recipe shake up your spinal column?

Of course, me being the adventurous lush I am, I doubled the recipe. I'm not content to sip out of a collins glass; I filled up a tumbler with this concoction, six ounces of hard liquor in total. And man, I started feeling it on the third sip. It's a power-pack, and it kept me happy the rest of the evening. The taste was redolent of the Zombie, only with less fruit juice and more booze. The orange juice was well backed by the sweetness of the pineapple, with just a hint of syrupy cherry supplied by the grenadine. The vodka and gin took on these fruity flavors, with the rum providing some sugary spice and the tequila a bit of fire. The result is a fruity drink which any red-blooded American man might not consider too feminine for his tastes.

You might need a glass of water afterward, though. Or possibly a tidal wave.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

cocktail review no. 53 - Zombie

Apologies, apologies! I know I've missed a couple Thursdays. I'll explain later. My reading list has taken over my life, and I find myself once again searching for direction in an aimless world...but I digress. On with the review.

The Zombie happens to be one of my favorite cocktails, mainly because it has a weird name which it actually lives up to. This drink literally makes you feel like a zombie the morning after: headache, dry mouth, sluggish movements, bleary eyes, the works. Plus you want to rip anything that moves or makes noise into itty bitty shreds. This libation is better than anything crashing satellites or corrupt corporations could dish up.

Now, I actually have two different recipes for this. One is from the Bartender's Bible...

  •  1 ounce light rum
  • 1 ounce añejo rum
  • 1 ounce dark rum
  • ½ ounces apricot brandy
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • 1 ounce pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 1 teaspoons 151-proof rum
  • 1 orange slice
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • 1 mint sprig
In a blender, combine the light rum, añejo rum, dark rum, apricot brandy, orange juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, and sugar with the crushed ice. Blend well at high speed. Pour into a collins glass. Float the 151-proof rum on top. Garnish with the orange slice, cherry, and mint sprig.

(Whew, that's quite some litany, ain't it?)

And t
his is the recipe I was taught in class, at National Bartenders in Riverside, California.
  • 1 ounce Bacardi dark rum
  • 1 ounce Bacardi light rum
  • ½ ounce crème de almond
  • ½ ounce triple sec
  • 4 ounces sweet-and-sour mix
  • 4 ounces orange juice
  • ½ ounce Bacardi 151
In a hurricane glass half-filled with ice cubes, combine the dark rum, light rum, crème de almond, and triple sec. Pour equal measures of sweet-and-sour and orange juice until the glass is almost full. Float the 151-proof rum on top.

Now that's better. Simpler. Easy to remember. And you don't have the oddball ingredients which normally plague tropical drinks (what the molly hell is "orgeat syrup"?). There's pretty much crème de almond and that's it. I didn't have any on hand, so I substituted amaretto, which at least is almond-flavored, though made from apricot stones.

Now, as you may have noticed, there is a feckin' truckload of rum in this drink. Hence the title: this thing is bad for the head, the liver, and most of the rest of the body. Forget them Long Island iced teas. It doesn't matter how slowly you sip, the rum lights a fire in your belly, the 151 goes right to your head...and your braiiiinnnnnnnsssssss...

Okay, I'll lay off the undead references.

The major advantage the zombie has over its competitors is that it possesses distinct flavors. You can actually detect the rum. The taste is typical for a tropical drink, but not overwhelmingly fruity, like a Mai Tai or Chi Chi. Zombies have a predominant rummy undertow that sinks its teeth into you and won't let go. From the first bite to the last (so to speak), the rum courses through your veins, seeping into your tissues, rotting your flesh and impairing your motor functions.

Oh, right, sorry. I have to give up the zombie shop talk. Don't want to cause a mass panic...

Somehow, the combined effect of triple sec, sweet 'n' sour, orange juice and
crème de almond produces a sweet, well-rounded, pleasant, generic sort of fruit flavor which mixes tremendously well with rum. Some might say that the National Bartenders recipe isn't as sophisticated as the Bible's, but superiority is largely a matter of taste in the cocktail world. There comes a time when you're mixing so many ingredients together that they just blend together into one unrecognizable blob. (See Dad's Rule of 3.) I dare you to mix the Bible's version and tell me you can taste the lime juice.

"What of it?" you may protest. "You're not supposed to taste it. The juices are intended to merge into a synergistic amalgam and be enjoyed thusly."

First of all, give yourself a swift kick in the ass. Nobody says "thusly" anymore.

Second, let me ask you this: if the juices are supposed to blend together, why do you need so many? Wouldn't you get along just as well without the lime juice as you would with it? Is the tiny, sour, citrusy kick the lime juice transmits really detectable amid all those pineapple and orange titans?

The school recipe might actually be the better of the two because it has fewer ingredients. It's a lot quicker to make, too, let me tell you.

Just by adding almond liqueur, sweet-and-sour, triple sec and orange juice, you can create a citrus-dominant, slightly nutty nectar which will marvelously complement the sweetness of the rum. It'll take all of your cares away. And probably make you stagger around and moan a bit, too.

Sometimes it is fun to spend thirty minutes hand-crafting a deliciously complicated cocktail. But that's a story for another day. For now, drink your zombie and don't stumble on your way out the door.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

as the prop turns

It sure beats me why Wings was the only well-known, successful sitcom to take place at an airport. This blogger is frankly puzzled by the fact. There's enough drama (and comedy) at small airports to sustain at least five sitcoms on daytime TV, no problem. It'd be a piece of cake. I can envision at least three seasons' worth off the top of my head as I sit here in the briefing room. Yes, even this innocuous airport in Apple Valley has all kinds of stuff going on in the background which would escape the average citizen's notice, but would be commanding fodder for a drama or afternoon soap.

And I ain't lyin'.

My pilots and I have openly acknowledged that an airport drama set at KAPV would likely succeed. As the Prop Turns was our chosen title.

I'll introduce the cast of characters first, and then the premise. I'd like you to meet some of the flawed and florid characters we have hanging around here. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

(Disclaimer: As the Prop Turns is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters and any real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.)

TOM: The airport café's owner and head cook. Tall, bald, and congenial, Tom is somewhat lopsided, the result of a nasty motorcycle accident in his youth. A good chunk of his stomach muscle was grafted onto his ankle to replace the flesh gouged away. He walks with a permanent limp, and constantly slips on the grease on the
café's kitchen floor—despite the Crocs he wears to prevent this from happening. A full-length fall upon the floor is not uncommon. Tom invariably burns his hands, cuts his skin or breaks his bones when this happens. He chipped his hip a few weeks ago, and most recently broke his femur on his way to the bathroom. He's on crutches now, and has hired extra help to mind the store. The economy being where it is (in the U-bend of the national toilet's drainpipe), business isn't so good, either. Combine low income with broken bones and you get Tom, stumping about behind the counter, chunnering ceaselessly to himself. He expresses political opinions openly; checks gas prices (and women's undergarments) with a pair of scuffed binoculars; and claims that Cream's original lineup consisted of Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Jim Morrison and George Harrison. Tom's definitely one of the more colorful characters here at the airport.

VINCENT: The airport manager, employed by the county. A large, imposing man with a white mustache and a goatee down to his chest. His dress is always impeccably professional, button-down shirts and slacks, as befitting an airport manager...and a hog rider who needs to conceal the sleeve tattoos on both arms. He takes the details of his job seriously, and ministers minor duties with his own brand of zeal. A few years back it was discovered that some unscrupulous character was coming into the pilot's briefing room in the dead of night and downloading pornography. Upon receiving this intelligence, Vince laid in wait, grasped the man by his collar, and threw him bodily from the airport building. The brazen pervert hasn't been heard from since.
You will notice, however, that I used the words "details" and "minor" in referring to the way Vincent does his job. A shadow hangs over the manager's office. All sorts of nasty rumors are swirling around around Vince. From what I hear, he's a snarky, secretive, dishonest martinet who runs shady backroom deals out of his office. He won't allow new businesses onto airport property, because he's worried they might expose his illegal dealings.
I'm not sure how much truth there is to the secrecy and dishonesty, but I do find Vince to be a snarky martinet. He's always the first to jump down the throat of anyone he perceives breaking rules or doing something wrong.
Okay, so I might've been driving a little fast around the airport. It wasn't a big deal. I never came close to hitting anything. Nevertheless Vincent noticed, and had one of his maintenance men keep an eye on me, and report to him if I did it again. Sure enough, I proved a repeat offender. Vincent stopped me on my way to Tom's restaurant. He scolded me and told me to slow down. I agreed, wondering why he had chosen to pick on me and not the half-dozen other pilots who rip around the airport like stock car drivers. When someone chopped up a parked car with a propeller two weeks ago, Vince was called from home to assess the damage. The first thing he did was admonish the flight school's chief mechanic, Lenny, to move his car away from the wreckage. Lenny was well outside the line of cones surrounding the jumble. There was no need to move. Evidently Vince, and his authoritative ego, thought otherwise.

LAURA: Vince's pretty secretary. She looks way, way too good to be 30 years old and a single mother of two. This long, tall and leggy brunette has been turning heads at the airport for several years. All the old men at the airport feel that there must be some trick behind her comeliness, and spend a good portion of their time looking behind her, just to be sure. (It doesn't help that her wardrobe consists mostly of knee-length halter sundresses.)
Laura is nice: friendly, outgoing, accommodating, and conversational. But she's a wolf in sheep's clothing. She realizes that her position at Apple Valley depends on her superior's good will, and as such she is firmly "on his side." She's Vince's informant, his confidante, his unquestioning toady. Anything a pilot says to her can and will get back to the airport manager. Laura may give you a friendly, smiling, trustworthy look, but woe betide you if you reveal any sensitive information to her. Vince will be breathing down your neck in short order. Laura is not your friend if you are late on your hangar rental payments, haven't stumped up for transient parking fees, or get caught washing your airplane on airport grounds. She'll sell you up the river without a second thought. A femme fatale indeed.

HERB: An instructor and part-owner of Apple Valley's second flight school. (Why are there two flight schools here, you ask? I'll explain in a moment. It's quite the piece of drama.)
Herb is a marvelous man. He's the most amiable, peaceful, tolerant and equable human being I've ever met. He's a flight student's dream: he won't harp on, howl at or harangue a pupil. Flying with him is more like flying with your favorite uncle or a friendly neighbor. He merely points out what you could be doing better, and congratulates you on what you did right.
But...he's not that good at flying. His total number of solo hours could be counted on fingers and toes. Most of his flight-time was spent instructing, and instructors don't fly unless their students do something drastically wrong. But more than that, Herb just doesn't know that much. Flight instruction is like any other kind of education, and among its teachers, there are good eggs and bad eggs. The good ones are constantly seeking to improve their skills, adjust their lessons to fit new examples, call on situations they've experienced or read about, possess a bazillion flight hours, aren't just gunning for a job with the major airlines, and know all there is to know about the airplane, the airframe, the engine, and what's going through the student's mind (and fingers).
The bad ones...well, they're just not up to code. Maybe their methods are out of date. Maybe their benchmarks and rules-of-thumb are airport-specific, or apply only to certain situations. Maybe they don't communicate very well, or don't place proper emphasis on the most important subjects. Maybe they're not good at teaching students useful shortcuts or mnemonic devices. Or maybe they're just not that good at teaching, or don't know what the heck they're talking about. (Unfortunately, there are a lot of flight instructors out there like that.)
There's been a few things Herb has taught me that JM-1, my current instructor, has had to fix. I like Herb a lot and thank him for getting me through the bulk of my private pilot training, but he's not the best, and that's the honest truth.
Herb was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a terrible blow to him as a human being, a business owner, and a pilot. His flying will have to be severely restricted from now on. He can barely get from the truck to the flight school office some mornings, and that's a level walk of barely 30 yards. I feel truly sorry for the man and respect his valiant struggle against the disease. He is truly a good man, but like any man, he has his flaws. 

BARBARA: Herb's sensible, straightforward wife. Her body is a twisted parody of humanity, contorted into an awkward, shambling wreck by rheumatoid arthritis. Each of her ten fingers points in a different direction. Watching her take someone's debit card and swipe it through the reader is almost physically painful. She keeps a stiff upper lip, however, despite the hardships of running a flight school in this day and age. She's just as nice and supportive as Herb is, if not more: her encouraging words helped me get back on an even keel before and after my private pilot checkride. 

OLD JOE: The bent, wrinkled, smiling ass-kicker-turned-airport-bum. Serving in the Air Force for over 20 years, a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam), Joe was and still is an accomplished pilot who flew everything from the F-86 to the F-111 and wound up with an armload of amazing stories to tell. Ask him about dodging SAMs over Vietnam, dogfights with MiGs, the burst of flak that blew out his windscreen and nearly blinded him, night raids over enemy territory, racing Phantom pilots to the ground, dust storms in Nevada that cut visibility to a quarter-mile. Those and other hair-raising tales, too numerous to mention, are just the beginning. Now, it seems, Joe's settled down to a quiet life of sweatpants, tennis shoes and sugared coffee. (I've never seen him without his blue Air Force baseball cap, either.) You can find him at the airport any day of the week, his gnarled hands in his pockets, his voice hoarse from years of shouting over jet engines. He tends the flight school when Herb and Barbara aren't around, and enjoys a good chat with anyone who happens by.

LENNY: The mechanic-in-residence at Herb and Barbara's flight school. Billing himself as a prop balancer, Lenny's abilities run the gamut from tightening bolts to full-on engine replacement. I don't have much on him. He has a crop of white hair, is about 5'6", drives a silver SUV, and is generally regarded as an idiot and a thief, even among his fellow mechanics. I can't say. I've never had direct proof, only secondhand accounts. And speaking of secondhand accounts...

SONJA: I've mentioned her before. The chain-smoking Dutch matron of the original flight school at Apple Valley, M______ Aviation. Short and plump, with a lined face, auburn hair and twinkling eyes, Sonja's accents are often heard on the traffic advisory frequency. (She pronounces "r" like "w.") Sonja is outgoing and helpful, but the way the pilots tell it, she's the next thing to a highway robber. Renting a hangar from her is like showing up to an IRS audit without last year's tax forms: she'll rake you over the coals if you're behind on your payments. And good luck trying to rent-to-own an aircraft from her. Sonja, the story goes, has a nasty habit of adding miscellaneous and superfluous charges onto any bill she processes. Repair bills always have an extra quart of oil tacked on for no apparent reason. Herb and Barbara once tried to lease an airplane from her, but couldn't make any headway at all toward ownership thanks to the superlative charges they paid each month. They finally gave up the ghost, told Sonja to stick it, and went and founded their own flight school down at the other end of the runway. (That's how there came to be two flight schools at this airport.) Neither Herb nor Barbara—nor hardly anyone who's had their plane serviced at her garage
—has anything complimentary to say about Sonja.

PETE: The venerable, soft-spoken, eternally grease-stained master mechanic at M______ Aviation. You know him, you love him. What you don't know is that he and Sonja used to be romantically involved. When they split, M______ Aviation fell on hard times. For all Sonja's faults, she was extremely good at keeping the books. So Pete fired his inept secretary and hired Sonja back on, and the two cigarette smokers have run a tight ship ever since. Pete is a capable man and will loan out tools and equipment for free, but his reputation around the airport has been soiled by the price he charges for inspections (and his complicity with Sonja's money-grubbing).

I guess those are the major players. What a motley crew, eh? Quite a diverse representation of personality types we've got here. This should be more than enough to feed a drama and satiate it indefinitely. I can just see the episode titles now: "Bank Robbery at 5,000 Feet," "The Straight-In Narrow," "All's Well That Pays Well," "King of the Runway," "That Airplane Won't Wash," "A Nice Piece of Asphalt," "Sectionals and the Single Mom," "Bait-And-Master-Switch," "The Men on the Flying Trapeze," "Three (Hangar) Doors Down," "Tom Takes a Trip"...need I go on?

And think of the guest-stars! Elderly couples from Cable and Tehachapi. That thirtysomething NASA engineer with the kit-built canard plane. Warbirds from Chino, like Thunderbolts and Corsairs. Businessmen and peace officers in Pilatus PC-12s. (Why, the lieutenant-governor of California flew in once in his Cessna 414.) Glider pilots from Palmdale. Weekenders from Big Bear City, Lake Havasu, Las Vegas, Flagstaff and Phoenix: Comanches, Arrows, Barons, Skyhawks, Centurions and Cardinals. Cross-country trekkers from Alaska and the Midwest, in tail-draggers like Cessna 185s, Piper Cubs and Bellanca Champs. Amphibians from Catalina Island and the coast. The personal transports of millionaires and sports players, Caravans and Citations and Phenoms. 

Why, as I type these words, a skinny Japanese gent (with a T-shirt which reads Advanced World Aerobatics Championships, Team Japan 2008) is standing here, working on the computer in the pilot briefing room. Now he moves into the lobby and I can hear him conversing rapidly with his copilot, a shorter, balding man in an olive-drab flight suit. Who are they? Where are they going? What did they fly in on? How far is it from here to Japan, anyway? Can I hitch a ride, boys? 

Such drama!

cocktail review no. 52 - Silver Bullet

Again, you think I could pass up a tipple with a name like that?

Not likely.

  • 2½ ounces gin
  • 1½ teaspoons Scotch
  • 1 lemon twist
In a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes, combine the gin and Scotch. Stir well, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist.

This is going to sound crazy, but the result tastes like tequila. Really. Somehow that measure of Scotch and gin (well, I may have accidentally used one-and-a-half ounces gin rather than teaspoons) forms a hot, spicy flavor redolent of cactus juice.

Add the citrus counterpoint of sour lemon and...well, you have a drink that is most definitely a challenge, but is extremely rewarding to the fatigued mind and the jaded taste buds. And that's about all I've got to say on that subject. (hic)

Now, the term "silver bullet" invariably reminds me of two things: the Lone Ranger, and werewolves. Of the two, I prefer the latter. So here's a Lon Chaney, the original Wolfman, to see you off to the bar:

Sleep tight...